On the Etiquettes of Giving and Receiving Gifts
Gift is a form of transaction in a civilized society. The holy Prophet has laid a great stress on it in his Traditions and indicated that it is helpful in the promotion of mutual love and affection and conducive to the growth of friendly relations which, doubtlessly, are a great blessing. A gift is an offering made as a token of goodwill, and with the object of making the other man happy and winning the good graces of the Lord. If the present is made to anyone younger in age, it is a gesture of affection; if to a friend, it is a means of strengthening the bond of love; if to a needy person, it is a source of solace and comfort; and if to a superior, it is a mark of regard and respect.
In case something is given to anyone for the sake of God and with the intention of earning the reward of the Hereafter, considering him to be poor and indigent, it will be charity (Sadqa), not a gift (Hadiya). It is only when an offering is meant to be an expression of love and fellow feeling, and, through it, the good pleasure of the Lord is to be sought, that it becomes a girt. If, however, a gift is made with sincerity, the reward, on it, is no .Jess than on charity, and, sometimes, even greater. It was owing to this difference between Hadiya and Sadqa that the holy Prophet accepted a Hadiya (gift) with prayer and thankfulness and made use of it, while in case of a Sadqa (charity), his practice was that though he accepted it, too, with gratitude and blessed the giver, he did not use it himself, but gave to others.
Unfortunately, the habit of giving presents to one another, with an earnest heart, is fast disappearing among the Muslims, as a whole, and though it is still done, to some extent, in relation to holy men, it is seldom that one offers a gift to a friend, relative or neighbour despite the fact that it is an unfailing recipe handed down to us by the Apostle of God of happiness and good social relations and a sure means to earning the countenance of the Lord.
(1) It is related by Ayesha that the Apostle of God said: “Exchange presents with one another. Presents remove ill-will from the hearts.”
(2) Abu Hurairah relates, saying that the Apostle of God said: “Give presents to one another. Presents remove malice from the hearts, and a female neighbour should not regard the gift of a part of the feet of a goat to another female neighbour as of no value.”
As for the remark in Hazrat Abu Hurairah’s report that a housewife should not feel ashamed to send the gift of a part of goat’s feet to her neighbour, what it, apparently, denotes is that it is not necessary for a present to be expensive or of a standard for, then, the opportunity to offer a gift will come only rarely. Thus, suppose the feet of a goat have been cooked in the house, there should be no hesitation in sending some of them to the neighbour as a gift. It needs, however, be noted that the advice applies to cases in which one is confident that the neighbour will accept the gift gladly and not regard it an insult. The social and moral environment during the time of the holy Prophet was like that.
(3) Narrates Ayesha that “the practice of the Apostle of God was that he accepted a gift and offered (one) himself in return for it.
It shows that when anyone offered a present to the holy Prophet, he accepted it with pleasure, and himself gave something to the giver, as a gift, either at that very time or sometime later, in conformity with the Divine pronouncement: Is the reward of goodness aught save goodness? (L V: 60). The Apostle of God has given the same advice to his followers, as we shall see in some of the Traditions we are going to discuss. But, alas, even among the people of quality and distinction, there are few in the Ummat who care to observe it.
(4) It is related by Jabir that the Apostle of God said: “If a present is made to anyone, and he has something to give in return, he should offer it, and if he has nothing to give (in return), he should praise him (by way of gratitude), and say a good word in his behalf. Whoever did it, fulfilled the claim of gratitude, and whoever did not. And concealed a favour (done to him), was guilty of ingratitude, and whoever flaunts a virtue that, has not been granted to him is like a man who wears a double croak of deception.”
– Tirmizi and Abu Dawood
It tells that if a person were to receive a present from a friend, he should, also, offer him something in return, and should he not be in a position to do so, he should utter a word of goodness for him and speak of his kindness to others. It, too, will be reckoned with the Lord as an expression of gratitude. On the contrary, a person who receives a gift and hides it from others and does not even say Jazaak Allah will be guilty of ingratitude. The last part of the saying, it would seem, denotes that anyone who shows himself off, through his dress etc., as possessing a virtue, such as, learning or spirituality, which he does not really have is a cheat and an imposter.
By adding it to the advice about a gift or offering, what the holy Prophet, probably, meant was to emphasise that if a person who is lacking in qualities owing to which people, generally, consider it an act of virtue to offer a gift to anyone, gives an impression through his clothes, conversation or way of life that he is endowed with those attributes in order to obtain gifts and presents from others, he is no better than a swindler.
(5) It is related by Abu Hurairah that the Apostle of God said: “Whoever failed to give thanks to anyone who did a favour to him failed to give thanks to God.”
