How To Be Charity Itself: Mother Teresa’s International Day of Charity

Lina Hashem is communications specialist at Islamic Relief USA.

Islam teaches us simply to always keep some charity in our everyday life, and to make our lives a blessing to others. But in a world filled with suffering, it’s hard to see what one person can do to help. And when we’re stuck in our daily routine, it might seem like the wrong time for charity, or even too late.

It makes sense why we might feel that way in our hectic, troubled world. But next time you’re stuck in that way of thinking, remember this story …

There was a little girl born in a city between the mountains of eastern Europe, at a time when the region was racked by upheaval. When she was 2, the First Balkan War broke out, further unsettling her family’s security, and then came World War I. In other words, her prospects for a safe future were questionable. Infinitesimally smaller were her prospects for changing the world.

Then, when she was 8, her father suddenly became sick and died, placing her in one of the most powerless and vulnerable categories of people in the world—an orphan girl.

The little girl and her mother turned to each other for comfort, and they shared what they had with others in need. There was always an open invitation for anyone to join them at their table. Her mother told her, “Never eat a single mouthful unless you are sharing it with others.” When she asked her mother who were the people eating with them, her mother would say, “Some of them are our relations, but all of them are our people.”

The little girl grew up and became a teacher and then a school principal, in a country even poorer than the one where she grew up. She taught impoverished students, always aiming to improve the children’s lives through their education. But after many years in that profession, in her mid-30s, she suddenly felt the need for a career change. Teaching was no longer enough—she wanted to do more to help others.


“By blood, I am Albanian. By citizenship, an Indian. By faith, I am a Catholic nun. As to my calling, I belong to the world.”

So at age 38—at a time when many people feel trapped in the direction they’ve chosen—she achieved her career change and dedicated herself to a new life of charity. She started her own school. And then a home for the dying poor. And then a congregation of missionaries for charity, and a leper colony, and an orphanage, and a nursing home, and a family clinic, and a group of mobile health clinics, and a clinic for people with HIV/AIDS. Her congregation numbered in the thousands, and by now most of world knew her and loved her.

This little girl turned teacher turned entrepreneur of charity was, of course, Mother Teresa. The United Nations has designated Sept. 5 as the International Day of Charity in her honor.

At Islamic Relief USA, we’re happy to honor this modern-day example of a life lived to help others. It’s hard to hold a candle to Mother Theresa or to our great examples from Islamic history, but we can do our part to be the best charitable beings we can be in this life.

On International Day of Charity, what will you do to help someone else?