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Dawah and Interfaith

We Feed You for the sake of Allah Alone – Humanitarian Day

I pass by it every time I go shopping to the fashion district in downtown Los Angeles, you cannot avoid it. Right past the diamond district and the wholesale flower market in the richest country in the world, in one of the richest state’s richest counties, under the shadow of Hollywood actors’ condos is the human stain that is Skid Row. You forget that you are in the US when you enter the urine-drenched, graffiti covered streets of the homeless capital of the world. There is nothing like this anywhere in the country: complete desolation for 50 blocks. Ten of thousands of homeless individuals on the streets, shopping carts full of their only possessions. Signs etched in the parking meters demark territories, while blue tarps cover makeshift cardboard box condos. Trash is strewn on every corner. They come here waiting to die, the addicts, the mentally ill, war veterans but many are there crippled by financial crisis or foreclosures. Some can’t get a job even if they want to because they do not have an address; it is a vicious cycle that they may get trapped into for years. Other have jobs but cannot afford housing.

The guilt of speeding past them, ignoring them, scared to look lest one of them caught my eye, haunted me.  Back in Pakistan you would just feed someone who was so obviously hungry.  “They have a right over you, you live in this country,” whispered my soul. I started volunteering at our local homeless shelter. “Not in our backyard” signs cropped up, funding dried up and they shut it down after the worst of winter was over. What now?

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Then I found out about Humanitarian Day – an event that allows me to put my Islamic beliefs of charity into practice, one the organizers choose to hold in the month of Divine Rahmah, Ramadan.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qtDSGXo9uZc&feature=related [/youtube]

From the press release: “The Los Angeles Muslim Community under the banner “Coalition to Preserve Human Dignity (CPHD)” successfully reflect true Islamic principles around social/ civic duties by engaging in America’s domestic problems. Collectively organizing supporting resources; both intra and interfaith organizations for effective collaborations that serve the homeless with “Dignity, Love and Respect.”

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The founding organization ILM Foundation has organized events serving the needy, where line items are distributed such as; hygiene kits, warm meals, clothing and medical services by the UMMA Community Clinic; all are administered and given free of charge.

Humanitarian Day  is hosted in Oakland, CA; Santa Ana, the Inland Empire, Long Beach, Baltimore, MD,  20 other cities in US and internationally in Ghana and Indonesia this Ramadan. A Humanitarian Day event is “Faith in Action” counteracting negative stereotypes of Muslims in America.”

Those kids cheering and greeting the homeless in the beginning of this clip are my ‘girls’- MYSCV. Our youth group boys were manning the canned food stand. We go there every year, alhamdulillah it has become a Ramadan tradition – these iPhone-toting, overprivileged kids see for themselves how the have-nots in this country live. They fundraise their contribution through bake sales and experience the bliss of actual giving. See, kids who grow up in the ‘third world’ see poverty on the streets everyday but here in the US, we are surrounded by the false security of Wal-Marts and Pizza Huts on our suburban street corners. So we forget to remember our blessings, to feed the hungry and clothe the poor.

On Humanitarian Day, every homeless person is greeted, handed a bag and escorted through the line. Booths of hot food, socks, blankets, are lined with balloons, manned by Muslim vlounteers. As many as 2000 are checked by volunteer doctors, given medication, eye exams.  The atmosphere is festive, a huge celebration, a party in an otherwise miserable life. ” You are so nice, I feel like a human today,” smiled a lady as she tucked newly acquired undergarments into her bag.

“We are fasting and want to share our joy for fasting by feeding the people, loving people, immigrants, indigenous Muslims, universal Muslims, together.” I sat down with Imam Sadiq, the retired Imam of Masjid Ibaadilllah and one of the founders of HD. He, along with Naim Shah Sr. affectionately known as Papa Shah, started feeding the homeless during Ramadan but were urged by the World Trade Center bombings to coordinate a united effort to solve domestic issues. “We don’t want to proselytize, we are just concerned about humanity.”

Every year, the dynamics of the homeless change – last year there were many more middle class homeless individuals who had lost their homes due to the recession.  A gentle, proud man, with searing blue eyes, his milk chocolate skin giving away his Caucasian and African heritage, walked up, a polo shirt neatly tucked into his khakis. His wife urged him to take a pair of socks from the booth, “I can’t” he said, shoulders slumped in defeat. As he walked away, I saw his laptop carrier slung on his shoulder – Kuwait Oil Co. embroidered in a corner. She reached out, her wedding ring glistened in the sun, “Lord bless you, may I take two?” she asked pragmatically.

