Personal Finance

Whitepaper: Mapping A Truly Islamic Approach to Charity

Last year I wrote an article on charity arguing that Muslims are not doing charity particularly well. My key conclusions were that we don’t give with impact and longevity in mind and we don’t give very much at all locally right here in the UK.

This year, instead of going over old ground, I decided to dig much deeper into what Islam teaches about charitable giving – and especially how it pertains to our context of living in the West in 2020.

In this article I share my findings. I outline:

  1. That charitable giving is a big deal in Islam – bigger than we might think.
  2. Charity starts with our closest circles and our locality.
  3. The Prophetic way of giving is
    1. Strategic;
    2. high-impact;
    3. need-driven;
    4. efficient;
    5. with an eye to the long-term and self-sufficiency; and
    6. not just monetary.
  4. The greatest acts of charity were spent in high-impact projects – not just feeding people.
  5. Where we should be giving charity today.

In a nutshell, my overall message is:

Allah made charity one of the 5 pillars that Islam is balanced upon[1] and that means we need to do charity with the same seriousness and focus as we do our shahadah, prayer, fasting and Hajj. Without charity, our religion falls. That means we need to do charity strategically, thoughtfully and not just emotionally. Charity is not a feel-good for ourselves, it is a necessary heal to sores that otherwise would remain untended.

To make the point a different way, if I said to you, that so-and-so allocated the UK’s entire Muslim charity pot of around £500m based purely on emotion, you wouldn’t be best-pleased.

That so-and-so is each and everyone of us this Ramadan if we’re not thoughtful about our charity.

Also, please do note that this is not written to be the definitive word on the matter – this is written in the spirit of starting a conversation.

An important preliminary point

But before we dive in, there’s an important point to note: The Prophetic period and early Islamic history discuss charity in the context of the Muslims being in the majority and holding political power.

That is not our situation.

Historically, there were certain aspects of spending that were largely the responsibility of the state (e.g. public relations, cultural output, international relations, diplomacy, looking after community places and institutions etc.). Let’s call this “communal charity”. What remained to be done was the “individual charity” between the rich and local poor, hungry and destitute as well as family-members.

So many of the exhortative ahadith on charity are focused purely on individual charity.

But in our context in the West, without any political power to do the communal charity, we need to pick up that slack too as a community. For example, if we don’t spend on masajid or madrassahs, a secular non-Muslim government is not going to do it for us.

In what follows, as we look to understand what charity means in Islam, I look at both ahadith discussing individual charity, and those that deal with communal charity.

The latter are sometimes not about what we would commonly understand as charity at all. But now more than ever, we need to be doing that communal charity.

Part 1: Charitable giving is a big deal in Islam

When the Prophet (ﷺ) died and Abu Bakr became the caliph some Arabs renegaded and said “we’re not going to pay zakat.” They confirmed that they were still Muslim and worshipped Allah and did salah – just that they wouldn’t give zakat.

Given they were still saying the shahada, even Umar was reluctant to go to war on them.

However, Abu Bakr said, “By Allah! I will fight those who differentiate between the prayer and the Zakat as Zakat is the compulsory right to be taken from the property (according to Allah’s orders). By Allah! If they refuse to pay me even a she-kid which they used to pay at the time of The Prophet. I would fight with them for withholding it”[2]

Then `Umar said, “By Allah, it was nothing, but Allah opened Abu Bakr’s chest towards the decision (to fight) and I came to know that his decision was right.”

There is of course a legal distinction between sadaqah (voluntary charity) and zakat (a compulsory charitable tax on one’s savings), and this hadith is talking about zakat, but the overall point is clear: Actively not giving at least the compulsory charity is tantamount to disbelief.

N.B. Going forward in this article I will refer to sadaqah and zakat where relevant, but where I wish to refer to both, I will use “charity”.

Zakat is a necessary part of achieving the aims of Islam

Allah also made zakat one of the 5 pillars that Islam is balanced upon[3] because zakat is fundamental to delivering the aim of Islam.

What is that?

That the word of Allah is writ large on our life. That we put what He wants before what we want. That society is ordered in a way that allows others to humble themselves before him by putting His desires before their desires.

That means freedom of religion, strong long-lasting and future-looking Islamic institutions. It means that the sacred and divine is part of our cultural fabric and spoken of comfortably on the airwaves. It means Islam is not alien to non-Muslims in the same way Hollwood has made the Bar Mitzvah not alien to non-Jews. It means creating giants of our age – the future Abu Hanifas, Ghazalis, Ibn Khalduns and Ibn Rushd.

