“Please refrain from bringing little children to the mosque in order to maintain its sanctity,” reads a poster on the wall of the women’s section at a local mosque in Karachi nowadays, i.e. during Ramadan – the month during which women flock to the mosques for praying taraweeh. Although those young mothers, who nevertheless bring their wards along in complete disregard of the sign, are not denied entry, a stern eye is still kept on their children’s behavior. Any rowdiness is immediately curbed by the mosque’s female caretakers, who also intermittently issue reminders to the praying women to keep their rows straight.
I find this quite preposterous, and not just because I have young children. I remember how, when I would pray at Masjid Al-Nabawi during my Hajj journey a few years ago, as the imam would start obligatory prayer in congregation, the whole women’s section would start resounding with the collective bawl of infants as their mothers stood up and left them lying on the carpet. Toddlers would whine at their mothers’ feet, clinging to their abaya’s and crying in protest at seeing her loving attention turn into indifference, and her embrace suddenly disappear into thin air.
At the start of this Ramadan, I couldn’t wait to pray taraweeh in congregation again. That is because, for the last two years, my second born was initially just 2 months old and the following year, a sprinty 14-month-old toddler prone to run off recklessly if left unsupervised. This year, however, when I asked my husband to keep one child with him at the local street mosque, intending to pray there in the women’s section while keeping the other child with me, he gave a shocking response.
“The mosque has denied entrance to children under the age of 7. They just announced this.”
I could not believe my ears! This was not just any mosque. It is one of the more reputed mosques of Karachi, with a solid foundation based on the Quran and Sunnah. It also runs an authentic program of Islamic education in its intrinsic madrassah (Islamic school). I decided to give them a call to make sure. The Imam who answered the phone confirmed the news.
“But both my children are under 7. I live nearby and it will cause me some difficulty to go farther away to pray taraweeh,” I protested.
“If it were up to me, I would never disallow children from coming,” he reassured, “It is on the repeated complaints and requests of the women in the women’s section that we have enforced this restriction.”
“I am sure you know that our Prophet [صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم] never stopped children from coming to his mosque. In fact, he led the prayer with his granddaughter Umaamah held up in his arms.”
“Yes, but have you heard of the narration in which he sternly reprimanded his grandsons from running in the mosque? If children are rowdy inside, they can be reprimanded.”
Since I had heard of no such narration, I kept silent. I also reminded myself that since its Ramadan, arguments should be avoided, particularly with custodians of mosques; he hung up.
What saddened me was the revelation that it was the repeated complaints of women in the mosque that children under 7 had been disallowed entry during taraweeh.
I was reminded of a similar incident during taraweeh a few years ago, at the congregation held in the lawn of a private home where Al-Huda classes are held, which I attended diligently every year. After the witr ended, as the women in the separate ladies’ section were still sitting in tashahhud and making dua, an elderly lady sitting on a chair suddenly started shouting to the crowd, turning her head from side to side, “Alright, that’s enough! Where are the mothers of these rowdy children that have disturbed my whole prayer? Please stand up. Why don’t you all control your children? Their running around and screaming has disturbed me throughout! Here….this boy, whose son is he?”
I, unmarried then, looked down in embarrassment and thought, “Oh boy. May Allah help the mothers of these children now.” I recognized an acquaintance of mine as she stood up, her eyes lowered with humiliation, admitting in a low voice, “He’s mine.” She walked calmly to her son, who was standing still, wide-eyed with embarrassment, and took him away, as the elderly lady went on:
“I will complain to the imam and ask him to stop these children from coming to the taraweeh. They are uncontrollable. Please don’t bring your children if they can not behave themselves.”
The next night, during break in taraweeh, the imam addressed this issue in an unexpected manner that took the women’s congregation by surprise. He said, “I have a point of view about children coming to prayer that is very different from others. I say: let them come and listen to the Quran, and watch everyone pray. The Quran will enter their hearts and they will have fond memories of Ramadan and taraweeh when they grow up. Please practice patience like our Prophet [صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم] did, who would not lift up his head from sujood if his grandson sat on it during prayer.”
