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Zakat, Poverty and the Kitchen Sink

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Zakat, that economic act of worship often paid in Ramadan we regard as the third pillar of Islam, is increasingly becoming a hollow shell. A few examples:

An Imam is invited to give a seminar on Zakat at an Islamic Center serving an affluent neighborhood. The organizers ask him if he believes Zakat funds can be used for their Masjid construction project, he answers in the negative. He is disinvited.

Zakat is used to rent an expensive hotel conference space so that a panel of speakers can discuss current political issues.

A major Muslim non-profit spends Zakat funds to pay a famous public figure thousands for an honorarium and a first-class flight to speak at its gala.

 

9_60

Zakah expenditures are only for the poor and for the needy and for those employed to collect [zakah] and for bringing hearts together [for Islam] and for freeing captives [or slaves] and for those in debt and for the cause of Allah and for the [stranded] traveler – an obligation [imposed] by Allah . And Allah is Knowing and Wise. (9:60)

This oft-cited ayah of the Quran has eight categories of eligible recipients. The first two deal with poverty, the third is the one who collects and distributes Zakat and the others included are those in bondage or in debt and “those whose hearts are inclined” to champion the cause of Allah and the stranded traveler.

Poverty colors every other category. Zakat recipients need not always be poor of course. For example, refugees may be land barons but could benefit from Zakat all the same.

In the United States today, non-profits provide vital services that are often done by governments in other countries and are a significant portion of the economy. Tax benefits are provided to the non-profits and to those who donate – a recognition of their importance to society.

The Muslim non-profit sector includes places of worship, educational institutions, and service organizations. It employs much of the US Muslim community’s leadership, activists, teachers and other professionals and provides a system of conferences, symposiums, galas, buildings and a speaker circuit that educates and inspires many. This is all good. Many of these organizations take special care with Zakat contributions and do good work with them. However, many non-profits have found reasons to not take special care with Zakat. The American Muslim community should guard against this.

Why You Should Care

givePoverty is a continuing concern though it is often invisible to the well-off by design.  As Khaled Beydoun pointed out recently, a Pew study found 45% of American Muslims families earn less than $30,000 annually.  While the study did not measure poverty per se, this level is sufficiently close to poverty for many families.  The federal poverty guidelines are not a measure of Zakat eligibility; rather it is nisab, possession of 87.48 grams of gold (approximately $3500), which would not overlap perfectly with the guidelines. Around 34% of Americans have no savings at all to fall back on. Muslim community leaders all over the United States would attest to the many struggles of individuals and families who need help, brought on by illness, incarceration, displacement or a wide range of other chronic and transitional circumstances. Islam’s prescription for addressing these difficulties is Zakat. We help each other out as an act of worship. Just as prayer demonstrates how serious we are about our relationship with Allah, Zakat demonstrates how serious we are as a community.

Oversleeping for Fajr is considered bad even when no social harm comes from it. Misappropriated Zakat causes social harm. With Zakat there are often genuine differences of opinion among scholars that should be worked out and standards should be established for use of these funds. In other situations, its use is a clear grift that no scholar could rationalize.

Charitable giving  does not always help those in genuine need. Indeed, much of what passes as “charity” in the United States is merely giving donations for the benefit of the affluent. The poor are becoming increasingly numerous in the United States even as the non-profit sector continues to grow in size and strength.

There Will be Fatwas

Some non-profit organizations rely on the general sounding opinions of individual Islamic Scholars to validate their view that their own organization should receive Zakat. While there are differences of opinion among scholars, these differences can be exaggerated. Even if a donor is told a scholar agrees with a non-profit that a particular non-self-evident use of Zakat is acceptable, that should begin the inquiry and not end it.

Often the context of the Fatwa will be mixed up. A common example is using an opinion that justifies the construction of a Masjid in an impoverished or war-torn area to justify an expansion project of an existing Masjid in a wealthy suburban neighborhood. Those are not the same thing.

A significant controversy concerning disbursement of Zakat comes from the phrase “in the path of Allah” as the kind of cause for which giving Zakat is acceptable. The debate arises as to whether this phrase in the Quran means something specific (the physical struggle of Jihad was the traditionally understood meaning), if it means somewhat more (yet still specific) in the modern context, or if it means there are no practical limits. The “everything but the kitchen sink” approach to Zakat has become more popular among certain non-profits as everything they do can be viewed as a public good.

Zakat donors should be skeptical of “kitchen sink” claims, even while donating non-Zakat funds for organizations that do good work. The relevant verse in the Quran (9:60) is restrictive in terms of the categories that are allowed to receive Zakat. If every noble endeavor can be classified as “in the path of Allah,” then all other categories would be superfluous.