There is a wider societal benefit when charity is done well, but also a personal one too. Let’s look at that.

Charity done well is a great thing

The above story of Abu Bakr indicates the “stick” aspect of not giving charity, but there is also the “carrot” when it comes to charitable giving.

The Prophet said, “There is no envy except in two: a person whom Allah has given wealth and he spends it in the right way, and a person whom Allah has given wisdom (i.e. religious knowledge) and he gives his decisions accordingly and teaches it to the others.”[4]

“Spending the right way” is actually something to be envied. In fact, it is one of only two things that can be envied.

Why?

Because spending the right way allows the one who does it to access to higher levels of righteousness than otherwise. Money literally can buy you a higher maqam in paradise when spent correctly.

Why does every Muslim have to do Charity?

The Prophet taught that giving charity is something that every Muslim has to do.

The Prophet said, “Every Muslim has to give in charity.” The people asked, “O Allah’s Prophet! If someone has nothing to give, what will he do?” He said, “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 that?” He replied, “Then he should perform good deeds and keep away from evil deeds and this will be regarded as charitable deeds.”[5]

Why does every Muslim have to do at least some charity?

The clue lies in the various responses the Prophet gave to the questioning of the people. Each time they ask, he gives an example of an action that helps other than oneself.

In the first instance, he addresses the vast majority of us who earn enough to give charity.

But the second instance is even more interesting. The Prophet actively encourages one who currently isn’t earning but can – to go out and become a breadwinner so that he may benefit himself and others. Because earning for oneself rather than being on the dole is a crucial way of reducing poverty, and the sheer act of becoming a contributing economic agent makes society as a whole more prosperous.

In other words, giving charity makes our society as a whole more prosperous.

Giving charity actually benefits us as a community economically in the medium term.

You might say, “but hang on Ibrahim, I’ve been giving charity for decades, but the Muslim community around me is pretty much where it’s at. How does that sit with what you’ve just said?”

My response is simple. You’ve likely been spending around 99% of your charity abroad. If you don’t spend in your local community it’s unlikely the situation around you will miraculously improve!

Let’s dig into this local charity point further.

Part 2: The concentric circles of charity

There’s a whole life philosophy encapsulated in the following hadith:

The Prophet said: The Compassionate One has mercy on those who are merciful. If you show mercy to those who are on the earth, He Who is in the heaven will show mercy to you.[6]

In his explanation of this hadith, Dr Asim Yusuf, also known as Talib Al Habib, eloquently explained the concentric circles of mercy. His key point was that at its core, mercy means protecting from harm. At the centre of that obligation is our own selves. But as our circles of altruism expand, we protect our families too, then our neighbours, then our community, and then the whole world.

Our Prophet of course epitomised this and reached its pinnacle as a “mercy to all of mankind”.

This point of prioritising our duties to those within our domains of control and obligation is one stressed multiple times in the ahadith and Islamic literature.

Adapting this same idea for the charitable context, one can develop a diagram of the concentric circles of charity like so:

Charity really does start at home

On the day of Eid the Prophet gave a specific address to the women encouraging them to donate.

Upon his return to his house, Zainab, the wife of Ibn Mas`ud, came and asked permission to enter and it was granted.

She said, “O Prophet of Allah! Today you ordered people to give alms and I had an ornament and intended to give it as alms, but Ibn Mas`ud said that he and his children deserved it more than anybody else.”

The Prophet replied, “Ibn Mas`ud had spoken the truth. Your husband and your children had more right to it than anybody else.”[7]

The Prophet also said:

He who is desirous that his means of sustenance should be expanded for him or his age may be lengthened, should join the tie of relationship.[8]

He also said:

The Prophet said, “the finest act of goodness is that a person should treat kindly the loved ones of his father.[9]

That last hadith is really interesting. There is no direct connection between you and the loved ones of your father. But Islam encourages us to maintain those ties as those people are that next node in this complex social network. Islam doesn’t want those connections to die with your father.

So much was the Prophet’s desire that charity start at home that, when Abu Talha donated his most beloved property of date-palm gardens, the garden of Bairuha, in the cause of Allah, the Prophet said to him:

“’Bravo! It is useful property. I have heard what you have said, and I think it would be proper if you gave it to your Kith and kin.’ Abu Talha said, I will do so, O Allah’s Apostle.’ Then Abu Talha distributed that garden amongst his relatives and his cousins.”[10]

Here we see an example of a companion being emotionally moved by the verse of the Qu’ran “By no means shall you attain to righteousness until you spend (benevolently) out of what you love,[11]”.

