Understanding the Phenomenon of Islamic Charity in the Islamic World and Beyond

Date:  2021-03-24 09:29:04
7 pages  (1836 words)
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The culture of making charitable contributions plays a key role in the socio-cultural and religious aspects of the Muslim community. Among Muslims, charity refers to the spirit of helping others to meet their material or emotional needs (Perry 2006, p. 34). It is one of the Five Pillars of faith. The other four pillars are: pilgrimage to Mecca, fasting, performing of ritual prayers, and recitation of the Islamic faith. The existent of millions of starving, suffering and poor people in the world points to the need for the teachings of the pillar of charity to be put into practice. According to Lacey and Jonathan (2008, p. 34), giving of charity is an ongoing responsibility through which Muslims express their love for Allah (God) by helping the needy. Prophet Mohammed, The founder of Islam, taught his followers that the true owner of all things visible and invisible is Allah, and that human beings are only custodians of what Allah given them. Therefore among Muslims, the whole concept of wealth and other forms of material possession is considered a blessing from Allah. The same Allah who provided wealth to one person made a portion of it for the poor, and thus those in need have a right over other people's wealth. This implies that all Muslims have a religious obligation to donate part of their wealth to the poor through charity.

Islamic teachings hold that acquisition of assets and wealth to bolster a persons worthy and self-esteem is strong condemned. As the Prophet taught, material possessions do not give a Muslim any merit in this world or in hereafter. Rather, wealth should only be acquired with the intention of spending it to satisfy personal needs and the needs of others. By making charitable contributions, Muslims free themselves from the love of money and material things. Muslims believe that in His boundless compassion and love, Allah promises those who perform charitable acts hefty rewards in the afterlife (Napoleoni 2005, p. 85). This means that those who donate to charities or help the poor should not expect earthly gains by doing so. An example of an earthly gain is using charity to build a name as a philanthropist. This is strongly condemned in Islam because it hurts the feelings of the beneficiaries of zakat by making them feel inferior.

One of the most striking features of Islamic charity is the solemn secrecy that characterizes it. Muslims are encouraged to give to charities secretly so as to maintain utmost attention to self-purification and devotion. In so doing, Muslims protect the reputation and self-worthy of those receiving charity especially in public. This is clearly explained in the Quran (2:271) where Muslims are forbidden from giving alms openly. In his book, (Perry, 2006) authoritatively states that any donations given as charity can only be used to support particular causes. As specifically mentioned in the Quran (9:60), charity is supposed to support the needy and to free debtors and slaves.

There are different types of Islamic charities such as zakat, sadaqah and khoms. zakat is a charitable obligation calculated as a percentage of an individuals wealth. In Arabic, which is the most widely used language in the Islamic world and the language in which the Holy Quran was originally written, zakat means purification. It is believed that paying zakat purifies human hearts of greed (Napoleoni 2005, p. 32). Zakat can be paid on different classes depending on an individuals capability. These classes include gold, money, business items, agricultural produce, livestock and silver. Any of these is paid at the end of the year after taking stock of an individuals material blessings during that year. Traditionally, Muslims are required to contribute two and a half percent of their assets and wealth as zakat. Islam rejects the concept of equality of opportunity and therefore all Muslims (poor or rich, young or old) are expected to give zakat (Perry 2006, p. 65-67).

Closely related to zakat is the concept of sadaqah, which involves voluntary alms giving to support those in need. Islamic teachings emphasize clothing of the naked, feeding of the hungry, and helping of the poor as various forms of sadaqah. Muslims believe that the more sadaqah one gives, the more blessings the giver gets from Allah. Unlike zakat which is obligatory and binding upon all Muslims, sadaqah is discretionary and does not have to be in monetary form. khoms is a form of charitable obligations practiced by Shia Muslims. It is calculated as a fifth of annual profits or income above basic living requirements. A little known type of Islamic charity is kaffara which is a penitential contribution an individual makes for breaking an oath (Perry 2006, 52-56).

In addition to individual obligations to perform charitable acts, Islam emphasizes institutional foundations called waqf. Generally, waqf involves making of property endowment or reserving property to benefit a religious cause or a certain common good. Waqfs can be endowed by institutions, individuals and families, and they often engage in some income generating activities. For example, a mosque may have space for commercial stalls, from which rent is collected. These income generating activities can be used to support charitable activities. Waqfs an also support charitable acts by furthering public goods. Examples of such waqfs are schools, hospitals and other institutions supported by religious groups. These waqf institutions perform charity by offering services to the less fortunate members of society (Burne 2014, p. 52).