Some Muslim non-profits do not make public their rationale for accepting Zakat funds for their general budget. They just do it. Muslim Advocates for example, an organization that has done excellent work, makes the “Zakat-Eligible” claim without supporting it. Calls to the organization revealed they do not know why they make the claim, or can’t say. They are far from alone. This can be easily fixed as described below.

Inventing New Reasons to Take Zakat

The Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) has been perhaps the most aggressive among Muslim non-profits in inventing novel rationalizations for accepting Zakat funds. The organization cites several categories on its website, explicitly including the entertainment awards galas they host as counting towards “those whose hearts are inclined.” Another reason they give is helping people be free of bondage, undoubtedly a permissible reason for giving Zakat. But what has MPAC done here? MPAC cites their work in the “Arab Spring” and “sustainable solutions for Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

We confirmed with a call to MPAC that it has no solutions to the real problem of people in bondage in Pakistan and Afghanistan, or anything else in those countries. MPAC’s work on the Arab Spring consisted of opining on current events, hosting panels in the US and participating in them. They also signed a petition to Egypt’s then President, asking him to oppose proposed wording of “Sharia” in that country’s constitution, as this would violate human rights. Political opposition to Sharia internationally as being a “Zakat-eligible” activity would seem to be the logical endpoint to this wild west state of affairs for Zakat in the United States. However, they went further, opining on how they “rejoice and celebrate” the military coup by General Sisi against the democratically-elected government they had previously petitioned.

The dictatorship they celebrated went on to commit one of the largest single day peacetime mass-killings of civilians in history, incarcerated and “disappeared” tens of thousands and engaged in systematic torture. Instead of working against bondage, as claimed, American Zakat was used to cheerlead a repressive military coup in another country. To their credit, unlike other organizations, MPAC is transparent about their Zakat use. This state of affairs of American Zakat is not primarily the fault of any one non-profit.

The privileging of Zakat funds for expenditures on ornate buildings in wealthy neighborhoods, expensive hotel conference spaces, panel discussions on politics, airline tickets, press releases of dubious value, interfaith networking, awards and honorariums for the already-affluent over the rights of those families and individuals in genuine need is a racket Muslim donors have been either tolerating or enabling for too long.

A Few Suggestions

1. Donors should be more purposeful about who they give Zakat to. Never accept a bald claim by a non-profit that donations are “Zakat-eligible” if the claim is not otherwise obvious to you (i.e. it is for the poor).  An independent, qualified scholar you respect should provide a specific, well-reasoned rationale to support such claims.

2. Muslim non-profits should collect Zakat. However, donation forms should allow donors to designate Zakat funds separately from other donations. Zakat funds must then be accounted for and disbursed with transparent policies different from general fund donations. Non-profits that accept grants are already used to this. Grants, like Zakat, are usually for specific, enumerated purposes and not for a general fund, so there should be no excuses. It’s fine to pay large honorariums to speakers at expensive hotel banquet halls or build nice buildings in affluent communities. Just don’t do it with Zakat.

3. Islamic scholars, leaders and activists in the non-profit sector should do more to protect the institution of Zakat and the rights of those in need. This starts with implementing best practices and addressing abuses taking place in the Muslim non-profit sector.


Osman Umarji was born and raised in Southern California. After spending years working as an engineer, he left his career to pursue an Islamic education at Al-Azhar University, specializing in Islamic law and legal theory. He  previously served as an Imam and has spent years studying Zakah and has given numerous seminars on the topic. He is currently pursuing a PhD at UC Irvine in Educational Psychology, while also serving the community as an educational consultant.

Ahmed Shaikh is a Southern California Attorney. He writes about inheritance, nonprofits and other legal issues affecting Muslims in the United States. He is the co-author of "Estate Planning for the Muslim Client," published by the American Bar Association. His Islamic Inheritance website is www.islamicinheritance.com

46 Comments

46 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Nasreen

    June 20, 2016 at 10:22 AM

    Assalamalaikum brother,

    Since youve done quite a lot of research on this. Can you name some reliable organizations we can donate zakat to?

    • Avatar

      Rafe

      June 20, 2016 at 12:18 PM

      Assalamu Alaikum brother Osman,

      Yes, I agree with Sr. Naseen. We would appreciate some suggestions on reliable organizations.

      • Avatar

        Osman Umarji

        June 20, 2016 at 1:33 PM

        Assalaamualaykum,

        I would simply suggest you ensure that the organization you are interested in donating to promises 100% usage of zakah for the poor and needy. I also recommend giving priority to organizations that support the local Muslim community, as that is the sunnah of the Prophet. Since locality is a preference, I cannot sincerely advise beyond where I live. If you live near me, send me an email and I will provide some names of great organizations.

  2. Avatar

    Fatima

    June 20, 2016 at 2:01 PM

    Salamalaikum

    A small suggestion.