There are some familiar faces too, the crack addict whose nails are always done, the old man with coke bottle glasses and a sweet smile. They are friendly and very concerned about each other. I see babies grow up to become children. This is not a place for children. We have billions of dollars to spend on wars across the world, while children sleep on the street and we turn the other way. Omar Ricci, a police officer,  has helped provide security detail for the past ten years. A Muslim, he comes back every year because “this well-planned event shows an alternative image other than the mainstream narrative  of Muslims.”

What would you say to Muslim Americans today, I asked Imam Sadiq, who is also the founder of Islamic Shura Council of Southern California, “We need to stay positive, look past the grievances…the most important thing is to keep being Muslim. People are tired of words, we need not be more vocal but be more active. Actions speak for words.”  Islamophobia was on my mind, as I spoke to the Mormon partners of the coalition, Steve Gilliland and his wife, Judy. They are from the Church of Latter Day Saints’ Southern California Public Affairs Council and have supplied the lovingly hand packed school and hygiene kits for HD for seven years. “We have more in common with Muslims, socially, culturally, in areas of health, community service, family values, I could go on for a long time,” the Mormon clergyman advised us to “not let the hate intimidate (us), let people know who Muslims are, to know Muslims is to love them.”

Sister Taswiyah Matazz is the director of food programs for ILM. “A lot of us are a paycheck away from being on the other side of that line;”  as tears formed in her compassionate eyes, she recounts countless stories of the challenges women and children face on these streets. This was the first year, I heard so many reports of homeless Muslims, men and women, too ashamed to walk into a masjid, without access to a place where their faith can help them recover.

This isn’t just a feel good once a year event – these people live near here, they are here every other Sunday with homecooked and sack lunches, sponsored by Muslims communities across Southern California. However, HD 2010 brings demands for a permanent Muslim mission on Skid Row. General Jeff, “the mayor of skid row,” pleaded on behalf of his community. ” That center near close to ground zero – no disrespect to the victims but 9/11 was a one day disaster, skid row is a lifetime disaster.” “If they are caught sleeping on a bench, they get a ticket, enough tickets earn a warrant, [which] lands them in jail,” stressed Naim Shah, Jr. the Excecutive Director of ILM Foundation. “What we do right now is direct service, now the coalition needs to move and work on policy, find the systamatic cause of why those people are in that line and help change the way people, children, and the elderly are treated. Muslims do not have anything substantial to show about everyday American issues.”

They are dream of a place with a soup kitchen, a mussallah, life assistance programs, where people can take showers, and a shelter for women and children – open 24 hours. A place that breaks the status quo – most missions here are single-room occupancy and do not accept anyone after a ‘certain time at night’ and make the homeless leave every morning. May their dream become reality. Ameen.

My girls learn face-to-face how to treat every human with dignity, whether Muslim or not, rich or poor. They didn’t just hand out Qurans but follow the mighty example of the Prophet (SAW), who showcased Islam with his blessed behavior, not just words. As I drive the girls back to our cushy homes – they are unusually quiet, thankful, energies well-spent, their fasts finally kicking in.

If you want to start Humanitarian Day in your city – call Imam Sadiq at 626-398-3900 or Naim Shah at 626-644-8291. The Coalition to Preserve Human Dignity will supply you with guidelines, send a crew to show you how to set up the event and train your organization in working with the homeless. Their email address is info@humanitarianday.com

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Hena Zuberi is the Editor in Chief of Muslimmatters.org. She leads the DC office of the human rights organization, Justice For All, focusing on stopping the genocide of the Rohingya under Burma Task Force, advocacy for the Uighur people with the Save Uighur Campaign and Free Kashmir Action. She was a Staff Reporter at the Muslim Link newspaper which serves the DC Metro. Hena has worked as a television news reporter and producer for CNBC Asia and World Television News. Active in her SoCal community, Hena served as the Youth Director for the Unity Center. Using her experience with Youth, she conducts Growing Up With God workshops. hena.z@muslimmatters.org Follow her on Twitter @henazuberi.

