A record number of Muslims are seeking financial support, caused by the rising cost of living coupled with the effect of the pandemic, according to an Islamic charity.
The National Zakat Foundation (NZF) has seen applications to its hardship fund soar by 90 per cent over the past year. The cash grants, which are assessed in terms of need and family size, often prove a lifeline for those struggling to meet the cost of basic requirements such as food, clothes and heating.
The news comes days after it emerged that half of UK Muslim households are living in poverty, compared with 18 per cent of the wider population. A survey by Islamic Relief revealed that many families will struggle to make ends meet during Ramadan.
As a result, the NZF has issued a timely appeal calling on British Muslims to give their zakat – an obligatory religious levy — to support others “dealing with unprecedented levels of hardship”.
Zakat, one of the five pillars of Islam, ultimately aims to increase faith and devotion to Allah. It also acts as a social safety net for those in need and to help Muslims and Islam thrive, according to the NZF website.
Adult Muslims who have a certain amount of wealth are required to give a 2.5 per cent of it to other Muslims in need each year. The NZF is an online platform which receives zakat and then distributes it to thousands of Muslims in need across the UK.
“By giving zakat, Muslims cleanse their own wealth. Zakat helps to keep the economy flowing by freeing people from burden and giving them the chance to reach their potential,” the website says.
Zakat becomes due at a different time for everyone – depending on when their income reaches a certain level. Yet typically many people pay during Ramadan, according to Dr Sohail Hanif, chief executive of the NZF.
“This is the season when most Muslims give zakat,” he told the Religion Media Centre. “Ramadan is a particularly blessed month and people feel there’s a spiritual reward and more value to giving in this month.”
The number of people accessing the charity’s hardship fund has almost doubled since October, according to Dr Hanif, with that level looking likely to rise further.
“We are seeing a very steep rise in people asking for help and given the situation in this country – with the pandemic, the cost-of-living crisis and the war in Ukraine – we are expecting it to go up even more.”
In the past year, the NZF distributed about £5m and helped 12,000 people. Dr Hanif said cash payments were a set amount, depending on need and family size and were met after an application and assessment.
“We strongly feel that the purpose of zakat is about giving people dignity and a sense of belonging through the faith community and the best way to achieve this is to allow them to choose how they want to spend it,” he added.
A 2020 report by Muslim Census revealed that members of Britain’s Muslim community had fallen into poverty at a rate 10 times higher than the national average during the pandemic. Meanwhile, job losses in that period were found to be six times greater than the wider population.
The NZF also offers a housing fund that covers rent deposits, rent arrears, council tax and the cost of basic furniture. In addition, users can benefit from its work fund and an education fund.
While other organisations focus on distributing zakat overseas, the NZF works exclusively to support those in Britain. “Even though zakat is one of the central pillars of Islam I think it’s less understood why it’s there and how it works,” Dr Hanif said.
“According to tradition, zakat is ideally spent in the place where you live. Muslim communities overseas have traditionally seemed to be in more immediate hardship than those in the UK, and, of course, many immigrant families will still have longstanding ties abroad.”
But with poverty levels skyrocketing, the NZF aims to stick to that definition. “Zakat is more than just charitable giving. It’s a payment from Muslim to Muslim so it’s developing a community of faith. It’s time to really nurture a bond of belonging within a faith community,” Dr Hanif added.
“At the moment the work that we do is nationwide and it’s bringing awareness that we owe a duty of care to this nation.”