Zakat’s role in funding terrorism

From the BBC:

Saudi Arabia is the chief foreign promoter of Islamist extremism in the UK, a new report has claimed.

The Henry Jackson Society said there was a “clear and growing link” between Islamist organisations in receipt of overseas funds, hate preachers and Jihadist groups promoting violence.

Wednesday’s report says a number of Gulf nations, as well as Iran, are providing financial support to mosques and Islamic educational institutions which have played host to extremist preachers and been linked to the spread of extremist material.

At the top of the list, the report claims, is Saudi Arabia. It alleges individuals and foundations have been heavily involved in exporting what it calls “an illiberal, bigoted Wahhabi ideology”, quoting a number of examples.

When most people read a report like this, they assume that thousands of Saudis are intentionally handing over money to extremist and jihadist groups in the hope they will use it to promote or practice violence. Undoubtedly this will be true for some individuals and no doubt some organisations too, but these reports overlook a crucial point that I have only seen mentioned once.

That point was made in Steve Coll’s excellent and highly recommended Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan and Bin Laden (emphasis mine):

The money flowing from the kingdom arrived at the Afghan frontier in all shapes and sizes: gold jewelry dropped on offering plates my merchants’ wives in Jeddah mosques; bags of cash delivered by businessmen to Riyadh charities as zakat, an annual Islamic tithe;

Operating in self-imposed isolation, major Saudi Arabian charities and such organizations as the Saudi Red Crescent, the World Muslim League, the Kuwaiti Red Crescent, and the International Islamic Relief Organisation set up their own offices in Peshwar. Funded in ever-rising amounts by Saudi Intelligence and zakat contributions from mosques and wealthy individuals, they, too, built hospitals, schools, clinics, feeding stations, and battlefield medical services.

Wikipedia describes zakat as follows:

As one of the Five Pillars of Islam, zakat is a religious obligation for all Muslims who meet the necessary criteria of wealth.

Zakat is based on income and the value of all of one’s possessions. It is customarily 2.5% (or 1/40th) of a Muslim’s total savings and wealth above a minimum amount known as nisab. The collected amount is paid first to zakat collectors, and then to poor Muslims, to new converts to Islam, to Islamic clergy, and others.

Basically, in any wealthy Muslim country there is an awful lot of zakat money floating about, handed over by individuals as a matter of duty rather than choice. Inevitably, a portion of this cash will be purloined by people who will use it to further their own nefarious agendas. We see the same thing happening in governments: individuals are forced to hand over taxes ostensibly to pay for police, schools, and the army but the money gets hijacked and ends up going on diversity coordinators, lame arts projects, and the housing of child refugees with full beards and impressive combat records.

If you flood a place with money from a source which doesn’t get to say how it’s spent, you’ll lose control of it. If you lose control, some of it will get spent in ways you don’t like. I suspect a lot of this Saudi funding of terrorism is simply zakat money handed over to a charity in all innocence, and then dispersed by people who have made quite an art of diverting funds to extremist groups under the cover of legitimate, peaceful activities. That’s not to say there is no blatant funding of extremists going on in Saudi, but if you really want to tackle the issue you’ll have to either remove the obligation to pay zakat or ensure it is only distributed to groups which have been subject to thorough due diligence such that every Riyal can be accounted for.

Good luck with that.

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9 thoughts on “Zakat’s role in funding terrorism

  1. When I was a wee laddy putting money into the collection bag at church I vaguely assumed that it was for supporting (i) the Church, (ii) the poor, starving people in China, and (iii) the heirs of Doctor Livingstone, busy Doing Good on the Dark Continent.

    I’m pretty confident even now that it wasn’t used for killing people.

  2. I’m pretty confident even now that it wasn’t used for killing people.

    If the amount collected had run into the millions it probably would have, eventually.

  3. This Saudi influence has been public knowledge for decades, but forbidden public knowledge as organisations such as the BBC smothered it or denounced anyone who mentioned it.

    Still, good of the BBC to finally catch up.

  4. One of those “pillars of Islam” is a pilgrimage to Mecca. Am I the only one who thinks that Saudi-funded preachers are obliged to emphasise its importance? That’s a lot of tourism that Saudi Arabia wouldn’t be getting otherwise.

  5. The current spat among the Gulf states looks like a false flag to me. Demand to shut down Al Jazeera because it is not 100% supportive of medieval theocracy, only 95% supportive, etc.

  6. Sounds a little like Western foreign aid ending up in Switzerland.

    Exactly. For all those saying the Saudis should clean house, how much of the west’s foreign aid money goes on propping up despots?

  7. Am I the only one who thinks that Saudi-funded preachers are obliged to emphasise its importance?

    I’m pretty sure all preachers stress the importance of the Haj.

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