Published: August 21, 2009

Muslims Preparing to Observe Ramadan

By MICHELLE BEARDEN | mbearden@tampatrib.com

Charitable acts aren't just a suggestion for Ramadan, which begins at sunrise Saturday.

During Muslims' holiest month of the year, they're a requirement.

And with so much need around the world, there is no shortage of avenues for Muslims to give the required 2.5 percent of their savings to fulfill their spiritual obligation.

How do they know the charity is legitimate? Specifically, how can they be sure that their donations are not going to fund projects with secret terrorist ties?

"That became a real concern after Sept. 11," said Saima Zaman, who leads the online Ramadan initiative with GlobalGiving, an organization that connects donors with community-based projects. "We try to take the worry out of giving."

Since 2006, Zaman's group has identified projects that satisfy IRS guidelines for international grant making, meet tax-deductible requirements and adhere to anti-terrorism laws. GlobalGiving also provides a calculator so donors can plug in their personal financial information and determine how much to give during Ramadan.

This year, more than 40 projects in 12 countries have the green light.

Some of the suggestions: $40 will buy a tank of bottled water for the first birthing center in the Jordan River Valley; $50 covers a year of school fees in Yemen; $150 buys textbooks for 100 mothers in a literacy program in Afghanistan. For a complete list, go to globalgiving.com.

"When you have good intentions, you want to make sure your charitable giving is used safely and efficiently," Zaman said.

Some Muslim-Americans choose to invest at least a portion of their voluntary charity, called sadaqah, in their own communities. Adel and Ghada Eldin of Tampa, both physicians and parents of three daughters, set aside money to pay for food baskets to give to the needy at Thanksgiving. On Sept. 6, the Cory Lake couple will host a dinner in Hernando County for the homeless.

"We look around and we start with our neighbors," said Ghada, a pediatrician. "Maybe someone lost a job and needs help with paying utility bills. The idea is do for others, and it's not something you should just do during Ramadan."

Like any donor, however, she wants to make sure her charity is going into the right hands and is meeting an authentic need.

"Be diligent and investigate," she said. "We need to be responsible. This is an important requirement of our faith, and we need to follow it wisely."

Michelle Bearden can be reached at (813) 259-7613.