Islam and Philanthropy
It is widely known that every religion has philanthropic components to it, and Islam is no exception. Islamic injunctions make the act of charity obligatory for its believers. Amidst how deep-rooted philanthropy is in the Islam faith, it is even more important to advocate for more strategic and sustainable giving by Muslims to philanthropic causes.
The African Philanthropy Forum held a webinar themed 'Islam and Philanthropy'- an insightful discussion that touched on the practice of philanthropy by Muslims and how this can actively reduce the burden of social issues in our society. The session also highlighted the need to explore the true meaning of sustainable giving and shed more light on Zakat, an important tenet of the Islamic faith.
The panel, moderated by Zahra Zakariya Abdulkareem, Founder & Chief Cultivator of The Umm Fariha Network, consisted of seasoned experts on the theme across the African continent: Dr Marwa El Daly, Founder and Chairperson of Waqfeyat al Maadi Community Foundation (WMCF) and Mr Khalfan Abdallah, Managing Partner of ABRAR Consult.
The third pillar of the Islamic faith, Zakat, makes giving mandatory as instructed by the Almighty Allah. It should also be noted that the practice of Zakat is not only for wealthy Muslims. It is a powerful form of wealth transfer worldwide and notably contributes up to 1 trillion dollars yearly. Zakat is not just embedded in the pillars of Islam but is a right – if you do not give Zakat, you're seen as taking the rights of those who should benefit from it. The obligation of Zakat is that even from the little you have, you are still able to give to those who are not as privileged. The less privileged have as much right to receive as much as you have a right to give.
However, the focus of Zakat is on the quality of the giving and not just the quantity of people you reach. Zakat focuses on how people can use their income to alleviate social injustice. The usual practice of capital accumulation should not be the focus, so Zakat requires that you allocate 2.5% of your earnings and possessions towards giving to the poor and needy. Companies run by Muslims are also encouraged to comply with Zakat. As emphasized during the webinar, giving must be done strategically and should not be done in a generalised manner, whereby it is carried out as a way of ticking off the good deeds, especially during the Ramadan season. “It is not just about giving! You have to be strategic to ensure the money given is used effectively” said Dr Marwa El Daly.
Expanding on this point, Mr Khalfan Abdallah mentioned the need to identify the areas which need special attention, especially during these challenging times of the Covid-19 Pandemic, “we need to give due attention to the health centres, channelling Zakat donations to those affected by Covid-19.”
Nevertheless, channelling Zakat might be a challenge. There is no consensus as to the organisation of the collection of Zakat in Muslim and Non-Muslim states. In some Muslim states, such as Libya, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Pakistan and Indonesia, Zakat is compulsory and collected by the State. While in Bangladesh, it is compulsory, but private Zakat organisations collect it. In states where Muslims are a minority, Zakat collection and distribution is a private matter. For example, in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Tanzania, Zakat is collected and distributed by Muslim based NGOs. In Nigeria, a country with a large majority of Muslims, the payment of Zakat is not compulsory. Still, in most northern states, the government has established a state-controlled Zakat fund that is not mandatory, so many Muslims still pay their Zakat directly to beneficiaries in their community. Muslim economists estimate that most Zakat is still privately distributed; it is collected from and distributed in the same local Muslim community.
Zakat is not the only way in which Muslims can give; there is also Sadaqah. While Zakat is mandatory, Sadaqah is not. Sadaqah is more about compassionate giving and not an obligation in the faith. During the session, speakers agreed that regardless of the type of giving, there is a need to put human faces to giving in a respectful way. “Giving should be economically empowering, beneficial, and should provide the right tools to raise the less fortunate from their current positions”, stated Dr Marwa El Daly. “It should not be used to degrade others or make them reliant on the privileged in society, but should be targeted at meaningful and deliberate contributions that can empower communities”, concurred Mr Khalfan Abdallah.
With the recent uprising in the world, including – #BlackLivesMatter, the Covid-19 pandemic, #ENDSARS protests, and the rising numbers of refugees and internally displaced people, the practice of philanthropy could not be more timely. These recent happenings have emphasized the need for strategic giving to become the norm if we intend to target the root causes of problems and measure impact. The South African National Zakat Fund reported an increase of 12% in Zakat and a 44% increase in Non-Zakat funds received between 2019 and 2020. According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees Annual Islamic Philanthropy report, there was a 12.5 % rise in donations to its Refugee Zakat Fund in 2020 compared to 2019.
Additionally, the CEO of Islamic Relief (the world largest Islamic NGO) stated in a recent interview that Islamic Relief and other Muslim charities saw an increase in income in the Month of Ramadan during the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. This shows the active involvement of Muslims in philanthropy which will invariably help improve education, poverty alleviation, and healthcare across Africa.
As philanthropy continues to create a strong wake-up call for Africans to mobilize their own resources to alleviate poverty and improve development on the continent, we must ensure that the Muslim faithfuls are not left out.
The African Philanthropy Forum (APF) is a strong and vibrant community of givers who through their strategic investments, partnerships, and influence, foster inclusive and sustainable development on the African Continent. The African Philanthropy Forum (APF) was established in 2014 to build a learning community of strategic African philanthropists and social investors committed to inclusive and sustainable development throughout the continent.