13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Ify Okoye

    September 7, 2010 at 4:56 AM

    I love Humanitarian Day, it always seems like this is what we as Muslims are supposed to be doing, taking care of the people, not only those overseas who may need our assistance but those here close to us who we may overlook.

    • Avatar

      Hena

      September 8, 2010 at 2:24 AM

      you are so right Ify! even if you talk about Zakat, isnt the best zakat one that you give in your own community. Not saying that we should not help out overseas but there are plenty of people who need our help in our own backyards…anywhere you live in the world. I am sure people who live in the Gulf countries or Europe can look around and find many in need too.

      The best part of the day is the atmosphere- everyone does it happily not treating it like a burden.

  2. Amad

    Amad

    September 7, 2010 at 5:24 AM

    Excellent initiative. EXACTLY the type of work that will change the Muslim image in America, far more effective than videos and PSAs :)

    • Avatar

      iMuslim

      September 7, 2010 at 11:55 AM

      I think we should stop thinking about what the people of think of us, as much as what Allah thinks of us. This event is clearly a manifestation of what Allah has commanded: that the believers take care of the vulnerable. If Allah loves you, the world will love you, so less of the PR talk, kay? =D

      • Avatar

        Hena

        September 8, 2010 at 2:34 AM

        both of you are right-
        honestly Brother Amad- any good publicity is great for their cause and for Muslims in general but these guys do it from the heart- they are so genuine in their service it’s inspiring. They started BEFORE 9/11 just were mobilized into making it into a more organized effort after 9/11.
        Putting faith into action MashaAllah.

        BTW, this year none of the major networks reported it- wonder why?

        So who is up for starting this effort in their own country of residence?

  3. Avatar

    Justin

    September 7, 2010 at 6:38 AM

    Ma sha Allah. Allah accept. Ameen.

    Visit dailyhadithonline.com

  4. Avatar

    Megan

    September 7, 2010 at 11:08 AM

    Just for the sake of clarity, Mormons don’t use the term “pastor” for any member of their congregations.

    • Hena Zuberi

      Hena Zuberi

      September 7, 2010 at 5:45 PM

      Thanks Megan,

      Thats what the people there were calling him maybe out of courtesy?? Still have so much to learn about each other.

  5. Avatar

    Aasha

    September 7, 2010 at 9:44 PM

    MashAllah! Very thoughtful and inspiring!
    MYSCV ftw :D
    We are definitely doing this every year iA!
    All in all really good article!

  6. Avatar

    Olivia

    September 7, 2010 at 10:31 PM

    Awesome!

  7. Avatar

    General Jeff

    September 18, 2010 at 1:21 AM

    Again, just as in the article, on behalf of the Skid Row community, I ask that building a Muslim mission in Skid Row be taken seriously!

    It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Just filled with truth, love and honesty.

    Thank you all in advance.

    General Jeff
    “Mayor of Skid Row”

  8. Avatar

    Rizka

    January 9, 2011 at 9:56 AM

    Assalaamu’alaykum,

    Just want to clarify, the sister’s name I believe is Taswiyah Mutazz.

    Jazakallah khayr! Great article!

    Rizka Pramadita
    Humanitarian Day Indonesia

  9. Pingback: » Connecting The Dots- Muslims and Social Justice in Southern California

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Dawah and Interfaith

10 Lessons I Learned While Serving Those in Need

charity

I have spent about a decade serving the impoverished domestically and recently, abroad. I don’t work for a major charity organization, I work for my community, through grassroots efforts. It was something embedded in me while learning Islam. Before starting a charity organization, I started studying Islam with Dr. Hatem Alhaj (my mentor) and various other scholars. The more I studied, the more I wanted to implement what I was learning. What my community needed at the time was intensive charity work, as it was neglected entirely by our community. From that, I collected 10 lessons from servicing those in need. 

1. My bubble burst

One of the first things I experienced was the bursting of my bubble, a sense of realization. I, like many others, was unaware of the hardship in my own community. Yes, we know the hadith and see the events unfold on the news and social media, but when a father of three cried before me because a bag of groceries was made available for him to take home, that moment changed me. We tend to forget how little it takes, to make a huge difference in someone’s life. This experience, made me understand the following hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him): “Every Muslim has to give in charity.” The people then asked: “(But what) if someone has nothing to give, what should he do?” The Prophet replied: “He should work with his hands and benefit himself and also give in charity (from what he earns).” The people further asked: “If he cannot find even that?” He replied: “He should help the needy, who appeal for help.” Then the people asked: “If he cannot do (even) that?” The Prophet said finally: “Then he should perform good deeds and keep away from evil deeds, and that will be regarded as charitable deeds.” – Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 2, Hadith 524. I

t is simply an obligation, due to the amount of good it generates after you do this one action. I then realized even more how beautiful Islam is for commanding this deed. 