The Prophet applauded his spirit then actually corrected the direction of his charity to those who deserved it most. This gives us a glimpse of the strategic aspect to the Islamic approach to charity and we’ll expand on this later.

We’re part of a global ummah but need to do our local job well

Sometimes people mention the hadith of Nu’man b. Bashir to evidence the fact that we are a united global ummah and should spend globally.

I agree with the idea of a united global ummah and that we should spend globally. But let’s consider the hadith.

The Prophet said, “the similitude of believers in regard to mutual love, affection, fellow-feeling is that of one body; when any limb of it aches, the whole body aches, because of sleeplessness and fever.”[12]

When the leg aches, the head and chest too ache in solidarity and sympathy. To the extent that they can, they help. But importantly, the head and chest molecules don’t just desert their own duties and roles and just go down to the leg to help out there. And that’s something we often are guilty of when we spend 98% of our charity abroad rather than in our community and in the UK.

If the head and chest deserted their local duty, the person would die. If we desert our local duty, our local community will wither away and eventually die. If not in this generation, then two or three generations later.

And if you think that is an exaggeration, visit southern Spain today and meet the Christian Spaniards who are descended from Muslims. Communities can and do lose Islam. It’s up to us to ward this off.

The second concentric circle of charity

We all know Islam gives great emphasis to the right of the neighbour – but what is a “neighbour”?

There are a range of views on this but it would appear that a number of scholars understood a neighbour to be people in your locality.

Ibn Qudaamah said: The instruction to treat neighbours well includes the people of forty houses on each side. This was stated by Ahmad and was also the view of al-Awzaa‘i and ash-Shaafa‘i.[13]

Abu Yoosuf said: Neighbours are the people of the locality, if they pray in the same mosque. If the people of the locality are divided between two small mosques that are close to one another, then they are all neighbours, but if the two mosques are big, then the people of each mosque are neighbours to one another.[14]

I think we can safely say that, these scholars considered neighbours to be what we would regard as our local community.

Consider these ahadith about how to behave with your neighbours and ask yourself – does this characterise your relationship with your neighbours/community?

The Prophet said:

Gabriel impressed upon me (kind treatment) towards the neighbour (so much) that I thought as if he would confer upon him the (right) of inheritance.[15]

He also said:

Abu Dharr, when you prepare the broth, add water to that and give that (as a present) to your neighbour.[16]

In fact, a neighbour could be our ticket into paradise.

“The Prophet said, ‘Whoever has three witnesses from his neighbours who testify for his goodness on the Day of Judgment, Allah will say, ‘I accept their witness for what they know and I forgive his sins that I know.’”[17]

Sadly many of us don’t even know the names of our neighbours – some of whom have lived next to us for many years. We also no longer have strong personal ties to our local masajid, preferring instead an Islam of exclusively Twitter and Youtube instead.

But that was not the way of our Prophet.

Geographic proximity is strongly encouraged in Islam

The Prophet encouraged us to give gifts to our neighbours.  So A’ishah asked, “O Messenger of Allah, I have two neighbours, to which of them should I send a present?” He replied, “To the one whose door is nearer to you.’[18]

From this we learn the important principle of geographic proximity to where we give our charity.

This point is further seen in the advice the Prophet gave to Muadh Ibn Jabal when he was going to Yemen:

“Invite the people to testify that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah ﷻ and I am Allah’s Messenger, and if they obey you to do so, then teach them that Allah ﷻ has enjoined on them five prayers in every day and night (in twenty-four hours), and if they obey you to do so, then teach them that Allah ﷻ has made it obligatory for them to pay the Zakat from their property and it is to be taken from the wealthy among them and given to the poor.”[19]

The Prophet didn’t ask Muadh to send any of the money back to him. He asked him to spend locally.

Interestingly, the same Muadh – now governor of Yemen – sent one-third of the zakat from Yemen to Umar when he was caliph.

Umar admonished him: “I have not sent you as a tax-collector, but to take from the rich and give to the poor.”

Muadh answered him: “I would not send you anything had I found somebody to take it from me.”[20]

From this we learn that the Companions understood zakat should be distributed locally from where it was donated so long as there was someone in that locality who meets the conditions of zakat.

Umar was also once asked what to do with the Zakat collected from bedouin Arabs.

