Giving charity is—or at least, its purpose—a way for those whom Allah has blessed with wealth to share with their neighbors in need. But Muslims are not just ordered to give charity to the poor from their wealth; they are also ordered to give it in a certain way.
We often hear that, when giving charity, we should do so in a way that our left hand doesn’t know what our right hand has spent. So does that mean we are only ever supposed to give charity in secret?
Actually, both ways are permissible. Islam supports giving charity in private as the best form of giving, but there’s something to be said about giving it publicly (as long as one is aware of their intentions and behavior).
Islam supports giving charity in both ways, but there are a few things Muslims should keep in mind when going about either way.
Giving Charity in Secret
The Prophet Mohammad said that one of the seven groups of people that will be granted shade on the Day of Judgment includes the one who gives charity but hides it, so that even his left hand does not know what his right hand has spent.
Islam places a great emphasis and reward on giving charity in secret. It preserves the dignity of those who receive the charity, and also prevents the giver from being boastful or seeking praise.
Islam teaches Muslims that giving in secret is far superior to giving publicly, and that drawing attention to one’s charitable actions is a highly undesirable quality. The Prophet said: “Allah loves the God-fearing rich man [who gives much in charity but still] remains obscure and uncelebrated.” (Muslim)
Giving charity in secret is best when giving charity that is voluntary (Sadaqah). Regarding voluntary charity, God says in the second chapter of the Quran:
“If you disclose your Sadaqaat (almsgiving), it is well; but if you conceal them and give them to the poor, that is better for you.” [Quran 2:271]
Giving Charity Publicly
If a person fears that he will be showing off, or tempted to show off, when giving charity, or that he may cause some humiliation or embarrassment to the poor person, then it is better for him to give it in secret.
However, giving charity publicly—as long as the giver knows his intentions are not to show off or be boastful, and can donate charity in a modest way—sets a good example to the community. It encourages others to follow in the giver’s footsteps and give charity, too.
Giving charity publicly is best when giving obligatory charity (Zakat). Scholars agree that doing obligatory acts in Islam is best done openly and announced, so as to encourage others to fulfill their duties as well.
A Mix of Both
In Chapter 2, verse 274 of the Quran, Allah says:
“Those who spend their money in the night and in the day, secretly and openly, they will have their reward with their Lord, there is no fear over them nor will they grieve.” [Quran 2:274]
This verse means that we should give charity both in public and in private. While keeping the amount of charity given private, a person can publicly—avoiding invitations of praise—give charity, serving as a reminder for others to also give and setting an example for the community. But it is also important for the Muslim to give charity in private (or “in the cover of night”), to establish to themselves and to God that they are giving charity because Allah commands it, and because they seek His pleasure and to fulfill their charitable duty.
Muslims, if possible, should practice giving charity both publicly and privately by giving Zakat in public, and giving any Sadaqah in private. Allah knows best.