What stand has Islam taken about them especially about all of their “good works” curiously in the light of their non-Muslim beliefs! This enquiry may be intriguing and thus the topic of this brief paper.
The Islamic stand on the issue is unequivocal and explicit. However, to understand it we would have to assume that on one fine morning you woke up with a renewed patriotic zeal within you. And you marched straight into your country’s military facility and somehow gotten into it. You began to serve the facility in whatever capacity you could – may be cleaning and housekeeping, say!
Nevertheless, notwithstanding your pure patriotic intentions, in conjunction with apparently benevolent “duty” that you are discharging within the military facility, chances are high, in fact very high, that your act would be considered one breach of military protocol and security! You might well be seen as an offender who “trespassed” into the facility illegally. And as a consequence of this, you would probably be handcuffed and prosecuted, not under civilian court of law but under the military judiciary which is generally more stringent than the former.
And so we see that even though the intent was loyal and it was well corroborated with visibly “good” act(s), all of it summed up to nothing! Contrariwise, you – the patriot – had to bear the brunt of offence against the military establishment! And this is serious. Because this is similar to the stand that Islam takes for non-Muslim philanthropists and their works!
God compares the seemingly benevolent works of the unbelievers to the deluding mirage:
But the Unbelievers,- their deeds are like a mirage in sandy deserts, which the man parched with thirst mistakes for water; until when he comes up to it, he finds it to be nothing: But he finds Allah (ever) with him, and Allah will pay him his account: and Allah is swift in taking account. (Qur’an 24:39)
Just like the efforts of the patriotic individual was nothing more than a self delusion – a “mirage” – of serving the nation, similarly God does not count the works of the unbelievers to be in anyway helpful for them in the hereafter.
In fact Allah (SWT) does not even consider the purportedly righteous works of the unbelievers to be anything more than “ashes” which would be scattered by a tempestuous wind:
The parable of those who reject their Lord is that their works are as ashes, on which the wind blows furiously on a tempestuous day: No power have they over aught that they have earned: that is the straying far, far (from the goal). (Qur’an 14:18)
Thus we find that there is hardly any recognition of the “righteous” philanthropic works that the disbelievers would discharge in this world. Such a stance of non-accreditation towards the apparently righteous works of the disbelievers/non-believers may follow immediately from the analogy of the military setup: just as without prior and proper channeling and authorization, if any individual – even if s/he be a lawful citizen of the country – breaks into the military facility with all good intentions and yet it would be considered unlawful; similarly, it is only logical to understand that without proper recognition of The Almighty who created the unbelieving philanthropist in the first place, all his/her altruistic works would be reckoned to nothing; in fact, our philanthropist might take a step beyond: s/he may have been well defiling his/her spiritual self by prostrating to mere stocks and stones while discharging the apparently “charitable” works; quite obviously then, any such works would not be of any worth in the hereafter especially when considered in conjunction with such horrendous acts of spiritual abuse. This explains why Allah (SWT) declares,
And We shall turn to whatever deeds they did (in this life), and We shall make such deeds as floating dust scattered about. (Qur’an 25:23)
Philanthropy, altruism, charity and all such acts of benevolence are indeed beautiful and Islam obligates its believers to practice them; however, Islam also arduously advocates that these acts must be wrapped duly within the cover of True Faith (i.e. the Faith lies central and integral to all acts). It is because the external acts – philanthropic or otherwise – should be a reflection of the internal faith that we harbor. And therefore, the outer façade of true faith that wraps various philanthropic acts would offer them their due recognition with God and would prove to be of any help in the hereafter. Because, if this would not have been the case, then even Satanists advocate philanthropy! We are sure that one could find Satanists who would be kind towards their pets, charitable towards the needy, so on and so forth. And yet none of these would add up to anything substantial. Simply because their basic faith of worshipping “Satan” (!?) is vulgarly flawed.
It is not our intent, however, to doubt the intentions of the myriad non-Muslim philanthropists who strive their best to serve humanity, however, if they do not want their works to be treated as mere “ashes” or as “floating dust scattered about” or if they do not want to be dodged then when it matters the most by that misleading “mirage” of the sandy desert which happens to be “nothing”, then they would do extremely well by recognizing One True God and His religion and thereby do the first favor of philanthropy upon themselves.
Unless otherwise mentioned, all Qur’anic texts taken from Yusuf Ali’s Quran Translation.