In Turkish the word sadaka (charity) is used to define what a person gives voluntarily to those in need of money or the like. Even though the word of sadaka is used instead of zakat (a form of sadaka) or as its synonym, the concept of sadaka is far wider. Zakat is one of the five pillars of Islam and it is farz (compulsory worship) for Muslims. Fitr is zakat for the body and needs to be given at the end of the holy month of Ramadan. Consequently, in order to express the separation of sadaka into zakat and fitr, distinguishing terms such as sadaka-i tatavvu (voluntarily donated charity) are commonly used.
How and in what ways charity should be offered is clarified in the verses of the Holy Qur’an and hadiths of Prophet Muhammad. The following verses directly refer to charity: “O you who believe! Do not make your charity worthless by reproach and injury,” (2/264, Holy Qur’an) The 271th verse states: “If you give alms openly, it is well, and if you hide it and give it to the poor, it is better for you…” (2/271, Holy Qur’an). Finally: “Alms are for the poor who are confined in the way of Allah - they cannot go about in the land; the ignorant man thinks them to be rich on account of their abstaining from begging…” (2/273, Holy Qur’an) The recipients, fukara-yı sabirin (the patient poor), should not reveal their condition to anyone and abstain from asking for anything, indeed should be ashamed to do so. Donating charity to is of particular importance.
The anonymous donation of charity is necessary to protect the uhonor of the recipient, and so that there is no opportunity for gossip or to attract jealousy. Prophet Muhammad also emphasizes that the “Left hand should not know what the right hand gives.”
The avoidance of staring charity recipients in the face, not looking at them to prevent offending them, and not showing off or bragging about donations to others are all among Turkish traditions that should be respected when donating to charity.
The sadaka taşı (charity stone) is a charitable system in Turkish culture that serves as a precautionary measure to prevent begging or to reduce it to the lowest level possible. The sadaka taşı is also known as a zekât taşı, hâcet (need) taşı, fukara (poor) taşı, hayrat deliği (charity hole), hacet yeri (need location), ihtiyaçgâh (need place), zekât kuyusu (zakat well). The sadaka taşı was made from small stone pillars in the corner of mosques, fountains, bridges, some tombs, dervish lodges, haziras,1 dervish convents, inns, hospitals and nurseries, as well as on some well-frequented streets. On the surface of these stones was a shallow reservoir. Those who want to deposit charity would leave it there; those who were in need did not ask for alms and were expected to take only what they needed to find solace. Both the donor and recipient preferred to donate and take in the darkness of the night. This elegant means of charity protected the recipient from embarrassment and shame and the donor from falling into pride and hypocrisy. The sadaka taşı was a form of civil society solidarity. The people would be position the sadaka taşı in the appropriate location. This charity system, which prevents the giver and receiver from encountering one another, not only functioned among the rich and poor, but also among those who were of the same social status.
Sadaka taşı were made in a variety of sizes, shapes and types and were made from granite or marble. In keeping with their function, they were simple, plain and modest. The height of the remaining stones varies, as the land around them has been filled in, making them lose their height. It is believed that their original height was 0.80 -1.40 m, thus beyond a child’s reach. It can also be concluded that a few steps would have been placed so that the top of the higher stones could be reached. Those that are still standing today are shorter than what their original height would have been. Most sadaka taşı were made from ancient pillars, and as a result their diameters vary. In the examples we have seen, trunk diameters vary between 26.5 and 60 cm wide. In the middle of the top surface is an indentation similar to a bowl, measuring 4 to 9 cm in diameter and of the same depth. From the ancient times on, when coins were the only currency, coins would be left in this space provided. For centuries during the Ottoman State (1329 to 1834) the most important form of currency were the small silver coins (the first Ottoman paper note, the kaime, was issued during the reign of Sultan Abdülmecid in 1840). While many sadaka taşıs have such a reservoir, some do not. In some surviving examples, it can be observed that the reservoir has been filled with cement. Sadaka taşıs that are square, rectangular or hexagon in shape are also common. With no date inscribed on the stones and the differences in the dates caused by reusing antique pillars for the sadaka taşı, dating these stones is really difficult. It is believed that people used sadaka taşıs since the Seljuks.
In small masjids which had no minaret, the muezzin would recite the adhan from the top of these stones, as a result, these stones also came to be known as adhan stones.
There are also unusual examples of sadaka taşıs. For example, an ancient pillar in the entrance of Koca Mustafa Paşa Sümbül Efendi Külliyye (complex) was turned upside down to be used to this end.
Next to the fountain on the yard wall of Süleymaniye Mosque, facing the Koca Sinan’s Tomb, a sadaka taşı was designed as a niche. These sadaka taşıs are known colloquially as charity holes. Also, in the Süleymaniye Mosque hazira, close to the Hürrem Sultan Tomb there is a covered (coned) sadaka taşı.
There can be no doubt that sadaka taşıs are an extremely refined and graceful means of helping those who are not able to express their needs to others due to their honor and dignity. They also represent a cultural asset that needs to be protected.
1 A hazira is a burial area reserved for some distinguished people in mosques or dervish lodges.