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?
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.”