Laying the foundations for Muslim legacy giving

On 16th June, Britain’s three million Muslims held a party. After thirty days of dawn to sunset fasting, this year’s Ramadan ended with family celebrations, shopping and gift-giving. But while most non-Muslims think of Ramadan as a time of fasting – and then feasting –  it’s an important time for giving too.  It’s estimated that over the 30 days of Ramadan British Muslims will have given around £100m to Islamic charities – that’s around £38 a second!

According to the 2011 census, Muslims now make up 4.4% of the British population – by far the largest religious group after Christians.

UK population by religious group, %, 2011

Source: UK Census 2011

Unlike many other British people, faith remains central to British Muslim’s sense of identity. Only 1 in 20 of the Muslims questioned in the DCLG’s Citizenship Survey[i] did not agree that their religion was ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ important to their sense of who they are. Men and women, young and old, most Muslims are religiously active on a daily basis, either in private prayer or collectively  (for example at Friday prayers, which are obligatory for Muslim men).

Giving money to charity – or ‘Zakat’ –  is one of the five pillars of Islam. And most people choose to give over the month of Ramadan, with a rush of donations occurring in the last few days at Eid-Al-Fitr. Last July, JustGiving reported that donations to Muslim charities during Ramadan 2017 were 500% higher than in the previous month.

Islamic law details who should give Zakat (anyone over a certain level of wealth or ‘Nisab’), how much they should give (typically 2.5% of wealth), its purpose, and who should receive it (listing eight clear categories of recipients).

Most British Muslims give Zakat to registered charities within the UK who then distribute the funds on their behalf. There are over 1,000 registered Islamic charities to choose from, ranging from small mosques to international aid organisations such as Islamic Relief and Muslim Aid. And while most funds are sent overseas, some are now spent on poor and needy people living here.

In his recent Civil Society blog[ii] Fad Itanii, Chief Executive of the Muslim Charities Forum said,  “Brand engagement with the Muslim consumer has risen sharply within the UK as charities and businesses compete for space in the minds and hearts of worshippers.  And Ramadan in particular has become an opportunity to tap into the heightened social and spiritual awareness of the Muslim consumer”.

So it seems that the Muslim charitable pound is strong and growing. But what might this mean for legacy giving?

Short-term, the opportunities for legacies seem limited

For the foreseeable future, the potential for Muslim legacy giving seems slight, for three main reasons.

First, the Muslim population is very young. One third is aged under 15; almost half is under 24. Putting it the other way, only 2% of today’s 55+s are Muslim – our primary legacy audiences are still overwhelmingly white and (at least nominally) Christian.

Second, although all citizens in England and Wales are subject to English Law, most Muslims will opt to abide by Sharia succession rules, which state that two thirds of their estate must go to a prescribed list of beneficiaries, stretching way out to their extended family.  In principle at least the remaining third can be freely given, to other family, friends or charities.  But anecdotal evidence suggests that even among well-educated Muslims, understanding of the intricacies of Sharia-compliant will-making is limited. Given these complexities, it’s not surprising that many Muslims rely on a small group of specialist lawyers, clustered in cities such as Birmingham, Bradford, London and Manchester.

And finally, today’s Muslim population is relatively poor. Just under half of British Muslims (46%) live in the 10% most deprived Local Authority Districts in England, while only 2% live in the 10% least deprived districts. Home ownership levels are low, with just 43%  of Muslim households owning their own property, compared to a UK average of 64%. This pattern may in part be driven by Islamic finance rules, which forbid borrowing or lending money for interest[iii]. Whatever the reason, this has a significant impact on household wealth, and hence estate values. While the median household wealth across the UK is £205,000, for Muslim households it is just £42,000[iv].

But long-term, the potential could be far bigger

Despite these rather inauspicious statistics, the situation in thirty or forty years time could be far more positive.

Today’s British Muslim population may be young, but it’s ageing! In thirty years’ time, there will be around 1.5 million Muslims over the age of 55. And that older group is likely to have a very different experience and mindset to today’s elderly Muslims.

For example, they are more likely to be graduates.  British Muslim parents have high educational aspirations for both their sons and daughters. 70% of parents with a Muslim daughter said it was ‘very likely’ she would go to university and 64% said the same about their Muslim sons (compared to 43% for the parents of non-Muslim girls and 34% for non-Muslim boys[v] ).

While just 24% of British Muslims aged 55-64 were born in the UK[vi] the figure for young Muslims is far higher – 55% of 16-24s were born here. Today’s young Muslims have much more diverse friendship groups than their parents and grandparents, which is likely to reflect a broader exposure to British culture, and maybe their propensity to adopt British giving behaviour [vii]

Last but not least, we believe there is a need for more accessible information on the benefits of giving to charity through Islamic wills.  For now, it seems that the intricacies of Sharia-compliant wills are the province of imams and specialist lawyers. By raising awareness and interest among the wider Muslim population, we may in the long run raise legacy incomes too.

For more information, here’s some useful sources of data and insight:

British Muslims in Numbers: A Demographjc, Socio-Economic and Health Profile of Muslims in Britain, Muslim Council of Britain, 2015

A Review of Survey Research of Muslims in Britain, Ipsos MORI Social Research Institute, 2018


[i] Citizenship Survey 2010 – 2011, Department for Communities and Local Government, 2012

[ii] Let’s talk about Zakat and giving during Ramadan, Civil Society Voices, 14th June 2018

[iii] Beginners Guide to Islamic Finance, Financial Times, July 14th 2010

[iv] An Anatomy of Economic Equality in the UK, Report of the National Equality Panel 2010 

[v] Citizenship Survey 2010 – 2011, Department for Communities and Local Government, 2012

[vi] Understanding Society, UK Household Longitudinal Study Wave 6, 2014-16

[vii] Ethnic Minority British Election Study, 2010

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