How Capitalism Hijacked the Islamic Concept of Sadaqah

As Ramadhan fast approaches, the annual deluge of junk mail from “Islamic Charities” has not yet landed on my doorstep. Maybe it’s the CoVid that has slowed all forms of junk mail from businesses. Ramadhan indeed is a time for giving, the reward for good deeds is multiplied manifold in this blessed month.

Muslims naturally are generous as this is what Islam requires. There are many, many ayat and hadith extolling the reward associated with giving. According to an article in the middle east eye the Muslim Charities Forum, in their blog say that “British Muslims gave approximately £100 million to charitable causes during the month of Ramadan this year. To give some context, that equates to approximately £38 a second.” It’s a staggering figure.

Whilst the givers and may Allah (SWT) reward them – do it for the reward without really thinking how Islamic Charity Organisations operate – it is important to understand the mechanics of how the Islamic concept of Zakat (which is an obligation to those that have the nisab) and the money given away as khairaat fit into a Western context. The points below are there to initiate some thinking about the issue and to allow us to understand the concept of charity.

  1. The capitalists whilst they have the means (as we can see during this pandemic that all homeless were miraculously housed, unlimited funds were provided to the health service and money was made available for businesses to pay their staff without working) – believe that the job of the state is not to look after every individual but just to ensure that productivity and GDP grows every year. People are to left to fend for themselves
  2. It is this thought, that if people work they can make it – that leads to many falling into destitution and poverty. As a reaction to the brutal nature of capitalist thought and mentality of individualism – it drove some individuals to undertake humanitarian action. One of the early examples of this was in Victorian Britain – Dr Thomas John Barnado an Irish physician that worked in London. In London, after a cholera epidemic struck many children were left orphaned. In 1867 he set up a school for such children and a young man from this school took him around London showing him how children lived. This affected him deeply and he gave up his medical career to devote himself to looking after destitute boys. He housed them and trained them with skills like woodwork and metalwork so after they left his care they could earn a living. Human beings innately have compassion for others, each depending on what Allah(swt) bestowed them with instinctually towards feeling for others. So the charity Barnado’s was formed to plug the gaps inherent in capitalism and the charity exists to this day.
  3. Pure Capitalism makes no attempt to directly intervene in addressing poverty, disease and disasters. Rather it relies on charity organisations and NGOs to plug the gaps as they cannot be seen to a failing society and have domestic issues whilst they loot the world. Take housing as an example in the UK. The government does not address homelessness directly, rather it relies on not for profit companies or registered charities to address social housing needs by funding them and they address the issue. Wherever capitalism fails to address needs you will find a charity organisation attempting to address the need. Specifically here in the UK, in mental health, you have many, many charity or not for profit organisations. In mental health for example Mind, Mental Health UK, Anxiety UK, Bipolar UK, CALM, Men’s Health Forum, Mental Health Foundation, No Panic, OCD Action, OCD UK, Papyrus, Rethink Mental Illness, Sane, Young Minds and the list could go on. For child Abuse the NSPCC, for domestic violence Refuge, for alcoholism Alcoholics Anonymous, for gambling National Gambling Helpline, Mencap for learning difficulties etc.etc…
  4. According to NCVO, there are 163,000 charities in the UK that receive a total of £ income donations, trading and other sources, they have total 105.1billion in funds employ 827,000 people and receive money monthly from 44% of the UK population. Contrary to what many Muslims may think, charities in a capitalist context are not simply some individuals doing some good work but they are part of a large industry.
  5. Whilst we cannot judge the good intentions of Muslims involved in the charity industry. It is clear that many make their living full time from charity work. It’s true some Muslims offer to volunteer but others are full-time employees and the directors often have very high salaries as their skillset needs greater remuneration. Recently a no-confidence letter was sent to the CEO of a large Muslim charity which had a deficit of £5 million. Then there is the question of on what terms do some of these organisations acquire loans are they commercial loans? The question we have to ask is when in the history of Muslims did we ever have a charity profession and are we defeated that we will accept it now?
  6. The international dimension to Islamic Charity organisations is that they work under the wing of the British government department for International development. The purpose of this department is to gain influence around the world. There is an OECD agreement that 0.7 of Gross national Income should be spent on overseas development. Britain is one country that meets its target and that amounts to billions of pounds. All charity organisations operating Internationally are used to assist this end i.e. projection of soft power. The trend however in recent years has been to direct Islamic charity organisations to work locally, due to the austerity( poverty) introduced by the Tories.
  7. In conclusion, the concept of sadaqah has been diverted in this day and age to assist the capitalists to plug the deficiencies in their system. The concept of individualism which is rooted in capitalistic thinking and the indifference of the state to the unfortunate in society causes all manner of problems. The mental health crisis and care of the elderly are two examples.
  8. In the Khilafah state charity will find its proper place. It is not to cover for the incompetence and neglect of the ruler but in genuine times of emergency. The first port of call for the needy is to those that are the nearest in kinship and those with the means should help them first. The concept of individualism has all but obliterated this concept in many Muslim families. Then there is the general sadaqah when the need arises to give wherever the need arises. Zakat will be collected via the bait al mal and distributed to the 8 eight categories mentioned in the Quran.
  9. So this Ramadhan reflect a little before dipping into your pocket. Think about where your giving will go, perhaps it’s better to pay it directly. If we are serious about our deen we need to understand that none of our good actions will be complete until we live under the Khilafah. Let us also give some commitment to working towards that goal.

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