    Before searching for an organization, look around in your circle. In your masjid, your family, relatives. If you cannot find anyone, alhamdulillah.
    You can ask if anyone knows of any muslim who is needy. Once a recipient has been found, you just give them what you can/should.

    PS: You will need to figure out how to work the tax exemption.

  3. Avatar

    Fatima

    June 20, 2016 at 2:15 PM

    Br Usman,

    I would request your opinion on giving Zakat to eligible relatives, family, acquaintances and the poor in our neighborhood. This could be a way to avoid one enmity and contempt between the rich and poor families.

    Should one rely solely on organizations to dispense of Zakat?

    • Avatar

      Ahmed

      June 20, 2016 at 10:33 PM

      I have the same question. Is Zakat something that should be dispensed through organizations, or can individuals give it directly to eligible relatives, acquaintances, etc.?

      A related question is who has more right on an individual’s Zakat: an overseas poor relative or a local poor person?

      • Avatar

        Osman Umarji

        June 20, 2016 at 11:05 PM

        Zakah can be dispersed by individuals. In fact, if you know someone needy, it is better you give them than rely on organizations to channel it to them. Relatives have rights and should be given priority if deserving.

  4. Abu Ibraheem

    Abu Ibraheem

    June 20, 2016 at 4:48 PM

    Assalam Alaikum, I’m interested in giving zakat to someone in my local community and I have identified an individual that I think would qualify. However, how can I ascertain that they have less than the nisab? Can I assume they have less? I don’t feel comfortable investigating further as it may make one appear nosy and intrusive. This has happened in the past and then I ended up just giving online instead to an organization instead locally.

    • Avatar

      Osman Umarji

      June 21, 2016 at 12:41 AM

      As long as you pretty sure they qualify (based on your observation of their lifestyle and conversations with them), you may give them zakah. You do not have to disclose that the money you are giving them is zakah. If it later turns out they did not qualify, you have still fulfilled your obligation. The consideration in such a fiqh matter is called ghalabat-al-dhann (that which is one considers to be most likely).

      • Avatar

        Abu Yusuf

        June 21, 2016 at 11:31 PM

        I read that it is only the hanafi madhab which uses the Nisab as the criteria to determine who is poor is and the other Madhaib have different definitions and criteria to determine who is poor. Is this correct?

      • Abu Ibraheem

        Abu Ibraheem

        June 23, 2016 at 6:57 AM

        Thank you, jazakAllahkhair for taking your time to respond, I appreciate it !

    • Avatar

      Fatima

      June 25, 2016 at 2:36 PM

      https://islamqa.info/en/82974

      This link is Shaikh Munajjids opinion on the poor person in America.

  5. Avatar

    Qasim

    June 20, 2016 at 5:42 PM

    According to charity navigator the number one org to give your zakat to is Helping Hand. They also are the top rated Muslim org http://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=content.view&cpid=2215

    • Avatar

      Rafe

      June 20, 2016 at 6:33 PM

      Jazakallahu Khairan

    • Avatar

      Baabu

      June 21, 2016 at 1:40 PM

      Brother Qasim…i hope you dont work for Helping Hand..that would be a conflict of interest. Also, that link doesn’t say its #1-just lists it as a 5 star charity.

    • Avatar

      Abdullah

      June 21, 2016 at 2:54 PM

      The CEO of helping hands earns $158,315 a year. Your link shows their financials. This is the best charity? What has the world come to, SubhanAllaah

  6. Avatar

    OmarK

    June 20, 2016 at 10:00 PM

    What is the requirement to pay zakat on 401k and on IRA?

    • Avatar

      Ahmed

      June 20, 2016 at 10:30 PM

    • Avatar

      Osman Umarji

      June 21, 2016 at 12:51 AM

      InshaAllah a future article will address this matter, but it is my opinion that you pay on the full vested amount in your account. You do not subtract taxes or penalties unless you actually realize them (e.g., if you do not have enough cash on hand to pay zakah and have to dip into these accounts). The truth of the matter that many 401k fatawa miss is that one has complete ownership of the wealth (milk taam) in a 401k. They have chosen to stash money into an account voluntarily in order to maximize the financial gain for the future (yes, it has its conditions, but every participant chooses this voluntarily). It would be extremely oppressive to exempt 401k participants until retirement (who generally are from the wealthier class of society already) from paying zakah on their investments, while someone who stashes their savings in a checking account is obliged to pay. It is akin to telling the poor “you can’t touch our wealth for 30 years, even if it’s in the hundreds of thousands or millions”.

      • Avatar

        Arjmand

        July 1, 2016 at 11:09 AM

        Assalamu alaykum,

        Since I didn’t find a way to contact you personally, I wanted to know which organizations would you recommend that are in your state or area?

