The last week of June marked the end of Ramadan and the celebration of the annual Eid-Al Fitr holiday. Muslims across the world fast from sun-up to sun-down during the holy month of Ramadan as an opportunity for heightened spirituality and renewal. With the timing of religious events marked by the lunar calendar (10 days shorter than the solar calendar), the month of Ramadan moves back 10 days each year. Over my lifetime I have fasted during Ramadan in every part of the Gregorian calendar!
Muslims are required to pay 2.5 percent of their wealth towards charity as zakat. As one of the five pillars of Islam, zakat is central to the faith. It can be given towards eight specific categories that include the poor, the needy, slaves or captives, to pay off debts, to someone who can mediate conflicts amongst people, for travelers, for the sake of God and for zakat collectors. Zakat means purification in Arabic and is a reminder that a Muslim is simply a steward of their wealth during their lifetime. This general form of zakat is known as zakat-al-mal.
In addition to zakat-al-mal, Muslims are required to pay zakat-al-fitr. Zakat-al-fitr is an amount that each Muslim, who can afford to do so, pays during the month of Ramadan but before they pray the annual Eid-al-fitr prayer so that the poor in their community can also celebrate the end of Ramadan. Each locality calculates the amount based upon the local costs. This year in Indiana the zakat-al-mal was $10 for each person in your household.
In many Muslim-majority countries, Zakat is collected by the state. However, even in those countries, individuals try to donate their zakat-al-mal based upon their personal preferences through nonprofit or charitable foundations. In countries like the United States, Zakat is largely donated through nonprofit organizations (like the local Islamic center, Zakat Foundation or Islamic Relief) or through personal connections.
The month of Ramadan is always the busiest month in any Muslim nonprofit organization’s fundraising calendar. Due to the heightened rewards for giving to charity during the month of Ramadan, Muslims often calculate their zakat so that they can make donations or pledges during this time. In addition, to zakat Muslims give sadaqah, additional philanthropic gifts beyond the required zakat. By donating one's zakat or sadaqah during the month of Ramadan, Muslims believe that they received more blessings from God.
When I served as a development director for a larger national and later regional nonprofit, I would spend nearly every weekend on the road raising funds for my organizations. A number of Muslim American organizations where I serve on the board raised nearly 80 to 90 percent of their annual budget during the month prior, during Ramadan and the month after Ramadan. Ramadan represents the largest opportunity to raise funds.
But Muslim American philanthropy goes way beyond the formal giving through nonprofit organizations. A Muslim American crowdfunding site, LaunchGood, has made it possible for Muslim Americans to create causes that they can raise funds for without going through formal nonprofit organizations. LaunchGood this Ramadan has allowed Muslim Americans to engage with challenges that the community has faced. This Ramadan, when a group held rallies against Muslims across cities in the United States, one protestor suffered a heart attack.
When Muslims learned of the medical needs of a man protesting their own presence, their response was to raise funds on LaunchGood to pay for his hospital bills. Within hours raising over the $10,000 goal. These young activists reminded their fellow Muslim American community that when the Prophet Muhammad was faced with a similar situation his urge was not to retaliate but to have compassion.
When a young Muslim American girl in Virginia was killed after early morning prayers at her mosque just weeks ago, someone established a LaunchGood funding site for her family. The initial goal was $20,000 was outpaced by the outpouring of support raising nearly $300,000 within 24 hours.
The power of heightened awareness coupled with increased rewards during the month of Ramadan becomes a great opportunity for the nonprofit organization or the lay person to align causes that are dear to a donor’s heart during the month of Ramadan. This is an opportunity for Muslim and non-Muslim charities to pay closer attention.
Alignment of your organization's case for support with a donor’s motivations is critical for our success. Central to a Muslim donor is an organization's understanding of zakat and sadaqah and the opportunities that Ramadan represents for the development calendar.
I wish the blessings of Eid to all of you – Eid Mubarak!
By Dr. Shariq SiddiquiDr. Shariq Siddiqui is the Executive Director of (ARNOVA), Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action. ARNOVA is a leading international association that connects scholars, teachers, and practice leaders in research on nonprofit organizations, voluntary action, philanthropy and civil society. Siddiqui will also be joining the School as a Visiting Assistant Professor and Director of the Muslim Philanthropy Initiative, a joint initiative of Lake Institute on Faith & Giving and the Dean’s Office. Siddiqui serves as the co-editor of the new Journal on Muslim Philanthropy and Civil Society. Siddiqui also serves as the editor of the Muslim Philanthropy and Civil Society Book Series published by Indiana University Press. Siddiqui has served as a nonprofit practitioner for over twenty years for international, national, regional and local nonprofit organizations.