Friday 19 January 2018
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Blog - Zakah in Action

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When the penny drops, a tale of charity

BLOG IMAGE2MOST of us know the groups of people who qualify for Zakah – such as the poor, the infirm, the wayfarer and those suffering humanitarian disaster. The eight famous categories are drummed into our heads.

However, there is another level of Zakah disbursement, which is not so easy. Some people may hide their poverty, their suffering and their status – out of either shame, or a sense of not wanting to burden others.

Our story here is about the latter, a scholar who as an active community member did not want to bother his students. He was an extremely learned man, having spent more than 20 years sitting at the feet of his Shaykh before going out into the world.

As a man of genuine knowledge he soon gathered a group of mureeds, or students, around him in the city where he settled. He would disburse charity selflessly and generously, and teach the Deen to whoever came to him.

This Shaykh, who will remain nameless, used to enjoy drinking a cup of tea after giving a class on Seerah, or Prophetic biography. His students used to go the kitchen door of his house adjacent to the Zawiya – a place of learning and spiritual reflection – to fetch his tea on a daily basis.

One day, the Shaykh told his student to bring the tea to him with a saucer over the top of the cup. The student thought nothing of this, thinking that the Shaykh merely wanted to keep his tea warm. This went on for some time, until one day, the student accidentally spilt some of the tea, discovering it was hot water.

Again, the student thought nothing of this. Maybe the Shaykh was on some kind of a health kick, he said. Out of adab, or noble conduct, it was none of his business to query the Shaykh’s tastes.

The students liked to serve their Shaykh, a man who gave off his knowledge without asking for recompense. Another student requested to carry his teacher’s shoes to the shoe rack one waqt, or prayer time. The Shaykh respectfully turned down the offer, placing his own footwear in the rack.

The student noticed that the shoes were well polished, until his eye caught something. He gasped in surprise. It was newspaper. The Shaykh had filled his shoes with newspaper. And when he investigated further – because he was concerned for his teacher – the student saw that the bottom of the shoes were full of holes.

The student was worried. What could he do? He didn’t want to bother his teacher, whom he loved and respected dearly.

The following day was a Friday, and after the Jumu’ah prayers the Shaykh used to like taking his car – an old Chevrolet – for a drive into the country. The Shaykh used to love taking his students with him, but this Friday he said he was unwell and that the car had mechanical problems. Making salams, he retired to his room.

His students were worried. This was unusual. What was happening? Acting out concern, one of the students said, “let’s go and fix the car.”

One of the students popped his head under the large bonnet. Nothing there, he said. He sat in the driver’s seat and turned the key. The engine rolled over, but didn’t start. Eventually, he told his brothers to go and buy petrol. He filled the tank, and when he turned the ignition, the engine sparked into life. The tank had been empty.

It was at that moment that the penny finally dropped. The students started talking amongst themselves; and it all came out – the hot water instead of the tea, the shoes with the holes and other instances, where the Shaykh had skilfully masked his poverty.

“It is a shame on us that we didn’t notice all these things,” said one student, shaking his head in remorse. “How could we have not seen the signs?”

“Our Shaykh is a very subtle man,” said another, “how do we help him with dignity and how do we make him accept our charity? He qualifies for our Zakah, but he will just give it away.”

After much discussion, the students decided not to approach their Shaykh, but to approach his family instead. So one day, when the Shaykh was busy in class, a student knocked on the door of the Shaykh’s humble house and handed his wife an envelope. “This is just for you, madam,” said the student.

The Shaykh’s wife was as subtle a character as her husband was. She realised immediately what the gesture meant. Kissing the envelope, a tear coursed down her cheek. “Shukran, my son, shukran!” she said.

From that day on, the students enabled their Shaykh to give generously in charity, but also ensured that their teacher – via his wife – was well cared for. The students found their barakah multiplying; their knowledge increased, people got jobs, healthy children were born, and with humility and gratitude, their God-consciousness reached great heights.

Zakah in action: remembering those behind bars

Prisoner Jail CriminalTHE history of Islam is replete with stories of men and women facing imprisonment, torture and abuse at the hands of their oppressors.

