From a religious panel discussion, part of the “Philosophy of Philanthropy” course of the Ferris State University Master’s in Education with a Concentration in Philanthropic Studies.
The third pillar upon which the faith if Islam is built is the obligation to almsgiving, or “Zakat”. Invariably referred to as the “poor tax”. Or “poor-due”, Zakat literally means giving back to Allah (God) a portion of His bounty as a means of avoiding the sufferings of the next life and as a method of expiating or “purification” of what the individual Muslim retains of material possessions for themselves.
While Zakat may be regarded as an act of beneficence of right-doing and a charitable act in the moral sense, it is less voluntary and more of an obligatory religious observance. Indeed, it is as mentioned above a fundamental requirement of the faith.
No other world religion prior to Islam had required charity in the form of a positive norm of law. Islam alone made it a compulsory duty of each and every believer, man or woman. Zakat is the basis for Islamic social order.
The Islamic economic system is based on very balanced standards. On one hand, contrary to communism, it recognizes the concept of private ownership. Yet on the other hand, contrary to capitalism, it limits the accumulation of wealth in a minor quarter of society.
The Islamic concept of “private ownership” is based upon the belief that Allah is the real and actual Owner of everything in the universe. As the Creator, God has implemented the concept of “ownership” in our nature; therefore, we are allowed to “own” the wealth. Of course, by lawful means. Humankind are only trustees of God’s creation.
In order to keep this idea of ownership constantly in mind, it is incumbent upon each Muslim to carry out His instructions by giving a part of their actual possessions to those who are in need. Wealth that is not dealt with in this prescribed manner is considered to by impure, by virtue of that portion contrary to God’s order.
The poor due (Zakat) is given annually and is generally 2½% of one’s wealth accumulated over the year. It may be distributed to individuals, institutions, or relatives not in the direct ascending or descending line.
Sadaqah, or voluntary almsgiving, is wholeheartedly recommended to Muslims by God. From the very Word of God Almighty, the Holy Qur’an:
Let those who give alms, both men and women, and lend unto Allah a goodly loan, it will be doubled for them, and theirs will be a rich reward.
This free will charity is truly the test of a Muslim’s character and their willingness to share with the needy. This is referenced to by God as a “loan” which will be increased twofold in the hereafter. A “deposit” in the individual’s account in the next life, wherein God Almighty will judge our actions here on earth. By not being compulsory this act of charity carries great weight on judgement day.
However, let us not neglect to mention the good deeds one does in their life. Islam treats good deeds as charity, and awards them an equal place to that of “Sadaqah”.
God is never unjust
In the least degree
If there is any good done,
He doubleth it,
And giveth from his own
Prescence a great reward.
Most often we think of, and refer to, philanthropy as a monetary gift. However when you consult a dictionary, you may read under philanthropy: Love of mankind shown by practical kindness and helpfulness to humanity. In contemporary times we tend to think in terms of “money given”.
One of the five schools of Islamic thought, the Ja’afari school, continues to honor a compulsory charity in practice during the lifetime of Muhammad, the final prophet of God. This levy requires the individual to contribute one fifth of the years surplus, that is after all costs are considered, or net profit, to designated recipients.
Know that whatever of a thing you acquire,
a fifth is for Allah, for the Messenger,
for the near relatives, the orphans, the needy,
and the way-farer.
An important factor in all of the Charity conditions of Islam, one thing must be emphasized: if your contribution to humanity, in whatever form, is given ostentatiously- God will not accept it as good work.
Nor those who spend
Of their substance, to be seen
of men, but have no faith
In God and the last day:
If any take the Evil One
for their intimate,
What a dreadful intimate he is!
Although this paper is but a brief outline of the variety of charitable deeds expected from a practicing Muslim, it should give the reader an idea of "Philanthropy" in Islam.