Ramadan, the moth of ‘giving’: a reckoning

By  Prof. M. Adil Khan

The month of Ramadan is coming to an end. For the Muslims worldwide, Ramadan is as much a month of ‘giving’ as reckoning.

Do we give as much as we should or ought to? Do rich necessarily give more? Is religion a good motivator of giving and most importantly, what is it that ultimately motivates people to ‘give’ – is it wealth, religion or something else?

By analysing and re-interpreting the Global Giving Index (GGI) data of the Charities Aid Foundation this paper attempts to answer some of these questions.

The Charities Aid Foundation that ranks countries by ‘giving’ status defines the concept as a composite of three activities: ‘donating money to charities and/or organizations’; ‘volunteering time to an organization’; and ‘helping a stranger’.

GGI  reveals that: (i) nations ‘give’ in  different ways – for example, giving money to charity ranges from as low as 4% in Lithuania to 83% in Malta; (ii) volunteering  time to organizations ranges from 2% in Cambodia (a country that until recently was ravaged by murderous civil strife) to 61% in Turkmenistan; and most interestingly, (iii) within the same country, nature of ‘giving’ may vary, for example, in Liberia while only 8% give money, 76% help strangers (highest in the world in this category of ‘giving’).

Religion and ‘giving’

Every religion emphasizes ‘giving’ as an important duty and among all major religions Buddhism and Islam are particularly explicit about ‘giving’. These two religions have laid down specific guidelines for charity.

For example, in Buddhism Dana, the act of ‘giving’ is defined in terms of : (i) ‘giving’ to the needy, e.g. helping the poor, the orphans, etc.; (ii) giving to equals, e.g. giving to friends or neighbours; and finally, (iii) giving to venerable people such as parents, monks, etc, as a show of gratitude or respect. The most important aspect of ‘Dana’ or offering is that one must give without seeking anything in return.

Similarly, in Islam, Quran (Q16:90) is quite emphatic about wealth re-distribution through acts of Sadaqa (charity) and Zakat (compulsory poverty tax over and above Sadaqa). In Islam, ‘giving’ also needs to be discrete and without expectations.

Buddhists give more

Successive GGI surveys have revealed that true to their religious edict the four leading Buddhist countries – Thailand, Sri Lanka, Lao PDR and Myanmar that are not wealthy countries are among the top 25 ‘giving’ nations of the world and quite remarkably, these countries also rank higher over several wealthy nations such as Kuwait, Norway, Luxembourg, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates etc.

Muslims are less predictable

Giving habits of Muslims are less predictable. Of the 50 Muslim majority countries 5 belong to the bottom 25 of givers. Although among these low givers some are poor, quite a few are wealthy and this is instructive. For example, Bosnia Herzegovina, Jordan and Turkey are not exactly poor but they rank relatively low on giving index. Again, there are those who in comparison to their wealth give relatively less. For example, in GDP terms Kuwait and United Arab Emirates rank No. 8 and 23 out of 225 countries but they rank 25 and 50 in ‘giving’ indices respectively, implying that people in these countries give disproportionately less than what their wealth should permit them to do.

Among the wealthy Muslim nations Turkmenistan and Qatar rank high in ‘giving’, 14 and 16 respectively but Qatar’s high ‘giving’ ranking is not commensurate with its super high wealth ranking, it ranks 2 in the world wealth ranking. Saudi Arabia – another super rich Muslim country ranks 86 in ‘giving’ index, below many least developed countries (LDC) including Sudan.

Sudan, a least developed Muslim majority country is a puzzle. In per capita GDP terms, Sudan ranks 178 out of 225 but in ‘giving’ index it ranks 43 out of 145, above Korea Republic, Belgium and Israel. It is not clear whether it is their religion or the local tribal norm that makes Sudanese such a generous lot.

Bangladesh and Pakistan, two Muslim majority developing countries rank 109 and 85 out of 145 respectively, placing them among the lower ‘giving’ countries of the world.

Indonesia, another developing Muslim country ranks 7, above UK (8) and Denmark (10). Iran does well at 12 in world ‘giving’ ranking.

What comes out quite clearly from these examples is that as far Muslims are concerned correlation between ‘giving’ and religion is not all that strong and that higher wealth does not necessarily translate into higher giving. In this regard, it is also speculated that some of the less wealthy Muslim countries such as Sudan, Indonesia etc. that rank high in ‘giving’ indices are likely to be motivated more by their local tradition, norm and/or social arrangements such as kinships, than the religion.

