Project Conversion

Project Conversion

Put Your Money Where Your Heart Is: Zakat

Anytime folks combine money with religion, everyone in the room gets a little nervous. There’s always that social pressure–especially in environments where an offering plate is passed around. I was never a fan of the offering plate or the demands for 10% of my income.

Zakat and Sadaqa in Islam, however, are two very interesting and compelling concepts.

Zakat in particular is the third pillar in Islam. In the Western world, it’s likened to the tithe, however that’s highly inaccurate. The tithe usually supports the church, its financial obligations (such as paying a clergy, admin, building needs, etc.), and then social programs for the local community (or just the church community). Zakat is 2.5% of one’s total wealth (including property value) and is given to the entire community. The word itself is loosely translated as “growth” or “purification,” but how does giving one’s money away enable growth or purification? The Qur’an put’s it this way:

“The parable of those who spend their substance in the way of Allah is that of a grain of corn: it grows seven ears and each ear Hath 100 grains. Allah gives manifold increase to whom He pleased: And Allah cares for all and He knows all things.” Qur’an 2: 261

Giving zakat then purifies and encourages growth of one’s wealth in the same way that pruning a tree helps it grow. But we cannot offer this pillar of the faith purely on selfish reasons. In Islam, Muslims acknowledge that nothing is truly theirs, but only held in trust, as all things belong to Allah. We then are simply conduits of the earth’s bounty, and the zakat is Allah’s command to support those in our communities less fortunate than ourselves. It is often noted that stealing food in Islamic society is rarely punishable because allowing hunger in such a society is a higher crime itself! For this reason we are enjoined to give back to Allah (and therefore His people) what belongs to Him in the first place. Such pruning can flow through many charitable organizations, such as the Zakat Foundation of America, who distributes zakat and sadaqa donations to the needy all over the world.

But what about that other word: sadaqa? If the zakat is a holy obligation to support the less fortunate in the community, then is this something else? Sadaqa are voluntary alms in addition to the obligatory zakat, however the gorgeous thing about sadaqa is that it goes much further.

The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) asked everyone to offer sadaqa. This offering comes in the form of a smile to a stranger, a helping hand to a neighbor, offering cash or a warm meal to a begger, or maybe volunteering at a local homeless shelter. None of these acts benefit the giver directly because the point of zakat and sadaqa is not in helping oneself, but those around you. But every act of service and charity is a ripple, and the blessings always return to the giver. In an ideal Islamic society, the poor and needy do not exist, as all are enjoined to work and give with joy, faith, and ability.

Interestingly enough, the idea of zakat does not imply a welfare state as its critics argue. Notice that all members of society are obligated to give out of their means and ability. The idea here is that all are not merely supported (as in a “nanny state”), but given the means to eventually support themselves and thus partake in the zakat obligation. In essence, we are commanded to bring such relief and self-direction to our lives that the need for zakat eventually becomes obsolete!

I would like you to consider what you could do for sadaqa in your daily life. How often are one of our neighbors struggling with a heavy box or carrying groceries into their homes and we ignore them? How many times do we walk along the street, so stressed about our lives that we forget to smile at our fellow man? Do you not realize how powerful a warm smile can be to someone in turmoil?

It is often even more difficult to bring these lessons home. Sometimes it’s easier to help a complete stranger than your own family members. There are times when I get so caught up with what I can do to better serve Project Conversion’s audience that I forget that my daughters just want to play with me. I often stay up late at night working on posts or new ideas for the project, leaving my wife to fall asleep alone. No doubt, what I do here is important, but what is my first priority: you, or my family? That’s a question we should never ask ourselves.

So let’s take a lesson from the concept of zakat and sadaqa and apply it to our lives. There is a balance, one that serves all members of our society. Each time you give–monetary or otherwise–you are investing in that society’s well-being. How could anyone scoff at that?

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posted August 6, 2011 at 3:44 am


It’s wonderful that you involve the kids in this ideal. My two children are 5 and 6 and we too are trying to instill the value of giving to those in need in thier hearts. Inshallah, our kids will grow willing and able to give freely and be a blessing to others.

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posted August 6, 2011 at 2:40 am

Nancy Shehata

posted August 5, 2011 at 10:28 pm

Salaam Alaikum Andrew!

MashaAllah, that is a very well-written and clear post on zakah and sadaqah. We are trying to do our part, not just in Ramadan but year round. We try to involve the kids, too, so they understand that there are others in need. Ramadan is a good month to help us refocus and boost ourselves, but inshaAllah it should also help us stay in a higher spiritual state for the rest of the year.

