As the Muslim world experiences another Ramadan amid pandemic conditions, the need for the relief that zakat can provide persists.
While the UAE has tackled Covid-19 with mass vaccination drives, the crisis has delivered hardship for people enduring job losses or wage cuts.
Zakat – one of the five pillars of Islam – requires Muslims above a certain financial threshold to donate 2.5 per cent of their wealth. And this can be channelled at home or abroad, including helping people struggling to cover rent or medical, education and food bills.
In Arabic, zakat means to purify or to cleanse, explains Nasif Kayed, Emirati founder of The Arab Culturalist, a consultancy fostering better understanding of Arabic and Muslim culture for improved societal integration and conducting business in the region.
“Zakat’s purpose is to create financial balance in society by giving from our wealth and blessings to those who are less fortunate and in need of basic support,” Mr Kayed says.
“It creates accountabilities for all of us to care for one another and help eradicate poverty, no matter where it exists.”
Zakat is paid to eight specific categories of “needy in our society”, according to Mr Kayed, starting with the destitute and including those in “severe debt”.
“It does not include close relations like parents, grandparents, immediate family, spouse and kids … this is already an obligation to you personally.”
UAE-based Muslims have several potential destinations for contributions, and while the process can be as simple as paying at a booth inside a mall, you can donate remotely to official charities.
Among the most familiar zakat recipients, Emirates Red Crescent supports several causes, from orphans and Yemen relief to providing iftar meals and building mosques.
Its website hosts a list of bank accounts, so contributors can channel where their money goes.
The Emirates Charity portal allows general donations or to choose from a catalogue where payments can be made to its registered causes; projects range from wells and clinics overseas to providing schools and orphanages.
Dubai Cares is one of the city’s largest registered charities and, as such, enables donations through several routes, including online, banks, shops and by phone.
Funds fuel its work providing children and young people in developing countries access to quality education, including Vietnam school libraries and Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. Dubai Cares’ website details easy-to-follow donation methods.
Dar Al Ber Society is a leading UAE charity. Its Ramadan campaign includes serving thousands of free meals daily and supplying needy people with food and clothing.
Payments can be made via its official website, as well as SMS, money transfer, smart app, a donation hotline and at customer service centres in Ras Al Khaimah, Dubai and Ajman. Its development, humanitarian and charitable projects include endowments, fruit trees and mosquito nets.
Contributions to Beit Al Khair Society aid UAE people who need it most with everything from foodstuff to assisting 13,000 low-income students with education. The organisation website lists donation methods, also possible by SMS, bank transfer or calling 800 22554.
Those seeking to boost Noor Dubai Foundation's work combating preventable blindness globally can choose from various payment types on the group's online donation page, such as bank transfer, cheque, telephone or SMS. People can also simply give Dh50 to support mobile eye camps by texting "Noor" to 4565 (Etisalat) or 4849 (du).
The Zakat Fund – also focused on those in need within the Emirates – is again collaborating with Abu Dhabi University for the Our Youth – Our Responsibility – Our Zakat – Our Immunity initiative.
In its 11th year, the initiative supports local and expatriate students by reducing the financial burden of education, has raised more than Dh68 million and extended aid to 3,130 students. This year, it hopes to assist 500 deserving students who are eligible Zakat recipients.
Donors can give directly to The Zakat Fund’s Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank account or ADU, using the initiative name, or send an SMS.
The General Authority of Islamic Affairs & Endowments, which offers religious guidance in the UAE, has an e-donation service on its website accepting debit/credit card or e-dirham. Projects include furnishing mosques and printing the Holy Quran.
One of the highest-profile holy month campaigns is the 100 Million Meals drive, launched by Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives at the start of Ramadan.
Citizens and residents can donate from Dh10 to fund food parcels through Etisalat and du designated numbers – or larger donations via the campaign's call centre on 800 4999.
Several companies and organisations have already given huge sums – 78 per cent of the target amount was collected in the first week, enabling 78 million meals to be distributed to refugees, widows, orphans and poor families in 20 African, Asian and Middle East countries.
Muslims around the world are estimated to give almost $76 billion in zakat a year, and those living in the Emirates are reportedly among the most generous.
The United Nation’s Refugee Zakat Fund, which assists displaced people, recently confirmed that UAE individuals sent the fund more online contributions than any other country last year – 3,406 donations amounting to almost $3 million out of a total of $61.5m, ranking the UAE above Saudi Arabia, the US, Kuwait and Qatar in terms of donor numbers.
All Muslims who meet the “nisab” – a minimum amount of wealth held for a year, including savings and gold – are required to pay zakat.
Mr Kayed confirms the process follows specific guidelines.
“The criteria are evaluated by every individual once a year and include first reviewing basic needs are met for yourself and anyone you are financially responsible for,” he says.
If savings and gold are assessed to be over a certain amount, “this would fall into the category of ‘excess wealth’ and would require payment of 2.5 per cent to the less fortunate”.
A Muslim since she was 18, Mathilde Loujayne, now 37, enjoys giving.
She was born in France and grew up in Oman where she embraced Islam before attending university.
A UAE resident since 2002, she's the author of Big Little Steps, inspired by her journey, and says charity should be "done discreetly".
“When no one knows that you’ve donated your hard-earned money to a relief fund, you can be sure that your intention is pure,” says the mother of two.
“I like to give zakat all year around, including Ramadan when the rewards are higher, as we are encouraged to do more good deeds during the holy month.”
Who Ms Loujayne gives to depends on “many factors”.
“I could be donating to poor people I know personally, or through friends and relatives – or if I travel to a poor country, I like to donate in person,” she says.
“I was a student when I became Muslim, so didn’t hand over money until I was in my early 20s.
“I felt an immense sense of pride and accomplishment to be able to help those in need … there’s no better feeling than the gift of giving.”
Mr Nasif says zakat destination choice depends upon whether the person or organisation being helped is among the specific categories, as zakat is given “in a very structured way to meet the obligation as one of the five acts of worship”.
“On the other hand, Muslims are free to give to charity as they wish, to whom they wish,” he adds.
Although not an official zakat charity, as executive director of Operation Smile UAE, Morag Cromey-Hawke knows the good that Ramadan’s spirit of generosity can do for young lives.
The organisation is currently celebrating 10 years of helping children suffering with a cleft palate or lip. Just Dh880 provides them with corrective surgery and transforms their lives.
“We do not directly benefit from zakat funding … although some people have donated directly to Operation Smile as their zakat contribution,” says Ms Cromey-Hawke.
“Financial donations occur throughout the year, but Ramadan is a special time for people to reflect and consider how they can help others in need.
“This year, we have a backlog of patients due to the pandemic. We hope people will be generous during Ramadan so we can do as many surgeries as possible once it is safe to resume medical missions.”
These include UAE procedures planned for June, alongside territories such as Malawi, Ethiopia and Egypt.
Depending on where donors choose to direct zakat, they are advised to check the official UAE government portal list of registered charitable organisations to ensure their money supports a licensed charity with a permit number.
While zakat can be paid any time, most Muslims understandably donate during the holy month, including Zakat Al Fitr, typically collected in the final days of Ramadan and distributed during Eid Al Fitr.
“Many Muslims tend to pay zakat in Ramadan, as it is a month in which the Almighty promised to multiply good deeds many folds,” Mr Kayed adds. “Although you can still choose to pay at any time of the year, as you see fit.”
He adds: "Most importantly, it's a yearly obligation calculated in a precise matter, without delays or deviation."