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The Zakat Conversation: Giving Zakat To Islamic Organizations

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I used to think giving zakat was simple–my mom would send money to her sister in Pakistan and she’d take care of it, or I’d simply sit at my computer and donate to the Global Zakat fund at a highly-reputable organization fighting poverty. But starting a few years ago, I learned that handfuls of Muslim organizations were also collecting zakat money–organizations that I knew didn’t serve the poor. I dismissed these organizations as something outlandish and unheard of, thinking to myself–I’m going to stick to what I know and focus spending my zakat money on those living in poverty. It turns out that I had a narrow understanding of how zakat could be used, having never studied it. I didn’t know that the crux of this issue, giving zakat fisabilillah or in the path of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), is a hot topic of discussion and debate among scholars. This discussion has also played out on MuslimMatters, and today I’d like to bring attention to those opinions and put them in conversation with each other. So, what have various experts written about giving zakat to the poor versus Muslim nonprofits working in various sectors such as education, politics, and community organizing?  Keep on reading to find out. 

As you read and listen on, all mistakes out of misunderstanding are accidental and were unwittingly made due to the limited knowledge of the curator of this article, Meena Malik.

 

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Article 1: “Zakat, Poverty, and the Kitchen Sink”

Zakat, Poverty and the Kitchen Sink

If you haven’t heard that much about this issue, the first article is a great place to start. Co-written by Ahmed Shaikh and Shaykh Osman Umarji in 2016, “Zakat, Poverty, and the Kitchen Sink” is a broad discussion on the issue of non-profit organizations claiming zakat-eligibility. It also focuses on the practical issues of giving zakat, speaking not theoretically or philosophically, but rather focusing on what Muslims should be doing with their zakat funds. The article ends with three action items to address the issue of mixing up fisabilillah with “everything but the kitchen sink”, one of each aimed at zakat donors, Muslim non-profits, and Islamic scholars. 

Article 2: “Can I Give My Zakat To An Islamic Educational Cause?”

Can I Give My Zakat To An Islamic Educational Cause?

The second article in this discussion is “Can I Give My Zakat to an Islamic Educational Cause?” This article was written by Dr.(or Shaykh) Usaama Al-Azami. The main purpose of this article is to explain the seventh category of those eligible to receive zakat funds, anyone striving in God’s path (or fisabilillah in Arabic). He states the opinion from a majority of scholars who believe that zakat can be spent for educational or dawah efforts, and cites prominent scholars from various scholarly approaches who agree on this point. In a very approachable way  for the average Muslim, this article explains how the term “jihad” has various meanings, and how there is a legitimate scholarly difference of opinion on who can receive zakat in the fisabilillah category. His concluding advice to readers is for us all to follow what we are most comfortable with in our own lives, but most importantly to respect the scholars who acknowledge the legitimate difference of opinion that exists. He also emphasizes the importance of educational efforts for the health and survival of Muslims in our current times.  

Article 3: “This Article Could be Zakat-Eligible: Who Accounts for this Pillar of Islam?

This Article Could be Zakat-Eligible

The third article, “This Article Could be Zakat-Eligible: Who Accounts for this Pillar of Islam,” was also co-written by Ahmed Shaikh and Sahykh Osman Umarji. It is in direct conversation to the previous article, “Can I Give My Zakat to an Islamic Educational Cause?,” and alludes to it. The article is trying to ascertain what the purpose of zakat is, and it explores at further length the limitations of what zakat funds can and should be used for. It takes a practical and functional approach–cutting straight to the questions we should be talking about when it comes to the impact zakat funds are having in the world. The impacts of bubble charity, or charity circling within affluent bubbles, and dawah as the new jihad are discussed. There is a cry for the need of standards that the community at large and Muslim non-profits should be holding themselves to when it comes to zakat money. 

*It should be noted that some of the criticism and displeasure of the authors is aimed at MuslimMatters for accepting zakat donations at one time. MuslimMatters did, in fact, accept zakat donations for about a month. The leadership within MuslimMatters at the time came together and felt as if they could not accept zakat donations in good faith, largely due to the publication of this article and the viewpoints of the authors themselves. Just for the sake of transparency, MuslimMatters has collected zakat funds for only that short period of time and has not collected it outside of that at any point in its history. 