This advice by the imam was very similar to that given by Sheikh Abdul Nasir Jangda in his recent post on taraweeh, in which he claimed how his regular yearly visits to the mosque for taraweeh during childhood, became the incentive behind his eventually wanting to memorize the entire Quran. Today, he leads taraweeh every year during Ramadan, alhamdulillah.
It Takes Two To Tango
Although I, by no means, endorse negative reactions towards having children at taraweeh (which, in my experience of observation, usually come from older women), I can see where they are coming from. An unruly, rowdy child that has not been trained on how to behave at the mosque, definitely becomes a nuisance for those praying there, making them lose out not just on their patience but also on their khushoo during salah.
The responsibility of children’s behavior at mosques rests totally on the parents’ shoulders. Parents of young children should train the latter on how to behave at a mosque or congregational prayer, if they want to bring them along. They should come amply prepared for any worse case scenarios that can occur wherever there are little kids. Such preparation can help prevent the extreme reactions of others, whose irritation with the antics of little children entices them to instigate banning their entry into mosques. Here are a few tips:
- Train children to take off their shoes and place them properly at designated places in the mosque. It is very irritating for someone who is praying to have a child with shoes on, walk or run over their clean musallah (prayer rug).
- Never let your child take up space in the rows designated for people to pray in. Instead, you can occupy the latter rows that are usually empty on either side, or the corners of the first rows, so that your child can sit or lie next to a wall or the end of the prayer hall, with you on his or her other side. This will ensure that your baby or child does not create gaps in the saf (prayer row), which affects the validity of congregational prayer.
- Do not feed a child a large meal or lots of drink before coming to the mosque; this will inevitably make a trip to the toilet, or a diaper emergency, imminent, causing distractions during prayer. Check and put on a fresh diaper just before leaving for taraweeh.
- Although basically I am not a big fan of making children snack at places designated for other activities, parents can bring along light snack-type finger food, which will not crumble or leave a stain e.g. diced carrots, nuts, stick cheese, or dates. This should be done as a contingency measure, in case hunger overcomes the child; as all parents know, a hungry child is a cranky child. Parents can also bring along water or milk in tightly sealed bottles or sippy-cups that are spill-proof, to deal with children’s thirst brought on by the heat.
- If any wrappers are left after snacking, teach your children to place them back into their food box or bag. Note: if the mosque prohibits food, you should obey instructions and not bring any; rather, feed your child a light snack just before leaving; one that is enough to prevent hunger for an hour or two.
- Teach your children, however young they may be, about “amanaat“: i.e. things which belong to others are ‘trusts’ that should not be touched, taken or used. This applies especially in the mosque, as people are praying, and hence they cannot immediately stop a child from handling their handbag, mushaf, cell phone or other personal belongings. An older sibling can be made in-charge of ensuring that the younger ones do not touch others’ things.
- Bring along some crayons and a coloring book for older children to scribble on. Again, ensure that there is no clutter on the mosque floor as a result of their activities.
- If your infant/toddler has a favorite toy, security blanket or pillow, bring it along so that s/he stays pacified, or even dozes off during prayer next to you.
- If the mother’s infant starts crying, she should pick it up to stop the bawl, and if that doesn’t work, she should take a break from her prayer and nurse it. Do not wait until the imam’s tasleem to pick him or her up. This will cause chagrin to the others who are praying.
- If your toddler comes crying to you during prayer for some reason, pick him up during prayer to pacify him.