He answered, “By God, I shall render the sadaqah to themselves, until each of them becomes the owner of a hundred camels, male or female.”[21]

A hundred camels is a lot of camels. Interestingly, this emphasises that in Umar’s view spending locally doesn’t immediately end once one gets everyone above the poverty line. He was happy and willing to spend more charity on the Bedouins until they were completely self-sufficient and thriving.

The 4 Madahib agree on local distribution

After the Companions, the four major Islamic legal schools also agree that local distribution is preferable.

The Hanbalis say,“It is preferred to disburse all of the Zakat to the poor in his area unless there are no valid recipients in the land, in which he distributes it in the land closest to him.”[22]

The Shafi’is say, “If the categories of Zakat distribution are found in the place where Zakat is collected, it is prohibited and invalid to transfer the Zakat elsewhere.”[23]

The Malikis say, “transferring Zakat (outside the locality) is impermissible, expect if there is a pressing need to do so.”[24]

The Hanafis say, “It is disapproved to transfer the Zakat of one land to another; unless he transfers it to his poor relatives, or to a people needier than his own.”[25]

In relation to the Hanafi position, this should not be then used to send all our donations abroad on the basis that the UK is a relatively rich country with social security benefits etc. The ruling should be understood in the round and in light of all the other commentary and Qur’an and hadith teachings in this article.

Additionally, if there is a way of alleviating the absolute poverty in foreign lands in a much bigger way – then we should take that. Often, such bigger solutions require long-term investment now in things that are not emotionally compelling. So as an example, the UK spends around $18.4 billion in overseas aid. The entire Muslim charity budget in the UK, combining all the charities together, is about 500m. So about 2.7% of the UK overseas aid budget.

Alone, that £500m is not nearly as impactful as the big governmental donations. But what if we spent a chunk of that £500m charity money on organisations that prepare research, lobby, and worked in sync with government departments to direct that aid budget towards those very same causes we would otherwise be donating to?

We could achieve a 10x impact with the same money and possibly even reach that critical mass of charity which allows the underlying problem itself to be addressed so that the short-term problem doesn’t morph into a long-term one..

Part 3: The qualities of Prophetic giving

So now we’ve understood that charity a big deal in Islam, and that it should be given in concentric circles of priority.

But what does that charity look like?

Giving needs to be accompanied by a sense of need

The first thing to bear in mind is that there needs to be a clear benefit arising out of charity one gives. Otherwise, what’s the point?

The Prophet narrated the story of a man who accidentally gave charity to a thief, a prostitute, and a wealthy man on consecutive days. Each day, when informed of his mistake, the man tried to make amends by giving charity to the next inappropriate recipient. But on all three days he failed to give to someone truly deserving.

However, on the third day, the Prophet narrated that someone said to the man:

“The alms which you gave to the thief, might make him abstain from stealing, and that given to the prostitute might make her abstain from illegal sexual intercourse, and that given to the wealthy man might make him take a lesson from it and spend his wealth which Allah has given him, in Allah’s cause.”[26]

We learn from this:

  1. We should make efforts to make sure we’re spending on the deserving.
  2. If we mess up despite our best efforts, that’s fine.
  3. Charity doesn’t necessarily just need to be given to the poor. There are many other benefits to charity too. For example, helping someone out of crime/sin, and encouraging others towards doing good.

Give plenty but give in a structured and systematic way

The Prophet said, “The best charity is that which is practiced by a wealthy person. And start giving first to your dependents.”[27]

Why is the charity practiced by a wealthy person better?

There’s a few things. Firstly, the wealthy person can give more.

Secondly, the wealthy person can give in a structured and systematic way.

Take a look at any prominent and successful foundation set up by someone wealthy. They not only give billions, but typically they will invest in the infrastructure around that donation so that the donation is effective and sustainable.

They pay for research to find out where exactly the need is greatest.

They pay good money to their staff to ensure they get the best staff. This then ensures that everything they do is that much better. A PhD in philanthropy from an Ivy league university generally will mean that person will be better qualified and more informed about charitable giving than someone without a qualification to his name.

The wealthy also commit for the long-term on projects they support. This then allows a lasting impact to the beneficiaries of that charity.

Give charity with ihsan

The Qur’an narrates the story of Cain and Abel:

And recite to them the story of Adam’s two sons, in truth, when they both offered a sacrifice [to Allah], and it was accepted from one of them but was not accepted from the other. [5:27]

The reason why the sacrifice was accepted from Abel, the commentators of the Qur’an explain, was because he sacrificed a high-quality animal. Cain on the other hand put forward the worst bushel of his harvest.

