• The role of Zakat in humanitarian assistance

The role of Zakat in humanitarian assistance

21 April 2015

A new report from Development InitiativesGlobal Humanitarian Assistance (GHA) programme explores the purpose, scale and potential of Zakat – one of the main tools of Islamic social financing – for financing humanitarian response.

All of the world’s major religions contain some element of almsgiving, and faith plays a key role in the funding and delivery of development assistance and humanitarian response across the world. According to the report, An Act of Faith: Humanitarian Financing and Zakat, in 2013 faith-based organisations received and delivered between US$420 million and US$434 million in international humanitarian assistance, 15–16% of the total channelled through NGOs.

Islamic countries and those with large Muslim populations are becoming more significant humanitarian actors, as both donors and recipients. Between 2011 and 2013, international humanitarian assistance from governments within the Organization of Islamic Cooperation grew from US$599 million to over US$2.2 billion; this represents a growth in the share of total international humanitarian assistance from governments from 4% to 14%. At the same time, an estimated 75% of people living in the top 10 recipient countries of humanitarian assistance in 2013 were Muslim.

Zakat, the mandatory Muslim practice of giving 2.5% of one’s accumulated wealth for charitable purposes every year, is one of the main tools of Islamic social financing. It is explicitly intended to reduce inequality and is widely used in Muslim countries to fund domestic development and poverty-reduction efforts. There are clear parallels to be drawn between the eight individual categories of eligible recipients of Zakat listed in the Qur’an and people in need of humanitarian assistance.

There is no reliable data currently available to show precisely how much Zakat is paid by Muslims around the world or how it is spent globally. Yet data collected for Indonesia, Malaysia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, which make up 17% of the world’s estimated Muslim population, indicates that in these countries alone at least US$5.7 billion is collected by formal Zakat-management institutions each year.

The global volume of Zakat collected each year through formal mechanisms can be estimated, at the very least, to be in the tens of billions of dollars. Including Zakat thought to be paid through informal mechanisms would lead to a much higher estimate, potentially in the hundreds of billions of dollars.

There are still a number of logistical and ideological questions to be addressed if the potential of Zakat for humanitarian assistance is to be realised; however there is a growing interest among humanitarian and development actors in leveraging greater levels of funding through Zakat and other forms of Islamic social financing. Organisations outside of the traditional Muslim aid agencies are beginning to conduct Zakat-based fundraising drives, such as the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR)’s current Zakat Syria Campaign.


This News article was written by the Global Humanitarian Assistance programme of Development Initiatives