- Teach your children, as soon as they are able to understand it (which, in my experience, is after the age of two) that no one should speak when the Quran is being recited. The best way to do this is to not respond verbally to your child, no matter how much he or she prods you to, when the Quran audio is playing; if you need to speak, turn off the audio first, when an ayah ends, then do so. Eventually, children will start to imitate this behavior of their parents i.e. they will automatically stop talking when they hear the Quran recitation commence. At the mosque during taraweeh, the same children will therefore, only speak when the imam and congregation is in tashahhud, rukoo or sujood. Shouting and talking during the recitation of the Quran is of course, something that should not be undermined or left unchecked. Again, as I said, if the parents never talk during Quran recitation, only then will the children also remain silent, likewise.
As for those of my sisters in Islam who, for whatever reasons, can not attend taraweeh at the mosque or in other privately-held congregations, and who, after reading this article, might be feeling that they are missing out on the rewards of night prayer during Ramadan by praying supererogatory prayers at home on their own, I can leave them with no reassurance better than the one below:
Narrated by Ibn ‘Umar: Allah’s Messenger [صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم] said: “Do not prevent women from mosques, even though their prayer at home is better (for them).” [Abu Dawud]
And the best advice for their menfolk:
Narrated Salim from his father, Abdullah Bin Umar, the Messenger of Allah [صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم] said: “When women ask permission for going to the mosque, do not prevent them.” [Sahih Muslim]
In the end, I’d just like to say that as a mother of two children, aged 4 and 2, I can testify that it is indeed possible for mothers to train their children to follow proper mosque etiquette, and to be strict with them regarding rules of behavior, and its do’s and don’ts. Believe me, you can make them behave well; all it needs is some wisdom and tact; some privileges which you can threaten to take away (“No more pineapples for you!”)….…..and a pair of eyes that can shoot daggers at the drop of a hat! :)
Take a look:
My seven-year old son sat on the ground, digging a hole. Around him, other children ran, cried, and laughed at the playground.
“He’s such a strange kid,” my oldest daughter remarked. “Who goes to the playground and digs holes in the ground?”
In an instant, scenes of my ten-year-old self flashed through my mind. In them I ducked, hiding from invisible enemies in a forest of tapioca plants. Flattening my back against the spindly trunks, I flicked my wrist, sending a paper shuriken flying towards my pursuers. I was in my own world, alone.
It feels as if I have always been alone. I was the only child from one set of parents. I was alone when they divorced. I was alone when one stepmother left and another came in. I was alone with my diary, tears, and books whenever I needed to escape from the negative realities of my childhood.
Today, I am a lone niqab-wearing Malay in the mish-mash of a predominantly Desi and Arab Muslim community. My aloneness has only been compounded by the choices I’ve made that have gone against social norms- like niqab and the decision to marry young and have two babies during my junior and senior years of undergrad.
When I decided to homeschool my children, I was no longer fazed by any naysayers. I had gotten so used to being alone that it became almost second nature to me. My cultural, religious, and parenting choices no longer hung on the approval of social norms.
Believe it Or Not, We Are All Alone
In all of this, I realize that I am not alone in being alone. We all are alone, even in an ocean of people. No matter who you are, or how many people are around you, you are alone in that you are answerable to the choices you make.
The people around you may suggest or pressure you into specific choices, but you alone make the ultimate choice and bear the ultimate consequence of what those choices are. Everything from what you wear, who you trust, and how you plan your wedding is a result of your own choice. We are alone in society, and in the sight of Allah as well.
The aloneness is obvious when we do acts of worship that are individual, such as fasting, giving zakah, and praying. But we’re also alone in Hajj, even when surrounded by a million other Muslims. We are alone in that we have to consciously make the choice and intention to worship. We are alone in making sure we do Hajj in its true spirit.
We alone are accountable to Allah, and on the Day of Judgment, no one will carry the burden of sin of another.