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posted August 5, 2011 at 9:44 pm


It’s certainly possible. The Qur’an makes no illusions about Allah being the creator of things both seen and unseen, known and unknown.

“…And He (Allah) has created things of which ye have no knowledge.” Qur’an 16: 8

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posted August 5, 2011 at 9:37 pm


I was thinking the same thing ; )

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posted August 5, 2011 at 9:37 pm


In my research, the Qur’an does not specify the percentage, however the concept of zakat was birthed in the Qur’an. Later leaders (Caliphs) developed the system further and different Islamic states use different numbers.

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posted August 5, 2011 at 9:32 pm


What a fantastic journey you went through to find your truth. Many do not take the time to search multiple faiths. I commend you on your mission.

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Art Sherwood

posted August 5, 2011 at 6:23 pm

Hey Andrew (and others here of the Muslim faith)

I mean’t to comment on this yesterday but didn’t get a chance. As I was readying the post on Muslim prayer, there was one little detail that caught my eye and made me curious. At one point in the prayer, you mentioned that they say the following:

In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful. Praise be to Allah, Lord of the worlds, the Beneficient, the Merciful, Master of the Day of Judgement.

I noticed they say “Lord of the worlds” with worlds in plural. What does the Muslim tradition believe regarding multiple worlds. Do they believe that there are multiple worlds inhabited with people like ourselves or just that the Lord created multiple planets and solar systems, etc.?

I ask because their are some prayers and ordinances in the LDS faith that also mentions worlds in the plural and it is our believe that there have been other worlds before ours and there will be many more after ours, that this worldy experience that is happening here happens over and over again. It is all one eternal cycle.

Just curious.

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Art Sherwood

posted August 5, 2011 at 6:14 pm

From the LDS perspective, this sounds much like our doctrine of the Fast Offering. I believe this may have even been commented on last month. In the LDS faith, when we fast once a month, we also give what is called a fast offering. This offering should be at least the amount of money that we would save by skipping food and water for two meals but we are encouraged to be very generous. Those who have more should give more. The idea being that it should represent a sacrifice to you. If it’s not at least a little bit difficult to give, you’re probably not giving enough.
Like the Zakat, this offering goes to help the poor and needy. It is separate from the tithing which primarily goes operations of the church organization.
It seems to me that the purpose of the Muslim fast and the zakat are nearly identical to the LDS tradition of the fast and fast offerings. Likewise I expect the blessings to also be identical.
I believe that as we turn our hearts to those around us and do what we can to share the blessings that we have received with those whom we encounter, the Lord will bless us richly. It is often by letting go of our treasures on this earth that we gain our treasures in heaven. Our hearts will be softened and we will be filled with love, compassion and joy.

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Editor B

posted August 5, 2011 at 3:06 pm

Where did that number come from — 2.5%?

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janine van rooij

posted August 5, 2011 at 10:26 am

I contemplated becoming Muslim before I heard about the Bahai faith, exactly because of beautiful teachings and sayings like the one you mentioned. When I was fifteen we had compulsory religion classes at secondary school in the Netherlands. Our religious teacher was quite progressive and we had a course in 6 of the major religions of the world, starting with hinduism, going to buddhism, to judaism, christianity and islam. We were taught about the history, the main teachings, the life of the founders and some quotes from the holy writings of each religion. Around that time I felt that most religions were tainted by the interpretations of human beings, which resulted in not letting the teachings be free in the minds of humans, but trying to confine them in a box, focussing too much on the outward instead of the inward. I felt there was something new in the world, less sullied by human hands and minds and human interpretation. I had a lot of prejudice against Islam, coming from a christian background and having a mother who was very advanced in her thoughts about the role and capacity of women in society. But the first quote I read when we were taught about islam struck me like a thunderbolt. So clear, so like a very good friend talking, so loving! Very soon after I heard about the Bahai faith and investigated it, on my own, just reading the books, not getting involved in the community cause I did not want to run the risk of being charmed, falling in love with the community rather than with the teachings. I became Bahai because I felt it was coming from God and that I did not want to run the risk of finding out after death that Baha’u’llah was indeed Promised One. I’d rather be proven wrong than go against what that little voice inside me told me. And all the time my ratio was having great difficulty in me accepting an organised religion! ;)

Every time I read about Hadiths or the life of Muhammad or quotes of the Qu’ran I am struck again by the beauty of this faith and how very much it is misunderstood, also by a lot of its followers, the followers of the shahria and the mullas and government officials of Iran. Luckily there are many who do have a good understanding, esp I hear in the USA.

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