        Jazak Allah khair

  7. Avatar

    Fatima

    June 20, 2016 at 11:14 PM

    Muslim Advocates is disturbed by the reporting in this article, which includes false and misleading information regarding our organization’s zakat eligibility. Muslim Advocates is always happy to share zakat eligibility information with donors who request details. We have asked for a correction to this article and are hopeful the editors will make an update to reflect the facts.

    • Avatar

      Ahmed Shaikh

      June 21, 2016 at 12:24 AM

      Thank you for your comment. If you know how Muslim Advocates justifies taking Zakat and using it for all its expenses please let us know and we will note it. I asked multiple people in the organization and nobody has any idea why they do that. If you are willing to share it, do so now. It would be false and misleading for us to alude to information we do not have, especially as there is no evidence such information exists.

  8. Avatar

    AHMAD

    June 21, 2016 at 12:19 AM

    Maşallah.Allah’u Ekber.

  9. Avatar

    Shams Khan

    June 21, 2016 at 1:11 AM

    At Zaytuna College, we only use Zakat for needy students, and do not take any overhead costs out of the zakat we collect. Zaytuna.edu/Ramadan

  10. Avatar

    Faheem Baig

    June 21, 2016 at 3:56 AM

    Jazak Allahu Khairan Brother Usman for making us carefully think and consider this matter with fear of Allah.

    What is your opinion about zakat eligibility towards CAIR?

    • Avatar

      Osman Umarji

      June 21, 2016 at 4:59 PM

      I believe people should give sadaqa money (general donations) to CAIR and give zakah specifically to the poor via other institutions or personal connections. If CAIR changes their policy so that zakah donations will only be used for projects that serve the needy and poor, while using other types of donations for general operations, then perhaps they will be eligible in the future. This would need to be shown through detailed financials. I recommend people ask CAIR to do this.

      Some scholars have said CAIR is eligible for zakah under the general category of “fi sabeelillah”. I consider this to be exactly the kitchen sink dilemma the article has discussed (see https://ca.cair.com/sacval/home/donate/does-cair-qualify-to-receive-zakat/ for their justification).

      • Avatar

        Osman Umarji

        June 21, 2016 at 7:08 PM

        After a conversation with the brothers and sisters at CAIR, here is how they use their zakah: They absolutely do NOT use zakah for banquets, honorariums, or Quran donations. Rather, they use zakah for their civil rights work, which constitutes protecting Muslims from discrimination in schools, workplaces, and with government agencies (primarily through salaries for their legal staff). There is debate among scholars over whether this form of defending Muslims is zakah eligible (does it fall under fi sabillah). Regardless, defending Muslims is indeed noble work that the community needs to support, so sadaqa should be given for this cause even if you don’t give them your zakah.

    • Avatar

      Ahmed Shaikh

      June 22, 2016 at 3:05 AM

      Just to add to Sh. Osman’s comment. CAIR comes up a lot in this discussion, it is the elephant in the room we did not introduce. Some may wonder why we picked Muslim Advocates and MPAC when abusive Zakat practices are rampant throughout Muslim nonprofits, especially Masajid (and we did not single out any, they know who they are). I think some feel there should be an equivilancy drawn between CAIR and MPAC, which is unfortunate. While some, including Sh. Osman, disagree with how CAIR may use Zakat and they may not be the model zakat organization, they do things very differently from MPAC, Muslim Advocates and bad practices of many Masajid. They (1) segregate their donations (2) are reasonably transparent about what they use Zakat for and what they don’t use it for from among these segregated funds and (3) they have opinions from respected independent scholars that say they can do what they are doing. There appears to be an effort to respect the institution of Zakat, despite what may appear to be misgivings by some Zakat experts. Keep in mind I have not looked at their books or evaluated the accuracy of these claims. Here you as a donor would need to evaluate this for yourself based on the information you have. Note MPAC and Muslim Advocates have done none of these things. They were highlighted because of how egregious their practices are and because they are national in scope (which is why we did not highlight an individual Masjid). Collection and distribution of Zakat on behalf of others is a public trust. It is time donors started demanding more from those who take on this responsibility.

      • Avatar

        Faheem Baig

        June 22, 2016 at 3:39 AM

        Jazak Allahu Khairan for both of your quick and insightful responses. May Allah bless you and guide you and us all to the truth. I separately consulted with my community Imam who sided on the cautionary opinion to consider donations to CAIR as sadaqah. But as brother Ahmed pointed out, I again reviewed the options that CAIR gives for donations, and it clearly demarcates a button for payment of “Zakat”. Further it provides 5 categories for you to select, with at least one of them sounding the closest to me as being a means of disseminating Islamic awareness to the public (possible fi-SabilAllah?).