مَّنِ اهْتَدَىٰ فَإِنَّمَا يَهْتَدِي لِنَفْسِهِ ۖ وَمَن ضَلَّ فَإِنَّمَا يَضِلُّ عَلَيْهَا ۚ وَلَا تَزِرُ وَازِرَةٌ وِزْرَ أُخْرَىٰ ۗ وَمَا كُنَّا مُعَذِّبِينَ حَتَّىٰ نَبْعَثَ رَسُولًا
“Whoever accepts guidance does so for his own good; whoever strays does so at his own peril. No soul will bear another’s burden, nor do We punish until We have sent a messenger.” Surah Al Israa 17:15
On the day you stand before Allah you won’t have anyone by your side. On that day it will be every man for himself, no matter how close you were in the previous life. It will just be you and Allah.
Even Shaytaan will leave you to the consequences of your decisions.
وَقَالَ الشَّيْطَانُ لَمَّا قُضِيَ الْأَمْرُ إِنَّ اللَّهَ وَعَدَكُمْ وَعْدَ الْحَقِّ وَوَعَدتُّكُمْ فَأَخْلَفْتُكُمْ ۖ وَمَا كَانَ لِيَ عَلَيْكُم مِّن سُلْطَانٍ إِلَّا أَن دَعَوْتُكُمْ فَاسْتَجَبْتُمْ لِي ۖ فَلَا تَلُومُونِي وَلُومُوا أَنفُسَكُم ۖ مَّا أَنَا بِمُصْرِخِكُمْ وَمَا أَنتُم بِمُصْرِخِيَّ ۖ إِنِّي كَفَرْتُ بِمَا أَشْرَكْتُمُونِ مِن قَبْلُ ۗ إِنَّ الظَّالِمِينَ لَهُمْ عَذَابٌ أَلِيمٌ
“When everything has been decided, Satan will say, ‘God gave you a true promise. I too made promises but they were false ones: I had no power over you except to call you, and you responded to my call, so do not blame me; blame yourselves. I cannot help you, nor can you help me. I reject the way you associated me with God before.’ A bitter torment awaits such wrongdoers” Surah Ibrahim 14:22
But, Isn’t Being Alone Bad?
The connotation that comes with the word ‘alone’ relegates it to something negative. You’re a loser if you sit in the cafeteria alone. Parents worry when they have a shy and reserved child. Teachers tend to overlook the quiet ones, and some even complain that they can’t assess the students if they don’t speak up.
It is little wonder that the concept of being alone has a negative connotation. Being alone is not the human default, for Adam was alone, yet Allah created Hawwa as a companion for him. According to some scholars, the word Insaan which is translated as human or mankind or man comes from the root letters that means ‘to want company’. We’re naturally inclined to want company.
You might think, “What about the social aspects of Islam? Being alone is like being a hermit!” That’s true, but in Islam, there is a balance between solitary and communal acts of worship. For example, some prayers are done communally like Friday, Eid, and funeral prayers. However, extra prayers like tahajjud, istikharah, and nawaafil are best done individually.
There is a place and time for being alone, and a time for being with others. Islam teaches us this balance, and with that, it teaches us that being alone is also praiseworthy, and shouldn’t be viewed as something negative. There is virtue in alone-ness just as there is virtue in being with others.
Being Alone Has Its Own Perks
It is through being alone that we can be astute observers and connect the outside world to our inner selves. It is also through allowing aloneness to be part of our daily regimen that we can step back, introspect and develop a strong sense of self-based on a direct relationship with Allah.
Taking the time to reflect on worship and the words of Allah gives us the opportunity to meaningfully think about it. It is essential that a person gets used to being alone with their thoughts in order to experience this enriching intellectual, emotional and spiritual experience. The goal is to use our thoughts as the fuel to gain closeness to Allah through reflection and self-introspection.
Training ourselves to embrace being alone can also train us to be honest with ourselves, discover who we truly are, and work towards improving ourselves for Allah’s sake. Sitting with ourselves and honestly scrutinizing the self in order to see strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement is essential for character development. And character development is essential to reach the level of Ihsaan.
