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.