        That said, this is a personal lesson to me as I started donating to CAIR about one year ago with the intention of “Zakat”, but I don’t recall going through these options carefully, and simply started the donation through their general portal. Therefore, this portion is heavily called into question, and now I have to go back to evaluate, and possibly repay the Zakat properly for the prior year.

        So it is very encouraging that CAIR has actually established a precedent for clearly demarcating the Zakat funds, and has answered your questions with transparency.

        I am a huge supporter of CAIR and will continue to support them In sha Allah. But I will also request of them to make more careful consideration on how they present, solicit, distribute and account for their Zakat collections. In addition, I will request them to put a little more thought with scholarly backing, and add more scholars to their page in describing how CAIR may be Zakat eligible.

        You are absolutely right to put the onus on us as the individual donors to be far more careful in demanding transparency and accountability in Zakat.

        I would not have given it as much careful consideration had it not been for your very insightful article.

        Jazak Allahu Khairan.

  11. Amad

    Amad

    June 21, 2016 at 5:37 AM

    I don’t know how I missed that MPAC celebrated the coup by Sisi — wow

    Did the organization ever recant or express condemnation of Sisi’s slaughters?

    However… Speaking generally, Can we really make the case that if an organization does something wrong, it is colored negatively completely? I mean couldn’t we make the argument that the zakat would be thought of as going toward the other good that the organization may do?

    • Avatar

      Ahmed Shaikh

      June 21, 2016 at 7:57 AM

      You can check with them to be sure but I never saw them recant their position on the coup.

      The point was to not only highlight the ad hoc Fiqh being made up by a nonprofit, but the gap between the Quranic justification provided (freeing people from bondage) and the actual record, where it either makes up things in its solicitations that it does not do, or does the opposite. MPAC is a valuble organization as it provides abundant cautionary examples of things other groups should never do.

      Zakat does not merely exist to support “good.” Rather it must be for specific groups who have the right to it in the Sharia. Misappropriating it for other vague notions of “good” represents grift.

  12. Avatar

    Zain Zubair

    June 21, 2016 at 7:29 AM

    Kind speech and Forgiveness are better than Charity followed by Injury. & Allah is Free of need and Forbearing. Surah Al Baqarah [2:263]

  13. Avatar

    Muhammad

    June 21, 2016 at 11:55 AM

    This discussion has been long over due. JZK Br. Osman. In my limited experience many organizations lack interest and infrastructure that would be necessary to segregate zakat eligible funds. In some cases even Zakatal Fitr and Saadaqa funds are commingled with other funds. These instances are either reckless or quasi intentional.

  14. Avatar

    Baabu

    June 21, 2016 at 1:52 PM

    It’s about time someone had the courage to write about this. Too many imams staying silent on the issue because they are on the receiving end of zakat money. There also many Madaaris (Hifz Specialists) that use zakat money to basically pay for salaries under the disguise of covering student tuition. This needs to be exposed on a wide scale and transparency should be required and demanded from every non-profit organization.

  15. Avatar

    Abdullah

    June 21, 2016 at 3:09 PM

    http://www.uwt.org/site/default.asp

    Ummah Welfare Trust has a 100% donation policy. Whatever you give you are assured all of it will be spent for the poor. According to my research this is the most reliable.

    • Avatar

      Ahmad

      June 12, 2019 at 12:18 PM

      I contacted UWT a couple of weeks ago, and they informed me that the wealth is directly transferred to the poor. And their board is made up of scholars. And they strive to do everything in line witht he fiqh of imam abu hanifa… (As a point aside i am not sure what the differences between the 4 imams are on this issue; but it is better than using non-classical fatwas).

      As an aside they do ask you to pay the surcharge charged by the bank for processing the payment (a positive step as i wouldnt want my zakat to go to Mastercard)

      N.B. The correspondence was in May 2019, future readers of this comment should verify the info is accurate

  16. Avatar

    Sara

    June 21, 2016 at 3:26 PM

    The article recognises that non profits may have other sources of income apart from Zakat. Therefore, unless there has been clear mention in published audited accounts or official publications, what evidence is there to suggest zakat funds are being utilised for various activities such as political conferences or lobbying governments? (All of which are legitimate activities for non profits.)

    • Avatar

      Ahmed Shaikh

      June 21, 2016 at 5:28 PM

      Zakat that goes for general overhead (is not segregated) is by definition co-mingled and used for all expenses of the organization.

  17. Avatar

    Abu Yusuf

    June 22, 2016 at 6:18 AM

    This seems mostly a US problem. In the UK i havent heard of barely any orgs or masjids use zakat for purposes outlined in the article (it only goes to the poor). The issue here in the UK was trying to get most/all zakat collecting charities to be 100% zakat donations or as close as possible to a 100% donations policy (i.e. the full 100% of a zakat donation goes to the poor, no funds are used for admin, marketing, office, staff etc costs) …which by a large alhumdulillah many charities seem to have now.

