Why Are Muslim Charities Targets of Islamophobia?

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It seems Muslim charities aren’t viewed the same way externally that many other charities are.

About a quarter of the world is Muslim, but much of the world doesn’t know much — or understand enough — about Islam. It’s easy for people to worry about or be concerned with ideas they don’t understand. A lack of information — or understanding — can be intimidating. 

That’s a big part of why Muslim charities can be intimidating to non-Muslims, especially in the west. Fear and mistrust surround Muslim charities in American society. Although this has been the case for several decades, if not centuries, it definitely heightened after the September 11, 2001, attacks. Muslims were (mistakenly) stereotyped — classified, rather — as violent. Islam was (and is, mistakenly) classified as violent. But Islam’s message is that of peace, mercy and compassion. 

Fear and hate for Muslims is not new; by extension, distrust for Muslim charities isn’t either.

So, when many in the modern west viewed Muslims and Islam with contempt, they began to act on their anger, fear, misunderstanding and ignorance. They created laws and restrictions that directly and indirectly target Muslims, Muslim society (in the United States and abroad), and Muslim charities.

Modern myths that attack Muslim charities

The fearful and mistrusting took advantage of misconceptions to strengthen anti-Islam laws and tactics in the nonprofit sector. They panicked Americans into frighteningly accepting repressive practices and regulations that compromise their native human compassion, their personal freedoms to act on it, and their vested right as this republic’s moral authority. This is the message Zakat Foundation of America’s executive director, Halil Demir, tells in his 2019 book 9 Myths About Muslim Charities: Stories from the Zakat Foundation of America.

In this book are stories from Zakat Foundation of America’s founding director unraveling blatant myths and fallacies about Islam — and charity — from its defining sources. He shows what’s at stake when partisans with self-serving agendas trick the public into acting on these fears.

For example, one of the myths addressed in the books is that “charity is not natural to Muslims because Islam teaches hate.” Another myth in the book is that “Islam forbids Muslims from helping people of other beliefs.” 

The victims of these myths are the millions — in Chicago, throughout the United States, and around the world — who could be receiving aid but are being deprived. These targeted myths and the greater agenda behind them have held back aid meant for the indigent.

Fighting myths with truth

The truth is charity is a native human instinct, and Islam scrupulously hones it,” Demir writes in 9 Myths About Muslim Charities

He adds that the Quran explicitly calls — strongly urges — people to activate their charitable nature in this life, and it does so hundreds more times implicitly. The Quran, he writes, linked charity emphatically to everlasting salvation in the afterlife. He then cites the Quran’s second chapter, verse 254.

O you who believe! Spend charitably out of what We have provided you, before a Day Hereafter comes in which there shall be no trade, nor friendship, nor intercession” (Surat Al-Baqarah).

Demir follows up by saying the Quran obliges charity as a commandment from God on a par with faith itself, citing chapter 57, verse seven.

You shall believe in God alone and His Messenger! And you shall spend charitably out of that wealth over which He has made you trustees” (Surat Al-Hadid).

Muslim charities work to uphold the Quran’s message

The Quran guides Muslims to give both zakat and sadaqah.

Zakat is a charity God obligates Muslims to pay yearly on their money and property. Its payment is made to the poor, vulnerable, and deserving as their divinely established right. The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, established zakat as the third of the five pillars that Islam is built on. Sadaqah means charity that is voluntarily given. While zakat is supposed to be given in a certain timeframe and for a specific amount, sadaqah is not given any timeframe or any type of limits. And whereas zakat deals with specific types of wealth, sadaqah can be acts of service. Even encouraging words are considered Sadaqah.

It is also charity to utter a good word” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim).

There are only specific types of people who can accept zakat. However, donors can give sadaqah to anyone.

Zakat Foundation of America has made it its mission to help Muslims carry out zakat duties easily and correctly. It delivers these obligatory alms — and voluntary sadaqah charity from all caring people — diligently, effectually, and with dignity to the poor, the stricken, the war-ravaged, and the bereaved of all the world. 

It holds this mission with deep importance. Every penny Zakat Foundation of America receives, it uses honestly and transparently. In 2022, 91¢ from each dollar donated went directly toward programs serving those in need. 4¢ went to administrative costs & 5¢ went to fundraising costs. 

Zakat Foundation of America has a 100% grade from Charity Navigator, earning it four (out of four) stars for its financial honesty and transparency. It also meets the Better Business Bureau’s 20 Standards for Charity Accountability and is a BBB-accredited charity.

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