Rethinking Charity with Imam Khalid Latif

By Hasan Gilani

Imam Khalid Latif of the Islamic Center at NYU recently spoke at the Rad Talks conference about the need to rethink charity. A woman fled from an abusive relationship and sought help from Imam Khalid. When he handed her several thousand dollars in charity, she handed it back to him. Having never lived on her own, she said she didn’t know what to do with the money. She asked him to help her figure out the best way to use the money.

Listen to Imam Khalid Latif tell the whole story here:

Imam Khalid is developing a different way of approaching charity. Instead of simply giving money to the needy, he plans to guide them on how to best utilize the charity so they can stand on their own two feet. Part of that strategy is helping them to secure a job. Employment is key to being self-sufficient, but finding a job is nearly impossible without education and experience, two things many needy people lack.

For example, consider the woman from overseas who marries a man living in the U.S. She was expecting a relationship of compassion and love, but when she leaves her family to live with her husband in a land strange to her, she suddenly finds herself in an abusive relationship. If she leaves him, how will she be able to find a job,if she doesn’t speak English? This is an example of an educational need that could be funded through charitable donations.

But even if she spoke English, if she has never been employed, she will be hard pressed to find a job with nothing on her resume. Does she know how to use a cash register? Does she know how to type? Is she a trustworthy employee? Does she have references? This is a problem you can’t throw simply money at to solve. Step-by-step guidance is needed.

So in tandem with Imam Khalid Latif’s approach to charity, another initiative is needed — a way to guarantee jobs for the those in need once their educational needs are met. Our community is full of business owners. Why not ask them to provide guaranteed jobs as a form of charity? By working for their money, those in need gain skills and experience that can lead to a proper career, thereby helping them become self-sufficient contributors to society.

Minimum wage in the U.S. is currently $7.25 per hour. If a business owner agrees to give a needy person a job for six months, that’s a donation of about $7,540. But let’s not forget the recipient will be doing work for the donor, making it a mutually beneficial deal. The needy person could learn important skills on the job like how to work a cash register, how to stock shelves, how to file paperwork, how to paint or how to drive a truck. These are skills they wouldn’t be able to learn otherwise, leaving them with little alternative to begging. Armed with a resume, they could go on to find work elsewhere after the six months are up, or even sooner.

We all know the saying, “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.” Are we really applying this wisdom in our charity work? Dedicated local organizations could act as a liaison between employers and the needy. They could ask business owners for “donations” in the form of jobs and then put the right person in need in the right job.

Some may object to the idea by arguing that businesses are meant to make a profit, not provide for the needy. I would argue Islam teaches otherwise. In Islamic law, zakat is taken not just from individuals but businesses as well. Although giving jobs to the needy doesn’t qualify as zakat, the sentiment is the same: Helping the poor and destitute.

Simply handing out money is not enough. We need to help the needy stand on their own two feet.

Hasan Gilani is the founder of Rad Talks, a conference for sharing bright ideas about Islam & Muslims ( http://radtalks.com ). You can connect with him and Rad Talks on YouTube ( http://www.youtube.com/radtalksconference ), Facebook ( http://www.facebook.com/radtalks), and Twitter ( http://twitter.com/radtalks ).

  • Y. A. Warren

    The imam is a wise person, as are you.

    “Why not ask them to provide guaranteed jobs as a form of charity? By working for their money, those in need gain skills and experience that can lead to a proper career, thereby helping them become self-sufficient contributors to society.”

    I am from a Judeo-Christian background. I worked for many years as a manager in food service in Atlanta. I worked closely with a “Christian” agency that facilitated exactly what you are describing. The agency would teach their clients “soft” skills (showing up on time, proper attire for the workplace, how to fill out applications and respond to interview questions); I would agree to pay them at least minimum wage while I trained them.

    Success in the world is not only about what one knows, but also about the network mentoring, mediating and vouching for another. The agency also acted as mediator between me and employees when we had issues with each other. I cannot say enough good about this STEP program and the man, Fred, with whom I interacted.

    “Although giving jobs to the needy doesn’t qualify as zakat, the sentiment is the same…”

    I would like us to stop looking at sharing our resources as charity and look at empowering people as justice work. If each person paid their employees the amount it takes to support one’s family in the area in which the person lives (in most cities, it is around $15/hr), we would be creating a truly just economy and earth, one employee at a time.


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