Christianity and giving

It is little difficult to rank “Christian” countries religiously because most countries that we know as “Christian” are not religiously oriented. These countries are highly secularized where religion plays only a minor identity role. “Christian” countries of Europe and Americas, that are great givers may have less to do with their religion and more to do with their unique socio-political arrangements – democratic, secular, strict rule of law etc. – attributes that promote social cohesion, mutual trust and instil among their citizens values of citizenship that promote benevolence.  However, Philippines, a developing country that identifies itself as a “Christian” country is different. Known for their religiosity and devotion to churches, Philippines ranks high at 17 in GGI making them one of the great givers of the world. As a custom, every Philippina makes substantial donations to church.

In sum, what emerges from the above is that it is neither religion (except Buddhists who are great givers, regardless) nor wealth (Kuwaitis, Saudis, East Europeans who are rich are not great gives) that motivates people to give. The common element that characterizes all higher ‘givers’ especially the top three – Australia, Iceland and Canada – is their unique social arrangement. Notwithstanding some failings, these top three ‘giving’ countries are also known for their strong commitment to social justice and inclusiveness, qualities that nurture social bonding and values of mutual compassion.

The stingy lots, the bottom of the givers – the South Asians, the Chinese (ranks 141 out of 145), Central Asian and former East European countries – are at the lower end of social ladder. These are among the most corrupt, unequal, unjust and as someone has pointed out especially in reference to China, most “morally numb” societies of the world. An unequal society is a self-seeking society.

Essentially, people give not because they are rich or religious. People give only when they feel good about themselves – fairer a society, stronger is its social bondage and greater the instinct to give.

Bangladesh

Bangladesh’s giving propensities are both good and not-so-good. In recent times, Bangladesh has improved its world ‘giving’ ranking – from 145 out of 153 in 2010 to 109 out of 145 in 2012. Bangladeshis score good on ‘helping a stranger’ component of ‘giving’ index but poorly on charity and voluntary work and given the current social and political conditions this is hardly surprising.

In recent times, Bangladesh has been ranked as one of the most corrupt countries of the world and therefore, a self-seeking nation. This implies firstly, that its ‘self-seeking’ rich do not dig deep into their pockets. Secondly, its low enthusiasm for voluntary work, an important aspect of giving is directly linked to the low trust with which Bangladeshis regard their institutions. A recent Transparency International (TI) study has revealed that most of Bangladesh’s key institutions such as police, judiciary etc. including politicians are corrupt and thus are distrusted by the citizens.

Sociologists argue that countries that score low in charity and voluntary work are those that are unhappy, non-giving and socially disintegrating countries.

Over the years Bangladesh’s social and political divide – between the rich and the poor, between the urban and the rural and between the religious and the secularists has been widening and by now, may have reached a dangerous level, a phenomenon of rising social alienation and moral stiffness seems to have hit the nation.

Prophet Mohammed (sall Allaahu`alayhi wa sallam) once said: ‘Administering justice between two people is charity and that believers are like a single person; if his eye is in pain his whole body pains, and if his head is in pain his whole body pains!’

Social amity and charity are two sides of the same coin – the latter is not possible without the former and that lack of the latter is symptomatic of lapses of the former.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Amongst the Muslim majority countries, as you have rightly pointed out, charity and giving is very low although the religion teaches giving and sharing with the needy to be one of the main pillars.
    The act of generosity is taught at home and educational institution at a very early age. In the western and developed societies, this habit of giving is practised at an early age and as a matter of fact in schools and educational institutions, voluntary works is a part of the educational curriculum and are graded for it. This activity is virtually missing in the rich Muslim countries. Charity does not have to be in the form of money only. Once a child grows up and does not have the time to physically give time to the needy, they end up giving charity and donations by virtue of the habit developed at an early stage in life.

    • I thank you for reading the article and for giving this very enlightened response. Indeed, ‘giving’ must be made a habit and must be cultivated from childhood as a part of education and growing up, as you mention

  2. I fully agree with the Mr. Latif that ‘giving’ – money and voluntary work – must be inculcated, as a habit as is done in many western societies, while growing up in schools..

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