Lastly, if you’re interested in reading more of Ahmed Shaikh’s discussions of zakat and specific organizations and issues, check out his publications here.

Article 4: “Zakat Eligibility of Islamic Organizations”

Zakat Eligibility of Islamic Organizations

The fourth and final article included in this discussion, now that you are about as confused as you can possibly be, is “Zakat Eligibility of Islamic Organizations” written by Dr. Hatem El Haj and published on MuslimMatters in July 2021. This article is a long-read and quite dense, so hold onto your headgear and grab a sheet of paper to jot down some notes. The article is an explanation of AMJA’s fatwa that: it is permissible to give zakat to any organization that “includes protecting the interests of Islam and the Muslims, da‘wah, intellectual efforts, and any related projects that promote them.” It then explores the technicalities of the fisabilillah category in thorough detail as a means to defend the fiqh issue, taking any curious Muslim by the hand and walking them through it all. If you really want to know the nuts and bolts of this issue, this article will give you everything you’re looking for. The article concludes with recommendations for both Muslim organizations and individuals who are giving zakat, much like the action items given in the more critical article at the beginning of this conversation. The recommendation lists are a bit more thorough, however. 

The Take-Aways from the Zakat Conversation

We at MuslimMatters hope you have enjoyed and benefited from this intense back-and-forth in the conversation about whether Muslim non-profit organizations should be receiving zakat and what valuable guardrails we can put in place. If nothing else, I hope that we can all walk away from this discussion learning two things. The first, is there are legitimate opinions on the seventh category of fisabilillah that differ from each other in big and small ways and all that demands of the average Muslim is respect for our scholars and critical thinkers. It can also make us grateful as Muslims to be part of such a nuanced and expansive legal system. The second, is receiving and giving zakat is an important part of our spiritual lives which has real-world impacts. Decisions should be made carefully and with consideration. A list of all the recommendations made in all the articles is compiled for you to reference on our website, Muslimmatters.org. Please use that as you are paying your zakat this Ramadan if you are giving to an organization in the dawah space. 

Tips from the Consensus of the Zakat Conversation

Suggestions that all articles and their authors agree on:

For donors: Donors should be proactive and purposeful when choosing organizations to give their zakat money to. Find an organization that is transparent with how they collect their zakat and what they exactly do with it.

For organizations:  – Organizations collecting zakat should be transparent in their activities with the funds collected. Zakat money should be collected and spent with specific purposes in mind, not treated like other donations received. Out of all the activities an organization engages in, spending zakat funds on activities applicable to multiple categories of zakat is better (e.g. needy students of knowledge at an Islamic school.

– Zakat money should not be used for anything extravagant or unwarranted–like paying for expensive honorariums for A-list speakers or booking fancy venues or splurging on extravagant decoration of a masjid. When in doubt, avoid using it.

For a list of the suggestions made, visit each article: “Zakat, Poverty, and the Kitchen Sink” and “Zakat-Eligibility of Islamic Organizations”

 – Consider MuslimMatters For Your Non-Zakat Donations

Donate to MuslimMatters

Although MuslimMatters is not accepting zakat this year, we will gladly accept your sadaqah. Please donate to MuslimMatters the most widely-read online Muslim magazine- this Ramadan, if you learned from this conversation. It is only with reader and listener support that we were able to pay for this project and fund others like this in the future. 

 

Keep supporting MuslimMatters for the sake of Allah

Alhamdulillah, we're at over 850 supporters. Help us get to 900 supporters this month. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

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

Meena is a writer, podcaster, high school English teacher, wife, and new mom. She loves working with Muslim youth and is interested in literature, arts, and culture. She studied Comparative Literature and Creative Writing at the University of California, Irvine and has a Master’s in Education from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She briefly dabbled in Classical Arabic studies in the US and is also studying the Asharah Qira'aat/10 Recitations. Check out her podcast and website Brown Teacher Reads: the brown literature circle you always wanted to be in. (brownteacherreads.com)

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