Where Do I Spend My Zakat?

by Dr Muna Abusulayman

The past year has been extremely challenging watching and reading about the death and destruction in many parts of the Arab and Muslim World.   As the cracks of an alleged American/European led World order imposed on much of the non-Western world became bigger the fires of poverty, extremism, and terrorism were unleashed on our societies.

We stood by watching people who claim to be Muslims, and those who see us as enemies, kill our brothers and sisters, maim them, injure them, chase them out of their homes, and humiliate them.  So many images, and videos circulated that burnt our eyes and our hearts.  One particular video that made me cry, was a young Rohyinga boy who was captured and put in an open air jail cell resembling a box. You could tell he was afraid, you could tell he felt hopeless, and then he started reciting the Quran in the most beautiful Arabic, and your heart just stops.  His helplessness disappears but it transfers to you.

 Donations poured in from everywhere, but what was shocking was that it was not enough. It was no where near enough to help rebuild infrastructure, to build schools, to operate on the thousands of people injured and maimed.  It was no where near enough to help heal the emotional, and spiritual wounds.

The problem is that it will never be enough, given the vast problems facing the ummah and the Arab world.

This frustrating duality in our Islamic world, of having some of the richest resources, including human resources, and having some of the most severe problems is quite painful.

And given the vast amount of pain and suffering, almost all of the work that was done was humanitarian in nature, trying to stem the flow of blood and death and starvation.  Some work looked at building some infrastructure roads and schools.   Other types of aid looked at creating religious schools.

But there was never a long term comprehensive look at how to change the Muslim World situation which correctly assesses the cause and works to treat them at the stem.  We are mostly focused on treating the symptoms of the problems.

There will always be a need for immediate humanitarian aid, but we must start planning for the next hundred years.  We have to build enough leaders in the next generation in all those developing or under developed countries, we have to mentor them, we have to nourish them, we have to help them achieve their potential.

That is the only hope, to have a plethora of leaders working together to transform their own little piece of land and lead their people into a better life step by step.

What is needed are educational programs that form the building blocks of change for our societies.   It means waiting 20 years for the first fruits of that labour, while we continue putting out the fire, but planning for the long term is the only solution given the complicated problems we face.  Most of our resources have to go into Education.   We have to work strategically and not give our donations haphazardly.

Investments in western educational and internationally competitive programs from Primary school to college are sorely needed.  But merely looking at productivity and employability is not enough. In order to build our societies we need to create college graduates who both possess those western skills, but who also truly understand themselves, their history, where they come from, and most importantly for the Ummah, their faith.

These two parts are equally important, the Yin and Yang of change; complimenting each other in order to create well-balanced Muslim leaders.    A great example of introducing students to both sides of the equation is the International Islamic University of Malaysia.  The curriculum balances out the spiritual, critical, and productive skills needed for individuals to tackle the world with knowledge and understanding.

Those leaders need to be mentored and aided so that they can deliver on the promise of the future.

The only way out of the mess created by tribal alliances, corruption, poor use of raw resources, and extremism and sectarianism is to create a critical mass of leaders who are in touch with the modern world, themselves, and their faith to lead in all sectors of society.

The proper investment in our Youth is the only way out of the ring of fire that is destroying our world.

Where do you put your zakat, your tax deductible donation, or your sadaqa?

In each country we can quickly map out the issues affecting it and look at creating the KG-12 and university curricula that would work on that particular country’s  issues.  Schools would be strategically placed in designated areas, scholarships for the best and brightest would be given out and a pathway to similarly planned colleges would be created.  By focusing on the skills and information needed (from both a western and Islamic perspective) and then also tackling through the curricula the issues affecting the country (Health, ethical, legal, etc.),  we would be creating the ideal environment for change.   Those leaders as they go out in their communities with a full grasp on the issues facing them, the world arena, and their faith, would be the agents of change in their own countries.

Therefore, the first and most important strategic priority to help our Ummah, is create the educational systems that can fix it.   It was through such vision, commitment, and donations that the greatest educational institutions in the world were built.  We can do it.  How much more do we have to lose before we actually do the right thing, the only thing that can get us out of this bloodied mess.