When we look into who we want to be, we are bound to make some decisions that might raise eyebrows and wag tongues. Being okay with being alone makes this somewhat easier. We should not be afraid to stand out and be the only one wearing praying or wearing hijab, knowing that it is something Allah will be pleased with. We should not be afraid to stand up for what we believe in even if it makes us unpopular. Getting used to being alone can give us the confidence to make these decisions.
Being alone can strengthen us internally, but not without pain. Emory University neuroscientist Gregory Berns found that people who dissent from group wisdom show heightened activation in the amygdala, a small organ in the brain associated with the sting of social rejection. Berns calls this the “pain of independence.”
All our prophets experienced this ‘pain of independence’ in their mission. Instances of different prophets being rejected by their own people are generously scattered in the Quran for us to read and reflect upon. One lesson we can extract from these is that being alone takes courage, faith, conviction, and confidence.
We Come Alone, Leave Alone, Meet Allah Alone
The circumstances that left me alone in the different stages of my life were not random. I always wanted an older brother or someone else to be there to rescue me from the solitude. But the solitude came with a blessing. Being alone gave me the time and space in which to wonder, think, and eventually understand myself and the people around me. I learned reflection as a skill and independent decision-making as s strength. I don’t mind being alone in my niqab, my Islam, or my choices. I’ve had plenty of practice after all.
You are born alone and you took your first breath alone. You will die alone, even if you are surrounded by your loved ones. When you are lowered into the grave, you will be alone. Accepting this can help you make use of your moments of solitude rather than fear them. Having the courage to be alone builds confidence, strengthens conviction, and propels us to do what is right and pleasing to Allah regardless of human approval.
Why Israel Should Be ‘Singled Out’ For Its Human Rights Record
Unlike other countries, ordinary citizens are complicit in the perpetual crimes committed against defenseless Palestinians.
Why is everyone so obsessed with Israel’s human rights abuses? From Saudi Arabia, to Syria, to North Korea to Iran. All these nations are involved in flagrant violations of human right, so why all the focus on Israel – ‘the only democracy in the Middle East’? Clearly, if you ignore these other violations and only focus on Israel, you must be anti-Semitic. What else could be your motivations for this double standard?
This is one of the most common contentions raised when Israel is criticized for its human rights record. I personally don’t believe in entertaining this question – it shouldn’t matter why an activist is choosing to focus on one conflict and not others. What matters are the facts being raised; putting into question the motives behind criticizing Israel is a common tactic to detract from the topic at hand. The conversation soon turns into some circular argument about anti-Semitism and the plight of the Palestinian people is lost. More importantly, this charge of having double standards is often disingenuous. For example, Representative Ihan Omar has been repeatedly accused of this recently and her motives have been called ‘suspicious’ – despite her vocal criticism of other countries, especially Saudi Arabia.
However, this point is so frequently brought up, I think that perhaps its time activists and critics simply own up to it. Yes – Israel should be singled out, for some very good reasons. These reasons relate to there being a number of unique privileges that the country enjoys; these allow it to get away with much of the abuses it commits. Human right activists thus must be extra vocal when comes to Israel as they have to overcome the unparalleled level of support for the country, particularly in the US and Canada. The following points summarize why Israel should in fact be singled out:
1) Ideological support from ordinary citizens
When Iran and North Korea commit human right abuses, we don’t have to worry about everyone from journalists to clerics to average students on campuses coming out and defending those countries. When most nations commit atrocities, our journalists and politicians call them out, sanctions are imposed, they are taking them to the International Court of Justice, etc. There are instruments in place to take care of other ‘rogue’ nations – without the need for intervention from the common man.
Israel, however, is unique in that it has traditionally enjoyed widespread ideological support, primarily from the Jewish community and Evangelical Christians, in the West. This support is a result of the historical circumstances and pseudo-religious ideology that drove the creation of the state in 1948. The successful spread of this nationalistic dogma for the last century means Israel can count on ordinary citizens from Western countries to comes to its defense. This support can come in the form of foreign enlistment to its military, students conducting campus activism, politicians shielding it from criticisms and journalists voluntarily writing in its support and spreading state propaganda.
