Dr. O blogs at Muslim Medicine, a site that strives to serve only the freshest grade-A certified ẓabiḥah ḥalāl comedy. Contact your local ḥalāl butcher for more details.
Recently the British Telegraph, known for their excellence in journalism and intrepid reporting about Germans with pencils in their heads and Alien sightings in Britain, posted an article about “How to spot a terrorist living in your neighborhood.”
The article itself is rather long and exhausting to read through, but it does feature a rather funny picture of a random white guy using binoculars to spy on what I can only assume must be Muslims that are up to no good. He does a fantastic job of wearing a black shirt in the middle of clear daylight and manages to use a few twigs, leaves, and a metal rod from a swinging patio chair to cloak himself. Clearly we can already tell from this image that this man is a master of stealth- a British Solid Snake, only more obsessed with gawking creepily at bearded men.
“What is the purpose of that half-filled jug of water next to their toilet seat? It must be something sinister.”
Anyways, the article goes on to list some fun facts about how to spot terrorists in your neighborhood, and what the warning signs are of radicalization, extremism, and fundamentalism. So I decided to take the advice of this fantastic article to heart, and emphasize its warning signs in order to assure that my readers never fall prey to the threat of extremism.
Dr. O proudly presents his reaction to this rather interesting article- “10 things you can do to not be a terrorist.”
1) “…the great majority of terrorists, unsurprisingly, have been Muslim males aged 16-34, a third to a half of whom were unemployed and a significant portion of the rest under-employed. Most were unmarried.“
Do you hear that, you lazy bum? Underemployed single Muslim males aged 16 – 34! That about encompasses 99% of the desperate brothers on online Muslim matrimonial sites, as well as most lazy unemployed Muslim teens who spend as much time playing Call of Duty on XBOX Live as they do disappointing their parents.
This first fun fact is pretty much exactly what your mom and dad always keep telling you- stop bumming around, go to med school, and live a productive life where shallow families aggressively try to marry their daughters to you. You see, keeping busy with a full-time job and having girls’ families chase after you is an excellent means of averting islamophobia- if the FBI starts profiling you, just tell them “I can’t be extreme – my parents forced me to become a doctor instead.”
Oh, and the marriage bit? That’s easy. You see, Muslim men tend to do mischievous things when they’re single- like creepily hang around Islamic Conference lobbies and use Snapchat to send salacious pictures of their beards to unsuspecting sisters. But a married man is a prim, proper, restricted brother who is controlled- a man shackled to a life of no fun and no play, because if he does anything out of the ordinary, his wife will probably slap the wudu off of him.
2) “Essentially, there will be changes in behaviour”
This is so important to follow. Whenever your mother or wife keeps reminding you to change your underwear and take a shower, you need to flat out refuse, because changing your behavior is a sign of extremism. In fact, you should take it a step further- don’t change ANYTHING. Not even your clothes; and when people ask you “how come you don’t brush your teeth?” you say it’s because only a terrorist would wage jihad against cavities and support the mass killing of millions of innocent oral bacteria.
Ironically, not brushing your teeth may also lead to some rather… “extreme” consequences.
3) “A sudden ostentatious insistence on religious ritual, especially in a secular context (demands for prayer rooms where no other religion has them)”
This one’s for you MSA and Isoc-fans out there who love campus prayer rooms. Nothing shouts extremism more than a carpeted den of male testosterone, pungent sock stenches from wet feet, beard hairs intertwined with pocket lint on the floor, stale miswak sticks from 7 semesters ago, and frustrated sisters trying to pray in a section the size of a utility closet. You MSA and Isoc folks need to realize that praying on campus promotes student diversity in faith- so it’s extremism when you do it, but it’s usually fine when the university promotes that same faith diversity for their own marketing purposes.
Fun fact: campus prayer rooms also serve as secondary dorm rooms for ghetto brothers to eat, sleep, change clothes, and live in.
4) “A withdrawal from social interaction with women and disapproval of feminine dress.”
Oh boy… if there’s one thing that Muslim teenage guys can never figure out, it’s how to even engage in human communication with women. You poor awkward souls. Some brothers still have difficulty trying to determine if females are even human and not some sort of alien species that seek shoes and chocolate to sustain themselves.
The article is spot-on with this fact- that socially awkward Muslim guys are just prime material for becoming extremists. Because everyone knows that loser geeks who have no swag and no game are often the most extreme and fundamental at heart. That’s why big angry bearded brothers who harp on and on about sisters being fitnas are often the ones most desperate to just get to know one and marry her instantly.
Because touching a non-family member of the opposite gender is haram, some brothers grow up believing that sisters are barbies made out of plastic.
So my fellow brothers- you need to educate yourselves about women. Because if you don’t know how to communicate with them, then you’re a terrorist. That’s why I’m an expert on sisters, and I know for a fact that all girls are cootie-infected, gross, yucky, also icky, and they all love Justin Bieber and One Direction.
5) “There may be a sudden obsession with physical fitness.”
Well look at you, Mr. Fatty- are you trying to get rid of that Ramadan Belly and trim down so you can slip into that new thoube that you bought for Jummu’ah? Well guess what, every time you lift that dumbbell or do a pushup, you’re becoming a terrorist. Because everyone knows that terrorists are hot male models with ripped 6-pack abs and sculpted muscular physiques that make them the ultimate fitna when they take their shirts off.
