It is no secret that the issues associated with global poverty were only made worse during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Factors such as the cost of living, food security, healthcare and education are all points of concern for many nations with a struggling poor population. Luckily, there are many organizations working to address these issues. The Zakat Foundation has recently begun working with the United Nations to address worldwide hunger and global poverty.

The Zakat Foundation

The National Zakat Foundation Worldwide is an Islamic charity organization that is dedicated to helping the world’s poor. Zakat is one of the pillars of Islam which dictates that all Muslims should be kept financially viable, and one way to ensure this is for all Muslims to donate 2.5% of their earnings to charity organizations that aid the poor. The NZF Worldwide is the perfect channeling organization for all of this funding. It is estimated that the total amount of Zakat donations reach $300 billion to nearly $1 trillion dollars annually. The NZF Worldwide wants to use this incredible amount of money to help eradicate poverty.

Success so Far

The National Zakat Foundation currently has five member countries, Austria, Netherlands, Canada, Switzerland and the UK, which all provide a pathway for Muslims to send their Zakat donations to help eradicate global hunger and poverty. Through the Zakat Foundation, the member countries have raised more than $30 million since 2016 that has been used to provide aid for people living in poverty in other countries.

The UN and NZF Worldwide

The United Nations Development Programme announced in early August 2022 that it will once again be working with the National Zakat Foundation to use Zakat donation funding to help achieve the sustainable development goals for the world’s poorest countries. The first major project of this partnership is the goal of achieving the eradication of hunger and poverty in Somalia. The NZF with the help of the U.N. will work with local government officials, Islamic officials and the Central Bank of Somalia to help direct the Zakat funds in a productive manner that helps alleviate food insecurity and improve quality of life conditions for people living in poverty in Somalia.

Other NZF Programs

The National Zakat Foundation has had some recent success in the summer of 2022 before this partnership with the U.N. was announced. In the closing weeks of July, the NZF was able to provide the state of Osun in Nigeria with much needed power equipment that improved the quality of life in every sector, from nutrition to education. With the help of Zakat donations made by the member countries, the NZF was able to provide the state of Osun with cash grants, fridges, sewing machines, laptops, printers and more. Small items similar to those listed can have a profound impact on the lives of those who receive them, such as fridges keeping food from spoiling and laptops aiding educational growth.

The Future of Zakat

Despite the looming effects of an increased cost of living for those living in poverty, it appears that good news in the form of charitable religious donations may be what is keeping those people from continued suffering. The partnership with the United Nations and the already proven success are just a few reasons why the outlook for the world’s poor is bright, thanks to hard working organizations like the National Zakat Foundation.

Declan Harkness
Photo: Flickr

poverty alleviation in muslim majority communitiesZakat refers to the religious obligation for all Muslim individuals to donate a set percentage of their income each year to charitable causes. Due to the size of the global Muslim population, zakat could play a major role in poverty alleviation in Muslim-majority communities around the globe. Muslims make up about 22% of the world’s population. However, estimates suggest that roughly 35% of the 2 billion people facing poverty worldwide are in Muslim-majority countries. In their 2014 study on zakat, Isahaque Ali and Zulkarnain Hatta reported that over half of the population in Muslim countries are very poor. Further, the regions of the world with the most significant Muslim populations, including Africa and Asia, are facing increasing poverty levels.

What Is the Purpose of Zakat?

Zakat is one of the five pillars of Islam. As such, it is mandatory for all Muslims who have the means to meet their basic annual needs. Zakat is generally set at a minimum amount of 2.5% of income and total wealth. Muslims believe that giving zakat purifies the giver. Megan Abbas, assistant professor of Middle Eastern Studies and Islamic Civilization at Colgate University, spoke to The Borgen Project about zakat.

“The Arabic term ‘zakat’ can be loosely translated as purification, a fact that helps us understand the spiritual components of this practice,” Abbas said. “Specifically, giving zakat is often seen as a way to purify the soul of selfishness and to remind Muslims that their worldly wealth is not really theirs at all but rather exists thanks to the mercy and kindness of God.”

Many Muslims see poverty as both a social and religious problem. As a result, giving zakat aims to alleviate poverty and achieve socio-economic justice. Further, the Quran explains that zakat should reach certain groups of people in need. This includes those who have no or few means of livelihood, zakat workers, new Muslims, those who are indebted, stranded travelers and enslaved people.

“Zakat is also tied to Islamic conceptions of egalitarianism and socio-economic justice because it mandates economic redistribution from the wealthy to the marginalized and poor every year,” Abbas said. “This redistributive function complements other aspects of Islamic economics, including the prohibition on interest-bearing loans and exhortations to engage only in fair and transparent business contracts.”

The Potential Impact of Zakat

Zakat is an underutilized resource for poverty alleviation in Muslim-majority communities and non-Muslim communities around the world. The Guardian reported that zakat is one of the largest redistributions of wealth. Estimates suggest that between $200 billion and $1 trillion goes to zakat annually. In comparison, experts predict that ending global poverty would cost only $175 billion per year for 20 years. As states within the Organization of Islamic Cooperation increase their amount of humanitarian aid to 14%, zakat will rise. As such, the potential of zakat for poverty alleviation in Muslim-majority communities increases as well.

Noor and Pickup of The Guardian believe zakat address the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This would help meet the $2.5 to $3 trillion annual funding gap to achieve the SDGs. Importantly, this aligns with zakat’s socio-economic goals. The World Bank also acknowledges the potential of Islamic financing to achieve the SDGs. Specifically, zakat can help by closing financing gaps and building affordable housing with the help of technology to organize zakat funds.