This ideological and nationalistic attachment to the country is the prime reason why it is so incredibly difficult to have any kind of sane conversation about Israel in the public sphere – criticism is quickly seen as an attack on Jewish identity and interpreted as an ‘existential threat’ to the nation by its supporters. Any attempts to take Israel to account through standard means are thwarted because of the political backlash feared from the country’s supporters in the West.
2) Unconditional political support of a world superpower
The US is Israel’s most important and closest ally in the Middle-East. No matter what war crimes Israel commits, it can count on America to have its back. This support means the US will use its veto power to support Israel against actions of the UN Security Council, it will use its diplomatic influence to shield any punitive actions from other nations and it will use its military might to intervene if need be. The backing of the US is one of the main reasons why the Israeli occupation and expansion of the colonial settlement enterprise continues to this day without any repercussions.
While US support might be especially staunch for Israel, this factor is certainly not unique to the country. Any country which has this privilege, e.g. Saudi Arabia, should be under far great scrutiny for its human rights violations than others.
3) Military aid and complicity of tax-payers
US tax-payers are directly paying for Israel to carry out its occupation of the Palestinian people.
Israel is the largest recipient of US-military aid – it receives an astonishing $3 billion dollars every year. This aid, according to a US congressional report, “has helped transform Israel’s armed forces into one of the most technologically sophisticated militaries in the world.”
Unlike other countries, ordinary citizens are complicit in the perpetual crimes committed against defenseless Palestinians. Activists and citizens thus have a greater responsibility to speak out against Israel as their government is paying the country to carry out its atrocities. Not only is this aid morally reprehensible, but it is also illegal under United States Leahy Laws.
4) The Israeli lobby
The Israeli lobby is one of the most powerful groups in Washington and is the primary force for ensuring continued US political support for the nation. It consists of an assortment of formal lobby groups (AIPAC, Christians United for Israel), think-thanks (Washington Institute for Near East Policy), political action committee or PACs, not-for-profit organizations (B’nai B’irth, American Jewish Congress, Stand for Israel) and media watchdogs (CAMERA, Honest Reporting). These organizations together exercise an incredible amount of political influence. They ensure that any criticism of Israel is either stifled or there are serious consequences for those who speak up. In 2018 alone, pro-Israel donors spent $22 million on lobbying for the country – far greater than any other nation. Pro-Israel lobbies similarly influence politics in other places such as the UK, Canada, and Europe.
5) One of the longest-running occupation in human history
This point really should be the first one on this list – and it is the only one that should matter. However, because of the unique privileges that Israel enjoys, it is hard to get to the crux of what it is actually doing. Israel, with U.S. support, has militarily occupied the Palestinian territories (West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem) since 1967. The belligerent occupation, over 50 years old, is one of the longest, bloodiest and brutal in human history.
Israel continues to steal land and build settler colonies the West Bank – in flagrant violation of international law. It has implemented a system of apartheid in these territories which is reminiscent of the racist regime of South Africa. The Gaza strip has been under an insufferable siege which has made the living conditions deplorable; it has been referred to the world’s largest ‘open-air prison’. In addition to this institutional oppression, crimes committed against Palestinians include: routinely killing civilian protesters, including teenagers and medics, torture of Palestinians and severe restrictions on the everyday movement of Palestinians.
The brutality, consistency and the duration for which Israel has oppressed Palestinians is alone enough reason for it being ‘singled out’. No other nation comes close to its record. However, for the reasons mentioned above, Israel’s propaganda machine has effectively painted itself as just another ‘liberal democracy’ in the eyes of the general public. Any attempt to bring to light these atrocities are met with ‘suspicion’ about the ‘real’ motives of the critics. Given the points mentioned here, it should be evident that the level of support for Israeli aggression is uniquely disproportionate – it is thus fitting that criticism of the country is equally vocal and unparalleled as well.
