“You Can’t Be Human Alone: Philanthropy and Social Giving in Muslim Communities”

by Danielle Widmann Abraham

Chapter Summary

Danielle Widmann Abraham explores Muslim American philanthropy and social giving, including zakat, or the alms tax, the most popular form of Islamic philanthropy. Widmann Abraham shows how Muslim American philanthropy is a “way of making connections and establishing a sense of belonging” in U.S. society. Donating money to various nonprofit organizations is only one form of social giving, she points out. Widmann Abraham describes the Imam-e Zamana Mission, an India-based Shi‘a Muslim organization that seeks charitable contributions to aid educational and development projects around the globe as well as provide space for the celebration of Shi‘a Islamic practices and holidays such as Ashura. Depicting a very different philanthropic organization, she then visits the ILM Foundation in Los Angeles, a grassroots African American Sunni Muslim group known for its organization of “Humanitarian Day,” which focuses on the problems of homeless people. The chapter ends with an examination of Islamic Relief USA, one of the largest nonprofits in Muslim America. Agency staff emphasize the importance of implementing best practices in nonprofit management as a way to meet their religious obligations and to maximize the benefits of their fund-raising and program development.

Discussion Questions

  • Identify the different kinds of Muslim American philanthropy and social giving described by Widmann Abraham.
  • How do philanthropy and social giving create a sense of belonging?
  • Describe the Imam-e Zamana Mission, the ILM Foundation, and Islamic Relief USA.

Group Exercises

  • Watch the video above on Humanitarian Day. Based on your reading of the chapter, would you say there is anything uniquely Islamic about the goals of this project? Why or why not?
  • Examine the websites of Islamic Relief USA and the ILM Foundation . How do these religious institutions describe themselves? What religious values do they cite as their inspiration? Based on their websites, what can you tell about their similarities and differences?
Danielle Widmann Abraham (Th.D., Harvard) is assistant professor and holder of the Livingston Wright Chair in Middle East Studies at Ursinus College. She has also served as co-chair of the Contemporary Islam Group at the American Academy of Religion.