2. Friendships were developed on good deeds

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Serving the poor is a great reward in itself. The Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said: “Save yourself from hellfire by giving even half a date-fruit in charity.” – Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 2, Hadith 498. But it is better done with a team, I began building a team of people with similar objectives in serving the needy. These people later became some of my closest friends, who better to keep close to you than one that serves Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) by helping the neediest in the same community you reside in. Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said: “A person is likely to follow the faith of his friend, so look whom you befriend.” [reported by Abu Dawood & Tirmidhee] This is turn kept me on the right path of pleasing Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). Working with a team removes a lot of the burden as well and the depression that might occur seeing the saddest stories on a daily basis. Allah says in the Qur’ān, “Indeed the believers are brothers.” (49:10). Sometimes there is a misconception that you have to have a huge office or a large masjid in order to get work done. But honestly, all you need is a dedicated group of people with the right intention and things take off from there. 

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: 'If you love the poor and bring them near you. . .God will bring you near Him on the Day of Resurrection.' - Al-Tirmidhi,Click To Tweet

3. Made me thankful

This made me thankful for whatever I had, serving the less fortunate reminded me daily to turn to Allah and ask for forgiveness and so be thankful. This kind of service also puts things into perspective. What is truly important in life? I stepped further and further away from a materialistic lifestyle and allowed me to value things that can’t be valued by money. I learned this from the poorest of people in my community, who strived daily for their family regardless of their situation — parents who did what they can to shield their children from their harsh reality. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “If you love the poor and bring them near you. . .God will bring you near Him on the Day of Resurrection.” – Al-Tirmidhi, Hadith 1376. They had a quality about them, despite their poverty status. They were always some of the kindest people I have known. 

dardir

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4. People want to do Good

I learned that people want to do good; they want to improve their community and society. I began to see the impact on a communal level, people were being more engaged. We were the only Muslim group helping indiscriminately in our county. Even the people we helped, gave back by volunteering at our food pantry. We have schools where small kids (under adult supervision) partake in preparing meals for the needy, local masajids, churches, and temples, high school kids from public schools, and college organizations (Muslim and nonMuslim) visit frequently from several cities in neighboring counties, cities, and states. The good spreads a lot easier and faster than evil. People want to do good, we just need more opportunities for them to join in. United we can rock this world.

“We need more light about each other. Light creates understanding, understanding creates love, love creates patience, and patience creates unity.” Malcolm X. Click To Tweet

5. Smiles

Smiles, I have seen the wealthiest smiles on the poorest people. Despite being on the brink of homelessness, when I saw them they had the best smile on their faces. This wasn’t all of them, but then I would smile back and that changed the environment we were in. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “Charity is prescribed for each descendant of Adam every day the sun rises.” He was then asked: “From what do we give charity every day?” The Prophet answered: “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.” He also said: “Your smile for your brother is charity.” – Fiqh-us-Sunnah, Volume 3, Number 98. Smiles are truly universal.

6. It’s ok to cry

It was narrated that Abu Hurayrah raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) said: The Messenger of Allah said: “A man who weeps for fear of Allah will not enter Hell until the milk goes back into the udder, and dust produced (when fighting) for the sake of Allah and the smoke of Hell will never coexist.” Narrated by al-Tirmidhi and al-Nasaa’i. There are situations you see that hit you hard; they fill your heart with emotions, but that never swayed my concrete belief in Allah’s wisdom. Crying before Allah, not just out of fear, but to be thankful for His Mercy upon you is a relief.

7. Learning to say no

It was one of the hardest things I had to do, a lot (if not all) of the requests I received for help were extremely reasonable. I do not think anyone asked for anything outrageous. Our organization started becoming the go-to organization in our area for help, but we are one organization, with limited resources, and a few times we were restricted on when or how we could help. This is where learning to say no became a learned skill. Wedid do our best to follow up with a plan or an alternative resource.