The chapter of the Prophet Yusuf [as] in the Qur’an vividly illustrates how dealing with unjust imprisonment is inherent to the heritage of monotheistic tradition, and that without it, both the Torah and the Qur’an would be incomplete. Nabi Yusuf’s own test illustrates how prison is a very real expectation when a person is faced with stark choices:

Yusuf [as] said:

“O, Lord! I would prefer prison to what these women are inviting me to. And if you do not avert their guile from me, I will feel inclined towards them ....” So his Lord answered him and turned him away from their guile…yet, even after all the evidence they had seen of his innocence, they thought it appropriate to jail him for a time. [Qur’an 12: 33-35].

It is our obligation towards such people that is the matter in question here, for prisoners – no matter where and imprisoned for what – do have rights over us.

And they give food, in spite of their love for it, to the poor, the orphan, and the captive [saying]: “We feed you for the sake of Allah alone. We wish for no reward...” [Qur’an 76:8-9].

The point is that in today’s troubled times it may not always be possible to provide food directly for captives, but we can – and should – exert the utmost effort to ensure they receive justice, and that they are neither forgotten, nor abandoned.

The Prophet Muhammad [saw] said:

“No man forsakes a Muslim when his rights are being violated, or his honour is being belittled, except that Allah will forsake him at a place in which he would love to have Allah's help. And no man helps a Muslim at a time when his honour is being belittled, or his rights violated, except that Allah will help him at a place in which he would love to have Allah's help”.

This emphasises the reconciliatory aspects of charity, that when a person does to you what they would wish for others, the same is done to them through divine decree.

To this effect, the Prophet [s] said:

“Feed the hungry, visit the sick, and free the prisoner.”

And he added:

“It is upon the Muslim faithful to free their prisoners and to pay their ransom.”

The classical scholars, such as Imam Shafi’i, Imam Hanbal and Imam Malik [ra] – who were unjustly imprisoned themselves – have been clear about the financial obligations regarding the freeing of prisoners.

Imam Malik, the colossus of Madinah, said:

“It is obligatory on the people to redeem prisoners with their money. There is no contention on this point.”

The 12th century scholar, Ibn Taymiyyah, said:

“Freeing prisoners is one of the greatest compulsory deeds, and spending ransom money and other means towards that, is one of the greatest ways to come close to Allah.”

The 13th century Qur’anic giant, Al-Qurtubi, said:

“Our scholars have said that ransoming prisoners with money is wajib [obligatory], even if one dirham does not remain in the Islamic Treasury.”

Many of us choose to pay our Zakah during Ramadan. However, it is surely our obligation that we work for justice and freedom 12 months a year, and that striving for those unlawfully imprisoned is very much a part of this duty by which we purify our wealth.

Most of us understand the concept of Zakah as a fundamental pillar of Islam, but few of us recognise the categories of valid recipients, which so often remain ignored, or abandoned. As the Holy Qur’an advises:

Alms are only for: the poor and the destitute, for those who collect Zakah, for conciliating people’s hearts, for freeing slaves, for those in debt, for spending for God’s cause and for travellers in need. It is a legal obligation enjoined by God... [Qur’an 9: 60].

It is obvious that in giving Zakah we purify our wealth by assisting those in need. We remind ourselves that it is a pillar of Islam. It is mentioned over 80 times in the Qur'an – often in conjunction with the prayer.

And if paying Zakah is an undeniable Islamic obligation [the abandonment of which is a major sin], then seeking justice and freedom for prisoners is indubitably a means to fulfilling that obligation. And, for those who spend in this path, there is a bounteous reward:

Those who spend their wealth for God’s cause may be compared to a grain of corn which sprouts into seven ears, with a hundred grains in each ear, for God grants manifold increase to whom He wills… [Qur’an 2:261].

Written with acknowledgments to CAGE

Aid flows are up, but distribution to poorest countries slows down

The countries in most need, 45 million people, are Muslim
The countries in most need, 45 million people, are Muslim. Photo Shafiq Morton

WORLD DEVELOPMENT aid reached a new peak of US$ 142.6 billion in 2016, an increase of 8.9% from 2015 after adjusting for exchange rates and inflation. However, on analysis, aid flows to poorer countries actually diminished.

