Altruism is the noblest concept of generosity. Not everyone can adorn himself with this trait, because it is dedicated to the few ideal persons whom are characterized by openhandedness and who attained the climax of generosity as they gave liberally while they are in urgent need. They therefore preferred charity to the settlement of their needs. The holy Quran praises the virtues of such persons:
“They give preference to them over themselves – even concerning the things that they themselves urgently need (59:9).”
Imam as-Sadiq (a) said: “The best almsgiving is that which is given by the needy. Allah says: They give preference to them over themselves – even concerning the things that they themselves urgently need (59:9).”
The Prophet (s) was the highest example of altruism:
Jabir ibn Abdullah said: The Prophet (s) had never refused anyone’s request.
Imam as-Sadiq (a) narrated: In al-Jirana, the Prophet (s) distributed the treasury among people. He gave every single individual who asked from him. As people crowded around him, they pushed him until he had to lean on a tree that scratched his back. People kept on pushing him until they took him away from that tree and his garment was hanged to one of its branches. He was shouting: “People, let me have my garment! By Allah I swear, even if I have treasures as many as the trees of Tuhama, I will distribute among you. You shall never find me coward or stingy.”
The Prophet (s) used to prefer the poor to himself. He used to give them his food while he suffered hunger to the degree that he, once, tied the stone of hunger on his stomach so as to share the pains of hunger with the poor.
Imam al-Baqir (a) said: “The Prophet (s) had never eaten his fill for three consecutive days since Allah gave him the Divine Mission.”
The The Ahl ul-Bayt (a) were copies of the Prophet in the fields of generosity and altruism.
Imam as-Sadiq (a) narrated: Ali was the most similar to the Prophet. He used to eat bread with oil and serve people with bread and meat.
The following holy Verse was revealed for Ali and his family:
“They feed the destitute, orphans, and captives for the love of Allah, saying: We only feed you for the sake of Allah and we do not want any reward or thanks from you (76:9).”
The disciples of The The Ahl ul-Bayt have unanimously agreed that the previous holy Verse was revealed for Ali, Fatima, al-Hasan, and al-Hussein (a). Moreover, a good deal of ulema of other sects have also asserted so.
Interpreting Sura of al-Insan, az-Zamakhshari records the following narration in his book titled Tafsir ul-Keshaf:Ibn Abbas narrated:
The Prophet (s), with some of his companions, visited al-Hasan and al-Hussein who were sick. They suggested that Imam Ali should vow a three-day fasting if they would recover their health. The Imam, as well as their mother Fatima and Fudda their bondwoman implemented that suggestion. When al-Hasan and al-Hussein were healed, the group fasted. The Imam had no food at that time; therefore, he had to borrow three measures of barley from Shimon the Jew.
In the first day, Fatima (a) milled and baked one of these measures. In the very time of breaking fast, a poor man knocked their door and said: “Peace be upon you; the family of Mohammed. I am a poor Muslim. Serve me with food and God may serve you from the food of Paradise.” The Imam gave him his share. The others pursued him and gave their shares. They passed that night without eating anything.
On the second day of their fasting, an orphan complaining hunger knocked their door in the time of breaking fast. They offered their shares and passed the second night without having anything except water.
On the third day and in the very time of breaking fast, a prisoner complaining hunger knocked their door asking for some food. They all offered him their shares before having anything of it.
On the fourth day, Imam Ali took al-Hasan and al-Hussein to the Prophet while they were trembling because of hunger. “I am very touched for what I see,” said the Prophet who walked with them to their house. There, he saw Fatima standing in her place of prayer while her belly was stuck to her back and her eyes were deep-set. He was affected by such a view. In the meantime, the Archangel Gabriel descended and said: “Mohammed, enjoy it. Allah may please you in connection to your household.” He then recited the Sura.