A study by Kohlman (2004, p. 22) found that although Muslims contribute to charities throughout the years, these contributions tend to hike during special occasions and events in the Islamic calendar. For instance, during the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims make hefty donations to help the needy. They also invite the needy to their homes to share meals as a sign of compassion and brotherhood. Many waqfs also launch mega funds drives during the month of Ramadan (Stearns 2006, p. 32). Some of the money collected is used to finance development projects while the rest is allocated to emergence humanitarian aid. In the past, donations collected during Ramadan (zakat al-fitr) was distributed among locals. Today, the money can be distributed to people living in distress in far way countries. Another special event during which Muslims make charitable contributions is the Feast of Sacrifice. This event marks the end of the pilgrimage, and often witnesses Muslims and many waqfs perform the obligatory rite of distributing food (especially meat) and clothing to the needy.
Muslim charitable organizations
According to Ly (2007, p.177), although charity is a central tenet of the Islamic faith and practice, it is not clearly understood outside the Islamic communities how giving of charities binds the Muslim ummah despite differences in class, race, ethnicity or other factors. In the Islamic conceptions of community and faith, all Muslims are linked to each other through obligations to God. One of these obligations is support for the needy. To Muslims, charitable acts are not mere acts of faith. Rather, they symbolize one's commitment to Islamic solidarity and is thus a process of building a strong community and brotherhood. In this regard, the concept of charity contributes greatly to Muslims' emphasis on social justice, both as an individual responsibility and an obligation of the society, including government. It is for this reason that in many Muslim countries, governments put a lot of emphasis on the process of charity contribution. They achieve this by encouraging people to give and by providing necessary mechanism for collecting the contributions.
Alterman and Shireen (2004) notes that although it is widely presumed among Muslims that Islamic practices have been consistent from the time of the Prophet, rules about charity (like many other aspects of Islam) have varied greatly over time and across Islamic societies. One aspect of variation has been along zones of Islam. There are seven major distinct zones of Islam – Arabic, Turkish, African, South Asian, South East Asian, Iranian and Diaspora (countries where Muslims are not the majority). These zones significantly differ in religious practices and interpretation of Islamic teachings. Another aspect of variation relates to the schools of jurisprudence. Shafii, Hanafi, Maliki and Hanbali are the primary schools of taught in Shia and Sunni jurisprudence. The various schools are based on the works of scholars who lived during the first three centuries of Islam (between 650 and 850 AD). Among these schools, there are considerable variations in practices and rules governing charitable acts. Generally, the variations tend to be in details as opposed to principles and therefore the various schools agree in most of their content.
Islam and charity
Despite the traditional differences in the practices of charity, modern Islam has seen an emerging trend towards orthodoxy and homogenization of practices (Corbin 2002, p. 34). This trend is being driven by a combination of several factors including advances in travel and communication technologies as well as proselytization efforts from Arab countries (International Crisis Group 2003, p. 203). Due to the growing importance of mass communication technologies such as TV, radio and internet, Islamic preachers have emerged who target global audiences. For these global preachers, what they proclaim to be the correct Islamic practice reaches far beyond their local cities or countries. This has greatly contributed to the growing global homogenization of charitable practices. As Napoleoni (2004, p. 177) argues, the convergence of Islamic traditions and practices with regard to charity is a unifying factor despite wide differences among the various schools of thought in Islam.
Jonathan (2008 p. 3-4) observes that Islamic charity transcends the boundaries of religion, culture or ethnicity. The practice is widely regulated through an objective criterion in which political economic and emotional interests are overlooked in the process. It is on this ground that Islamic charity is frequently given to followers of other religions, even those who are strongly opposed to Islam. For instance, during major catastrophic disasters happening in any part of the world, Muslims and waqfs give humanitarian aid regardless of whether the affected people are Muslims or not. This is a strong indication that Islam as a religion is focused on fostering solidarity and brotherhood in the world (Gerges 2003, p. 73).
Quran on charity
It can be noted that the Quran makes specific provisions on how zakat can be used and who can receive it. In verse 99:60, the Quran states that zakat can be distributed among eight categories of recipients – the poor, those who collect the zakat, those who lack money, those who require reconciliation of their hearts, those who are travelling and are in need of money, those in debts, those seeking to purchase their freedom, and finally those fighting in just causes for Allah. The Quran and Islamic traditions are very categorical on these groups of recipients, meaning no one outside the said groups can receive zakat. This condition is an essential guideline regarding the use of charities in accordance with the dictates of the Quran. However, recently, there have been tendencies for zakat to be used outside these groups such as in developing infrastructure systems for use by needy people. In such a case, the charity is not given directly to the needy people as required (Burr and Robert, 2006; Salih, 2004, p. 82).
The last category above is of great concern among charity givers and charitable organizations in the Islamic ummah. It states that those fighting for Allah should be recipients of Islamic charity. These are the individuals and organizations engaged in religious military operations for which no regular salaries are allotted in the national army roster (Emanuel 2011, p. 34). Essentially, these individuals are volunteers for jihad and are not entitled to any remuneration. To support their operations, jihad fighters should be supported through charities. A catch twenty-two situation is that jihad (Islamic holy war) is tantamount to terrorism, at least in the view of non-Muslims. In many Western societies, it is understood that support for Islamic military fighters (jihadists) is understood to means support for terrorism and hence it is outlawed. For example, in the United States, paying zakat or any form of Islamic charity to support jihad is a gross violation of the law. It is for this reason that some of the largest and well-known Islamic charities in the world have been blacklisted by Western governments as financiers of terrorism.
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