The Values Underpinning the Muslim Charity Sector
In the last 10 years the wider aid and development community has started to become aware of the magnitude of philanthropic giving and wealth redistribution within the Muslim World (not least in the UK) as data on annual zakat and charitable flows became estimated for the first time by the UN and other agencies.
What is less understood by the wider community are the drivers behind the Muslim charitable sector. At its heart lies the huge emphasis in Islamic teaching on the protection of life, the fulfilment of social obligations, and belief in our accountability in the next life for the rights the poor and needy have over us. There are important distinctions in the Islamic understandings of human rights, indeed in the rights of all living creatures that are distinct from the secular understanding. Similar to Catholic social teaching there is an understanding of subsidiarity and moral autonomy at an individual and community level whilst the Universal Declaration of Human Rights tends to focus heavily on the social contract at state level with its citizens. So within Shari’ah, more rights start to get defined at a family and community level with detailed obligations between spouses and to parents, children and wider family members as well as neighbours and those living in proximity.
Another driver of Muslim giving is the obligations around wealth management. Although there is no restriction or censure around acquiring wealth, there are strict ethics around its redistribution. Hoarding wealth is strongly discouraged since wealth is the life blood of communities and needs to circulate and bring benefit to all. Muslims are obligated to transfer two and a half percent of their standing wealth each year to the poor every year in the form of Zakat as well as ten percent of crops and agricultural produce for farmers. Whereas once this would have been collected by governments, in many countries this is now distributed through charities and faith based organisations. Wealth is viewed as being God’s providence which is not strictly ours but something we are given custodianship over (Mustakhlafina fih) on behalf of those who have rights over it, including family members and needy members of the community. The Qur’an makes reference to this in several verses: And those in whose wealth is a recognised right; for the needy who asks and those who are deprived’ (Qur’an, 70:24-25).
Increasingly today Muslim charities are also involved in just social financing which forms part of ethical wealth management with interest free micro finance and ‘Qard Hasan’ (a good loan) making up part of a myriad of Islamic social financing that ensures the redistribution of wealth at every level of the community. The tradition of endowment (Waqf) which the Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) encouraged once formed the largest sector providing social services in the Muslim World with many countries such as Algeria having as much thirty to fifty percent of arable land owned by this third sector. Today civil society in the form of faith based charities are once again becoming prominent following a period of repression and nationalisation by many autocratic governments in the post-colonial period who saw them as a rival.
As the role of faith based organisations has been provided greater encouragement to revive these traditions, so has the values and skills around their administration. The teachings inherent in prophetic guidance around empowerment and social sustainability have started to become more evident, with an increase in innovation and cross fertilisation from the wider development sector. Many Muslim charities have welcomed the inclusive and integrated nature of the UN’s sustainable development goals which enable Muslims to see their contributions within a wider community contributing to a global movement towards poverty reduction and environmental sustainability for all. This enables the inherent Islamic values and obligations towards an increasingly inter-dependant World to be fulfilled.