Surah 4 (Al-Nisa/Women): 36

And worship none but God and raise none to His Divine level.
Show kindness to and help your parents, the relatives, the orphans, the needy ones, the neighbors (related or non-related to you), the stranded traveller and your slaves.
Know that God does not like the arrogant show-offs who are stingy, reproach people for being charitable and hoard what God has blessed them out of His kindness.

[‘An Easy to Understand Translation of the Qur’an‘, Bijan Moeinian, 2005 (Iranian-US)]


A call to freely give alms in charity, is made directly in {2.177}, {23.4}, {27.3}, {30.39}, {31.4}, {51.19}, {69.31-34}, {74.43-44}, {90.6-16} and {93.10}, and indirectly as part of God’s covenant with the people of Israel – {2.43 & 83}, {5.12} and {7.156} – or through exhortations that are placed in the mouths of Ishmael, {19.55}, and the infant Jesus, {19.31}; see also {21.73}. Since by the time of the Qur’an’s completion, believers were bound to pay obligatory alms in the form of zakat 〈54.〉 as an essential requirement of being a believer, the duty to give discretionary alms should now be seen as a separate, additional but more flexible ethical obligation. {2.177}’s ‘…Piety is he who… gives wealth, despite loving it, to kinsfolk (etc) … and gives the alms.’ is certainly worded as though that were the case.


The list of those to whom charity should be given in {4.36} – namely parents and other relatives, orphans, those in need, travellers and one’s slaves – mirrors the list of obligatory zakat beneficiaries in {9.60}, and similar, although not identical, lists appear at {2.177 & 215} and {30.38} and indirectly, as a recalled past instruction to the Children of Israel, at {2.83}. These prescribed lists specify appropriate recipients by either their relationship to the donor, or their membership of one of two particular categories – orphans, slaves and travellers – or extreme need. This model is also evident in verses without such lists:

{51.19}: ‘And in (the reverent’s) wealth was a due for the beggar and the deprived.’


{69.31-34} and {74.43-44}: The inhabitants of Hell will be there because they did not pray or feed ‘the indigent’ (per The Study Qur’an and Yusuf Ali, ‘the needy’ Arberry, ‘the wretched’ Pickthall); see also {89.17-18}.


{90.6}  (Man) says: ’I have squandered vast wealth’

{90.7}  Does he suppose that no one sees him?…

{90.12}  And what will apprise thee of the steep pass?

{90.13}  (It is) the freeing of a slave

{90.14}  Or giving food in time of famine

{90.15}  To an orphan near of kin,

{90.16}  Or to an indigent clinging to the dust…


{93.10}: ‘And as for one who requests (commonly translated as ‘the beggar’) repel not’.

There is no indication that the Qur’an requires that believers to give in charity to strangers suffering mild need or to the extent that it causes themselves serious hardship, such as contained in Jesus’s challenge to the rich man to ‘Sell all you have and give to the poor,’ (Matthew 19.21 , Mark 10.21 and Luke 18.22   .)


Obligatory zakat is conventionally only distributed amongst Muslims. The above verses, taken in isolation, are broad enough that they might be interpreted in such a way that a Muslim should, in appropriate cases, show generosity, born of compassion, to ‘the needy ones, the neighbour who is not of kin… (and) the traveller’ without confessional discrimination. However, they are hardly specific enough to be read as overruling other verses that urge separation from and hostility towards unbelievers. (see Part VII).