    • Avatar

      Shareq

      June 22, 2016 at 2:30 PM

      First world problems….process over people.

  18. Avatar

    Noor

    June 22, 2016 at 12:57 PM

    Every one has poor and needy relatives. The first and foremost recipents of zakat should be our own kith and kin. Other than our parents and grand parents, zakat can be given to our brothers sisters, their children so on and so forth. Its sad and tragic thatwe run to find organisations when our family is in dire need of money. Please reflect upon this point to get a greater reward from Allah.

  19. Avatar

    Shareq

    June 22, 2016 at 2:25 PM

    At the time of giving Zakat, think of those who are near you and close to you. Relatives, friends, acquaintances, neighbors, people from your mosque.

    This is also a good time to reflect of you are fulfilling your other required financial obligations. Your children and parents have rights. These days many families are split and some fathers do not support their children due to hatred of the ex wife.
    Some children may have drifted away from their parents at their old age when they need help and support.

    May Allah guide us all to fulfill the rights of relatives, neighbors, the poor and the deserving. Ameen.

  20. Avatar

    Almir Colan

    June 23, 2016 at 1:02 AM

    This is not only a problem for zakat collection but in my opinion all general sadaqa/donation that are often collected without transparency and accountability. More often then not there is no way to trace how much is collected and how some of these organizations are spend it.

    In reality all donations and spending should be independently audited in my opinion. We should have professional Islamic auditing and accounting body that audits our books and finances to ensure shariah compliance and guard against fraud, misuse and cheating.

  21. Avatar

    Duston Barto

    June 29, 2016 at 1:04 PM

    Jazakallahu Khairoun for this MUCH NEEDED article!

    I used to work for The Zakat Foundation of America and I have been constantly frustrated with sociopolitical organizations like MPAC, CAIR and ISNA claiming that they are eligible for Zakat when none of their works fall into the 8 categories of Zakat!

    The “kitchen sink” analogy of the gross misinterpretation of “in the cause of Allah” is extremely appropriate. A scholarly opinion that I read recently states that since there is no truly Islamic leadership, that no overall cause can be declared a “struggle in the cause of Allah.” I tend to agree with this. We cannot be so arrogant as to presume that civil rights work is Allah’s work, perhaps we are overstepping our bounds in some of these issues. I have often felt that CAIR, for example, was pushing agendas where Muhammad (SAWS) would have found a more passive way to deal with a situation. One incident that sticks out is where CAIR fought vociferously to make a university prepare a prayer area near a soccer field when there was already a musallah on campus. I feel that Muhammad (SAWS) would tell the Muslims to pray in the grass.

    CAIR, MPAC and ISNA all do good works, but these are not Zakat eligible. We cannot change Allah’s law. Give your sadaqa to them, sure; but reserve your Zakat only for those Allah has instructed to receive it.

    One category of Zakat that I would like your fatwa on is “Warming the hearts to Islam.” Often I am told that this is exclusively giving money to people who would face financial hardships due to converting to Islam. This interpretation was used by Caliph Umar and it has sound scholarship. However, I am curious about dawah organizations whose purpose is to spread the message of Islam and to literally warm people’s hearts toward Islam.

    Would Dawah organizations like American Islamic Outreach and GAINpeace be eligible for Zakat?

  22. Avatar

    Duston Barto

    June 29, 2016 at 1:10 PM

    Another point of question. You stated that Zakat could not be used to pay off a loan the Mosque has, but Zakat is also to be directed toward those who have a debt and the classical scholars have agreed that this includes the debt one incurs in building a mosque. Why then would a mosque’s building fund not be zakat eligible?

    Or have I misunderstood and you are drawing a distinction between paying off a debt incurred by the Mosque and collecting funds for a new expansion/construction?

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Dawah and Interfaith

10 Lessons I Learned While Serving Those in Need

Abu Ryan Dardir

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charity
Which deeds are most beloved to Allah?

Alhamdulillah, by the blessings of Allah (swt) and readers like yourself, MuslimMatters has been an independent platform for our best thought leaders to educate us in our faith and catalyze change through powerful, necessary conversations. Since our humble beginnings as a basic wordpress blog in 2007, our content has remained free.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support us with a monthly donation of $10 per month, or even as little as $1. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

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. 

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. 

Friendships were developed on good deeds

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

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. 

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

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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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He Catches Me When I Fall: A Journey To Tawakkul

Merium Khan, Guest Contributor

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Tawakkul- a leaf falling
Which deeds are most beloved to Allah?