– Musnad-i-Ahmad and Tirmizi
It shows that anyone who offers a gift or does a favour in any other way should be thanked sincerely for it and prayer made for his well-being. A person who fails to do so proves himself to be ungrateful to God as well. According to some commentators, what it seeks to stress is that anyone who does not. feel indebted to his benefactors is sadly wanting in the sense of obligation, and will not be grateful even to God.
(6) It is related by Osama bin laid that the Apostle of God said: “Whoever did a favour to anyone and the recipient prayed for his benefactor, saying Jazaak Allah Khaira (May Allah give thee a good reward for it), he (the recipent), also, praised him fully (through it).”
Apparently, Jazaak Allah Khaira is a prayer formula, but when anyone prays for his benefactor in these words, he, as it were, acknowledges his inability to repay the debt of gratitude he owes to him and declares that only the Supreme Being, the Gracious One, can requite him, and, together with it, beseeches the Lord to reward him bountifully for his goodness, It is, thus, a prayer as well as an acknowledgement of the benefactor’s kindliness and humanity.
(7) Anas related to us that when the Apostle of God migrated to Medina, (and the Mahajirs had an experience of the hospitality and unselfishness of the Ansars), they, one day, said to the Apostle: “We have not seen people like them, i.e., the Ansars of Medina anywhere, (They spend generously on us) if they are well-provided, and even those that are not in good condition help us and take care of our needs. They have taken all the responsibility for toil and labour upon themselves, and, (yet), made us a sharer in the profits. (As a result of the unique self-denial and liberality on their part), we fear that they took all the reward and recompense, (and we remained empty-handed in the Hereafter).” “No,” the Apostle of God replied. “It will not be so as long as you pray for them and express a sincere appreciation (of their goodness and magnanimity).”
When the holy Prophet had migrated from Mecca to Medina, a large number of Mahajirs, too, had come with him. In the early days, as is well known, the Ansars of Medina had made all of them their guests, solely for the sake of God. They cultivated the fields and did all the work themselves, and, yet, shared the income with the Emigrants. There were rich as well as poor among the Ansars, but they all joined ungrudgingly in the service of the Mahajirs. The well-to-do spent of their wealth, with open hands, on the Mahajirs, while even those who were poor preferred to go hungry in order to help them. It was in those circumstances that the Emigrants thought if it was going to be that because of their unparalleled generosity and selflessness, the Ansars took all the reward on their, (the Emigrants’), good deeds, like Migration and worship, and they, themselves, gained nothing. As they expressed the fear to the holy Prophet, he assured them that it would not be so provided that they prayed to God for their helpers, the Ansars-, in return for their large-heartedness and hospitality, and acknowledged what they owed to them with an open heart and felt grateful. The Lord will accept it as recompense, from their side, for the benevolence of the Ansars and requite them bounteously from His own treasures for the brotherly love and high mindedness displayed by them.
(8) It is related by Abu Hurairah that the Apostle of God said: “Whoever is offered a sweet-smelling flower should accept it, and not reject it because it is a very ordinary thing. Its fragrance is a thing of joy.”
If an ordinary thing like a flower was refused, the giver might feel that his gift had been refused because of its ordinariness, and it hurt his feelings. In another Tradition, quoted in Tirmizi, it is stated that “whoever is offered a sweet-smelling flower should not decline to accept it for a sweet-smelling flower is a gift of paradise”. In Sahih Muslim, it is, further, mentioned, oil the authority of Hazrat Anas, that “the practice of the Apostle of God was that he never refused a perfume.”
(9) It is related by Abdullah bin Omar that the Apostle of God said: “There are three things which, particularly, should not be refused: a pillow, oil (used for applying to hair etc.,) and milk.”
The peculiarity with the three things mentioned above, again, is that they cost little and the person who offers them is made happy on seeing them being used by the recipient.
(10) (Both) Abdullah bin Omar and Abdullah bin Abbas related to us, saying that the Apostle of God said: “It is not proper for anyone of you to offer something to a person, as a gift, and, then, claim it back. Of course, if a father gives anything to his children, he is exempted from it. (He can take it back) for a father has every kind of claim on his children.” (Explaining the wretchedness of the act), the Apostle of God, further, observed that “whoever claims back a gift, after giving it, is like the dog who ate something and when its stomach was filled to capacity, vomited it, and ate up the vomit.”
– Abu Dawood, Tirmizi, Nissai and Ibn-i-Maja
(11) It is related by Jabir that the Apostle of God said: “Gifts (accepted by) the ruler are Ghuloo1, i.e., an excess and a transgression. (It is similar, in a way, to bribery, embezzlement and oppression).”
(12) It is related by Umama that the Apostle of God said: “Whoever interceded for anyone, and the person on behalf of whom he interceded made him a present, in consideration of the intercession, and he accepted the present, was guilty of a worst form of usury.”
– Abu Dawood
In the two afore-mentioned narratives, it is told that a gift is worthy of acceptance only when it is offered with a sincere heart and no other motive or reason is attached to it.