Taking Money to Teach Islam: Is It Lawful?
Imam Ibn Taymiyyah mentioned a golden principle about taking payment for acts of worship. As part of his reply about whether it is permitted to charge a fee to perform pilgrimage on someone else’s behalf (hajj al-badal), he stipulated this rule:
أَنْ يَأْخُذَ لِيَحُجَّ لا أَنْ يَحُجَّ لِيَأْخُذَ
‘He may take [payment] to [help him] perform the pilgrimage; he may not perform the pilgrimage just to take [payment].’1
He went on to explain that:
هَذَا فِي جَمِيعِ الأَرْزَاقِ الْمَأْخُوذَةِ عَلَى عَمَلٍ صَالِحٍ … فَفَرْقٌ بَيْنَ مَنْ يَكُونُ الدِّينُ مَقْصُودَهُ وَالدُّنْيَا وَسِيلَةٌ وَمَنْ تَكُونُ الدُّنْيَا مَقْصُودَهُ وَالدِّينُ وَسِيلَةٌ . وَالأَشْبَهُ أَنَّ هَذَا لَيْسَ لَهُ فِي الآخِرَةِ مِنْ خَلاقٍ .
‘This applies to all wealth one takes so as to undertake a righteous action … There is a difference between one who makes religion his goal and the world his means, and one who makes the world his goal and religion his means – the likes of this [latter person] will have no share in the Hereafter.’2
Ibn Taymiyyah’s words apply to those religiously qualified taking money to teach religion. But there’s a big difference between someone who puts receiving money at the heart of their ta‘lim affairs, and one who, although in financial difficulty, puts it at the periphery. Again, what a difference between one who says: “I will not do a talk unless I’m given this or that sum of money,” and one who says: “I cannot do a talk unless I’m given some money.” If the intention is corrupted by money matters, if the niyyah isn’t solely for God, the act is invalid and sinful – and each person is a vendor of their own soul. For: ‘Two ravenous wolves let loose amongst some sheep do less harm than craving after wealth or status does to a person’s religion,’3 said the Prophet ﷺ.
As to the question of charging extortionate fees or exorbitant honorariums for teaching or da‘wah – a serpent that is now in the garden – with what good faith can that be justified? Of course, what is or isn’t exorbitant is up for discussion. Of course, large organisations will have far greater overheads. Of course, quality produced books, translations and media productions are more costlier. Of course, we have a collective duty to assist the ulema‘. And of course, we must thank those organisations that have helped up the ante in terms of the ethos of excellence and professionalism they have brought to the teaching and da‘wah. All such matters are, hopefully, not in question. It’s simply that while many have sacrificed well-paid jobs in secular arenas for a lesser (or even no) salary in the Islamic field, some teachers and preachers are acting rather unbecomingly when it comes to the question of financial remuneration. That’s a shame, as well as shameful. Is it even lawful for event organisers funded by the public to misuse monies given to them on trust, by forking out such sums on such speakers; or to do so without public awareness of how their money is being misspent? Sincerity – stripping ourselves of all motives other than seeking the face of God – lies at the heart of the matter, as does following the shari‘ah ruling on how public money entrusted to organisations should be spent.
1. Majmu‘ Fatawa (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1991), 26:19.
2. Majmu‘ Fatawa, 26:19-20.
3. Al-Tirmidhi, no.2376, who said: ‘This hadith is hasan sahih.’