The Role of Philanthropy in the Islamic Tradition

sduncan post on January 29th, 2013
Posted in Middle East Tags: ,

By Emily Hoffpaiur

Giving is an important part of religious practice in the Islamic tradition. The fact that there are two different forms of giving, one that is obligatory (zakat) and one that is voluntary (sadaqa), shows that philanthropy is highly valued in Islam. Both forms of charity are a way of balancing out social inequalities, or in other words “part of an effective social apparatus to ensure distributive equity and social justice” (Ansari, 1992).

In Islam, almsgiving should be done out of religious commitment rather than compulsion. Muslims are always striving for communities based on submission and service, “working for a more just world, not just a personal path to salvation” (Ellwood & McGraw, 1999). In the Islamic tradition giving is said to bring you closer to god and is proof of one’s faith. “Allah will deprive usury of all blessing, but will give increase for deeds of charity: for He loves not creatures ungrateful and sinner.” (Qur‘an, 2: 276, as cited in Dindang, n.d.)

In the Islamic tradition there are five pillars, or duties that are essential for all Muslims to practice, and one of these pillars (the third pillar) is almsgiving or zakat. Zakat is the obligation to give a percentage of your income (roughly 2.5 percent of your wealth or more if you have a higher income) to those in need. Donations were made primarily to the mosque but in some instances the collection of zakat is the responsibility of the state. Either the mosque or the state would manage and distribute the funds to the communities that needed it the most.

Zakat also plays an important role in development in Islamic society. Zakat is not only distributed to the poor but is also used for various projects that create opportunities to help the poor become more self-sufficient. For example, zakat can be used to help generate employment opportunities and create other sources of income for the poor. Muslims are actually discouraged from giving to those who are able work because this facilitates dependency and thwarts individual development. If the poor work hard, Muslim societies believe that creating job opportunities for them will help fight poverty.

Sadaqah is a voluntary form of giving and can be in the form of money, time, or efforts and given at any time by the poor or the wealthy. “The more we give sadaqah the more we increase our eeman (faith) and thus, expect Allah’s rewards both in this world and in the life hereafter” (Dindang, n.d.). According to Islamic teachings there are seven principles one must observe in the giving of sadaqah: Sadaqah must be done sincerely for the pleasure of Allah and not to gain praise or recognition.
It is best not to reveal what we give or do as sadaqah.
Sadaqah must be from a lawful source.
Begin charity with your dependents.
Don’t delay in the giving of sadaqah or show lethargy or negligence in the giving.
Do not count the sadaqah you give.
Do not expect favor or reward from any person for the sadaqah you give. (Dindang, n.d.)

The holy month of Ramadan is also a time of giving among many Muslims. It is a time of fasting and prayer in the Islamic tradition and often many Muslims have a surplus of money, food, or time during Ramadan and therefore will give more sadaqah. One form of giving sadaqah is waqf, which is a donation usually in the form of property or land and is used to support the poor or needy or it is used to “support charitable activities through the return from its investment” (Abuarqub & Phillips, 2009).

Islamic giving traditions not only show the ethical dimension of Islam but also Muslims’ commitment to god and their willingness to help those in need. Muslim society deeply values hard work, education, and giving back to the community, all of which are crucial in the fight against poverty.

Works Cited

Abuarqub, M., & Phillips, I. (2009, July). A Brief History of Humanitarianism in the Muslim
World. Retrieved from Islamic Relief Worldwide website:

Ansari, M. (1992). The American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences. Islamic Perspectives on
Sustainable Development. Retrieved from

Center for Development Services (CDS): Philanthropy for Development. (n.d.). Development in
Islam. Retrieved from

Dindang, N. (n.d.). Ways and Virtues of Giving Sadaqah. Retrieved from

Ellwood, R., & McGraw, B. (1999). Submitting to the Will of God: The Building of the House

of Islam. In Many Peoples, Many Faiths (p. 377-430). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall

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