From what American schoolchildren are being taught by their teachers to what Americans are being told by their presidents, concepts unique to Islam are nowadays almost always “Westernized.” Whether the product of naivety, arrogance, or downright disingenuousness, this phenomenon has resulted in epistemic (and thus endemic) failures, crippling Americans from objectively understanding some of Islam’s more troublesome doctrines.
A typical seventh-grade textbook, for instance, teaches that “jihad represents the human struggle to overcome difficulties and do things that are pleasing to God. Muslims strive to respond positively to personal difficulties as well as worldly challenges. For instance, they might work to be better people, reform society, or correct injustice.”
Strictly speaking, this is by and large true. However, by not explaining what it means to be “better people, reform society, or correct injustice” — from a distinctly Islamic, as opposed to Western, perspective — the textbook abandons students to fall back on their own (misleading) interpretations.
Yet the facts remain: In Islam, killing certain “evil-doers,” such as apostates or homosexuals, is a way of “correcting injustice”; overthrowing manmade constitutional orders (such as the United States) and replacing them with Sharia mandates, and subjugating women and non-Muslims, are ways of “reforming society.” Those enforcing all this are, in fact, “better people” — indeed, according to the Koran (3:110), they are “the best of peoples, evolved for mankind, enjoining what is right, forbidding what is wrong,” that is, ruling according to Sharia law.
So it is with the Muslim concept of zakat, a word often rendered into English as “charity.” But is that all zakat is — mere Muslim benevolence by way of feeding and clothing the destitute of the world, as the word “charity” all too often connotes?