Man is born with a heart of compassion which reacts in accordance to the feelings of fellow humans. Compassion, love, affection, and care are the innate qualities which make a human. These qualities define man. The development or suppression of these qualities entirely depends on man himself. From time to time, philosophers and religious scholars have tried to encourage people to increase these innate qualities in themselves. Humanity is one such aspect which has been stressed upon in all parts of the world. "Service to Mankind is service to God" is the proverb highly prevalent all over the world. Humanitarianism is considered as service to human beings. The very term human denotes a charitable person. Loving and serving humans is considered of the utmost importance. Uplifting the poor by providing basic necessities like food, clothing and shelter is the only rule that finds its place in the agenda of serving people.
One example to inculcate the ability to serve mankind in humans is about the "Good Samaritan" who has helped a sick man and did not even care to reveal his identity to the people. There are various social service organizations in every part of the world which help the orphans, women, children and the elderly. They are served by providing material provisions like food, shelter, clothing, medical help and education.
Similarly, we find in Islamic history the best examples of love and compassion for fellow human beings. Sometimes we find the Prophet of Islam (peace be upon him and his progeny) serving the needy and weak; sometimes we see Imam Ali (peace be upon him) sitting with the sick and the poor, attending to their needs affectionately; and sometimes we see other members from our holy Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them) giving the same service to needy ones. Islam has laid great stress on helping the poor and needy ones. But we know that man's needs are not confined to just material aspects of life; rather, he seeks to fulfill higher needs as well, like guidance and seeking knowledge. Hence we find that along with material needs, the Holy Prophet and Ahlul Bayt have quenched humanity's spiritual thirst as well. Man is a creature who always longs for company, love and compassion.
The Qur'an says, in verse 90 of the Chapter of the Bee: "Surely Allah enjoins the doing of justice and the doing of good (to others) and the giving to the kindred, and He forbids indecency and evil and rebellion; He admonishes you that you may be mindful."
Islam has put much emphasis on serving humans, but providing merely food and shelter to fellow humans cannot be considered as a service to Allah on the whole. It is inappropriate to think that we are serving mankind as a whole by simply spending a huge amount in charity, as most of the celebrities do these days.
Service to Allah is being obedient to Him in a way that He expects humans to be. The first stage of this obedience is our acceptance of Tawhid.
Once we give our acceptance of the oneness of Allah, we are expected to obey Him in a way that He has prescribed to us. This is the stage where man fulfills all the mandatory acts like prayers, Hajj, and paying of Zakat and Khums. It is the stage where man develops the bondage between himself and Allah directly.
The third stage is serving the family and relations: fulfilling the rights of his dependents and of people closely related to him. Here again, man attains further closeness to Allah through his family, by pleasing them.
Then comes the fourth stage, which is about service to human beings. Man attains closeness to Allah by serving his fellow beings.
But the main question is, in what way should the fellow beings be served, so that the service could be termed as service to Allah as a whole? Ayatollah Murtadha Mutahhari in his book, The Perfect Man, says: "Serving people is fine and we should serve them. But if we provide them with food and clothes alone, we would be treating them like animals, especially if we suppose no higher values exist for them. If service is confined to this, what would be the difference between Abu Dhar and Mu'awiya?" Definitely, mere provision of food and shelter does not fulfill the purpose. There has to be an additional form of service. Every Muslim is expected to render his duties towards the society in which he lives. The actual service to human beings lies in treating them as humans first. We need to help our fellow human beings in nurturing and growing their innate qualities which define them as humans. Man is different from all the creatures of both the worlds, and so are his duties and responsibilities towards his Creator. Surely, service to this special creature has to be by helping him understand and render his responsibilities towards his Creator.
Man is born with the innate ability of learning and understanding. He is capable of multiplying his knowledge through understanding and analyzing what he has learnt. Man is not pre-programmed to obey and pray Allah. He does so by his own free will. This makes him different from the rest of creatures, and therefore heaven and hell are made to reward and punish him accordingly. The method of serving man is by grooming and molding him in accordance to the tenets of Islam. This helps man to distinguish himself and highlight his superiority towards other creatures. Education and awareness are the two methods that can be implemented to help man understand himself.
Imam Zainul Abideen (peace be upon him), surely fulfilled his duty of serving mankind by educating the people through the supplications he delivered. When we read those supplications in the Psalms of Islam, we realize that the whole of Islam is confined in them.
Imam Ja'far as-Sadiq (peace be upon him) also served mankind by educating the people. He had more than 6,000 students studying under him from all over the world. They did not just learn about Islam, but were taught various subjects including science. This eventually terminated the Dark Age in Europe.
We can fulfill our responsibility of serving mankind by educating the people, laying more emphasis on Islamic education, arranging educational and awareness campaigns about Islam, helping the people – especially the youth – understand the true meaning behind the message brought by the Prophet and protected by the Ahlul Bayt, even at the cost of their lives. We must encourage them to spread this knowledge among fellow beings.
A Muslim's responsibility does not end just here. It is our duty to act as true representatives of Islam and behave in accordance to the Islamic tenets. We are expected to treat our fellow beings with love and honesty, to respect them and always be available to them whenever they are in need, whatever may be the kind of their need. The Prophet has said: "Allah has made seven rights obligatory upon a believer towards another believer:
- To respect him
- To love him
- To share his property with him
- To consider it prohibited to backbite about him
- To visit him when he is sick
- To escort his funeral procession
- To say nothing but good about him after his death."
Surely, this kind of service to mankind can be termed as service to Allah.