8. It is part of raising a family and finding yourself

How so? Being involved in your community doesn’t take away from raising your family, it is part of it. I can’t watch and do nothing and expect my children to be heroes. I have to lead by example. Helping others is good for my family’s health. Many people living in our country are consumed with their busy lives. Running out the door, getting to work, driving the kids to their after school activities, spending weekends taking care of their families, etc. So people have a fear of investing hours in doing this type of work. But in reality, this work puts more blessings in your time.

One may feel they are taking time away from their family, but in reality, when one comes back home, they find more peace in their home then they left it with. By helping others, I improve the health and culture of my community, this in turn positively impacts my family.

I enjoy being a softie with my family and friends. I am a tall bearded man, and that image suited me better. I am not sure what made me softer, having kids or serving the poor. Either way, it was rewarding and defined my role and purpose in my community.

I learned that you make your own situation. You can be a spectator, or you can get in there and do the best you can to help. It gave me an opportunity to be a role model for my own children, to show them the benefit of doing good and helping when you can.

It came with a lot of humility. Soon after starting I realized that all I am is a facilitator, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is giving an opportunity of a lifetime to do this work, a line of work very little people get to engage in regularly. My advice to my readers, if you can serve the poor do so immediately before you get occupied or busy with life.

Helping others is good for my family’s health.Click To Tweet

9. Dawah through action

As I mentioned before I did spend time studying, and at one point developed one of the top dawah initiatives in the country (according to IERA). But the reality is, helping the less fortunate is my type of dawah, people started to associate our food pantry and helping others with Islam. As an organization with one of the most diverse groups of volunteers, people from various religious backgrounds found the environment comfortable and hospitable. I began working with people I never would have worked before if I had stuck to traditional dawah, studying, or masjid involvement, all of which are critical. This became a symbol of Islam in our community, and while serving, we became those that embodied the Quran and Sunnah. For a lot of those we served, we were the first Muslims they encountered, and Alhamdulilah for the team we have. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) also says in the Quran: “So by mercy from Allah, [O Muhammad], you were lenient with them. And if you had been rude [in speech] and harsh in heart, they would have disbanded from about you” (3:159). It is our actions that can turn people away or towards Islam.

10. Once you serve the needy, you do this for life

I wasn’t volunteering on occasion,— this was an unpaid job that was done regularly. I got requests and calls for emergencies daily at times. It took up hours upon hours every week. As a charity worker, I developed experience and insight in this field. I learned that this was one of the best ways I could serve Allah [swt. “They ask you (O Muhammad) what they should spend in charity. Say: ‘Whatever you spend with a good heart, give it to parents, relatives, orphans, the helpless, and travelers in need. Whatever good you do, God is aware of it.'” – The Holy Quran, 2:215

I believe the work I do with the countless people that do the same is the best work that can be done in our current political climate and globalization. My views and thoughts have evolved over the years seeing situations develop to what they are today. This gave me a comprehensive outlook on our needs as a society and allowed me to venture off and meet people top in their fields like in social activism, environmentalism, labor, etc.

I want to end with three sectors in society that Muslims prosper in and three that Muslims can improve on. We strive on individual education (noncommunal), distributing and organizing charity, and more recently being politically engaged. What we need to improve on is our environmental awareness, working with and understanding unions and labor rights, and organizing anti-war movements. 

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#Islam

Swallowing Your Pride For A Moment Is Harder Than Praying All Night | Imam Omar Suleiman

Iblees was no ordinary worshipper. He worshipped Allah for thousands of years with thousands of prayers. He ascended the ranks until he accompanied the angels with his noteworthy worship. Performing good deeds was no issue for him. He thanked Allah with his prayers, and Allah rewarded him with a lofty station in Paradise. But when Adam was created and given the station that he was, suddenly Iblees was overcome by pride. He couldn’t bear to see this new creation occupy the place that he did. And as he was commanded to prostrate to him, his pride would overcome him and doom him for eternity. Alas, swallowing his pride for one prostration of respect to Adam was more difficult to him than thousands of prostrations of worship to Allah.