Co-written by Shaykh Osman Umarji
As writers on MuslimMatters, it came as a surprise when the website we write on marked itself zakat-eligible on its fundraiser for operations in Ramadan. This website has previously highlighted the misuse and abuse of zakat for vague and dodgy reasons, including instances of outright fraud by nonprofit corporations. We have lamented the seemingly inexorable march from zakat being for living human beings in need to financial play-doh for nonprofit corporate boards.
Estimated global zakat is somewhere between $200 billion to $1 trillion. Eliminating global poverty is estimated at $187 billion– not just for Muslims, but everyone. There continue to be strong interests in favor of more putty-like zakat to benefit the interests of the organizations that are not focused on reducing poverty. Thus, in many ways, a sizeable chunk of zakat benefits the affluent rather than the needy. Zakat, rather than being a credit to the Muslim community, starts to look more like an indictment of it.
No, it’s not ikhtilaf
The recent article on this website, Dr. Usama Al-Azmi seemed somewhat oblivious to the cavalier way the nonprofit corporate sector in the United States treats Zakat. The article did not do justice to legitimate concerns about zakat distribution by dismissing the issue as one of “ikhtilaf,” or a reasonable difference of opinion, as it ignored the broader concern about forces working hard to make zakat a “wild west” act of worship where just about anything goes.
It’s essential to identify the crux of the problem. Zakat has eight categories of permissible beneficiaries in the Quran. 1 Two are various levels of poor, distribution overhead; then there are those whose hearts are to be inclined, free captives, relieve indebtedness, the wayfarer, and the cause of Allah (fisabilillah). The category of fisabilillah, historically, the majority of scholars have interpreted as the cost of jihad (like actual fighting). However, in recent times, Muslim nonprofit corporations, with support of learned Muslim leaders, have adopted an increasingly aggressive and vague posture that allows nearly any beneficial cause to get zakat.
The concerns about the abuse of zakat, and the self-serving desire by corporations to turn fisabilillah into a wastebasket Zakat category that could be “incredibly broad” has to do with far more than a difference of opinion (ikhtilaf ) about the eligibility of Dawah organizations. Let’s assume dawah and educational organizations are eligible to administer Zakat funds. We need to know what that means in practice. What we have is a fundamental question the fisabilillah-can-mean-virtually-anything faction never manages to answer: are there any limits to zakat usage at all?
Show Your Work
We fully understand that in our religious practice, there is a set of rules. In Islamic Inheritance for example, for example, we cannot cavalierly change the definition of what a “daughter” is to mean any girl you want to treat like a daughter. There is an established set of rules relating to acts of worship. For the third pillar of Islam, zakat, there seem to be no limits to the absurd-sounding questions we can ask that now seem plausible.
Unfortunately, we have too many folks who invoke “ikhtilaf” to justify adopting almost any opinion and not enough people who are willing to explain their positions. We need a better understanding of zakat and draw the lines on when nonprofit corporations are going too far.
You can be conservative and stand for zakat as an act of worship that contributes to social justice. You can have a more expansive interpretation friendly to the nonprofit corporate sector’s needs to include the revenue source. Wherever you stand, if you don’t provide evidence and develop detailed uniform and accepted principles and rules that protect those people zakat was meant to help, you are inviting abuse and at the very least, opening the door towards inequitable results. 2
Can you feed the needy lentils and rice for $100 a meal, with margins of $99 a meal going to pay salaries to provide these meals and fundraise for them? Why or why not?
Can a Dawah organization purchase an $80 million jet for its CEO, who can use it to travel the world to do “dawah,” including places like Davos or various ski resorts? What rules exist that would prevent something like this? As far as we know, nothing at all.