Being a key pillar of the Islamic faith, Islamic charity is more pervasive and broad than the ideas of charity espoused by other religion such as Christianity and Judaism. In many Muslim countries, charity (specifically zakat) functions as income tax, foreign aid, humanitarian and educational assistance and a means of gaining political influence. The notion of separation of religious from civic obligations that is common among western societies does not exist in the Islamic world. Therefore, funding of charitable causes is a primary responsibility of governments in Muslim countries. In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for instance, there is a state department that is responsible for collecting Zakat directly from the people. The department functions more or less the same way as the Internal Revenue Service of the United States. This shows that charity lies is of great importance in the Islamic faith.

According to Brunn (2003, p. 1-15) the kind of projects sponsored and financed by waqfts in modern times are very diverse, covering economic, social, cultural and humanitarian domains. In many many Muslim countries, waqfs have played a major role in sinking of wells, construct of homes for the poor, maintenance of roads, construction of water fountains, free motels and hostels for travelers, upkeep of burial places and organization of funerals for the poor, help for the physically and mentally impaired and organizing marriages for the those unable. With advancements in the means of transport and accommodation, modern waqfs are no longer limited to a local region but covers the whole world. Nowadays, waqfs have been organized as non-governmental organizations and are constantly improving their capacity to carry out large scale projects or provide massive humanitarian aid during emergency situations.

According to Islamic traditions, the religio-cultural merit of charity neither begins with giving it nor ends with passing it to the needy. Rather it begins at a very early stage and as a matter of fact knows no closing end. It involves a continuous practice of moral prerequisites involving resource accumulation and generating of wealth, sharing and distributing it to the needy while adhering to the applicable moral and religious obligations (Perry, 2006, p. 16). Like other religions, Islam places great ethical attention of the process of wealth creation. An important consideration is that Muslims can only spend on charity what has been legitimately received. The religion is very categorical on its emphasis is upon all followers to earn resources and spend according to pious means. This means that money or other resources obtained though illegitimate means is no worthy donating to charity.

A study by Kohlman (2004, p. 22) found that although Muslims contribute to charities throughout the years, these contributions tend to hike during special occasions and events in the islamic calendar. For instance, during the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims make hefty donations to help the needy. They also invite the needy to their homes to share meals as a sign of compassion and brotherhood. Many wafs also launch mega funds drives during the month of Ramadan (Stearns 2006, p. 32). Some of the money collected is used to finance development projects while the rest is allocated to mergence humanitarian aid. In the past, donations collected during Ramadan (zakat al-fitr) was distributed among locals. Today, the money can be distributed to people living in distress in far way countries. Another special event during which Muslims make charitable contribution is the Feast of Sacrifice. This event marks the end of the pilgrimage, and often witnesses Muslims and many waqfs perform the obligatory rite of distributing food (especially meat) and clothing to the needy.

According to Ly (2007, p.177), although charity is a central tenet of the Islamic faith and practice, it is not clearly understood outside the Islamic communities how giving of charities binds the Muslim ummah despite differences in class, race, ethnicity or other factors. In the Islamic conceptions of community and faith, all Muslims are linked to each other through obligations to God. One of these obligations is support for the needy. To Muslims, charitable acts are not mere acts of faith. Rather, they symbolizes ones commitment to Islamic solidarity and is thus a process of building a strong community and brotherhood. In this regard, the concept of charity contributes greatly to Muslims emphasis on social justice, both as an individual responsibility and an obligation of the society, including government. It is for this reason that in many Muslim countries, governments put a lot of emphasis on the process of charity contribution. They achieve this by encouraging people to give and by providing necessary mechanism for collecting the contributions.

Alterman and Shireen (2004) notes that although it is widely presumed among Muslims that Islamic practices have been consistent from the time of the Prophet, rules about charity (like many other aspects of Islam) have varied greatly over time and across Islamic societies. One aspect of variation has been along zones of Islam. There are seven major distinct zones of Islam Arabic, Turkish, African, South Asian, South East Asian, Iranian and Diaspora (countries where Muslims are not the majority). These zones significantly differ in religious practices and interpretation of Islamic teachings. Another aspect of variation relates to the schools of jurisprudence. Shafii, Hanafi, Maliki and Hanbali are the primary schools of taught in Shia and Sunni jurisprudence. The various schools are based on the works of scholars who lived during the first three centuries of Islam (between 650 and 850 AD). Among these schools, there are considerable variations in practices and rules governing charitable acts. Generally, the variations tend to be in details as opposed to principles and therefore the various schools agree in most of their content.

Despite the traditional differences in the practices of charity, modern Islam has seen an emerging trend towards o...

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