Muslim Microlessons are regular spiritual nuggets by Omer Mozaffar, who has received Islamic studies training both through traditional and academic sources, and has addressed theological, personal, social matters for college students of all sectarian outlooks.
We are taught that after you die, there are three things that will continue to benefit you: charity that yields ongoing benefit (sadaqa jariya), knowledge from which others benefit, and an upright child who prays for you. We have the best types of service and activism: legacy-building.
Regarding Sadaqa Jariya in our culture, this would mean a focus on building and supporting institutions. An “institution” would be either an organization, a person, or a facility like a well or a tree.
The best would be to the persons launching the institution. Imagine the afterlife benefit that the founders of Chicago’s mosques are getting. Imagine the benefit acquired by the founders of centuries-old Muslim seminaries, who produce scholars who teach others.
Most communities in our society and planet are underserved in every worldly need, as illustrated by the stats on hunger, homelessness, inadequate healthcare, illiteracy, and numbers of children in foster care. Even the Muslim community is underserved in accessible spaces to pray.
This does not mean that we bypass the bedraggled person on the street who is seeking help; as we know from the teaching about the prostitute and the dog, it may be in Allah’s will that the blessing of helping that one person exceeds all other good deeds we do. A prostitute saw a dog panting, so she filled her sock from a well and quenched the dog’s thirst; Allah forgave her.
Regarding knowledge from which others benefit, either you study and write, or (as sadaqa jariya) you sponsor scholars in their development, or you sponsor institutions promoting knowledge. In terms of donations, our educational institutions and scholars tend to be among the least in community funding. Celebrity preachers, in contrast, tend to be among the most funded people in our community.
Regarding upright children who pray for you, I have to tell community activists that their time is often better invested on their own children than on others, especially the children of others. How many community servants and activists can you name whose children seem to carry their parents’ zeal? In contrast, how many can you name whose children are falling away?
Of course, Allah owns our children. He may reclaim them early: all of the Prophet Muhammad’s children returned to Allah in his -p- lifetime, and Fatima died shortly after he himself returned to Allah. Despite the parents He gives, He may let them astray: the son of the Prophet Noah/Nuh -p- went astray and drowned and the son of the Prophet Adam -p- killed his brother.
In my work, the children with the most compassion for their parents are almost always those who have a healthy relationship with their parents, regardless of social class. These are children who have engaged relationship with their parents, as well as their extended family members. If they receive compassion and are taught compassion, they know how to give compassion, insha Allah.
And Allah knows best.