Brothers, keep it up- your stubborn fat is the first defense against extremism.
So the next time your mom or your wife start complaining about how fat and lazy you’ve gotten, or how your belly makes pregnant women believe that you’re somehow carrying twins, tell them that you’re fattening up to fight terrorism. Every cheesy nacho chip or oozing triple-chocolate fudge brownie that you mindlessly shovel into your mouth is a defiant blow to extremism.
Fighting terrorism has never felt so delicious.
6) “Someone may adopt traditional Arab dress or abruptly abandon it (so as not to attract attention).“
Nothing says terrorist quite a brother who has a flamboyant passion for fashion. This is especially true for brothers who have a keen interest in Arab-style fashion, because everyone knows that in the fast-paced creative world of fashion design, the biggest extremists are the ones who never change their clothing style- and by the looks of it, most Arab men are still following the hottest Summer trends from 640 AD. What a bunch of hipsters.
Does this thoube make my extremism look big?
According to the article, being discreet about your vaguely non-Western style of fashion is a suspicious warning sign. So fellow men, take a hint from our preppy sisters, and let your fashion speak for you- instead of picking out the same boring drab kufi and thoube, why not mix things up a bit and fight some terrorism by rocking something like this:
Protip- if a brother actually wears this to the masjid, DO NOT pray behind him. When he goes into sujud, you may risk going blind.
7) “They might forbid or avoid music.“
Next to moonsighting and zabiha halal meat, music is one of the top 3 most ridiculously trivial things that Muslims love to incessantly argue about. But one thing’s for sure- this article makes it explicitly clear that anyone who avoids music or forbids others from listening to it is an extremist.
And that’s a very scary thought, because by their logic anyone who listened to Rebecca Black’s Friday and didn’t have their ears bleed is a terrorist. And that goes double for the poor unfortunate souls who have been tortured by Nicki Minaj or the Jonas Brothers.
If you’ve ever wondered why Muslims don’t listen to music, this should help clear that up.
8) “Withdraw from contact with non-Muslims or Muslims who are not extremist“
Brothers who live their whole lives on the internets, this one’s for you. The article asserts that Muslims who withdraw from society are extremists in the making, but ignores the fact that pretty much every single Muslim youth spends about 80% of their life indoors either gaming or surfing the internets. Do you spend more time silently creeping on Facebook than you do physically meeting with friends? If so, then you might be a terrorist.
After weeks of non-interrupted gaming or web surfing, Muslim youths tend to quickly transform into nocturnal vampires who fear going outdoors, lest the bright natural sunlight burns their skin or blinds their eyes:
Once again, your parents know best. GET OFF the internet, shut off your console, and go outside for once. Explore new places, meet new people, appreciate nature’s beauty, and be sure to get religiously and racially profiled as you do all that.
One of the most difficult challenges of being a Muslim youth- having an actual social life.
9) “Collecting jihadi material”
As the article points out, Muslims treat “jihadi material” a lot like Pokemon- we try to collect all 150, but the more ambitious Muslims try to collect all 251 of the Johto Jihadi material.
I’ll trade you 3 holographic Muslim Man cards for your Charizard!
[Wanna see more Muslim Pokemon? Check out iambillal!]
Basically, anything remotely Islamic that you take an interest in might be considered “jihadi material.” So guys, stop collecting facial hair- because if you stock up on enough of those, you may grow something called a “beard” which is pretty jihadi.
10) “Perhaps attempted travel to troubled regions or misleading vagueness as to where they’ve been.”
I don’t think this article realizes that the FBI’s investigations pale in comparison to the interrogative skills of Muslim wives and mothers. Any of my fellow brothers can sympathize whenever they return home late after an awesome evening of chilling- if you haven’t answered your phone or responded to any texts while you were out, then brace yourself for a painful and brutal interrogation.
To our brethren who return home to a fuming mother or wife… …our hearts go out to you.
If you answer your mom or wife with intentionally misleading vagueness as to where you’ve been or if you’ve been up to any trouble, I’m afraid you have a lot worse coming your way than being suspected as a terrorist. You might want to double-check your medical insurance coverage for emergency room visits.
So the best way to avoid terrorism, as well as ensure a long healthy life free from traumatic injury, is to always seek approval before venturing out of the house. Take a lesson from King Leonidas- NEVER do anything without tacit approval from your better half.
And there you have it. A thorough listing of all the things you need to avoid in order to not be a terrorist. So let’s recap, and put everything together to paint a picture of the most non-threatening Muslim caricature, given all of the article’s warning signs:
A fat, lazy, clean-shaven doctor who never bathes, brushes his teeth, or bothers to change his clothes, but is a big-time social party-animal and is a ladies’ man as well (despite already being married)- he also dresses as Sailor Moon on Fridays, collects Pokemon cards as a hobby, and is an avid Rebecca Black fan.
While that may sound like one of the most cringe-inducing Muslim Matrimonial profiles that you’ve ever read, it’s actually the article’s perfect definition of the most innocuous “non-terroristy” Muslim. Now if all Muslim men could just be exactly like that description, then there wouldn’t be any more terrorism EVER. And how can you possibly argue against brilliant logic like that?
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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