In that is a cautionary lesson for us especially in moments of intense worship. When we exert ourselves in worship, we eventually start to enjoy it and seek peace in it. But sometimes we become deluded by that worship. We may define our religiosity exclusively in accordance with it, become self-righteous as a result of it, and abuse people we deem lesser in the name of it. The worst case scenario of this is what the Prophet (peace be upon him) said about one who comes on the day of judgment with all of their prayers, fasting, and charity only to have it all taken away because of an abusive tongue.

But what makes Iblees’s struggle so relevant to ours? The point of worship is to humble you to your Creator and set your affairs right with His creation in accordance with that humility. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said that whoever has an atom’s worth of pride in their heart would not enter paradise. The most obvious manifestation of that pride is rejecting the truth and belittling someone else. But other subtle manifestations of that pride include the refusal to leave off argumentation, abandon grudges, and humble yourself to the creation in pursuit of the pleasure of the Creator.

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Yaqeen

Hence a person would rather spend several Ramadan’s observing the last 10 nights in intense prayer seeking forgiveness for their sins from Allah, rather then humble themselves for a moment to one of Allah’s servants by seeking forgiveness for their transgressions against him, even if they too have a claim.

Jumah is our weekly Eid, and Monday’s and Thursday’s are our weekly semblances of Ramadan as the Prophet (s) used to fast them since our deeds are presented to Allah on those days. He said about them, “The doors of Heaven are opened every Monday and Thursday, and Allah pardons in these days every individual servant who is not a polytheist, except those who have enmity between them; Allah Says: ‘Delay them until they reconcile with each other”

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In Ramadan, the doors of Heaven are opened throughout the month and the deeds ascend to Allah. But imagine if every day as your fasting, Quran recitation, etc. is presented to Allah this month, He responds to the angels to delay your pardon until you reconcile with your brother. Ramadan is the best opportunity to write that email or text message to that lost family member or friend and say “it’s not worth it to lose Allah’s forgiveness over this” and “IM SORRY.”

Compare these two statements:

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said: “He who boycotts his brother for more than three days and dies during this period will be from the people of hellfire.”

He also said:

“I guarantee a house in the suburbs of Paradise for one who leaves arguments even if he is right.”

Swallowing your pride is bitter, while prayer is sweet. Your ego is more precious to you than your sleep. But above all, Allah’s pleasure is more precious than it all.

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Dawah and Interfaith

Can I Give My Zakat To An Islamic Educational Cause?

As Ramadan nears its end, many Muslims are thinking about paying their zakat in the last ten nights. But what is a worthy cause to which we can give our zakat and, in particular, what do the scholars have to say on this issue?

A number of Islamic educational and media institutions in the West have in recent years been highlighting their ‘zakat-eligible’ status. The list of these institutions is quite long. In the US, they include this website, the al-Madina Institute, the Yaqeen Institute, Zaytuna College, and the Ta’leef Collective. In the UK, they include Cambridge Muslim College. Some of these institutions focus on covering the cost of tuition for students who would otherwise be unable to pay, but others are focused on running an institution whose raison d’etre is Islamic education.

But some might wonder how such institutions can receive zakat? A common belief is that zakat is meant only for the poor and destitute and that such institutions would, therefore, be ineligible. This is sometimes reinforced by the way that a minority of scholars, including learned ones, might deal with these issues.

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Last year in the UK, a respected scholar stated emphatically that “none of the scholars” in Islamic history until modern times had ever said one can give zakat to causes like supporting institutions that promote Islamic education. He asserted that only modern scholars permitted the spending of zakat on such matters in the name of the fī sabīli-Llāh category (which I will explain below). The same British scholar reiterated a similar view in the past couple of weeks, but this time said that his view was the opinion of the “vast majority of scholars”.

The average Muslim may find such conflicting claims confusing. How is it that some scholars say zakat cannot be given to Islamic educational causes, while a large number of prominent Islamic educational institutions, presumably led by Islamic scholars, are directly soliciting zakat funds?

The main reason for this is the existence of difference of opinion (ikhtilāf) among scholars regarding who or what is deserving of zakat payment. The Qur’an (9:60) sets out eight categories of zakat-eligible recipients. While people today often think of zakat as being due to the poor and needy, they only explicitly form two of these categories.

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The basis on which many of the aforementioned scholarly institutions claim zakat-eligible status is the category of fī sabīli-Llāh which translates to “in God’s path.” Historically, the more dominant interpretation of this zakat-eligible category was that it referred to jihād in God’s path, i.e. zakat was to be given to people engaged in military expeditions on behalf of the Islamic community.

