Offer an option to Muslim donors; grow effective giving


In order to offer Muslim donors a way to give their annual religious tithing (zakat) to an EA-aligned intervention, GiveDirectly launched a zakat-compliant fund, delivered as cash to Yemeni families displaced by the civil war. Muslims give ~$600B/​year in Zakat to the global poor, though much of this is given informally or to less-than-effective NGOs.[1]

Through this unconditional cash transfer option, we’re offering Muslims the opportunity to redirect a portion of their giving to a measurably high-impact intervention and introduce more Muslims to EA’s theory of effective giving. We invite readers to share thoughts in the comments and to share the campaign far and wide.

Muslims are the fastest-growing religious group and give annually

As Ahmed Ghoor observed, Muslims make up about 24% of the world population (1.8B people) and Islam is the fastest growing religion. Despite having a robust tradition of charitable giving, little has been done proactively to engage the Muslim community on the ideas of effective altruism. An important step to inclusion is offering this pathway for effectively donating zakat.

Zakat is a sacred pillar of Islam, a large portion of which is given to the needy

For non-Muslim readers: one of the five pillars of Islam, zakat is mandatory giving; Muslims eligible to pay it donate at least 2.5% of their accumulated wealth annually for the benefit of the poor, destitute, and others – classified as mustahik.[2] Some key points:

  1. A major cited aim of Zakat is to provide relief from and ultimately eradicate poverty.[3]

  2. It is generally held that zakat can only be given to other Muslims.[4]

  3. A large portion of zakat is given informally person-to-person or through mosques and Islamic charities.[5]

  4. Zakat is a sacred form of charity; it’s most often given during the holy month of Ramadan.

Direct cash transfers are a neglected zakat option

Zakat giving is estimated at $1.8B in the U.S. alone with $450M going to international NGOs, who mostly use their funds for in-kind support like food, tents, and clothing.[5] Dr. Shahrul Hussain, an Islamic scholar, argues that cash transfers “should be considered a primary method of zakat distribution,” as, according to the Islamic principle of tamlīk (ownership), the recipients of the zakat have total ownership over the money, and it is up to them (not an intermediary third-party organization or charity) how it is spent. He also notes “the immense benefits of unconditional cash transfer in comparison to in-kind transfer.”

This is a simple, transparent means of transferring wealth that empowers the recipients. However, other than informal person-to-person giving, there are limited options to give zakat as 100% unconditional cash.

GiveDirectly now allows zakat to be given as cash to Muslims in extreme poverty

As an opportunity for Muslims to donate zakat directly as cash, GiveDirectly created a zakat-compliant fund to give cash through our program in Yemen. While GiveDirectly is a secular organization, our Yemen program and Zakat policy have been reviewed and certified by Amanah Advisors. In order to achieve this, we’re assured that 100% of donations will be delivered as cash, using non-zakat funds to cover the associated delivery costs.

Donations through our page are tax-deductible in the U.S. and our partners at Giving What We Can created a page allowing donors to give 100% of their gift to GiveDirectly’s zakat-compliant fund, tax-deductible in the Netherlands and the U.K. Taken together, this provides a tax-deductible option for 8.6M Muslims across three countries.

As a secular NGO, GiveDirectly may struggle to gain traction with Muslim donors

GiveDirectly is a credible option for zakat donors: we’ve delivered cash aid to the world’s poorest in 13 countries, including Yemen, Morocco, and Muslim-majority parts of Kenya, Malawi, and Nigeria. Walid Herzallah leads our zakat fundraising efforts, and donations are delivered by Yemeni staff on the ground with our banking partner, Al Kuraimi Islamic Microfinance Bank.

However, GiveDirectly has been cautioned by Muslim-giving experts that we face an uphill battle, especially in our first Ramadan. Some donors simply won’t want to give their zakat through a secular organization. Also, many Muslims primarily learn of zakat options through word-of-mouth (e.g. local mosque), rather than charity recommenders.

We believe we can overcome these obstacles in two ways:

  1. Appealing to younger Muslim givers, not yet habituated to other nonprofits, who will respond to our unique selling points of effectiveness, transparency, and directness.

  2. Suggesting people give a portion of their zakat through GiveDirectly. Donors often split their zakat across multiple causes, which could be a way for us to get a foot-in-the-door.

You can help by sharing this effort widely

As with all new efforts, the biggest obstacle is obscurity. You can help us by sharing this campaign beyond the confines of the largely non-Muslim EA community:[6]

  1. Share on LinkedIn or social media.

  2. Send to Muslim friends & colleagues and wish them a happy Ramadan.[7]

If successful, this campaign will spark more conversations about effective giving among Muslims and grow the number and diversity of engagements with effective altruism. Here’s a recording of our webinar on effective zakat:

More information on GiveDirectly’s Yemen program

The protracted civil war in Yemen is the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with 21 million people estimated to be in need of aid. Since August 2022, GiveDirectly has delivered cash donations to 2,000 families in Yemen. We aim to reach 4,200+ households before the end of this year – learn more.

About the authors

GiveDirectly is an NGO that delivers cash aid to the world’s poorest. In the past decade, they’ve reached over 1.5M people in 13 countries, including Yemen, Morocco, and Nigeria. Their work is research-backed and recommended by the EA community. Their tech platform allows them to transparently and efficiently deliver money directly to the most vulnerable to spend on what they need most.

Muslim Impact Lab is a multidisciplinary research organization dedicated to finding ways of maximizing the positive social impact of their servitude from an Islamic perspective. Their research methodology draws on rigorous evidence, careful reasoning, and different understandings of the Divine intent throughout Islamic intellectual history. The team comprises individuals with diverse academic backgrounds, including religious studies, psychological sciences, and STEM, among others. This diversity allows them to approach their research from multiple angles and ensures that they produce nuanced and impactful recommendations that resonate with a wide range of Muslim audiences.

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    This is based on the dominant position in Sunni understandings of Islam.

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    This is the dominant view, but there is some debate

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    Muslims and non-Muslims are welcome to give through our Zakat fund.

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    Even if you aren’t Muslim, they’ll appreciate you made the effort.