Alhamdulillah, by the blessings of Allah (swt) and readers like yourself, MuslimMatters has been an independent platform for our best thought leaders to educate us in our faith and catalyze change through powerful, necessary conversations. Since our humble beginnings as a basic wordpress blog in 2007, our content has remained free.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support us with a monthly donation of $10 per month, or even as little as $1. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

While discussing an emotionally-heavy issue, my therapist brought up the point that in life we can reach a point of acceptance in regards to our difficult issues: “It sounds cliche, but there’s no other way to say it: it is what it is.”

Okay, I thought, as I listened. Acceptance. Yes, I can do this eventually. She went on to add: “It is what it is, and I know that everything will be okay.””

Tears had already been flowing, but by this point, full-blown sobs started. “I…can’t….seem…to ever…believe that.” There. I had said it. I had faked being confident and accepting, even to myself. I had faked the whole, “I have these health problems, but I am so together” type of vibe that I had been putting out for years.

Maybe it was the hormones of a third pregnancy, confronting the realities of life with multiple chronic diseases, family problems, or perhaps a midlife crisis: but at that moment, I did not feel deep in my heart with true conviction that everything would be okay.

That conversation led me to reflect on the concept of tawakkul in the following weeks and months. What did it mean to have true trust in Allah? And why was it that for years I smiled and said, “Alhamdulillah, I’m coping just fine!” when in reality, the harsh truth was that I felt like I had not an ounce of tawakkul?

I had led myself to believe that denying my grief and slapping a smile on was tawakkul. I was being outwardly cheerful — I even made jokes about my life with Multiple Sclerosis — and I liked to think I was functioning all right. Until I wasn’t.

You see, the body doesn’t lie. You can tell all the lies you want to with your tongue, but after some time, the body will let you know that it’s holding oceans of grief, unshed tears, and unhealed traumas. And that period of my life is a tale for another time.

The short story is that things came to a head and I suddenly felt utterly overwhelmed and terrified daily about my future with a potentially disabling disease, while being diagnosed with a second major chronic illness, all while caring for a newborn along with my other children. Panic attacks and severe anxiety ensued. When I realized that I didn’t have true tawakkul, I had to reflect and find my way again.

I thought about Yaqub (Jacob). I thought long and hard about his grief: “Yaa asafaa ‘alaa Yusuf!” “Oh, how great is my grief for Joseph!”

He wept until he was blind. And yet, he constantly asserted, “Wallahul-Musta’aan”: “Allah is the one whose help is sought.” And he believed.

Oh, how did he believe. His sons laughed and called him an old fool for grieving over a son lost for decades. He then lost another dear son, Binyamin. And yet he said, “Perhaps it will be that my Lord will bring them to me altogether.”

There is no sin in grief Click To Tweet

So my first realization was that there was no sin in the grief. I could indeed trust Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) while feeling a sorrow so profound that it ripped me apart at times. “The heart grieves and the eyes weep, but the tongue does not say that except which pleases its Lord. Oh, Ibrahim, we are gravely saddened by your passing.” These are the words of our Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) for a lost infant son, said with tears pouring down his blessed face, ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him).

I thought of the Year of Grief, Aamul-Huzn, when he, Allah’s peace be upon him, lost the woman who was the love of his life and the mother of his children; as well as an uncle who was like a father. The year was named after his grief! And here I was denying myself this human emotion because it somehow felt like a betrayal of true sabr?

Tawakkul, tawakkul, where are you? I searched for how I could feel it, truly feel it.Click To Tweet

Through years of introspection and then therapy, I realized that I had a personality that centered around control. I expressed this in various ways from trying to manage my siblings (curse of the firstborn), to trying to manage my childbirth and health. If I only did the “right” things, then I could have the perfect, “natural” birth and the perfect picture of health.

When I was diagnosed with a chronic disease, these illusions started to crack. And yet even then, I thought that if I did the right things, took the right supplements and alternative remedies and medications, that I wouldn’t have trouble with my MS.

See, when you think you control things and you attempt to micromanage everything, you’ve already lost tawakkul. You’ve taken the role of controlling the outcome upon yourself when in reality, your Lord is in control. It took a difficult time when I felt I was spiraling out of control for me to truly realize that I was not the master of my outcomes. Certainly, I would “tie my camel” and take my precautions, but then it was a matter of letting go.

At some point, I envisioned my experience of tawakkul as a free-fall. You know those trust exercises that you do at summer camps or company retreats? You fall back into the arms of someone and relinquish any control over your muscles. You are supposed to be limp and fully trust your partner to catch you.

I did this once with a youth group. After they fell–some gracefully and trusting, some not — I told them: “This is the example of tawakkul. Some of you didn’t trust and you tried to break your fall but some of you completely let go and let your partner catch you. Life will throw you down, it will hit you over and over, and you will fall–but He, subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), will be there to break your fall.”

