Of every aspects of Islam, the duty of charity placed on every Muslim is probably my favourite. Many people often forget that we are one large brother/sisterhood of humanity, charity is the epitome of all moral and just treatment of our fellow man. The Golden Rule dictates to treat others as you would like to be treated. Prophet Mohammad (pbuh), in one of the hadith states: "Not one of you truly believe until you wih for others what you would wish for yourself" (An-Nawawi's Forty Hadith 13, p. 56) That in itself is the true Islam but to go above and beyond is charity.
In another hadith, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is quoted as answering after being asked what are human beings expected to give as charity "The doors of goodness are many...enjoining good, forbidding evil, removing harm from the road, listening to the deaf, leading the blind, guiding one to the object of his need, hurrying with the strength of one's legs to one in sorrow who is asking for help, and supporting the feeble with the strength of one's arms--all of these are charity prescribed for you. Your smile for your brother is charity."
To many people, Muslims included, view charity as giving away of our goods or money to those in needs. That does not mean that you should give away to each and everyone. In Paolo Coehlo's The Alchemist, the main character, Santiago, stops atop a hill in a crystal shop. He asks the merchant if he could have a cup of tea, in exchange he would clean the dusty crystal in his shop. The merchant agrees and once done explains to Santiago that regardless of his cleaning the crystal, his religion mandated for him to give him water and food but that allowing him to work as he did was better for both their souls. This is the concept of "tough love" in a way, helping people to do within thier means instead of enabling them in their own destruction. For example, is it helping then to give money to a gambler to pay their bills or would it be best to go do groceries with them and pay for the food? Tipping someone extra-good for doing their job may be greater charity than giving to those who do not work for their recompense.
With Ramadan coming up, I will be doing a lot of introspection but also I will force myself to do some more good int he world around me: smiling a little more, helping those in needs, mending my relationships with friends and neighbours. While they say "Charity starts at home" I think that it's important to look beyond the home from time to time and, whenever possible, invite someone in.
Have a blessed month of Ramadan! :-)