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EGYPT: Islamic charity spending is also an economic pillar, figures show

September 21, 2010 | 12:42 pm

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What was always looked upon as no more than a religious commitment for wealthy Muslims has become a crucial asset in the Egyptian economy in recent years.

Alongside the declaration of faith, praying, fasting during the holy month of Ramadan, and making a pilgrimage to Mecca, charitable spending, or zakat, is one of the five pillars of Sunni Islam, which is practiced by 90% of Egyptians.

With one-fifth of the country's population of 80 million living on less than $1 a day, the Islamic obligation has turned into a reliable source of income for many Egyptians. A recent study issued by the Egyptian Cabinet's Information and Decision Support Center showed that 16 million Egyptian families have spent no less than $800 million on charity donations last year.

The IDSC announced that of the 86.7% of Egyptian families who contribute to charity, 97% bestow part of their income to fulfill the zakat. The study adds that 75.3% of the spending came in the form of gifts, donations, iftar banquets during Ramadan, and paying education and marriage expenses for those who are financially unable.

Ramadan witnessed an unprecedented expenditure of $35 million on iftar banquets, which fed millions of poor Egyptians throughout the month.

The role of charity in the Egyptian economy was similarly highlighted by another survey carried out by MasterCard Worldwide between March and April 2010 that was released last week, finding that 79% of Egyptian consumers include charitable giving in their household budgets. The figure is the highest in the Middle East.

Sunni Muslims are required to give away 2.5% of their saved fortune annually for the welfare of poor Muslims.

-- Amro Hassan in Cairo

Photo: An iftar banquet gathering in Cairo. Credit: Associated Press

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