“Those who spend their property by night and day, secretly and openly, they shall have their reward from their Lord and they shall have no fear, nor shall they grieve.” (Holy Koran, 2:274)
By Mumtaz Ali Tajddin S. Ali
Meaning of the word Nazrana
The Arabic word nazar (pl. nuzur) means an offering, gift or present. The Persian noun word nazrana means a special gift offered especially to a prince to pay respect.
In Ismaili tradition, Nazrana is an oblation or special gift presented to the Imam mostly during the mehmani, any other occasion or historical period to earn best blessings. It is presented individually on behalf of the family as well as collectively on behalf of a jamat or all jamats of a country.
Nazrana in Qu’ran
The word nazar/nazur occurs six times in the Koran (2:35, 2:270, 14:26, 41:13, 46:21 and 78:40).
The Arabic word hibah (pl. hibat) means gift. He who makes the gift is called wahib (one who presents); the things given, mauhub, and the person to whom it is presented is mauhub lahu.
Two kinds of gift-giving occur in the Koran:
- God gives gift (ata) to humans is mentioned five times in the Koran.
- People giving or exchanging, presents (nihla, hadiyya).
According to the Koran, “Who gives away his wealth, purifying himself.” (92:18). Apart from specific obligations, a Muslim is suggested to spend, out of sheer love of God, from his wealth (22:37). If a Muslim spends out of love for God, he is repaid manifold (22:245). The Holy Prophet prohibited sadaqah (alms) and zakat (charity) to himself and his progeny, but he allowed gifts (58:12).
The Koran says, “The parable of those who spend their wealth in the way of God is as the parable of a grain of corn growing seven ears, in every ear containing a hundred grains. And God multiplies (further) for whom He pleases. And God is Ample-giving, Knowing” (2:261). It is noteworthy that while the Koran represents the increase to be seven-hundredfold, even multiples of it, Jesus Christ, in a similar parable – the parable of the sower – promises thirty, sixty or a hundredfold increase (Matt. 13:23, Mark 4:8)
Koran further says, “And the parable of those who spend their wealth to seek God’s pleasure and for the strengthening of their souls is as the parable of a garden on elevated ground, upon which heavy rain falls, so it brings forth its fruit twofold; but if heavy rain falls not on it, light rain (suffices). And God is Seer of what you do.” (2:265)
Story of Nazrana/gift-giving in Qu’ran
The only case that involves gift-giving in a narrative context in the Koran is the Queen of Sheba’s sending gift (hadiyya) to Soloman to test whether he was noble prophet or a worldly king (27:35-6). In his Tafsir (9th vol., p. 515), Tabari writes that the Queen’s presents are said to have consisted of bricks of gold and silver, slave boys and girls, horses and jewellery.
Nazrana in Torah (Old Testament)
The tradition of presenting nazrana to God is also found in the Torah or Old Testament:
“Cain (son of Adam) brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord. And Abel (another son of Adam), he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof.” (Genesis, Ch. 4:v: 3, 4).
The offering to God was turned into money, then the cash was deposited at a place selected by God.
“God spoke to Moses to tell the followers that an half shakel shall be the offering of the Lord” (Exodus, 30:12-16).
“And the Lord called unto Moses: Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them: If any man of you brings an offering unto the Lord, ye shall bring your offering of the cattle, even of the herd, and of the flock” (Levi, 1:1-2).
Nazrana (Offerings): Early Age of Islam - Qurtubi (d. 1273) writes in Al Jami li-Ahkam al-Koran (13th vol., p. 132) that, “The Prophet of Islam and all the prophets accepted and encouraged the exchange of gifts on account of their beneficial effect on human relations.”
Mumtaz Ali Tajddin S. Ali has authored several articles and books, including Encyclopedia of Ismailism, 101 Ismaili Heroes and Ismailis through History. For several decades, he has been involved with Ismaili Tarqiah and Religious Education Board (ITREB) in Pakistan as an Honorary Missionary and lecturer of religious education classes on history, ginans and other educational topics.
Karachi: April, 2017