British Muslims display a spike in charitable giving in Ramadan, much of which is spent abroad rather than locally
For the past two weeks, British Muslims have been fasting the long days between dawn and dusk. Ramadan is a month of intense private worship and spiritual growth. And, as the charity portal JustGiving discovered through a survey conducted with the Institute of Commercial Management, it is also a month where Muslims donate a considerable amount to charity. Last year JustGiving reported a boom in online donations during Ramadan. They also found that zakat was a significant contributor. In 2012 alone, zakat money raised £200,000 for a number of British charities.
So what is zakat? For Muslims, it is an extremely important religious obligation. So long as a Muslim meets the minimum wealth criteria, they must give a certain amount of their savings away. This is 2.5 per cent of their total assets. The purpose, in part, is to free the individual from the potential negative effects of wealth accumulation and materialism. Some Muslims use Ramadan as an annual marker for paying the zakat, believing that it is the best time of the year for charitable actions.
There are no rules stipulating where exactly the zakat money should be spent, however Islam has a long tradition of spending zakat locally. Despite this, a survey done by the National Zakat Foundation in 2013 found that 81 per cent of 600 zakat-givers were donating overseas. With emergencies breaking out all over the world, including Syria, Iraq, Central Africa and Gaza, it is no surprise that the urge to give abroad is greater.
However, Muslim scholarly organisations insist that a balance needs to be maintained between spending abroad and spending at home, in line with Islamic tradition. Unlike other forms of charity, zakat money is spent exclusively on the Muslim community. There are eight categories of needy people whom zakat can benefit. But contrary to what many Muslims think, there are significant socio-economic problems facing Muslims in Britain.
Such problems include a lack of support for Muslim reverts*. More often than is comfortable to hear, new Muslims talk about the lack of support they receive after embracing Islam. Many also suffer the financial difficulties of crushing debts, divorces, or being cut off from family. Homelessness is another huge problem. The circumstances that lead to a person becoming homeless are numerous—it may be an asylum seeker whose application has been delayed, a prison leaver with nowhere to go, or a person on the brink of eviction. Some of the most vulnerable people, according to case studies, include immigrants living in the UK on student visas or spouse visas, whose legal statuses mean they have no support from the government.
Domestic violence is a threateningly silent issue in the Muslim community. It is estimated that one in four women in the UK experience domestic abuse, however this figure may not reflect minorities who are reluctant to speak out. There is an unfortunate link between domestic violence and cultural practices, and often the shame attributed to the victims prevents them from speaking out. But the psychical and psychological consequences of domestic violence can lead to other forms of helplessness, including homelessness.
British Muslim ex-offenders are another hushed concern. A Youth Justice Board report from December 2012 reveals that one in five males (20 per cent) in young offender institutions were Muslims. Often, families don’t want to accept offenders back, so they are left alone to try and re-adjust to life outside of prison. As the National Zakat Foundation found, ex-offenders who are homeless and destitute are far more likely to re-offend.
Struggling single parent families are another major cause of concern. It is not uncommon to hear about wives who have come from abroad to be abandoned by their husbands, or faced with the death of their husband and breadwinner. With children to look after, no family, and no skills to work, these women can find themselves in extremely difficult financial situations. Sadly, the Muslim community can isolate and ostracises single parents who they believe are less ‘deserving’. This makes it even harder for them to gain support.
There are a number of local Muslim charities in Britain running zakat appeals to address these problems. In Manchester, the charity Peace Trail has appealed for people to donate their zakat money to a housing project for female reverts in need. In London and Birmingham, the NZF has created shelters to temporarily accommodate homeless Muslim women while they try to get their lives back on track. It encourages Muslims to donate directly to needy individuals through their website. London based Nour DV helps support British Muslims in abusive relationships. A charity based in Nottingham is working to support ex-offenders re-adjust to life outside prison through counselling, housing, welfare benefits, employment and health support. They emphasise the need for support to come locally.
Interestingly, when respondents of the NZF survey were told about the problems the charity deals with and asked if they would be willing to spend their zakat money on eligible British Muslims, 88 per cent said yes. This shows that a clearer understanding of zakat’s purpose and its role in tackling the socio-economic problems of Muslims in Britain is needed. Hopefully this Ramadan British Muslims will take a further step towards greater awareness of local needs eligible for zakat.
*Muslims use the term ‘reverts’ rather than ‘converts’ because they believe that everybody is born a ‘Muslim’ in that they all believe in one God. Hence you ‘revert’ back to that belief rather than convert.
Image from: http://www.islamicity.com/articles/Articles.asp?ref=IC0212-1797#sthash.hKaK6rNv.dpbs
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