From this we learn that we should be giving the best of what we have to give.

The other interesting thing is that Cain and Abel did not give money. All too often we get caught up about thinking of charity as just money.

But there’s much more we can give.

In this digital age, our time and expertise are more in-demand than ever and easily donated. If that is the most valuable thing you can give, then you should consider giving from that.

You could even just smile!

The Prophet said, “Every good deed is charity. Verily, it is a good deed to meet your brother with a cheerful face, and to pour what is left from your bucket into the vessel of your brother.”[28]

The Prophet celebrated self-sufficiency – that is the point of charity

The Prophet said, “Allah has hated for you three things”, and one of those three things was “asking others for something (except in great need).”[29]

He also said:

“The upper hand is better than the lower hand. The upper hand is one that gives and the lower hand is one that takes.”[30]

From this, and many other ahadith, we learn that we should all aspire to be the giver of charity – not a recipient.

That then tell us, when we are giving charity, if it is towards a project that is a short-term salve rather than a long-term cure, we need to rethink the donation carefully.

That is not to say that we don’t give to short-term humanitarian causes – there is certainly a place for that. But if we find that 90% of our donations are going to short-term causes, that is a cause for concern.

The point of charity is not to create dependency and keep people alive on handouts. The point of charity is to eradicate poverty and get people back on their feet.

Give strategically

Once, the Prophet distributed some zakat amongst a group of people and a companion was surprised as the Prophet left out a man whom he considered the best of the lot.

“So, I went up to The Prophet  and asked him secretly, “Why have you left that person? By Allah! I consider him a believer.” The Prophet said, “Or merely a Muslim.” Then The Prophet said, “I give to a person while another is dearer to me, for fear that he may be thrown in the Hell-fire on his face (by reneging from Islam).”[31]

This is a very important hadith. The Prophet might emotionally be attached to someone, and emotionally want to give to him, but his head guided him to give to another.

This is one of our major failings as a community today. We give far too much money moved by emotions only, without deploying sufficient thought to the wider ramifications of our donation.

For us charity is a thing we do to make ourselves feel better. It is an emotional performance of self-flagellation and we lose interest once we have given our charity to someone we trust.

But for the Prophet, charity was a tool to further the objectives of Islam. His relationship to charity didn’t end with the giving. Because he didn’t see charity as just a transactional thing. He saw it as an essential part of the overall economy and Islamic polity.

In Islam charity is an allocation of wealth towards certain peoples and causes within the ecosystem of the Islamic economy. It is a responsible and necessary movement of monies. It isn’t something that should be done just emotionally.

Culture/media was a key part of the early Islamic state

The Prophet cared deeply about the public impression of Islam and Muslims in the minds of the masses. In fact, among his Companions was a famous poet, Hassan ibn Thabit, who wrote in defence of the Prophet and Islam and was encouraged to do so by the Prophet.

The Prophet used to make a pulpit in the mosque for Hassan so that the latter may stand on it and defend the Messenger of Allah; and the Messenger used to encourage him and say: “The Holy Spirit will support Hassan as long as he defends Allah’s Apostle.”

This is one of those areas of communal spending that we as a community need to take up. Examples of this area in our era include TV, Youtube, radio, online streaming, literature, magazines, newspapers and any other kind of cultural or media outlet you can think of.

Efficiency

Efficiency of usage of charitable donations is crucially important.

The Prophet saw a dead sheep which had been given in charity to a freed slave-girl of Maimuna, the wife of the Prophet (ﷺ) . The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “Why don’t you get the benefit of its hide?” They said, “It is dead.” He replied, “Only to eat (its meat) is illegal.”[32]

Perhaps this is a good point to mention that efficiency does not just mean giving to 100% donation charities.

The efficiency of a charity in getting the donated money to the poor is just one way of thinking of efficiency.

But it is equally crucial to make sure that that donated amount is used properly and in the most impactful manner. It is no use getting 100% of a donation to the poor, but then spending that money giving them something they don’t need or cannot use.

In fact, in the famous verse of zakat, the Qur’an explicitly allows that zakat can be used for the upkeep of the administrators and collectors of zakat:

Charities shall go to the poor, the needy, the workers who collect them…[9:60]

Our sharia has baked into it the sustainability of charity. It makes sense too.