A report by the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD] saw aid payments rise on refugees in donor countries boosting the percentage by 1.8%. This was according to official data collected by the OECD Development Assistance Committee [DAC].

But despite this numerical progress, the 2016 data shows that country-to-country, aid to the least-developed states has fallen by 3.9% in real terms from 2015. Aid to Africa has fallen 0.5%, as some DAC members have backtracked on commitments to reverse past declines.

Official development assistance [ODA] from the 29 DAC member countries averaged 0.32% of gross national income [GNI], up from 0.30% in 2015, as aid volumes rose in most donor countries. Measured in real terms – correcting for inflation and currency fluctuations – aid has doubled by 102% since 2000.

The Global Humanitarian Assistance Report, an organisation that also monitors world aid, has reported that international humanitarian assistance has increased for the fourth consecutive year.

It estimates growth at 6%, the growth in humanitarian assistance between 2015 and 2016 being considerably smaller than in the previous three years, the slowdown – in part – caused by a 24% decrease in funding from governments in the Middle East and north of the Sahara.

Decreases were largely driven by a 50% reduction in reported contributions from the Government of Kuwait, as well as reduced funding from Qatar [down 57%] and Saudi Arabia [down 26%].

Contributions from some European governments grew by 25% between 2015 and 2016 with Germany, contributing an additional US $1.4 billion [an increase of 109%], Belgium [58%], Denmark [51%] and France [41%].

Another organisation, Development Initiatives, has estimated that over 164 million people were in need of international humanitarian assistance during 2016, another year of numerous conflicts and natural disasters.

Over a quarter of those in need were living in just three countries: Yemen [21.2 million], Syria [13.5 million] and Iraq [10.4 million].
Furthermore, five countries received more than half of all aid funding [54%]: Syria, Yemen, Iraq, South Sudan and Ethiopia. They were all suffering severe crises with the largest populations in need. They have also all been in receipt of significant levels of humanitarian assistance for extended periods.

According to Development Initiatives, poverty, crisis and risk [through conflict and instability] were intrinsically linked. An estimated 87% of people living in extreme poverty were resident in countries that were considered environmentally vulnerable, fragile, or both.

The Official Development Assistance index for 2016, a measure developed by the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development in 1969, shows that developed countries spend miniscule amounts on foreign aid compared to their GDP. Sweden, for example, tops the list at 1.40%.

The US, one of the top three economies in the world, spends less than 1% of its federal budget on foreign aid, according to Senator Marco Rubio.

However, this still adds up to a significant US $ 35 billion, 17% of it spent on military aid to Israel [3.1 billion], Egypt [1.2 billion], Iraq [300 million], Jordan [300 million], Pakistan [280 million] and Lebanon [75 million]. Significantly, five of these countries have majority Muslim populations as have the three countries demanding the most amount of aid – Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

Of interest is that there are no agencies tracking the charitable spin-offs of Islamic finance – such as Zakah, Awqaf and Sadaqah. Islamic Finance is believed to be currently worth US $ 2 trillion globally with Islamic Banking growing faster than conventional banking.

According to the website,, the value of the Islamic financial sector is estimated to increase to US $3.4 trillion by end of 2018.

Fragmentally, there are statistics – for example, the UAE has about US $ 135 billion in sukuk and India’s Awqaf is worth US $ 15. 3 billion – but there is a need to harness things to measure not only the real influence of Islamic finance on aid distribution, but to truly understand the underlying potential of poverty eradication and infrastructural development in deprived and war-torn countries by Islamic instruments.

For further info:

Abdul Sattar Edhi: the power of positive charity

abdul sattar edhi 02 0AS a journalist I have to often deal with people complaining about the world – so much so that at the end of a day my head sometimes hurts. If I were to believe some of the complainers, the sky has already fallen in.

What characterises these proverbial moaners is that they are either couch-bound, or have their heads buried in conspiracy theory, social media and fake news (which they often believe is true).

