PHILANTHROPY, in simple words, signifies acts done for the welfare of mankind. Every religion has philanthropic components to it. Islam is no exception; in fact, Islamic injunctions make acts of charity obligatory.
However, for many in the West, the concept of philanthropy is not a feature that is likely to be associated with Islam. Instead of kindness, compassion, mercy, generosity and love of mankind, ordinarily westerners tend to characterise Islam by such features as violence, terrorism, intolerance, authoritarianism, oppression of women, etc. There are two reasons for this grave misconception: their ignorance of the Quran and the traditions of the Prophet (PBUH); and the irresponsible attitude of certain Muslims. In fact, Islamic texts contain numerous injunctions to perform good deeds and to serve fellow humans.
The Quran says: “But righteous is the one who… gives away wealth, out of love for Him to the near of kin and the orphans and the needy and the wayfarer and to those who ask, and to set slaves free” (2:177). “So give to the near of kin his due, and to the needy and the wayfarer. This is best for those who desire Allah’s pleasure” (30:38).
Similarly, there are various sayings of the Prophet describing the significance of philanthropy: “You shall not enter Paradise until you have faith; and you cannot attain faith until you love one another. Have compassion on those who are on earth, and He who is in heaven will have compassion on you. God will show no compassion to him who has no compassion towards all human beings.”
“Doing justice between two persons is alms; and assisting a man upon his beast, and his baggage, is alms; and pure words, for which are rewards; and answering a questioner with mildness is alms; and every step which is made towards prayer is alms; and removing that which is inconvenience to man, such as stones and thorns, is alms.”
Philanthropy, in Islam, is of two kinds: obligatory and voluntary. Obligatory philanthropy consists of zakat and zakat-ul-fitr or fitrana; whereas, voluntary philanthropy includes the institutions of sadaqa and waqf.
Zakat is the share or portion of wealth that is obligatory upon a Muslim to give to fixed categories of beneficiaries, if the value of his assets is more than a specified limit. The beneficiaries of zakat are mentioned in the Quran: “(Zakat) charity is only for the poor, and the needy, and those employed to administer it, and those whose hearts are made to incline (to truth), and (to free) the captives, and those in debt, and in the way of Allah and for the wayfarer” (9:60). In an Islamic state, the government is responsible for the collection and administration of zakat. Zakat-ul-fitr or fitrana is the charity which every Muslim, having a certain amount of wealth, pays at the end of the month of Ramazan. Zakat-ul-fitr is mandatory on every Muslim not only on his own behalf, but also on behalf of all the persons he is in charge of.
Sadaqa not only means charity in the form of money or food, but includes every act done for the benefit of fellow men. The Prophet said: “Every act of goodness is sadaqa”; and “there is a sadaqa due on every Muslim. If he cannot give because he has no money, let him work so he can support himself and give charity; if he is unable to work, then let him help someone in need of his help; if he cannot do that, let him adjoin good; if he cannot do that, then he should not do evil or harm others: it will be written for him as a sadaqa.”
Waqf is the permanent dedication, by a Muslim, of any property for any purpose recognised by Islamic law as religious, pious or charitable. Waqf causes the transfer of ownership, of the thing dedicated, to God. But as God is above using or enjoying any property, its profits are reverted, devoted, or applied to the benefit of mankind.
Any property can be the subject of waqf. The validity of a waqf is determined by the possibility of everlasting benefit being derived from it by any form of dealing of which it is capable, or by converting it into something else. It is only where the subject matter is totally unfit for being turned into profitable use that its dedication fails.
The Islamic institution of waqf has a wider scope and purpose than that of a trust in the English law. The institution became so popular and important in Islamic countries that, in most of them, a special ministry was established to deal with the administration of waqf properties.
Islam lays great emphasis on supporting the destitute. The Quran and Sunnah declare in clear words that it is the responsibility of the wealthy to look after the deprived sections of society. Muslims are not only instructed to do good to fellow humans, but are also told to treat animals well and to protect the environment.
Though other religions too preach and encourage philanthropy, Islam takes a step further by making it compulsory in the form of zakat. Islam has made it the responsibility of the Islamic state to ensure that people perform this obligation. Thus, a non-payer of zakat not only incurs the displeasure of God, but can also be proceeded against by the state. In other words, philanthropy has been made a legal duty as well.
The writer is a graduate of Harvard Law School and the director of School of Law and Policy, UMT, Lahore. firstname.lastname@example.org