Stories and Tips to Develop Ithar (Selflessness)

Itahr, or selflessness, is one of the noble qualities emphasized in Islam. One who is selfless places concern for others above concern for himself. The selfless person is generous with his time and freely lends aid and support to others.

The opposite of selflessness is selfishness, which involves being concerned with one’s own well-being without regard for the well-being of others. One who is selfish is stingy—with both his wealth and his self—and views lending support to others as a burden.

The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) reminded the believers of the noble quality of selflessness when he said:

“None of you truly believes until he loves for his brother, what he loves for himself” (Bukhari and Muslim)

The noble companions, keen to heed the advice of the Messenger, exemplified selflessness. There are numerous examples of their tendency to place others above themselves. Two brief examples are highlighted here:

1. The Makkan immigrants and the Madinah’s Helpers

One of the best examples of selflessness is reflected by the Ansar’s (Helpers) treatment of the Muhajirun (migrants). After the Hijrah to Al-Madinah, many of the migrants had nothing. They had left all of their wealth in Makkah, and come to Al-Madinah destitute.

To alleviate the suffering of the migrants, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) paired each immigrant with a family in Madinah. The bond between the migrants and the Ansar was so tight that—for a time—they were even allowed to inherit from one another.

The Ansar felt such an obligation toward the migrants that they once went to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and offered to give them half of their date groves. When the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) refused to accept this offer, the Ansar offered a cooperative work agreement that allowed the migrants to work in the date grove and share in the profits.

2.When a guest is preferred to one’s own kids:

In another example, a man once came to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) seeking food. The Prophet requested assistance from one of his wives, who replied that she had nothing but water. Then he sent the same message to another wife and received the same reply.

Then the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Who will entertain this man as a guest tonight?

One of the Ansar said, “O messenger of Allah, I will.”

So the Ansari asked his wife to prepare food for the man, but she replied that they only had enough food to feed the children. Intent on receiving the reward from Allah, the man told his wife to keep the children busy and put them to bed when they ask for food.

When the guest entered, the hosts extinguished the light and gave the impression they that were eating. But in reality, they passed the night hungry so that their guest could eat.

The next morning the Prophet saw the Ansari man and informed him that Allah was pleased with his act of selflessness. (Bukhari and Muslim)

The Quran Praises Al-Ansar

In regard to such acts of kindness, Allah said the following about the Ansar:

{And those who, before them, had homes and had adopted the Faith, love those who emigrate to them, and have no jealousy in their breasts for that which they have been given and give them preference over themselves, even though they were in need of that. And whosoever is saved from his own covetousness, such are they who will be the successful.} (Al-Hashr 59:9)

And Allah also says,

{And they give food, inspite of their love for it (or for the love of Him), to poor, the orphan, and the captive, (Saying) “We feed you seeking Allah’s Countenance only. We wish for no reward, nor thanks from you.} (Al-Insan 76:8-9)

Reading these wonderful stories should cause each of us to ask a simple question:

How selfless am I? How willing am I to come to the aid of others? Am I willing to sacrifice my material wealth and forsake comfort for the sake of others?

On a scale of 1 to 10—with 10 being perfectly selfless and 1 being totally selfish—where would I rank?

Tips to develop Ithar

If we find that we are falling short on the list, we should make some effort to become more selfless. A few tips are noted below:

Life is a test

First, we should know that this life is a test. Allah says in the Qur’an,

{Blessed is He in Whose Hand is the dominion, and He is Able to do all things.

Who has created death and life, that He may test which of you is best in deed. And He is the All-Mighty, the Oft-Forgiving.} (Al-Mulk 67:1-2)

An understanding of our purpose in this life should help us prioritize what is most important.

The Hereafter is Much Better

Second, we should understand that what awaits us in the hereafter is much greater than any joy that we could possibly earn in this life. Allah says,

{No person knows what is kept hidden for them of joy as a reward for what they used to do} (As-Sajdah 32:17)

And the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) said,

Allah has said ‘I have prepared for My pious servants what no eye has ever seen, no ear has ever heard, and no human heart could ever imagine!” (Al-Bukhari)

Knowing that there is something greater for us in the hereafter should help us to forsake the comforts of this life.

Good Deeds are Numerous

Third, we should understand that in Islam, there are numerous ways to do good deeds.

Allah’s Final Prophet and Messenger said,

Every day the sun rises, charity is due on every joint on a person: administering justice between two people is a charity; assisting a man to mount his beast, or helping him load his luggage on it is a charity; a good word is a charity; every step that you take for prayer is a charity; and removing harmful things from the road is a charity.” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)

Start with Easy Deeds

Finally, we should start with the deed(s) that we can do consistently. For the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said,

The acts most pleasing to Allah are those which are done consistently, even if they are small.” (Muslim)

Importantly, acts of selflessness do more than benefit the giver and the recipient. They have profound impact on society at large. Such selfless acts help build bonds of trust and lead to reciprocation of good.

They help shatter stereotypes and break down barriers. Selflessness leads to a better world for all.