U.S. president Barack Hussein Obama seems to think so — or, given his background, is at least banking that others do — based on his recent proclamation to the Muslim world that “in the United States, rules on charitable giving have made it harder for Muslims to fulfill their religious obligation. That is why I am committed to working with American Muslims to ensure that they can fulfill zakat.”
Thus does Obama conflate a decidedly Islamic concept, zakat, with the generic notion of charity. Is this justified? As with all things Islamic, one must first examine the legal aspects of zakat to truly appreciate its purport. Etymologically related to the notion of “purity,” zakat — paying a portion of one’s wealth to specifically designated recipients — is a way of purifying oneself, on par with prayers (see Koran 9:103).
The problem, however, has to do with who is eligible for this mandatory “charity.” Most schools of Muslim jurisprudence are agreed to eight possible categories of recipients — one of these being those fighting “in the path of Allah,” that is, jihadis, also known as “terrorists.”
In fact, financially supporting jihadis is a recognized form of jihad — jihad al-mal; even the vast majority of militant verses in the Koran (e.g., 9:20, 9:41, 49:15, 61:10-11) prioritize the need to fund the jihad over merely fighting in it, as fighting with one’s wealth often precedes fighting with one’s self. Well-known Islamists — from international jihadi Osama bin Laden to authoritative cleric Sheikh Qaradawi — are well aware of this and regularly exhort Muslims to fund the jihad via zakat.
More revealing of the peculiarly Islamic nature of zakat is the fact that Muslims are actually forbidden from bestowing this “charity” onto non-Muslims (e.g., the vast majority of American infidels). “Charitable” Muslim organizations operating on American soil are therefore no mere equivalents to, say, the Salvation Army, a Christian charity organization whose “ministry extends to all, regardless of ages, sex, color, or creed.” In Islam, creed is a major criterion for receiving “charity” — not to mention for receiving social equality.
From here, one can better understand Obama’s lament that “in the United States, rules on charitable giving have made it harder for Muslims to fulfill their religious obligation” — a statement that unwittingly implies that American zakat has, in fact, been used to fund the jihad. After all, these irksome “rules” to which Obama alludes appear to be a reference to the presumably “excessive” scrutiny American Muslim “charities” are subject to by law enforcement. Yet this scrutiny is itself a direct byproduct of the fact that American Muslim “charities” have indeed been funding the jihad, both at home and abroad.
In light of all this, what truly remains to be seen is how, precisely, Obama plans on “working with American Muslims to ensure that they can fulfill zakat.”