Explaining zakat

h11-zakatThe American Civil Liberties Union recently released a report arguing that the fight against terrorism has unduly interfered with Muslims' religious freedom and hampered the work of Muslim charities. The report argues that U.S. statutes against funding of terrorist organizations are too broad and unfairly enforced. This has made it hard for Muslims to fulfill zakat, one of their religious obligations. Zakat is the giving of a small percentage of wealth (roughly 2.5%) as charity. Here's how the New York Times put it:

The report is based on interviews with more than 100 Muslim community leaders as well as experts on antiterrorism laws and regulations. Though it gives no estimate of the decline in donations to Muslim groups, it says a total of nine Islamic charities have closed as a result of government action against them since the Sept. 11 attacks.

That action ranges, it says, from declaring a group to be under investigation to designating it a terrorist organization and freezing its assets.

"While there is a legitimate concern about the use of charitable funds to finance terrorism, it does not outweigh the rights of American Muslims to fulfill their religious obligations or override constitutional requirements for due process," said the author, Jennifer Turner, the A.C.L.U.'s human rights researcher.

The story has some interesting information but it never explains what zakat is, much less why it would be difficult to give it without running afoul of anti-terrorism laws. This seems like such a monumentally important thing to mention. How many readers went through the story and thought about how little they have ever had to worry about their almsgiving going to terrorist organizations? The overall effect of the Times story is as if the reporter took direction from the ACLU. The National Public Radio report, filed by Barbara Bradley Hagerty, does fill in some key details:

[Juan Zarate, a former Treasury Department official who investigated terrorist financing,] says the tension between religious liberties and national security arises because of the way many terrorist organizations work. Groups like Hamas, Hezbollah or Palestinian Islamic Jihad actually do run hospitals and feed orphans and widows.

"They do have these social mechanisms that endear them to the local population, that give them resources," he says. That enables them "to enlist the sons and daughters of those helped to then strap on bombs and suicide belts to carry out the terrorist agenda."

Well there you go. That explains quite a bit. The NPR piece also looks at some of the proposed solutions to the problem as well as their limitations. Both stories could have done more to explain that zakat isn't simply charity but charity directed mostly toward other Muslims.

And both stories could have found room for at least one voice that supports the status quo. National Review Online's Andrew McCarthy is one such vigorous defender:

Yet the inconvenient fact is that numerous Islamic charities have proved to be fronts for terrorist activity, at least in part. These include the Holy Land Foundation (whose top operatives were recently convicted for underwriting Hamas in a prosecution that exposed CAIR as an unindicted co-conspirator) and the al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, one of the world's largest Muslim charities, headquartered in Saudi Arabia (which hosted the president for private talks last week). So material-support statutes have become a sore subject for Muslims because the vast majority of terrorism -- including virtually all anti-American terrorism -- is carried out by Muslims.

In our politically correct, increasingly "progressive" times, of course, there can be equal protection of the laws only if those laws produce equal outcomes for disparate grievance groups. Thus, if our material-support laws are causing a problem for Muslims in particular, it couldn't possibly be that this is due to a peculiar nexus between Islam and terrorism. It must be that our laws themselves are flawed. Evidently, regardless of their vital role in keeping us safe from domestic terror attacks for the last eight years, those laws must now be kneaded into something acceptable to the Islamic activists that DOJ is so determined to 'partner" with.

There's a problem, though. It's not just that we know, based on experience, that zakat often tends to find its way to jihadists. The inconvenient fact is that it is supposed to find its way to jihadists. As explained at the Center for Security Policy's new website, Shariah Finance Watch, under the Islamic legal code, recipients of zakat alms-giving include "those fighting for Allah, meaning people engaged in Islamic military operations for whom no salary has been allotted in the army roster [i.e., 'volunteers for jihad without remuneration']." Such jihadists must be "given enough to suffice them for the operation, even if affluent" -- including "weapons, mounts, clothing, and expenses," as well as support for the families they have left behind.

It's part of a much larger defense of the material support rules and you can read it at your leisure. The point is that neither of the stories found reason to include a dissenting voice in the piece about the ACLU report and I think both stories suffer from that lack of perspective (although it's less of a problem with the NPR piece). It would be nice to include a strong defense of the laws and get civil libertarians and Muslims to react to it. I am sure that the ACLU and the Muslims quoted in these articles would have responses to the claims of those who support the rules. Without this extra layer, it's a rather shallow and one-sided discussion.

Please respect our Commenting Policy