When values collide
By Christian Piatt
If you’ve never taken the time to spend some time reflecting on the five pillars of Islam, it’s worth the effort, regardless of your religious affiliation. One particular pillar that stands out to me is Zakat, which is described as alms-giving.
All Muslims are required to donate a portion of their income to charity, both as a spiritual discipline and as a means of offering welfare for those who are less fortunate. Whereas is the Christian faith, we are encouraged to give sacrificially, Muslims see this practice of Zakat as inextricable from their foundational religious identity.
With the rampant concern about religiously-fueled terrorism in the United States since September 11, 2001, many efforts have been made by our government to cut off funding for terror cells at the source. As such, many Muslim charitable organizations are closely tracked by the FBI and CIA, and some are even “blacklisted” as untouchable.
To some degree, this is understandable. After all, if there’s money flowing from our own country into the coffers on those intent on destroying us, it makes sense to try and do something about it.
But it’s not that simple.
Some Muslim groups have asked the U.S. government to create a “white list” of approved organizations so that they can inform their community where it is safe to practice Zakat. However, government officials have declined to do so, suggesting that creating such a list would only make those charities an obvious target for terrorists to infiltrate and corrupt, once they are perceived as safe.
Some suggest this is easily remedied by giving to organizations that aren’t explicitly affiliated with Islam. However, this ignores one of the two-fold purposes of Zakat: to help those in need within the Muslim community in particular.
It seems, then, that we have two American values meeting at an impasse. Though we seek to preserve our safety and way of life, we also celebrate the value of religious freedom. So what is to be done when the premium of real, or perceived, safety infringes on such liberties?
It was Thomas Jefferson who said, “though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will, to be rightful, must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal laws must protect, and to violate which would be oppression.” In this case, it seems the “will of the majority” is treading dangerously close to oppression.
Simply because the Muslims in America are a relatively small, silent – and these days, rightfully fearful – minority does not mean we can ignore the compromises to religious freedom our national security interests impose.
Originally printed in the August issue of PULP.