How Zakat Can Help Fight Global Poverty

The Guardian reported that only one-quarter of global zakat goes to formal donations. In fact, Muslims give the majority of zakat individually and casually. This leaves an opportunity for a more organized donation system. Such a system could have a greater, sustained impact on poverty alleviation in Muslim-majority communities.

There are a variety of ways to collect formal zakat. One way is through the government, in a system that may resemble a tax or state collection directly from bank accounts. Organized zakat could also go through independent collection agencies specific to a chosen cause. Finally, mosques could collect funds to spend themselves or redistribute to other organizations.

Chloe Stirk of Development Initiatives outlines important steps to increase the impact of zakat. Stirk promotes greater collaboration between humanitarian organizations, Islamic scholars and academics. This would improve collection and distribution as well as increase revenue. In addition, Stirk’s process encourages more tracking and documentation of zakat. This could create a zakat fund, allowing for streamlined distribution locally and internationally. However, the logistical and ideological challenges of streamlining zakat extend beyond the global Muslim community.

In the Journal of Global Entrepreneurship Research, three researchers propose that zakat could best be used in a “small business entrepreneurial framework.” Instead of a zakat fund, they suggest global interest in entrepreneurship to address poverty. Few entrepreneurs in the Muslim world make this an ideal space for development.

Demonstrated Success of Zakat

Case studies on zakat funds show immense success and powerful potential in poverty alleviation in Muslim-majority communities. Indonesia, home to the world’s largest Muslim population, demonstrates this. There, zakat has an estimated value of 1.59% and 3.82% of the country’s GDP. This equates to $13.8 billion to $33.2 billion each year.

Indonesia has already begun to incorporate zakat into poverty alleviation systems with two centralized zakat organizations. As a result, zakat is an essential method of redistributing wealth to support those in poverty in Indonesia. Further, the amount of zakat collected by institutions continues to rise. Indonesia’s success with zakat suggests that this is a promising method of poverty alleviation in Muslim-majority communities worldwide.

– Emily Rahhal
Photo: Flickr

Founded in 2001, the Chicago-based Zakat Foundation of America seeks to show the “inclusive beauty of Islam” through humanitarian work in their community and abroad.

The organization is funded largely by ‘zakat,’ or almsgiving, one of the five Pillars of Islam. At its start, donations were used for emergency relief and seasonal programs — programs offered during the year’s greatest giving periods.

Both operations maintain a strong presence in the organization today: Zakat still responds to natural disasters with food, medicine and hygiene packages. It even constructs temporary shelters. ‘Seasonal programs’ are campaigns structured to make seasonal giving easy and effective. During Ramadan, for example, giving within the Muslim community is strongly encouraged.

More recent is Zakat’s ‘Perpetual Charity,’ which rests on the organization’s missions to create sustainable services for those in need. They offer micro-loans and erect buildings in underdeveloped areas. They establish health clinics, some of them mobile, provide health and hygiene training and supply food and clean water. Education is a priority, so Zakat builds schools, trains teachers and offers scholarships.

Through Zakat, donors can sponsor orphans who have lost parents to war, illness and natural disasters. Sponsored children are assured of clothing, education, healthcare and nutritious food.

Domestically, Zakat manages social service programs. They distribute backpacks full of school supplies. Hot meals are given to poorer communities during Ramadan and fresh meat given to poorer families during Udhiya/Qurbani. Special attention is paid to struggling Navajo communities, where food packages are often needed.

To keep administrative costs low, the Zakat Foundation operates with a small staff. Volunteers are consequently as, if not more, important than donations. They help man community centers and make up service trip teams.

Yet in the Zakat foundation, donors, employees and volunteers alike are guided by the principles of the Quran:

“They feed with food–despite their own desire for it– the indigent, and the orphan and the captive (saying): ‘We feed you purely for the sake of God. We desire no reward from you, nor thankfulness.’”

– Surah al-Insan 8-9

– Olivia Kostreva

Sources: Zakat, Zakat, Zakat, Zakat, InterAction
Photo: Google Play

With the lunar calendar entering its ninth month, marked by the crescent moon, Muslims around the world begin fasting rituals in reverence of the holy month of Ramadan. For an entire month—this year Monday July 8th through Wednesday August 7th—the Muslim world spend the daylight hours abstaining from food, water, smoking, swearing, and sex. As part of the Islamic tradition, and one of the five pillars of Islam, the month is reserved as a time for spiritual introspection, self-improvement, and greater devotion to the teachings of Mohammad. Notably, the holiday urges the believer into pursuing the Zakat, or, providing alms for the poor.

A principal tenet of the Ramadan fasting practice, or Sawm, is to inspire empathy for the poor. The ascetic practice of not eating food allows the faster to be able to internalize the plight of those who do not have access to basic foodstuffs.

In the Islamic tradition, the tenet of the Zakat requires all Muslims that are able to give alms to the poor and do their part in eliminating poverty. Simply put, the practice of fasting compels the Muslim world to become philanthropists. The Qu’ran at [17:26-29] instructs, “You shall give the due alms to the relatives, the needy, the poor, and the traveling alien, but do not be excessive, extravagant.”

Hamzi Wanis, an Egyptian Businessman addressed the philanthropic properties of the holiday saying, “the concept of abstaining from eating from sunrise to sunset makes us feel the daily suffering of poor people who really cannot afford food to eat every day as they are poor. It’s the time when we should stand hand-in-hand with poor people and make them smile by offering them food and donating money to them,” The Gulf Times reported.

Despite intense heat and even hotter political turmoil in parts of the Muslim world, the Islamic tradition continues undisturbed.

– Thomas van der List

Sources: Global Times, Gulf Today, Progressive Muslim, Just Zakat
Photo: Denver Post