I would much rather trust a charity with my money where I am confident its staff are getting paid well (and not having to rely on state benefits etc.) and where they are giving sufficient salaries to attract quality candidates. To my mind, it is clear that such a set-up is closer to our sharia and will result in better charity.

Part 4: Charity is about helping community and impact. E.g. Institutions, International relations, etc.

Let’s look at the two famous rich donors from the Sahaba to learn how they gave charity. After all, both these companions were promised Paradise – so clearly they’re doing something right!

When Uthman was besieged (by the rebels), he looked upon them from above and said, “I adjure you by Allah, and I adjure no one but the Companions of the Prophet (PBUH), do you not know that the Messenger of Allaah said: “Whoever will [buy and] dig the well of Ruma, then for him is Paradise” and I (bought and) dug it? Do you not know that he said: “Whoever readies the army of ‘Usrah, then for him is Paradise” and I readied it?” They attested to that which he said: “Do you know that the Masjid became constricted due to the amount of its people, so the Messenger of Allaah (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) said: “Who will purchase the plot [of land] of the family of such and such, and so he adds it to the Masjid – [in exchange] for better than it in Paradise?” So I bought it with the core of my wealth.”[33]

Each of the three things Uthman gave to, were things:

  1. The Muslims desperately needed at the time;
  2. Were things that all the Muslims benefited from;
  3. Were strategic, political and policy-driven moves.

Securing water during the early days of the Muslim era in Madinah was crucial to reducing the Muslims’ reliance on third-parties for their water. Water was power in an arid landscape like Madinah.

Preparing an army is an obviously political act, but it also showed that charity could and should be spent on self-defence of a community.

Expanding the Prophet’s Masjid was a case of building an institution for the future.

Impact and keeping it local.

Similarly, Abd ar-Rahmaan ibn ‘Awf also had a deeply strategic and economy-boosting approach to his charity. He would say “the people of Al-Madinah are partners of Ibn `Awf in his money. He lends to a third of them, pays the debts of a third, and strengthens his ties of kinship and gives away a third.”

So we as a community should have institutions that help us lend and invest (in a halal way) into each other and that help us pay each other’s debts.

That was the way of some of the best donors the world has ever seen – we should learn from it.

Part 5: Where should we be giving charity today

This section of this whitepaper is the most subjective. Ultimately the correct way to decide where we as a community give is to do the following:

  1. Create community-wide awqaf (trusts) that pool our community’s collective charitable wealth (perhaps by aggregating charities’ saved money). The idea here is that a waqf structure is long-term and permanent capital and stops us being short-term.
  2. Commission rigorous academic research and scholarly research to pinpoint where the biggest impact will be, and where the biggest gaps are in our community spend.
  3. To deliver money and resources to those projects that the research shows is the most deserving.

Alhamdulilah, with the emergence of The One Trust and the National Waqf Fund are promising developments in this direction. We would encourage them both to work together so that a joined-up strategy is developed. We wouldn’t want a proliferation of awqaf for the same reason a proliferation of charities is not necessarily a good thing – it increases the overall administrative and logistical spend for the sector as a whole as each charity needs to set up its own systems from scratch. That is not to say that no one else should set up awqaf – but once we’ve got a handful or so awqaf going, I would think twice before deciding to set up a new one unnecessarily.

Ahead of any such commissioned research, I would humbly suggest that the below are some of the areas of high priority that we as a community are currently neglecting:

