A Muslim organization has spent this past Ramadan asking their brothers and sisters in Islam to consider giving their zakat this year to help bail out low-income Muslims who remain in jail awaiting trial.
Believers Bail Out describes itself as a “community-led effort” that “restores the presumption of innocence before trial and enables recipients to remain free while fighting their cases,” arguing that the cash bail system is “inherently racist in nature” and affects Black people and people of color at disproportionate rates.
Nearly half a million of the people currently incarcerated in the United States are being held on bond, according to the organization – which means they haven’t been convicted of a crime.
“Money bail leads to far harsher outcomes for the poor than the wealthy, something the Muslim tradition ardently opposes,” Believers Bail Out says on their website. “Additionally, holding people in jail for inability to pay bail affects not only their lives but also those of their families, including children, and communities.”
Believers Bail Out functions under the interpretation that those in jail awaiting trial qualify as recipients of zakat, because the Qur’an specifies “those in bondage” among those who receive it, and early Muslims often paid their zakat to free captives and slaves.
Zakat is one of the five pillars of Islam, and Muslims who possess a certain amount of wealth are required to pay roughly 2.5% of that wealth toward alms each year. Although this can be given at any time of the year, many Muslims choose to give their zakat during the holy month of Ramadan – so Believers Bail Out started a LaunchGood campaign this Ramadan with a goal of $80,000 and by the last day of the holy month, they had surpassed that goal by nearly $10,000.
The Qur’an lists the types of people who are eligible to receive zakat in Surah At-Tawba, saying “The alms are only for the poor and the needy, and those who collect them, and those whose hearts are to be reconciled, for those in bondage and in debt, and for the cause of Allah, and (for) the wayfarer; a duty imposed by Allah. Allah is Knower, Wise.”
Believers Bail Out functions under the interpretation that those in jail awaiting trial qualify as recipients of zakat, because the Qur’an specifies “those in bondage” among those who receive it, and early Muslims often paid their zakat to free captives and slaves. The group assures Muslims who don’t believe that the bailout fund qualifies as a form of zakat that they can donate anyway, as sadaqah, or non-obligatory charity.
When someone is charged with a crime, they are arrested and held in jail until trial, unless they can make bail. Bail is an amount set by a judge that the person charged with the crime must pay in order to be released from prison until trial. The time from arrest to trial, when a person is convicted or set free, can take months or even years. If the individual can’t afford bail, they remain in jail until the trial is over.
The organization is ran by Sapelo Square, an online resource for Black Muslims, and in conjunction with MPower Change. They group says they will work with Islamic organizations to and through referrals to help find Muslims who can’t afford bail.
Though the LaunchGood campaign ended Thursday, Muslims who still wish to donate their zakat or give sadaqah toward the bailout fund can find more information here or at https://believersbailout.org/.