As we’ve been thinking about the 5 Pillars of Islam throughout this month of Ramadan, the one in our focus today is Zakat, a form of almsgiving. Although not strictly seen as a tax, Muslims whose wealth and earnings exceed a certain threshold are obliged to give a percentage of their wealth to help others and alleviate poverty. It is estimated that during Ramadan, UK Muslims will give well over £100 Million in Zakat donations. In some Muslim majority countries, the Zakat system is overseen by the government and failure to pay is viewed as tax evasion. 

The level of giving can vary but it is customary to give 2.5% of wealth and assets. Several Zakat calculators are available online where the applicant’s personal financial details can be entered and the amount of their Zakat is calculated automatically. Those who are eligible to benefit from this charitable giving include the poor and destitute, those trapped in slavery and those serving in the cause of Allah.

Upon reading this, we will make an obvious comparison and find many similarities between the Muslim practice of Zakat and the Biblical practice of giving. However, a few differences between the two are also worth noting. Firstly, our giving should stem from grace and be offered freely, not from compulsion. As Christians, we do not give to gain favour or earn brownie points from God, although this cannot be said of the Zakat. One Muslim website encourages generous giving using the hashtag #givemoregainmore, and while this may be the mantra of those who peddle a prosperity gospel, it doesn’t tally up with Biblical Christianity.

Another difference is found as we think about who stands to benefit from the Zakat. While Muslims are free to give to other charities that can help anyone, the Zakat is normally only given to Muslims. The Quran clearly states that Zakat cannot be given to heretics, apostates and opponents of Islam. No such partiality is found in the words of Jesus who said “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.”

As Christians, let’s check the motive of our giving and be guided by the simple truth of Matthew 10:8, “Freely you have received; freely give”.

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