Membership, Community, Diversity

How does the practice of almsgiving express Muslims’ sense of community?

Zakat (pronounced zaKAAT), almsgiving, is one of the five pillars. It requires all financially stable Muslims to contribute varying amounts, depending on the type of goods being taxed. For example, it comes to 10 percent of agricultural produce in general, but 2.5 percent of a person’s savings or profits over and above what one needs to live. There are many ways of calculating the matter these days. What is most important to understand about religious almsgiving is that for Muslims it is an institutionalized form of social concern. Muslim authorities see to the distribution of the funds among the neediest, both at home and abroad. The United Arab Emirates, for example, might earmark charitable funds for building an airstrip for the delivery of desperately needed supplies to the Albanian Muslim refugees from Kosovo. Devout Muslims are encouraged to give far beyond the minimum zakat as well. At the end of the month-long fast of Ramadan, many give generously to the zakat al-fitr, or alms for the breaking of the fast. Those and all other voluntary charitable donations are called sadaqa (pronounced SAdakah, “righteousness, uprightness”), for through these signs of social concern individual Muslims gain blessing and forgiveness. A related practice among Shi’a Muslims is the khums or “fifth.” The tax was originally the custom of providing the Prophet a portion of the military spoils, but some Shi’a religious authorities have collected it from their constituencies up to modern times as an offering for the Twelfth Imam expected to return at the end of time.


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