Why Islamic Giving Is So Important to Refugees

Islamic giving is important to refugees because it is rooted in strengthening communities.

Islamic giving is important to refugees because it is rooted in strengthening communities.

Islamic giving is long revered as an integral tradition in our faith. From the time of the Prophet Muhammad, on him be peace, we have had an example of how Islamic giving doesn’t just save a life — it can transform entire communities.

With so many conflicts affecting Muslims, we now see why Islamic giving is emphasized so heavily. Muslims have been subject to some of the largest refugee crises in world history, and these Muslim refugee crises have all been in the past century. Even more specifically, they have all been within the last 75 years. 

The Palestinian refugee crisis is the longest ongoing refugee crisis, having begun in 1947 and resulting in more than 5 million refugees. The Somali refugee crisis has displaced another million people over the past 31 years. About 6.8 million Syrians have been made refugees in the past 11 years — the most of any ongoing refugee crisis.

These populations are certainly not 100% Muslim, but such large portions are that Muslims cannot in good conscience ignore the crises at hand. Displacement should be grounds enough to support them in their time of need.

Beyond that, though, they should be respected and given relief both as Muslims and as human beings. Instead, we have seen them vilified in much of Europe and the United States because of their faith and their countries of origin.

As Ukrainian refugees — most of whom are not Muslim — have been welcomed in several European countries and even in the United States, Muslims around the world have rightfully felt a double standard imposed on them. And this double standard has been put into explicit terms and practice. 

Although the racism was so clear and prevalent in different news outlets that the Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists Association had to put out a statement about fair and accurate reporting, it also affirmed a truth Muslims already knew to be true: people in “the west” do, in fact, care about refugees. Even if they only care about the ones who they feel look like them and who they feel they relate to, they care. And this is a prime example of a time to battle biases and cognitive dissonance as they relate to refugee crises. 

There is a softness many Europeans and U.S. citizens have in their hearts for Ukrainian refugees that they don’t feel when hearing about Palestinian, Syrian, Somali, Afghan, or Rohingya refugees. And that softness is what we must emphasize as we appeal for support outside our own communities.

Likewise, we must not let our hearts harden when it comes to Ukrainian refugees as some sort of retaliation for the treatment our communities have endured.

Islamic giving is important to refugees because it is rooted in strengthening communities. Zakat and sadaqah can be vehicles for both immediate and long-term change. And Islamic giving is not limited only to Muslims, even though there is an understandable desire to prioritize aiding Muslims.

Zakat Foundation of America has faced backlash for supporting Ukrainian refugees, though.

This raised philosophical questions that Zakat Foundation of America responded to in a piece called The Moral Limits of Muslim Charity. The key question at hand: Is it moral for Muslims to deliver humanitarian aid to Ukraine’s refugees and people of other nationalities that Russia’s invasion has displaced into other border countries?

Furthermore: Is it acceptable when the leaders of those host countries have brutally and resolutely barred Muslim refugees from their human right to life-saving hospitality for years only “because” they are Muslim, and even when many of the citizens of these nations — including some Ukrainians — have likewise shown contempt for Muslim refugees and non-European displaced peoples, openly declaring their enmity to Islam?

And the response from Zakat Foundation of America’s leadership is not new. The organization’s executive director covered exactly that topic in his book, 9 Myths About Muslim Charities: Stories from the Zakat Foundation of America

The answer, found in the book, in The Moral Limits of Muslim Charity and its abstract, can be summarized quickly. 

Charity validates one’s faith in Islam. That is the literal meaning of sadaqah, or “truth-affirming” voluntary charity. To be Muslim is to give charity. In this, Muslims seek to mirror God’s love and kindness — “both His Hands are stretched out wide. He dispenses His ever-flowing blessings as He so wills” (Quran 5:64).

And with refugee crises comes the need to give charity. Adults and children alike seeking shelter should be met with it. Hungry people with worn-out clothes should be received with food and clean, quality, comfortable clothes. 

After all, “Can the reward of goodness be any other than goodness?” (Quran 55:60). 

So give aid to Palestinian and Syrian refugees. Give aid to Rohingya refugees. Give aid to Ukrainian refugees. Give aid to refugees without waiting on others to do the same. Help them because they are humans. 

Zakat Foundation of America provides refugee resettlement and support in the United States and abroad. It does not proselytize, nor does it ask anyone’s race or creed as a condition for aid. It supports refugees from Palestine, Syria, Ukraine, Venezuela, Myanmar, and more.

It offers winter relief annually, and it partners with organizations throughout the year like UNICEF USA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), American Near East Refugee Aid (ANERA), and more to expand its support for refugees in different regions.

Refugee assistance through Zakat Foundation of America may also overlap with other programs, providing sustainable livelihoods, health care, education, orphan care, emergency relief, and more.

Zakat Foundation of America does not take any overhead or administrative costs from its orphan care and emergency relief programs — 100% of donations to those programs are used to uplift the vulnerable.