In the United States, demographic sorting is a common issue that affects all charitable giving, not just giving by Muslims. The most affluent live in neighborhoods with other people who are generally as prosperous as they are. Certain places seem almost perversely designed to allow wealthy residents to be oblivious to the challenges of the poor. There are undeniable reasons why what counts as “charity” for the wealthy means giving money to the Opera, the Met Gala, and Stanford University.
The only real way affluent Muslims know they supposed to care about poor people is that maybe they have a Shaikh giving khutbas talking about the need to do so and their obligation of zakat once a year or so. That is now becoming a thing of the past. Now it is just care about fisabilillah- it means whatever your tender heart wants it to mean.
As zakat becomes less about the poor, appeals will be for other projects with a higher amount of visibility to the affluent. Nonprofits now collect Zakat for galas with celebrities. Not fundraising at the gala dinner mind you, but merely serving dinner and entertaining rich people. Educational institutions and Masajid that have dawah activities (besides, everything a Masjid does is fisabilillah) can be quite expensive. Getting talent to run and teach in these institutions is also costly. Since many of the people running these institutions are public figures and charismatic speakers with easy access and credibility with the affluent. It is far easier for them to get Zakat funds for their projects.
People who benefit from these projects because they send their children to these institutions or attend lectures themselves will naturally feel an affinity for these institutions that they won’t have with the poor. Zakat will stay in their bubble. Fisabilillah.
Dawa is the new Jihad
Jihad, as in war carried out by a Khalifah and paid for with zakat funds, is an expensive enterprise. But no society is in a permanent state of warfare, so they can work towards eliminating poverty during peacetime. Muslim communities have done this in the past. Dawah is qualitatively different from jihad as it is permanent. There was never a period in Islamic history when there was no need to do dawah. Many times in history, nobody was fighting jihad. There was no period of Islamic history when there were there was never a need for money to educate people. Of course, earlier Muslims used zakat in education in limited, defined circumstances. It is not clear why limitations no longer apply.
Indeed dawah is a broad category. For example, many people regard the Turkish costume drama “Diriliş: Ertuğrul” as dawah. Fans of the show can’t stop talking about the positive effects it has had on their lives and their iman. What prevents zakat from funding future expensive television costume dramas? Nothing, as far as we can see.
No Standards or Accountability
Unfortunately, in the United States, there are no uniform, specific standards governing zakat. Anything goes now when previously in Islamic history, there were appropriate standards. Nonprofit corporations themselves decide if they are zakat-eligible or not. In some instances, they provide objectively comical explanations, which supporters within the corporation’s bubble pretty much always swallow whole. Corporations don’t have to segregate Zakat-eligible funds from general funds. When they do, they can make up their own rules for how and when they spend zakat. No rules make zakat indistinguishable from any other funding source since they can change their standards year after year depending on their funding needs (if they have rules at all) and nobody would be the wiser. It is exceedingly rare for these corporations to issue detailed reports on how they use zakat.
The Shift to Meaninglessness
Organizations with platforms (like the one that runs this website) are going to be eager to get on the zakat gravy train. There is no cost to slapping a “zakat-eligible” label on yourself, either financial or social. It seems like everyone does it now. Some Zakat collectors are conscientious and care about helping the poor, though they are starting to look a little old-fashioned. For them, it may make sense to certify Zakat administrators like halal butchers.
Zakat used to be about helping discrete categories of human beings that can benefit from it. It can now mean anything you want it to mean. In the end, though, without real standards, it may mean nothing at all.
- The sunnah also highlights the essence of zakah as tending to the needs of the poor. For example, the Prophet commanded Muadh bin Jabal, when sending him to Yemen, to teach the people that Allah has obligated charity upon them to be taken from their rich and given to their poor (Sahih Muslim).
- In Islamic legal theory (usool al-fiqh), sadd al-dhariya is a principle that refers to blocking the means to evil before it can materialize. It is invoked when a seemingly permissible action may lead to unethical behavior. This principle is often employed in financial matters.
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