by Cathy Lynn Grossman
Zakat, a mandate to be charitable, is one of the five pillars of Islam, and who doesn’t think that’s a good thing?
Raymond Ibrahim, for one. The scholar at the Middle East Forum unloads on The Dark Side of Zakat: Muslim “Charity” in Context at the forum’s website.
While he acknowledges there are eight categories where faithful Muslims might give the 2.5% of their assets to fulfill their zakat requirement, he’s only interested in one: supporting people who “work in the path of Allah.” I read that and think anyone from seminary students to imams to missionaries. He reads it as a straight pipeline to violent jihadists.
This fits with the tone of the essay which takes every phrase, including Islam’s calls for justice and human betterment, and reinterprets them as advocating theocracy and violence toward non-believers.
When he gets to President Obama’s Cairo speech to a global Muslim audience in June, saying the United States wants to ease the way through government funding hurdles to help Muslims give their zakat, Ibrahim writes:
Well-known Islamists — from international jihadi Osama bin Laden to authoritative cleric Sheikh Qaradawi — are well aware of this and regularly exhort Muslims to fund the jihad via zakat … From here, one can better understand Obama’s lament … unwittingly implies that American zakat has, in fact, been used to fund the jihad.
Tough stuff here. Since I was writing on the rise in zakat giving that comes in the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, beginning Saturday, I called Ibrahim to be sure I understood his essay in context. Turns out the context is that Ibrahim himself says the majority of U.S. Muslims indeed give their zakat to genuine, legal, humanitarian purposes.
Of course, there are valuable uses for Zakat: The poor, people short of money, charity workers, people whose hearts are to be reconciled, bondsmen (slaves) purchasing freedom, people in debt and the wayfarer … The purpose of my article is not to say that I think all Muslims, or even most, are aware (of the eighth category). It’s just that zakat is more than just what we think of as charity.
DO YOU THINK … believers may support those “in the path of Allah” in a religious sense, just as Christians might support missionaries evangelizing for Christ? Or do you read that as code for nefarious purposes?