Zakat, or charity, is one of the fundamental tenets that underpins the faith of all Muslims. It is, after all, a pillar of Islam.
The giving of wealth to less fortunate Muslims, especially in the Holy month of Ramadan, has a long tradition.
The companions of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, were famously generous and liberal in distributing their wealth to the poor in Makkah and Madinah.
In our modern world, the preoccupation with wealth, and the dominance of neo-liberal capitalism has shifted the priority of wealth in many people’s lives. In thinking about charity, my Western mind shifts to the use of charitable donations for tax deductions, and the intrinsic relationship that exists between wealth and greed. As Muslims, we need to orientate our minds away from the need to accumulate wealth, towards an approach that reflects the centrality of charity to our faith.
The positioning of Zakat as a pillar of Islam highlights its importance in one’s faith. In fact, the word Zakat means ‘that which purifies’ in Arabic and the virtues of Zakat are highlighted extensively in the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad or Hadith and the Quran; “Believe in Allah and His Messenger (Muhammad), and spend of that whereof He has made you trustees. And such of you as believe and spend (in Allah’s way), theirs will be a great reward” [al-Hadeed 57:7]
There are two main dimensions to charity in Islam: The alleviation of the suffering of poor Muslims, and the benefits towards the Muslim who pays charity. The giving of charity is not only mutually beneficial, but it is also increasingly essential in the current global environment.
Due to conflicts, environmental disasters, climate change, and other devastating incidents, many Muslims will rely on the generosity of their fellow brothers and sisters in Islam this Ramadan as they begin to fast in the midst of famine and war.
In countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burma, Syria and Somalia, Muslims are fasting in the midst of extreme adversity a testament to their faith in Allah.
As we approach the month of Ramadan, we should aim not only to ensure that we gain the benefits of charity, but that we reflect on the fortuitous circumstances in which we find ourselves. The plight of Muslims overseas should not be reduced to a “test or “opportunity for reflection” or poverty simulation exercise for more fortunate Muslims; however we should reflect on the blessings that Allah has provided to us.
As an Ummah, we have the collective responsibility to assist our brothers and sisters in the Congo and Syria, and remembering the importance of charity is one of the most substantial ways in which we can help.
The benefits that are gained through charity are also reflected through the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad and the Quran.
Abu Hurairah reported that the Messenger of Allah (saws) said: “Allah receives charity by His right hand, and then He causes it to grow for each of you. Just as you raise a horse, colt, foal, or young weaned camel, so that morsel becomes as large as the Mount of ‘Uhud.” (Related by Ahmad and Tirmidhi.)
The beauty of charity in Islam is that it multiplies the wealth and blessings of the person who donates their wealth. In societies in which the provision of charity is often regarded as burdensome or an opportunity for financial benefits, the reflection upon charity through the lens of Islamic tradition is refreshing.
As we approach Ramadan, there is an increased need and opportunity to give in charity. By reflecting on the importance of charity in Islam as a fundamental aspect of our faith, we should all dig a bit deeper in our pockets to help our brothers and sisters around the world, and benefit ourselves in this world and the hereafter.