  1. Spending in this country generally. I’m not saying we spend all charity in the UK – but I am saying the bulk of it should be for the next few years to redress the historic imbalance.
  2. On developing future leaders. And I don’t just mean that in a vacuous platitudinal way. I mean we provide elite-level training, resources, networks and mentoring to the crème de la crème Muslims of each sector of the economy. We then need a joined-up strategy on what we’re doing with these leaders too so that this resource is then full utilised. National Zakat Foundation have a programme in this vein.
  3. We need to spend on imam education, training and upskilling. The gold standard in my view is that every imam is from among the brightest of society – not the kid that failed. He goes to a Russell Group university. He gets a good salary. He runs the masjid as a sustainable operation. He connects with all ages. He is equally comfortable talking to a homeless man and the local MP or TV station. That’s the way the Rabbis and the Church of England do it – and it shows. This is not to say by the way that a great Imam can only be someone from a Russell Group uni etc. There are some incredible imams without a university degree to their name and may Allah protect them. This is a general point about how we develop our future imams. All things else being equal, we should aim for the highest standards we can.
  4. On Muslim think tanks, and political lobbying. This is a really high priority. Mend are doing some strong work in this area but need to do much more.
  5. On academia and scholarships for PhDs. These are the thought-leaders of our generation.
  6. On media training and mentoring. This is how we communicate and it is a crying shame that practicing Muslims in this arena are few and far between. We also need to spend on our own media outlets. 5Pillars, Islam21C and ilmfeed are far more important than you can imagine. As are Islam Channel and British Muslim TV and others. These organisations need the support they need so that working for them becomes equivalent in prestige as working for Buzzfeed, Sky, and the Guardian. It might sound ridiculous now, but it can happen.
  7. On business and entrepreneurship. It is my firm belief that charity is just the other side of the coin of business. It is also a matter of fact that Muslims are not from among the largest businesses in the UK and globally. On a list of the largest businesses globally, the first Muslim business appears at #122. That is embarrassing considering we are 25% of the world’s population. So we need to be spending on the future Amazon and Google founders that are currently sat in East London or Spark Hill in Birmingham. Mosaic are doing some good work in this direction and the iE5 Accelerator convened by Harris Irfan are fundamentally important developments in this area. We have our own angel investors’ syndicate at IFG.vc that funds startups too. We need to education the future entrepreneur, mentor him and then get him the capital and mentoring to execute.
  8. In the spirit of long-term charity, you should also consider charitable donations as part of your Islamic will. These result in hundreds of millions of pounds in charity to mainstream charities and yet Muslim charities are sadly lagging on this metric. You can find out more about Islamic wills in our guide here.

Doubtless there are many other areas, not least climate change, education, community infrastructure and Islamic education. But the purpose of this section is not to be exhaustive, it is to be indicative as to the general thrust of my argument and the approach we should be taking.

So please do give to the above causes this Ramadan. Please also definitely support overseas causes too. This article is not about turning all charity to the UK only. It is about just increasing the UK spend.

When giving to a standard charity my advice would be to look for the following:

  • That it Is large and knows what it is doing. This ensures it will have efficiencies in place as well as experience.
  • That its efficiency isn’t egregious. By that I mean if a charity is only getting 50% of the donated amount to end-recipients, that would raise a few eyebrows. But I would be wary of giving to 100% donation charities. In light of the above arguments, it strikes me that a 100% donation charity cannot reach scale, cannot attract excellent people easily, and cannot be easily as long-term sustainable as others who take some money for admin.
  • Has good people involved. By that I mean, look at their “about us” or “team” pages and the credentials, experience and track record of those involved. Just don’t give to people who don’t have good credentials. We cant afford that as a community.

Finally, if you disagree with any of the above – that is great. Please do comment and share your thoughts. This article is not written to be the final word on this topic. It is designed to encourage us to be far more thoughtful about our charity. If you are disagreeing, that means I have achieved that aim.

May Allah guide us all to His way and what He wants from us when it comes to charity.

References

[1] Bukhari & Muslim

[2] Bukhari

[3] Bukhari & Muslim

[4] Bukhari

[5] Bukhari

[6] Tirmidhi

[7] Bukhari

[8] Muslim

[9] Ibid.

[10] Bukhari

[11] Qur’an 3:92

[12] Muslim

[13] Mughni

[14] Ibid.

[15] Muslim

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ahmad

[18] Bukhari

[19] Ibid.

[20] Narration 1912 (p. 710), Kitab al-Amwal of Imam Abu ‘Ubayd al-Qasim ibn Sallam

[21] al-Musannaf

[22] Al-Hajjawi, Zad al-Mustaqni’, p.78

[23] Reliance of the Traveller, p.272

[24] Tawdih al-Ahkam min Bulugh Al-Maram 3:27

[25] Al-Zayla’i, Nasab al-Rayah 2:423

[26] Bukhari

[27] Bukhari

[28] Tirmidhi

[29] Bukhari

[30] Ibid.

[31] Bukhari

[32] Bukhari

[33] Tirmidhi

7 Comments
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7 Comments. Leave new

  • Salam – I’d like to make a few comments on this as this area bothers me a lot…probably as I’m a private sector CFO and reviewing business cases, deciding whether the business should invest or not, and then measuring post-initiative performance is my day job.

    I agree pretty much with everything 100%, and this conversation on how to invest £500m a year is massively important as I agree we are doing it massively wrong. My finger in the air guess is that £497m of that is on poverty/health relief and masjids/madrasas, and £3m for everything else.

