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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How can Britain become a nation of homeowners?

David Cameron must unlock the spirit of his postwar predecessors to get the housing market back on track. 

In the 1955 election, Anthony Eden described turning Britain into a “property-owning democracy” as his – and by extension, the Conservative Party’s – overarching mission.

60 years later, what’s changed? Then, as now, an Old Etonian sits in Downing Street. Then, as now, Labour are badly riven between left and right, with their last stay in government widely believed – by their activists at least – to have been a disappointment. Then as now, few commentators seriously believe the Tories will be out of power any time soon.

But as for a property-owning democracy? That’s going less well.

When Eden won in 1955, around a third of people owned their own homes. By the time the Conservative government gave way to Harold Wilson in 1964, 42 per cent of households were owner-occupiers.

That kicked off a long period – from the mid-50s right until the fall of the Berlin Wall – in which home ownership increased, before staying roughly flat at 70 per cent of the population from 1991 to 2001.

But over the course of the next decade, for the first time in over a hundred years, the proportion of owner-occupiers went to into reverse. Just 64 percent of households were owner-occupier in 2011. No-one seriously believes that number will have gone anywhere other than down by the time of the next census in 2021. Most troublingly, in London – which, for the most part, gives us a fairly accurate idea of what the demographics of Britain as a whole will be in 30 years’ time – more than half of households are now renters.

What’s gone wrong?

In short, property prices have shot out of reach of increasing numbers of people. The British housing market increasingly gets a failing grade at “Social Contract 101”: could someone, without a backstop of parental or family capital, entering the workforce today, working full-time, seriously hope to retire in 50 years in their own home with their mortgage paid off?

It’s useful to compare and contrast the policy levers of those two Old Etonians, Eden and Cameron. Cameron, so far, has favoured demand-side solutions: Help to Buy and the new Help to Buy ISA.

To take the second, newer of those two policy innovations first: the Help to Buy ISA. Does it work?

Well, if you are a pre-existing saver – you can’t use the Help to Buy ISA for another tax year. And you have to stop putting money into any existing ISAs. So anyone putting a little aside at the moment – not going to feel the benefit of a Help to Buy ISA.

And anyone solely reliant on a Help to Buy ISA – the most you can benefit from, if you are single, it is an extra three grand from the government. This is not going to shift any houses any time soon.

What it is is a bung for the only working-age demographic to have done well out of the Coalition: dual-earner couples with no children earning above average income.

What about Help to Buy itself? At the margins, Help to Buy is helping some people achieve completions – while driving up the big disincentive to home ownership in the shape of prices – and creating sub-prime style risks for the taxpayer in future.

Eden, in contrast, preferred supply-side policies: his government, like every peacetime government from Baldwin until Thatcher’s it was a housebuilding government.

Why are house prices so high? Because there aren’t enough of them. The sector is over-regulated, underprovided, there isn’t enough housing either for social lets or for buyers. And until today’s Conservatives rediscover the spirit of Eden, that is unlikely to change.

I was at a Conservative party fringe (I was on the far left, both in terms of seating and politics).This is what I said, minus the ums, the ahs, and the moment my screensaver kicked in.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.