As Muslims in the U.S. observe Ramadan, new study explores their religious-based philanthropic views, practices
Muslim Americans gave $1.8 billion in zakat funding to domestic and international causes in 2021, according to a new report released today by the Muslim Philanthropy Initiative at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at IUPUI.
The average Muslim American household donated $2,070 of zakat funds to charity, the study finds. Zakat, the third of five pillars of Islam, is an obligatory act of giving. While there is no prescribed time for zakat or sadaqa, many American Muslims fulfill charitable obligations during Ramadan, when charity is emphasized. This year, Ramadan is being observed April 2 through May 1.
“The Muslim holy month of Ramadan is an important time in the Muslim charitable calendar. It is likely that much of these $1.8 billion are donated or pledged during the month of Ramadan. It is critical that nonprofit organizations and charities find meaningful ways to engage with Muslim-American donors around Ramadan,” said Shariq Siddiqui, assistant professor of philanthropic studies and director of the Muslim Philanthropy Initiative at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.
Muslim American Zakat Giving 2022 finds that, on average, Muslim Americans give zakat through both formal and informal means. When giving zakat to overseas causes they give through international nonprofit and nongovernmental organizations and through informal remittances. When giving in the United States, they give zakat through domestic nonprofit organizations and directly to individuals in need. Some Muslim Americans give zakat through government.
The largest beneficiaries of Muslim American Zakat were international nonprofit organizations, which received 25.3% of all zakat funds, followed by governments, (21.7% of zakat funds) and domestic nonprofits (18.3% of zakat funds). The study’s findings also show that a substantial amount of zakat (14.7%) is still given informally, whether in person, to relatives or to others, and through other remittances (12.7%).
The report also suggests that Muslims consider philanthropy to consist of a wide range of acts in addition to cash or in-kind donations. They include acts such as smiling, doing something from good intentions, helping relatives, encouraging right actions, furthering good causes, abstaining from harmful acts and advocating for the oppressed. This expanded understanding of philanthropy is seen by many Muslims as essential to their social and civic participation and comes directly from Prophetic tradition (the sunnah, or exemplary sayings and doings of the Prophet Muhammad), where he describes various ways of doing charity, or sadaqa.
The survey of 2,010 Muslims and non-Muslims in the U.S. asked about faith customs, donation practices and attitudes, volunteer work, remittances, tolerance, and diversity. The report was funded by Islamic Relief USA.
Among the survey’s key findings:
• Muslims gave an estimated $1.8 billion dollars in zakat in 2021.
• Muslims are significantly more likely to consider zakat as an act of philanthropy or charity than as a tax.
• Muslims give zakat through internationally focused nonprofit organizations, domestic nonprofits and government (mostly in Muslim-majority countries that collect zakat via state mechanisms).
• Muslims give zakat through informal methods, including directly to individuals and remittances to relatives abroad.
• Muslims have an expansive concept of philanthropy beyond giving money. In fact, they are significantly more likely to consider non-monetary acts like smiling, helping relatives, and other informal small actions as part of their philanthropic practices.
“Zakat funds help provide lifesaving and life-enhancing aid to populations in need around the world. Last year, approximately $1.8 billion were donated toward this cause, and the average Muslim contributed $2,070. Those figures just underscore the strong sense of generosity and altruism of the Muslim-American community; the Muslim Philanthropy Initiative report showcases these findings. Their charitable giving has enabled Islamic Relief USA to provide assistance to the poor, those who have faced disasters and in providing food and clean water in underserved areas, among other projects. Ramadan is the most common time for Muslims to give zakat, and we expect this year to be another year of generosity from our community,” said Sharif Aly, CEO of Islamic Relief USA.
About the Muslim Philanthropy Initiative
The Muslim Philanthropy Initiative at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at IUPUI focuses on understanding and helping further enhance contemporary and traditional aspects of Muslim philanthropy in all its facets. A project of the Dean and Lake Institute on Faith & Giving, it convenes scholars and philanthropy professionals to explore issues and research in the field, hosts symposiums and seminars, and provides education and training. By seeking to further research in this under-studied area, helping to develop thought leadership and inform conversations, and training philanthropic and nonprofit leaders within Muslim philanthropy, the initiative helps build capacity in the Muslim philanthropy sector while adding to the body of knowledge about the rich tradition and practice of philanthropy in Islam.
About the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy
The Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at IUPUI is dedicated to improving philanthropy to improve the world by training and empowering students and professionals to be innovators and leaders who create positive and lasting change. The school offers a comprehensive approach to philanthropy through its undergraduate, graduate, certificate and professional development programs, its research and international programs and through The Fund Raising School, Lake Institute on Faith & Giving, the Mays Family Institute on Diverse Philanthropy and the Women’s Philanthropy Institute. Follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Instagram and “Like” us on Facebook.
About Islamic Relief USA
Islamic Relief USA, based in Alexandria, Va., is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) humanitarian organization. Its mission is to provide relief and development in a dignified manner regardless of gender, race, or religion, and works to empower individuals in their communities and give them a voice in the world. Its programs benefit millions of people each year in more than 40 countries around the world, including in the United States. Islamic Relief USA meets all of the Standards for Charity Accountability of the BBB Wise Giving Alliance, a national charity monitoring group affiliated with the Better Business Bureau system. Islamic Relief USA is on the U.S. government’s Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) charity list, and it is also a signatory to the code of conduct of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.