Can you imagine a Britain where Muslims are admired, cherished, known for their commitment to justice, equality, generosity and selflessness? In a time of monstrous Islamophobia, this utopian vision may sound slightly farfetched, absurd even.
The precarious position that Muslims find themselves in today cannot solely be blamed on the media. Muslims, too, must share the blame. Quite simply, far too many Muslims are not fulfilling their covenant with God and being faithful to the teachings of their Prophet. Islam emphasises the importance of one’s neighbour, regardless of who they are, highlighting that those who you live with deserve your best treatment and loyalty. If they fear you, something has gone terribly wrong and Muslims have failed.
But are things about to start changing?
“You must be the best of people to all people,” stressed Dr Umar Faruq Abd-Allah, an American Muslim scholar, who is currently in the UK delivering a series of talks as part of a tour with SA’ADAH, about the critical importance of Muslims giving in charity to their homeland.
Dr Umar is one of a growing number of key Muslim figures in the West advocating that Muslims stop focusing solely on crises in far, remote countries and instead divert some of their attention back home, where there is also great need.
“Buniyal Islamu ‘ala khams”, said the Prophet of Islam, which roughly translates as “Islam is built upon five [pillars].” Yet, it means so much more. This statement is in fact a kind of metaphor, illustrating Islam as a tent being held up by five key aspects; testification in God’s unity, prayer, fasting, charity and hajj. The idea here is that, without one of the five, the tent will falter and collapse.
Sadly, this is exactly what we’re witnessing today; the tent of Islam is collapsing. One of the primary reasons for this is that Zakat, the annual 2.5% of a Muslim’s wealth due to the poor or needy, is not being given. In fact, it may well be the weakest of all the five pillars today. “Muslims are ignoring their societal obligations. And the religion cannot stand without them being fulfilled. Once we start giving Zakat, we will see a huge transformation in our society. It will become a tipping point, because, once we do that, everything else will change,” adds Dr Umar.
A reawakening is now emerging, led in part by the noble work of the National Zakat Foundation. The organisation, now five years old, is one of the only British Muslim charities to concentrate their efforts within Britain.
Within the past few weeks, they’ve been given the support of leading Muslims figures from the UK and abroad, and are beginning to make huge strides in tackling some of the core issues affecting the British Muslim community. They are opening up a valid Islamic discussion about who can receive Zakat and some of the scholars they’ve been consulting believe that, in some circumstances, non-Muslims are entitled too. (Note: Zakat is the annual obligatory charity; there are, of course, other types of charity in Islam over which there is consensus that these can be given to those of other beliefs).
“Zakat is about belonging, it’s about community, it’s about building a strong faith community in which you live so that you can be faithful to the society you live in,” said Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad, one of Britain’s most influential Muslims and an academic at Cambridge University, at NZF’s recent 5 year anniversary event in London.
What Shaykh Abdal Hakim was alluding to is critical if Muslims are to ever become assets to British society. They must really invest in their own community, making sure the foundations are strong, so that good, upright and intelligent people can emerge who not only give back to Britain, but help the country flourish.
More and more Muslims are realising that a radical shift can occur in the British landscape if Muslims simply do the very minimum of what is required of them. As of 2008, there were 10,000 Muslim millionaires in the UK. Overall, there are 3 million Muslims in Britain. And we often forget there are obscenely rich Muslims from across the world who spend many months at a time in places like London. Can you imagine if Zakat was collected from all the Muslims, or at least the vast majority in the UK every year? “We could be looking at £1 billion in Zakat,” says Iqbal Nasim, Chief Executive, National Zakat Foundation.
NZF, although growing in popularity, remain relatively unknown, despite their exceptional work. The charity works with victims of domestic abuse, the homeless, ex-offenders and other destitute and disadvantaged groups. They are altering the discourse surrounding charity; they call Zakat payers ‘beneficiaries’, whom the charity exists to serve with their Zakat education and calculation needs, regardless of where their Zakat is chosen to be paid. The term ‘beneficiary’ also implies that those who give Zakat are not just helping others, they’re helping themselves and benefitting morally and spiritually from their act of kindness.
Meanwhile, other groups like Five before Five, who, for example, engage in street clean ups and soup kitchens, are pulling up their socks in a time of heightened Islamophobia, realising that Muslims must engage and benefit the communities around them.
Zakat alone will not purge Britain from all of its ills, but we could see a very different Britain, socially and economically, if Zakat is spent well and maturely. What is required to help facilitate this is a central body, an institutional organisation that is deeply committed to serving their homeland. The National Zakat Foundation are up for the task.
Update: Dr Umar Abd-Allah ends his UK tour today with a talk on The Devotion of Imam al Nawawi at the Bradford Literary Festival. Through this talk he aims to emphasise the critical importance of literature and reading in the Islamic tradition, something missing within many Muslim communities today and proving greatly detrimental to the faith’s long history of intellectual thought.