By Jamie Tyrrell
Acts of philanthropy occur in almost every population, all over the world. Often these acts stem from religious beliefs. In Islam, Allah is the owner of everything that exists (Jalili, 2006). From this comes the belief that wealth and money should be evenly distributed among the people in order to avoid the concentration of economic power within a few hands (Jalili, 2006). To understand how this wealth is evenly distributed we must turn to the Qu’ran.
In Islam, the Qu’ran is the religious text that Muslims follow for spiritual guidance. From the Qu’ran, two fields of charity developed: the required alms tax, known as zakat, and voluntary donations known as sadaqa, recommended to every Muslim (Singer, 2005). The two themes of giving are subtly different despite seeming very similar. Both involve charitable donations to those in need and both operate under the assumption that the donor is doing so with the best of intentions (Kochuyt, 2009). The main difference, in theory, between the two is that zakat is mandatory while sadaqa is not. This obligation to pay the zakat tax might mean that in reality the donor is not doing so because he wants to. Philanthropy is an altruistic act that is done for the benefit of others. Zakat involves giving and benefits those in need, but zakat is mandatory and therefore can be argued that it is not an act of philanthropy. It should be noted, however, that often the terms zakat and sadaqa are used interchangeably. It is generally assumed that, regardless of whether one gives out of obligation or free-will, the act is selfless and reflects the donor’s pure niyya, or intention (Kochuyt, 2009).
In theory, sadaqa is the more philanthropic act of the two. It is voluntary and therefore reflects more accurately the altruistic nature we associate with philanthropy. One such historical act of sadaqa involved the donation of a basic necessity: food.
Public kitchens in the Ottoman Empire, known as imarets, began in the 14th century and distributed food free of charge to those in need (Singer, 2006). These imarets were acts of sadaqa, meant to bring the wealthy founders closer to God (Singer, 2005). From a philanthropic perspective, the public kitchen, Singer (2006) argues, was an expression of the Ottoman desire to see all citizens, regardless of their standing in the social hierarchy, reap the benefits of the Ottoman Empire.
In Islam, charity is guided by the religious beliefs outlined by Allah in the Qu’ran. The two types of charity that emerge are zakat, a compulsory alms tax for the poor, and sadaqa, a voluntary donation. Regardless of whether giving is compulsory or a selfless desire to help, the charitable actions promoted through Islam help promote the idea of philanthropy. Giving and charity are important parts of the Islamic religion.
Jalili, A. (2006). A descriptive overview of Islamic taxation. Journal of American Academy of Business 8(2): 16-28.
Kochuyt, T. (2009). God, gifts, and poor people: On charity in Islam. Social Compass 56(1): 98-116.
Singer, Amy. (2005). Serving up charity: The Ottoman public kitchen. Journal of Interdisciplinary History
Singer, Amy. (2006). Soup and sadaqa: Charity in Islamic societies. Historical Research 79 (205): 306-324.