Charity in Islam

In the second of our series on faith and charity, the Senior Development Education Coordinator of <e

Charity is so often a hallmark of faith, just as justice is so often the very spirit of religion. Islam is a complete way of life and within this there is a duty to serve those who are less privileged than ourselves.

As a Muslim, I have a sense of responsibility to share my wealth with others. This is not hard to do since Muslims know that their wealth does not belong to them. We are trustees but ultimately everything we have belongs to God. It is this premise that forms the basis for the first type of charity in Islam, zakah.

Zakah means purification and comes from the Arabic verb zaka, which also signifies “to thrive,” “to be wholesome,” and “to be pure.” Muslims "purify" their wealth by giving a portion of it every year in charity. All Muslims with excess wealth must pay zakah.

The duty of paying the zakah differs from any other religions and their charity regulatory systems. Its purpose is to balance out social inequality by assisting those who are in need.

The Qur'an advises Muslims "…to perform the worship and pay the zakah…" (chapter 2: verse 43) and warns us of the need for material sacrifice if we wish to attain God’s pleasure: "By no means shall you attain righteousness, unless you give of that which you love.” (Chapter 3: verse 92)

Sadaqah, or voluntary charity is the second main form of charity in Islam. It purifies the soul from the malevolence of greed. In my own personal experience, when giving sadaqah, it has left me with a sense of peace and a deep realisation that I am not the true owner of any wealth that I have; God is.

Charity can also be performed in other forms which are non-monetary such as voluntary work, helping others, or using one’s talents and skills for good causes. In Islam any good word or deed is regarded as an act of charity. The Prophet (peace be upon him ) said: "And your smiling in the face of your brother is charity; your removing of stones and thorns from people's paths is charity, (to avoid potential threat from their way) and your guiding a man gone astray in the world is charity for you".

Many Muslims in Britain today feel it is their responsibility to share their blessings with those who have less. Several UK Muslim charities, like Islamic Relief, were set up to meet this growing demand. Initially, they focused on implementing humanitarian aid and development programmes in predominantly Muslim countries, but many British Muslims now feel the need to see their charity reach others of all backgrounds who are also in need.

I am proud that I work for an organisation that provides assistance to those that need it most regardless of religion, race or ethnicity. In my own role I have also seen the difference it makes when charities from different faiths unite to campaign for social or environmental justice. On these occasions it is clear just how much the different faiths have in common, especially when it comes to helping our neighbours in humanity.

This year Islamic Relief celebrates its 25th anniversary. For the organisation this is a time to reflect and to give thanks to all those who have supported us over the years. We feel blessed whenever anyone, Muslim and non-Muslim, entrusts us with their money. We are the temporary guardians of this money and have a great responsibility to ensure that it is used in the best possible way in order to meet the needs of those we work with and to please God.

Samia Ahmed is the Senior Development Education Coordinator at Islamic Relief.

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"We repealed, then forgot": the long shadow of Section 28 homophobia

Why are deeply conservative views about the "promotion" of homosexuality still being reiterated to Scottish school pupils? 

Grim stories of LGBTI children being bullied in school are all too common. But one which emerged over the weekend garnered particular attention - because of the echoes of the infamous Section 28, nearly two decades after it was scrapped.

A 16-year-old pupil of a West Lothian school, who does not wish to be named, told Pink News that staff asked him to remove his small rainbow pride badge because, though they had "no problem" with his sexuality, it was not appropriate to "promote it" in school. It's a blast from the past - the rules against "promoting" homosexuality were repealed in 2000 in Scotland, but the long legacy of Section 28 seems hard to shake off. 

The local authority responsible said in a statement that non-school related badges are not permitted on uniforms, and says it is "committed to equal rights for LGBT people". 

The small badge depicted a rainbow-striped heart, which the pupil said he had brought back from the Edinburgh Pride march the previous weekend. He reportedly "no longer feels comfortable going to school", and said homophobia from staff members felt "much more scar[y] than when I encountered the same from other pupils". 

At a time when four Scottish party leaders are gay, and the new Westminster parliament included a record number of LGBTQ MPs, the political world is making progress in promoting equality. But education, it seems, has not kept up. According to research from LGBT rights campaigners Stonewall, 40 per cent of LGBT pupils across the UK reported being taught nothing about LGBT issues at school. Among trans students, 44 per cent said school staff didn’t know what "trans" even means.

The need for teacher training and curriculum reform is at the top of campaigners' agendas. "We're disappointed but not surprised by this example," says Jordan Daly, the co-founder of Time for Inclusive Education [TIE]. His grassroots campaign focuses on making politicians and wider society aware of the reality LGBTI school students in Scotland face. "We're in schools on a monthly basis, so we know this is by no means an isolated incident." 

Studies have repeatedly shown a startling level of self-harm and mental illness reported by LGBTI school students. Trans students are particularly at risk. In 2015, Daly and colleagues began a tour of schools. Shocking stories included one in which a teacher singled out a trans pupils for ridicule in front of the class. More commonly, though, staff told them the same story: we just don't know what we're allowed to say about gay relationships. 

This is the point, according to Daly - retraining, or rather the lack of it. For some of those teachers trained during the 1980s and 1990s, when Section 28 prevented local authorities from "promoting homosexuality", confusion still reigns about what they can and cannot teach - or even mention in front of their pupils. 

The infamous clause was specific in its homophobia: the "acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship" could not be mentioned in schools. But it's been 17 years since the clause was repealed in Scotland - indeed, it was one of the very first acts of the new Scottish Parliament (the rest of the UK followed suit three years later). Why are we still hearing this archaic language? 

"We repealed, we clapped and cheered, and then we just forgot," Daly says. After the bitter campaign in Scotland, in which an alliance of churches led by millionaire businessman Brian Souter poured money into "Keeping the Clause", the government was pleased with its victory, which seemed to establish Holyrood as a progressive political space early on in the life of the parliament. But without updating the curriculum or retraining teaching staff, Daly argues, it left a "massive vacuum" of uncertainty. 

The Stonewall research suggests a similar confusion is likely across the UK. Daly doesn't believe the situation in Scotland is notably worse than in England, and disputes the oft-cited allegation that the issue is somehow worse in Scotland's denominational schools. Homophobia may be "wrapped up in the language of religious belief" in certain schools, he says, but it's "just as much of a problem elsewhere. The TIE campaign doesn't have different strategies for different schools." 

After initial disappointments - their thousands-strong petition to change the curriculum was thrown out by parliament in 2016 - the campaign has won the support of leaders such as Nicola Sturgeon and Kezia Dugdale, and recently, the backing of a majority of MSPs. The Scottish government has set up a working group, and promised a national strategy. 

But for Daly, who himself struggled at a young age with his sexuality and society's failure to accept it, the matter remains an urgent one.  At just 21, he can reel off countless painful stories of young LGBTI students - some of which end in tragedy. One of the saddest elements of the story from St Kentigern's is that the pupil claimed his school was the safest place he had to express his identity, because he was not out at home. Perhaps for a gay pupil in ten years time, that will be a guarantee. 

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