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Volunteerism: Vital for our community’s growth and development

By Hashim Msusa

The country used to observe what was known as “Youth Week” during the one-party rule of the late Hastings Kamuzu Banda. In order to provide communities with social amenities throughout this week, people from both rural and urban areas volunteered to labor in their villages and elsewhere. Sadly, the philosophy suffered from the rise of democracy. Just to name one, the roads in our neighborhood are impassable. How is volunteerism explained in Islam, given that we don’t seem to prioritize working in our communities?

A major virtue that is rooted in the teachings of all civilizations and of both revealed and unrevealed religions is voluntarism. All of the Prophets (Peace be upon them all) were volunteers, and they emphasized the importance of volunteering. In the Noble Qur’an, God Almighty states, “And We made them leaders guiding by Our command. And We inspired them to carry out good deeds. (21:73) One of the meritorious deeds is volunteer work which used to happen in youth week.

Today, in Malawi’s era of democracy, without social financial transfers managed by governments, no one can work to repair damaged roads, bridges, school buildings, and toilets, create homes for the elderly, or even maintain a location where we draw water. While everything is based on waiting for the government to act on our behalf, this article quotes President John F. Kennedy as saying to the American people, “Ask what you can do for your country; not what your country can do for you.”

In Islam, volunteerism is a very broad concept that encompasses whatever one does for the benefit of others for the sake of God Almighty. The Arabic concept for volunteerism is al-Tatawwu, which etymologically is derived from tawa’a, an Arabic verb that conveys the meaning of performing an action willingly or voluntarily.

Volunteering technically refers to giving one’s time or money (service) to help others for the glory of God Almighty. We should emphasize that there are two requirements before someone may be considered a volunteer. They are: First, to act freely, that is, to take action out of one’s own free choice that benefits other people. Given this circumstance, it is obvious that volunteering shouldn’t be made mandatory. Mandatory volunteerism, in Elswick’s opinion, is “an oxymoron.”

Second, to take an action for the benefit of the Almighty God. Helping others should always be done primarily for God’s delight. This does not imply, however, that a volunteer cannot receive material benefits in exchange for his or her efforts. Giving a volunteer a small amount of money could reduce his burden. He might use it, for instance, to maintain his family and pay for his transportation.

Conclusively, volunteerism is vital for our community’s growth and development. Let us be caring people. Helping others is merely the means to attaining God’s pleasure.