Over the past fortnight people from around the world have donated time, money and goods to the victims of the horrible earthquake in Haiti.

A host of actors and other famous public figures in the United States held a telethon recently to raise money for the victims in Haiti.

One of them was retired boxing champion Muhammad Ali, who released the following statement:

“By any name, charity can bring the people of our planet together. Charity changes lives and saves lives. We call upon all the good people in every corner of the world to help. Please give now. In my life I’ve been called by many names. There are many names for the charity of the people of the earth and one of them is Zakat.”

Here is a video of part of what Ali said through actor Chris Rock:

There is just one problem with Ali’s gesture: it isn’t true.

The population of Haiti is overwhelmingly non-Muslim. Zakat is forbidden to be given to non-Muslims.

One can reference “Reliance of the Traveler: A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law” for confirmation of this. This passage is from Book H “Zakat” on page 274:

h8.24 It is not permissible to give zakat to a non-Muslim

In encouraging others to give to charity to help those in need in Haiti, Ali was doing good work perhaps. But zakat is actually quite different from what we in the West understand charity to be. Most importantly, zakat donations cannot go to non-Muslims. If a Muslim wishes to help the overwhelming majority of the Haitian quake victims, they will have to do so outside of the system of zakat, despite what Ali says.

 

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