Quick to comment, even quicker to condemn and shrouded with negativity, these energy vampires – as I call them – seem to think that by shouting at the world, and condemning everyone around them, they are going to solve its problems.

To be honest, I have very little time for these people – not only is life too short for this kind of nonsense, but there are better things to do. As my teacher and guide, the late Sayyid Muhammad al-Maliki, once said: “In spite of all the bad news, there is still khayr (goodness) in the world, so don’t forget that.”

Indeed, the Sayyid was the one who reminded us that the Prophet [saw] never surrounded himself with negativity, despite the challenges he had to encounter. Or as another learned elder once remarked, “Shafiq, are the angels smiling? Yes. Is the Prophet [saw] smiling? Yes.”

It is with a positive attitude, the Prophetic attitude, that the world becomes transformed. And I have often told these energy vampires that charity – Sadaqah, Fitrah, Sadaqat ul-Jariyyah and Zakah – are the first steps in transforming society. They are admittedly humble steps, but as I tell them, if everyone buys into it, the benefits multiply and become an avalanche.

To this end, we have to remind ourselves that at its height, the Islamic empire was run by various Awqaf that were supported by Zakah and other Islamic means. So successful was this system that the Caliphs only had to bank-roll their judiciary and the military.

Housing, water, energy, mosques, universities, feeding schemes, roads and dams were all governed by various Awqaf, that once seed-funded by Zakah, could sustain themselves on their own. The socialist in us might argue that this is “privatisation”, but we have to remember that Zakah is worship, and that a Waqf is established in the name of Allah in perpetuity and for public benefit.

The potential of what I have described is huge. As Muslims we have all the tools and regulatory vehicles for relevant social transformation; it is in a sense, as close to us as our jugular vein. It is as simple as reaching out – if not physically, then financially.

And what’s more, if we all contribute to an idea and a goal, it doesn’t have to be in large amounts. It then becomes a question of the building going up brick-by- brick, floor-by floor, building-by-building and street-by-street.

One person, who did not take notice of the energy vampires, and who remained firmly focused and positive in spite of jealousy and adversity – and even attempts on his life – was the Pakistani philanthropist, Abdul Sattar Edhi. Saying that suffering was his tutor, he started a charitable empire in 1947 from only 500 dollars.

He said his sense of charity had been inspired by his mother. Hailing from a poor family, she would give her son two paisas (a few cents) to take with him to school. One paisa he could spend on lunch, and the second he had to give to a beggar. When his mother suffered a stroke in 1939, he nursed her for eight years until her death.

When Pakistan became independent in 1947, he became aware of the suffering around him. He was especially touched by a mother of six committing suicide because she could no longer cope. This inspired him to set up his charity, relying solely on public donations.

By the time he passed on – aged 89 in July 2016 – he’d saved the lives of at least 50,000 babies; but not only that, he’d established hundreds of food kitchens, re-hab centres, homeless shelters and clinics; he’d adopted 20, 000 orphans, established an ambulance service (at 1,800 ambulances it is the biggest volunteer service in the world) and had trained over 40,000 nurses and had 28 rescue boats and two airplanes on hand for emergencies.  

A humble man – who never took a salary, who had only two thawbs and who slept in a room next to his office – Edhi once said that “long praises and empty words” did not impress Allah. One showed their faith by action.

He did not suffer pettiness, and when criticised for picking up Christians and Hindus in his ambulances, retorted that the ambulances were more Muslim than their critics. He also provided aid in the Ethiopian famine of 1985 and sent 100, 000 dollars to help those stranded by Hurricane Katrina.

So to those energy vampires, with all due respect, please read this. Please become inspired by the example of Abdul Sattar Edhi. If one man can do all that, imagine the power of a whole society.

Ramadan: counting the cost

RAMADAN, that heady month of spiritual activity, has come and gone. And now, the first six blessed days of Shawwal are passing us by. During the Holy Month we said farewell to friends and family with sadness, and we welcomed the new-born with joy.

In our age of mass communication, digitalisation, and globalisation, time seems to fly. Life, it seems, is so very fleeting. For us as Muslims life goes beyond life; it passes on as a continuum into Heaven or Hell.

