Zakat is not about charity, but jihad.
By Andrew C. McCarthy
April 23, 2011 4:00 A.M.
‘In the United States, rules on charitable giving have made it harder for Muslims to fulfill their religious obligation,” President Obama claimed during his 2009 Cairo speech. “That is why I am committed to working with American Muslims to ensure that they can fulfill zakat.”
This statement contained two falsehoods. One, as I’ve previously detailed, was obvious: There are, in fact, no American laws or rules that make it harder for Muslims to give to charity. What we have are laws against material support of terrorism — against using devices like charitable fronts to channel money to jihadists. Those laws are not directed at Muslims. They apply to everyone but are applied most often to Muslims, because Muslims carry out most anti-American terrorism.
The other falsehood was more subtle: the president’s suggestion that the religious obligation of zakat — one of the “five pillars of Islam” — is the equivalent of “charitable giving.” It is not. Zakat is every Muslim’s obligation to contribute to the fortification of the ummah, the notional worldwide Islamic nation. And that very much includes the funding of violent jihad against non-Muslims.
When an earthquake devastated Haiti last year, the West, led as always by the Great Satan, instantly opened its heart and pocketbook. Within days, as the Foundation for Defense of Democracy’s Claudia Rosett reported, the U.S. government had pledged $90 million in public funds, 44 percent of the total anted up by governments worldwide. That was just a fraction of the true American contribution. Despite a deep recession and widespread unemployment, private citizens contributed tens of millions of dollars to the relief efforts. In addition, our armed forces mobilized to provide food, medical treatment, and other humanitarian aid. Untold additional millions in American aid backed relief efforts by the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and the World Bank. The economic downturn was global, but still European, Canadian, Japanese, and South American governments and citizens also donated millions.
What of the world’s Muslims? Over the same period of time, they accounted for a whopping 0.1 percent of the total donations committed by governments — basically, a rounding error for a Saudi sheikh’s weekend in Vegas. Drawing a telling contrast, Ms. Rosett noted that the House of Saud’s annual contribution to ICRC operations in 2008 came to a grand total of $216,460 — less than a penny per Saudi, though quite generous compared with the $50,000 kicked in by Iran, whose population is three times larger. By contrast, the United States gave $237.8 million.
How could it be that the oil-drenched realm of zakat – of what we are to believe is obligatory benevolence — lags so embarrassingly behind Dar al-Greed? Very simple: Zakat is not “charity” as we understand that term.
Muslims are taught that charity means Muslims aiding Muslims, for the purpose of fortifying and extending the ummah until all the world is Islam’s domain. “Of their wealth, take alms,” instructs Allah in the Koran (9:103), “that so thou mightest purify and sanctify them.” Thus, zakat may be given only to Muslims.
Reliance of the Traveller: The Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law (Umdat al-Salik) was compiled by the renowned Muslim jurisprudent Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri in the 14th century. It is the most authoritative source on the subject of sharia (Islamic law), having been certified by al-Azhar University in Cairo — the font of Sunni learning — as conforming “to the practice and faith of the orthodox Sunni community.” In fact, when an English edition of Reliance (now available through Amazon.com) was published in 1994, it won gushing praise from the government of Saudi Arabia (where sharia is the only law), as well as the governments of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria, all of which incorporate sharia in their legal systems. Reliance is quite blunt on the matter: “It is not permissible to give zakat to a non-Muslim.”
That is mainstream Islam, as the Haiti earthquake-relief effort reaffirms. In Social Justice in Islam, the late but still highly influential Muslim Brotherhood theorist Sayyid Qutb explained that zakat is the “share taken by the [Islamic] state and spent on the welfare of Muslims to supply their bodily needs, to preserve their dignity, and to protect their power of conscience.” More recently, Shaykh Faraz Rabbani at Sunni Path, the “Islamic Academy” that has become popular among Muslim web-surfers, observed that in all major schools of Islamic jurisprudence “there is consensus . . . that a non-Muslim (dhimmi) cannot be given any zakat.” We grubby capitalists may see Haitians as suffering beyond calculation, but for Muslims there is a calculation: The Haitians are infidels. The families of Palestinian suicide bombers and imprisoned al-Qaeda terrorists rate a brotherly helping hand, and the Haitians don’t.
In fact an essential purpose of zakat is to underwrite jihad. Americans see it as a dangerous fraud when Islamic charities are used as fronts for terrorist organizations. In mainstream Islam, however, there is no fraud at all — not if your understanding of “charity” is zakat.
“It is obligatory,” according to Reliance of the Traveller, “to distribute one’s zakat among eight categories of recipients, one-eighth of the zakat to each category.” The manual goes on to describe these categories, the seventh of which is “those fighting for Allah, meaning people engaged in Islamic military operations for whom no salary has been allotted in the army roster.”
Al-Misri, the 14th-century scholar, did not dream that one up — and there was no al-Qaeda around to “hijack” Islam from him. He pulled it right out of the Koran. Sura 9:60, the verse most often associated with zakat, directs that “alms are for the poor and the needy, and those employed to administer the funds; for those whose hearts have recently reconciled to Truth [i.e., to Islam]; for those in bondage [like those imprisoned terrorists] and in debt; in the cause of Allah; and for the wayfarer. Thus is it ordained by Allah.” Echoing Reliance, the official Saudi version of the Koran annotates this verse with the clarification that “in the cause of Allah” refers to “those who are struggling and striving in Allah’s cause by teaching or fighting . . . [and] who are thus unable to earn their ordinary living.”
The stark fact is that the Islamic conception of alms unabashedly embraces what the brilliant scholar of Islam Raymond Ibrahim describes as “the money jihad” (jihad al-mal). A canonical hadith quotes Mohammed’s sentiments: “He who equips a raider so he can wage jihad in Allah’s path . . . is himself a raider.” That is, he achieves the same status as those Mohammed said would be most richly rewarded in the afterlife for having done the greatest service to Allah. Indeed, the Koran actually prioritizes the need to fund violent jihad over the need to fight it. Sura 9:41 declares: “Go forth, light-armed and heavy-armed, and strive with your wealth and your lives in the way of Allah! That is best for you if you but knew.” As Ibrahim elaborates, several other verses “make the same assertion and, more importantly, in the same order: striving with one’s wealth almost always precedes striving with one’s life, thereby prioritizing the former over the latter.”
Ibrahim is quite right when he says the West’s tireless portrayal of Islamic charities as akin to “the Salvation Army, a Christian charity organization whose ‘ministry extends to all, regardless of age, sex, color, or creed,’” is flatly false. In Islam, it’s all about Islam. Zakat, like all Islamic tenets, serves the overarching cause of elevating Islam, to the exclusion and at the expense of nonbelievers. When President Obama proclaims his determination to ensure that Muslims “can fulfill zakat,” and when his Justice Department follows up that proclamation by relaxing the enforcement of federal laws against material support of terrorism, this is the system they are abetting.
— Andrew C. McCarthy, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, is the author, most recently, of The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America.