“those who spend their wealth to increase in self-purification (yatazakka)”
Giving of one’s wealth is not unique to Islam, but the Arabic word yatazakka—from zakat, which means both to purify and grow—has a particularly beautiful connotation. Zakat is often compared to the pruning of a shrub, where the trimming actually causes the plant to grow stronger. Similarly, the trimming of wealth through the giving of alms purifies and strengthens the soul. In Islam, to use the trust given by God—here, personal wealth—in the proper manner helps rid a person of his/her worldly attachments. The Quran describes this quest to purify one’s soul, tazqiyat an-nufoos, as a lifelong process: “To a happy state shall indeed attain he who causes [this self] to grow in purity, and truly lost is he who buries it in darkness.” (al-Shams 91:9-10) The examination of one’s heart, practices and desires leads a person to see tribulations as opportunities for the cleansing of the soul and the attainment of insight and understanding. I cannot but marvel at the beauty of the Arabic language, in which one word in the Quran encompasses the complex concept of spiritual growth.
It is interesting, I think, that Christian scriptures almost always pair discussions of wealth with cautionary warnings, such as, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:25; Matthew 19:24; Luke 18:25) Similar to the Quranic text you cite, Yasmina, this verse does not condemn wealth, but warns against worldly attachments. In a particularly poignant illustration, Jesus speaks of a poor widow who placed two small copper coins in the Temple’s alms basin. Contrasting her with those who gave more but did so ostentatiously, Jesus observed, “This poor widow has put in more than all the others, [for she] put in all she had.” (Luke 21:3) Yatazakka seems an apt description of those who, in quiet generosity and humble sacrifice, discover the meaning of heavenly treasure.
It will not surprise you that the Jewish concept of charity, tzedakah, is similar to zakat as you explain it, Yasmina, and to the verses of the Gospels that you quote, Grace. While the English word “charity” derives from the Latin root for love and caring, tzedakah is from the biblical Hebrew root for righteousness. Tzedakah is the obligation in Jewish law to share a portion of one’s wealth with others in need.* Inherent in this commandment is the recognition that everything we possess—both tangible things like money and intangible things like intelligence—is on loan to us for the duration of our lives. God allows us to feel as though we personally possess these gifts, as long as we strive to share and distribute them fairly among the entire community. When we give tzedakah, we are restoring righteousness in the world by returning the gift to its rightful owner.
* For example: “Because there will not stop being indigent [people] in the land; on account of this I command you, saying, you shall open your hand to your brother, to your poor and indigent in your land.” (Deuteronomy 15:11)