Muslim charitable giving shifted to domestic causes after 9/11

Muslims pray during a special Eid ul-Fitr morning prayer at the Los Angeles Convention Center in Los Angeles, Calif.

Jeremy Hobson: All this week, we're looking at the economic consequences of 9/11. Today we focus on charitable donations.

Charitable giving is one of the 'five pillars of Islam' but a U.S. government crackdown after the 9/11 attacks led the biggest Muslim-American charities to shut down.

And donors have been left scrambling, as Marketplace's Mitchell Hartman reports.

Mitchell Hartman: Before 9/11, most of the charity raised by Muslims in the U.S. went to Muslims abroad -- refugees from Afghanistan, school kids in Gaza.

Then came the U.S. crackdown on charities, which continues to this day. Jennifer Turner of the A.C.L.U. says it's scared many Muslims away from giving 'zakat.' -- that's the religious obligation to donate 2.5 percent of your income to charity.

Jennifer Turner: A large number of people have also shifted their giving, and no longer give to humanitarian relief organizations or Muslim charities, but instead are giving to the building of mosques locally, or to local soup kitchens or shelters.

Some Muslim immigrants still send 'zakat' directly to poor family members, schools or orphanages back home. But overall, much less money is flowing abroad. And that has an upside for domestic charities like the Inner-City Muslim Action Network on Chicago's South Side, which hosts evening discussions about Islam.

IMAN class: Does anyone know the name of the brother in the hadith, he comes to the prophet...

Rami Nashashibi founded the group, which has grown in the post-9/11 charitable vacuum. The budget's up from $200,000 to $2 million. They run a free medical clinic, arts and anti-violence programs.

Rami Nashashibi: 9/11 led to an increase in funding from individual donors, who felt like this is really an important part of our work that quite frankly we were neglecting.

Another fundraising winner is civil rights groups that fight discrimination against Muslims. Nihad Awad says his group, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, has expanded from eight offices to 30. With so much money staying in the U.S., he says American Islam is getting a makeover.

Nihad Awad: Mosques that used to be built with maybe $500,000 now are being built with $5 million.

And Awad says don't be surprised to see lots of cash in the collection box.

Awad: In some functions people do not give credit card information or don't give checks. They just safely give cash.

That's to keep your charity humble before god, and invisible to U.S. government investigators.

I'm Mitchell Hartman for Marketplace.

About the author

Mitchell Hartman is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Entrepreneurship Desk and also covers employment.
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Just a note about Christian tithing and its demands. There are varying views. And while it is generally thought that giving is an important practice for people at all levels of income because it cultivates a spirit of generosity, tithing is not a "requirement." Additionally, many Christian traditions express beliefs that impoverished persons should not be asked or expected to make contributions to a community of faith. They need every bit of their income to subsist. In those cases, it is incumbent on those in the church or community who are able to give more than the 10% tithe, to do so; to give on behalf of those who cannot; and to give to those who are impoverished.

I'm glad to see that Irfan pointed out this error.

This is an important distinction because giving based on accumulated wealth has a redistributive effect, in contrast to Christian tithing’s demand that even the most impoverished should give the same percentage of income as the wealthiest.

I’m encouraged to hear that Muslims are finding domestic channels for zakat, but in a world where the security threat is exacerbated by the perception of a wealthy and uncaring United States, we all ought to reconsider whether the benefit is worth the cost and seek to avoid preventing anyone from giving wherever they feel God’s call.

International disparities in wealth are a key driver of all sorts of radicalization, so we ought to be thinking through the long-term consequences of our actions.

In the story it mentions that zakat is 2.5% of INCOME. This is not correct. Zakat is 2.5% of "total ASSETS that are in excess of one's use and is above a certain thresohld (think standard deduction in tax lingo)".

So for example there is no zakat on the equity in a house that someone owns and also lives in. But there is zakat on the equity of a rental property, business property (exceeding the minimum threshld). Same applies to all other assets, including excess cash sitting in bank accounts.

The asset vs income criteria is a fundamental difference between the practice of Tithe and Zakat.

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