The Prophetic message is that we have to have a balance – a balance between the material and the spiritual. This is reflected in the Prophet’s [saw] most famous du’ah: “Allahumma rabbana atina fiddunya hasana taw wa fil akhirati…”

In this prayer, the Prophet [saw] would ask Allah for the best of both worlds, and exhort his Companions to do as much good as possible – not only in the unique window of grace that is Ramadan – but throughout our short lives.

Indeed, Ramadan is a brief encounter, but its role in polishing the heart and its potential contribution to the relief of humanity is immense. The Prophet [saw] was said to be the most generous in Ramadan, but Allah – the Greatest – even more.

Shaikh Ahmad Hendricks of the Azzawia reports, via the authority of his Shuyukh in Makkah who report from Prophetic sources, that for each day of Ramadan – when the Shiyateen have been chained down and doors of Jahannum closed – Allah the most Merciful, releases 600,000 souls from the Fire.

But that is not all, on the night of Laylut ul-Qadr – the Night of Power – Allah releases the equivalent amount of all souls released for the whole month to date. And if that is not enough – on ‘Eid, Allah in His Supreme Generosity, liberates the equivalent of all the souls released during the whole month.

And even if anyone wishes to question the validity of this account (which they are free to do) we certainly should not lose sight of the kernel of its message – the fruits of Ramadan – via the 10-day phases of its Mercy, Forgiveness and Salvation, which are Divine promises.

But that is not all, the ordained charity of Fitrah or Fidya to validate the fast, the voluntary giving of Sadaqah and the payment of Zakah in Ramadan become the re-distributive elements of wealth and the agents of social relief.

SANZAF, which is a certified distributor of relief according to Shari’ah, was just one of the many agencies working at the coal face this past month. Witnessing its energies and outreach – 23, 600 fitrah parcels were delivered nation-wide – one can only feel proud that the SA Muslim community is compassionate and caring.

The organisation is shy to crunch numbers, but having the licence to do so myself, I have estimated that at least 100, 000 individuals would have directly benefited from SANZAF’s fitrah parcels alone. That is a lot of people, more than your average football stadium. Add in other organisations such as Gift of the Givers, Awqaf and Islamic Relief and the outreach gains even more momentum, the figure probably nudging up to 250, 000 at least.

In fact, having worked in the Muslim media for decades, this past Ramadan seems to have surpassed all the others in terms of giving. Why? To be honest, I don’t know. Perhaps our community has become more middle-class since 1994? Perhaps our hearts have been softened by events around us?

But let’s, for interest’s sake, crunch some more numbers.

Our Muslim population in South Africa, grossly underestimated by the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation, is about 3-4 million of 55 million (not 2.5 million). It’s a long story how I come by these numbers, so let’s just use them as a marker, because it led me to thinking about them in terms of social upliftment.

If 2 million adult SA Muslims paid their fitrah – pegged at a minimum of R12 up to R40 – one begins to see the picture. If, for argument’s sake, each person paid R20 then there would have been an injection of R40 million into our economy. Again, that is a substantial number. Add in Zakah and other charities, and I estimate the figure to climb to about double that amount, to R80 million.

In terms of poverty relief, this is significant. Not enough to bridge the poor-rich divide nationally, but enough to show that Islamic charity has the capacity to make a difference, albeit a temporary one.

On a global scale, Muslims according to the Pew Report are 1.6 billion – 23% of the world’s population. If again, for argument’s sake, 1 billion adults were to pay 1 dollar in fitrah, a billion dollars would have immediately entered the world economy in terms of poverty relief.

Admittedly, I’m neither an economist nor an accountant, but even the simple, conservative maths shows the massive impact of charity and Zakah, which cleanses wealth due to it being ‘ibadah. Indeed, in the era of debt enslavement and gross interest excesses, we have a Prophetic model of social development right in front of us.

For that reason, I think it’s all the more important there is no duplication of effort (a curse in our community) and that our institutions – widely acknowledged for their effectiveness internationally – are further empowered by our continuous contributions. The difference is there for us to make; we can change the world.

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