    Thoughts/Comments:
    1. I would add “accountability” to this. I wouldn’t give any money to any organisation unless they can show what they have achieved, exactly what they have spent the money on, and how they know they are actually “adding incremental value”.

    For that reason I’ve stopped giving to all the big poverty relief charities because there is zero in their reports about how they know whether what they are doing is actually effective or the most effective. e.g. is it more effective to build a school, or buy anti-malaria nets (so the kids are well enough to be even educated. See https://www.givewell.org/charities/top-charities
    e.g.2. is 100 wells for £100 more effective or one well for £10,000?

    I don’t mean doing loads of research and analysis – do something simple and easy.

    2. I understand the point about awqaaf. I would question whether we have enough as a base before we start awqaaf. Feels a bit like the rent/buy decision, e.g. if you haven’t got a house, you need to rent first, then saving comes later.

    e.g. do we need to spend more on imams/other projects first, or should we put into awqaf. For me, the former is more important now, then later when that issue is sorted we put into awqaf. In the long term I think you land at a better place if you focus on the imams now, as that will generate more sadaqah now. In pure financial terms the imam spend is an investment that should more than pay for itself in additional sadaqah and zakat.

    3. I’m kind of sick of Muslims wanting more and more research before actually taking any action. Let’s just crack on with what you’ve said – it’s so obvious and not wait for the research as that in itself takes years. Then there are geographical differences, cultural differences, religious differences which in themselves need thinking about. I worry it’s a bottomless question (but a valid one).

    4. “He [the imam] runs the masjid as a sustainable operation”. Small point but generally speaking IMO you can’t have imams running masjids. They should just deal with the religious side as that is their training – let the committee deal with the operational side. Should imams learn about operations? e.g. accounting/legal/marketing/fundraising. In general, no.

    5. One thing I personally started doing…rather than give money in charity, I’ve created my own “waqf” fund. So I put some money each month into a separate account in a fund platform like YouInvest/Hargreaves, invest it like I do my own money, then when an initiative comes up that I want to support and can tick all my boxes, I take some out and give it to them.

    Coincidentally I spoke to a shaykh today about a “convert care” “startup” project (I’d add New Muslims Projects to your list btw) that I want to give a material amount of the project cost to. I’ve asked him to give me a quarterly update on progress with KPIs. Same as an angel investment. Don’t get me wrong I like some big projects – mend, islamic seminaries etc. This is just an example of how I think funding a small project can work. If you are more involved you will feel more excited about it, you can lend your personal expertise, you can link the organisation to other funding streams and other people you know with other skillsets. There are pros and cons in my view and the answer will be different for each person.

    Like I say, love the article, agree with it pretty much 100% but these are just some thoughts I’ve had on the same topic.

    Reply
  • Ibrahim Qureshi
    May 9, 2020 8:36 pm

    Salaam alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,

    Please try your best to add reference numbers beside the title. Like, Sahih Bukhari 1029 or something like that.

    Thank you IFG team and IFG.VC team!!!!
    Jazak Allah khair

    Reply
  • What are your thoughts on this article published by 5 Pillar regarding the NZF?

    https://5pillarsuk.com/2019/05/29/nzf-funded-individuals-linked-to-israel-and-counter-extremism/

    Reply
  • Asalamu alaikum. JazakhAllah khair for a very useful and much needed article. Can I suggest you make these whitepaper articles available as PDFs? It’s calculated as a 29 minutes read! You can do your branding and watermark it too.

    Reply
  • Saba Hassan
    May 16, 2020 8:09 pm

    Someone shared this article with me and I’m so glad they did.

    I work for local, UK-based poverty alleviation initiatives and this resonates very deeply and I feel quite strongly about some of the points raised here.

    Thank you for these insights!

    Saba

    Reply
  • I don’t think we should proactively make charity work as the mainstay of our objective, rather we should focus on establishing a state that implements the Islamic economic system in its full capacity. An observation found that charities are quite ineffective in solving economic problems[1]. The observation found that 40% of the world’s population do not have access to proper sanitation and 1 billion people lack the most basic water supply. Charities simply don’t have the outreach to solve this kind of issues that are supposed to be government responsibilities. At the end, they end up becoming shadow governments and institutions. I am not insinuating that they are bad, but establishing that our main focus should be on establishing an Islamic economy within an Islamic government.

    [1] see https://www.islamiqate.com/2737/what-do-you-find-surprising-about-charity-work

    Reply

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