I am falling. There is a degree of terror and sadness in the fall. But that point when through the pain and tears I can say, “It is what it is, and no matter what, everything will be okay”, that right there is the tranquility that comes from tawakkul.

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So You Are The Wali, Now What?

Dr Shadee Elmasry

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Which deeds are most beloved to Allah?

Alhamdulillah, by the blessings of Allah (swt) and readers like yourself, MuslimMatters has been an independent platform for our best thought leaders to educate us in our faith and catalyze change through powerful, necessary conversations. Since our humble beginnings as a basic wordpress blog in 2007, our content has remained free.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support us with a monthly donation of $10 per month, or even as little as $1. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

The way most Muslims (as well as conservative Christians and Jews) live, a man asks for a woman’s hand in marriage from the father.

The father is not just a turnstile who has to say yes. He is a “wali” or protector and guardian of his daughter’s rights. So he will be asking some serious questions that would be awkward if the woman had to ask them.

Furthermore, in the Muslim community today esp. in the West, there are many converts that seek out a wali because they have no male relative who is Muslim. In this post, I share some guidelines aimed at the wali in his new role and stories that are useful.

Being a wali is not an honorary role. You’re not just throwing out the first pitch. You’re actually trying to throw curveballs to see whether the proposal checks out or has issues.

Here are some questions and demands a wali should make:

Background check: Call and meet at least four people that were close to the man who has proposed and interview them. There’s no husn al-zann (good opinion) in marriage. As a potential suitor, you are rejected until you prove yourself, much like an application for employment. These days, most people’s background can be found on their social media, so the wali has to spend time scrolling down. Keep scrolling, read the comments, look at the pictures, click on who’s tagged in those pictures. Get a good idea. You are a private investigator *before* the problem happens, not after. 

Check financials:  You need to see the financials to make sure they are not in some ridiculous debt or have bad credit such that they can’t even rent an apartment or cover basic needs. You want some evidence that he can fulfill the obligation of maintenance.

Check the educational background or skill set: This is a given. If it’s solid, then it can outweigh lack of funds at this moment.

Check medical records: If this is a stranger, the wali needs medical records. There was once a wealthy, handsome young man that was suave and a seemingly amazing prospect who proposed for a girl who was comparatively of average looks and from a family of very modest means. The mother and daughter were head over heels, but the dad had enough common sense to know something was up.

“Why would he come knocking on our door?,” he asked.

So the father demanded medical records. The guy never produced them. When the dad pressed him, the man admitted, he had a sexually transmitted disease (STD) and that’s why he couldn’t find anyone else to marry him.

Now note, there are legitimate cases where people have a past when they have made mistakes. This happens to the best of us, and the door for tawbah (repentance) is open. In those cases, there are organizations that match-make for Muslims with STDs. People should act in a responsible manner and not damage the lives of other humans beings.

Lifestyle: It is your job to check if the two parties have agreed on life essentials such as religious beliefs, where to live, how to school kids, etc?

In-laws: Have you at least met the family of the suitor and spent some time with them to make sure there’s nothing alarming?

Engagement: Contrary to popular understanding, there is such a thing as engagement in Islam. It’s an announcement of a future commitment to marriage. Nothing changes between the fiancees, but nobody is allowed to propose anymore. The purpose of engagement is to give time for both parties to get ready. For example, the groom may want to save up some money, or the girl may be finishing up college. Also, it’s easy to put on a face during the get-to-know process, but it’s hard to fake it over an eight or nine-month period. I remember a story where a young woman was engaged, and four months into the engagement they discovered the young man was still getting to know other women. He basically reserved the girl and then went to check for better options. Needless to say, he was dumped on the spot. Engagements are commonly a few months. I think more than a year is too much.

Legal/Civil:  The marriage should be legal/civil in the country where you will settle. If you accept a Shariah marriage but not a civil one, know that you’re asking for legal complications, especially if a child enters the picture. (Ed. Note- we realize that some countries do not allow legal registration of more than one marriage- if that is a consideration please look at all options to protect your ward. There are ways to get insurance that can be set up.)

Mahr: Get 50% of the dowry upfront (or some decent amount) and whatever is scheduled to be paid later should be written and signed. I’ve seen too many cases where a really nice dowry is “promised” but never produced.

The dowry should be commensurate to current standards depending on the man’s job. For example in our area in America 5, 7, or 10k is a common range.

In sum, there are very few things in life that are as bad as misery in marriage. The wali’s job is to eliminate the bad things that could have been avoided. If that means he has to be demanding and hated for a few months, it’s worth the cost.

It’s preventative medicine.

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