Charitable organizations are such organizations that foster charitable activities in an organized and voluntary way, with ethical and non-profit motives. These are the features and characteristics that distinguish charitable organizations from governmental institutions of social solidarity and other society-service organizations.
Services provided by charitable organizations aim at the general welfare of humanity. They provide help for the poor and the needy, healthcare for the sick, condolences for the aged, housing for the indigents, schools for the students of knowledge, and workshops for unemployed persons to work at or dedicate endowments to encourage scholars and scientific discoveries. These activities, in addition to the role of the governments, are indispensable in civilized societies to face the necessary needs of the society and its development.
This introduction is necessary to understand the role of charitable organizations in general. As for charitable organizations in Islam, they are inseparable parts of the Muslim community because they are deeply rooted in its heritage, values and principles. Thus, charitable institutions are indispensable due to the reasons discussed herewith.
The Value of Charities
Muslims are committed individually and collectively by an explicit Qur’anic text to give part of their wealth in charity every year. This wealth may be in the form of trade, agriculture, animals, or metals. Almighty Allah says: “And those in whose wealth there is a known right, for the beggar who asks and for the unlucky who has lost his property and wealth.” (Al-Ma’arij70:24-25) As such, charitable giving is a duty, rather than just a voluntary act.
Zakah is the third pillar of Islam, after the testimony of the Oneness of Allah and the performance of Prayer. This is the first thing that those who question the role of these organizations have to understand. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and his Companions applied this by establishing endowments for the benefit of the needy and wayfarers. Malik (may Allah have mercy with him) said: “These are their endowments (indicating to their endowments in Medina.)”
Muslims have followed their example throughout history. There have been a variety of endowments thereafter; and with their funds great universities and hospitals were established to take care of orphans, widows and the destitute. This is well-documented in Islamic history and Europeans knew of endowments through their contact with Muslims in the Middle Ages. Such a provision for the needy in Islam has created a relationship of solidarity between the rich and poor classes of society. This has historically driven away the ghost of revolution, which continues to plague other societies that fail to give due attention to charitable activities.
Charitable deeds have deep roots in the Islamic history and have been an element of stability and equilibrium in Islamic society. As charitable organizations work in full transparency and deal with the public, they can never deviate from their course; just as good cannot turn to evil. Such trustworthy organizations add value to a stable society.
Charitable organizations in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, as well as in other countries, have undertaken promising services for the benefit of Muslims and non-Muslims. These services include curing the sick, teaching the ignorant, arranging workshops for the unemployed and cooperating with Western charitable organizations that attest to their success in the field of humanitarian work in Bosnia, Afghanistan, and Africa.
It is worth mentioning here that such humanitarian services are still unfortunately subject to suspicion on the basis of racial prejudice. Arguably if an individual in society goes astray, it is that individual who should be held responsible for their actions. However, in the current climate, all Islamic organizations (charitable included), and indeed the whole Muslim nation or Islam itself, is being held responsible for the acts of the few. This ‘quick to generalize’ attitude cannot be anything but unjust, because it is not based on accurate information. It is just a form of conjecture and surmise that practices the habit of impugning Islam and Muslims, conducted by organizations that have unambiguous and identifiable goals and ends.
The Muslim response to such conjecture should not be to cut back in charitable activities or to shun goodness, but instead we should form charitable institutions of obvious and constructive goals that benefit the society. Initiatives such as Prince Abdullah’s charitable institution for the provision of suitable housing and Prince Sultan’s city for humanitarian services give the practical response to the unjust campaign against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
We must ask, how can Islamic charitable activities be under such scrutiny and accusation from the West whose effective leader, the United States of America, itself brags about its pioneering role in charitable activity? In 1989 charitable institutions grew to over 32,000 institutions with assets of 137 billion dollars. Rockefeller 1902, Karnigy 1906, Ford 1936, and Johnson 1936 are just some of the ancient institutions that engage in different fields of humanitarian activities including education, health care and preaching. The US federal government encourages these global institutions by exempting them from taxes, yet fails to place any basic trust in international Islamic charities.
It cannot be denied that charitable activities and institutions are indispensable. Contrary to any rumors, they provide elements of stability and balance. Moreover, they are a kind of worship and a translation of the message of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) that has come to worship the True God through the true religion and to establish mercy with people. Hence, these institutions should keep working actively in full transparency and unambiguous clarity so as to prove to the whole world the originality of charitable activities in these and other Muslim countries. We must remove ourselves from any doubts and false accusation of terrorism that sham propaganda perpetuates, not only against charitable institutions but also against Islam itself.