Reinterpreting zakāt or not: Poverty and almsgiving in the religious discourse in contemporary Ghana
by Holger Weiss
Muslims in Africa generally do not ‘objectify’ concepts such as poverty and religion in discussion. This article examines the ways in which zakāt is viewed by various Muslim groups in Ghana. There is a debate among Muslim scholars, not only in Ghana but throughout the Muslim world, about the need for a Muslim agenda in providing social welfare. This stems from the poor performance of the postcolonial state and from frustration with Western capitalist or socialist concepts of economic development. Muslim scholars and Islamic economists have tried to explain and address societal and economic problems and to provide an ‘Islamic’ solution to poverty in predominantly Muslim countries. Islamic economists have generally tried to provide scope for individual economic initiative and markets, just as proponents of liberalization do, but without losing sight of the responsibilities of the state and the public sector. Their key focus is on the redistribution of wealth, which, religiously articulated, is closely linked to obligatory almsgiving (zakāt). From an Islamic standpoint, the core concept is that zakāt purifies wealth and narrows the gap between the rich and the poor in an Islamic society and ultimately rehabilitates the poor.