However, some medieval scholars, and a remarkably large number of modern scholars, appealing to the fact that the Prophet highlighted that jihād was ultimately for the sake of making God’s word prevail (li-takun kalimat Allāh hiya al-‘ulyā), have argued for a far broader understanding of this zakat-eligible category.

Jihād, as a concept, is of course incredibly broad in Islam. For example, one finds in a sound hadith that the Prophet said: “Engage in jihād against the polytheists with your wealth, your lives, and your tongues.” Additionally, some of the verses in the Qur’an that enjoined jihād were revealed in Mecca where military jihād was not yet permitted.

Because of this, a minority of medieval scholars argued that the fī sabīli-Llāh category of zakat recipients could entail payments made to support any righteous acts, while others argued that the category was ultimately about upholding and strengthening Islam specifically through da‘wa initiatives that cause God’s word to prevail of which education is one of the most effective tools.

Indeed, giving seekers of sacred knowledge (ṭullāb al-‘ilm) was deemed a legitimate form of zakat payment according to all four schools of law. Clearly, the respected British scholar cited above was inaccurate in his claim that “none of the scholars,” or only a small minority of them, viewed the fī sabīli-Llāh category as referring to anything other than military engagements.

Among modern Arab ulama, the view that the fī sabīli-Llāh category of zakat recipients can apply to Islamic da‘wa and educational initiatives has perhaps become the dominant position on this issue over the last one hundred years. This is true of all major ideological orientations, whether Salafi, Neo-traditionalist, or Islamist.

Thus, for example, arguably the most important Salafi scholar of his generation, the first Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Shaykh Muḥammad b. Ibrāhīm Āl al-Shaykh argued that the most deserving recipient of the fī sabīli-Llāh category of zakat was the cause of da‘wa, and responding to sources of doubt about Islam. Reportedly it is also the final opinion of his most important successor, Shaykh ‘Abd al-‘Azīz b. Bāz. Among living Salafis, this is the position of senior scholars outside the Saudi religious establishment as well, such as Shaykh Salmān al-‘Awda and Shaykh Ṣāliḥ al-Munajjid (may Allah liberate them from their unjust imprisonment).

It is also the position of senior scholars of the Azhar and Egypt’s Grand Muftis for many generations from the 20th and 21st centuries. In our own time, this includes Neo-traditionalist scholars like ‘Alī Jum‘a and Abdullāh b. Bayyah. While the latter prefers a more restrictive interpretation for the category, he permits the more expansive interpretation in his fatwas.

Among Islamist (Ikhwān) oriented scholars, one finds Shaykh Yūsuf al-Qaraḍāwī, author of what is perhaps the most comprehensive work to be written on the fiqh of zakat in Islamic history, promoting such an understanding as well. His two volume work, which addresses the major debates surrounding the fī sabīli-Llāh category in great detail, has also been translated into English. Among younger Islamist-leaning scholars, the encyclopaedic Mauritanian scholar and master of the Sharia sciences, Shaykh Muḥammad al-Ḥasan al-Dadaw argues that the fī sabīli-Llāh category may even be used in the establishing of educational endowments.

The above is only a selection of voices among those who are supportive of promoting Islamic educational causes on the basis of the fī sabīli-Llāh category of zakat. With due respect to scholars who would argue otherwise, it is clear that this is not only a legitimate legal opinion on this question but may well be the dominant view of many of the leading scholars of modern times.

Our communities are best served by an Islamic discourse that acknowledges the richness and diversity of our great religious tradition rather than restricts it to a narrow range of opinions. As the Prophet said to the Bedouin who prayed for God to exclusively show mercy to himself and the Prophet, “You have constricted what is vast!” (laqad ḥajjarta wāsi‘an).

Since there are a very large number of scholars who have recognised initiatives that promote the sound understanding of Islam to be eligible for receiving zakat, our community is best served by the accurate portrayal of the valid difference of opinion on such matters in which members of the community may legitimately seek to follow either opinion without claiming that the position adopted by others is illegitimate.

In an era in which the sound understanding of Islam is threatened by Islamophobic forces from without and extremist forces from within, we all recognise the importance of Islamic education as a central concern for contemporary Muslims to prioritise. May we all support this cause, whether through zakat or by some other means.

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MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

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