MONTHLY * Vol 11-01 No:121 * JANUARY 1997/ RAMADAN 1417H
Need to Institutionalise Zakat
By: Moulana Mohd Shihabuddin Nadvi
Ignorance and illiteracy are rampant among the Muslims these days. The major cause for such a situation is their poverty. Most of the Muslims are living below the poverty line. The number of literate Muslims among the lower income group is so large that the overall literacy among the Muslims can as well be ascribed to be nil. The main reason for this most sorry state of affairs is that the parents prefer to make their children earn rather than learn. They want immediate monetary benefits. Naturally our children get fixed at lower rungs of the ladder instead of occupying the higher ones of covetable and lucrative posts. This makes them to toil hard for making both ends meet through ordinary job or work. They are, thus, branded backward in the society so much so that people from affluent class and others look down on them. But more disastrous is the fact that they move away from their religion and cultural heritage and fall a prey to superstitious beliefs, convictions and practices. This is because the very link that binds these two entities is completely absent here. This link is that of understanding and knowledge. Obviously where ignorance prevails, there will be no sense of religion and moral order and no recognition of the cultural values.
Our backwardness is pushing us away from the gains of both this world and the other, thereby enhancing the impact of the losses and troubles many fold. Although we are designated by Allah as the Best of the people ever raised up for mankind, we have pitifully degraded ourselves to the status of a third group nation through our sheer illiteracy and ignorance. This, in fact, is a very grave situation.
Imminent striving on Two Fronts
A lot of effort has to be put-in on two fronts to bring our community out of this deep maze of disgrace. First we have to eradicate the economic backwardness from the Muslim Society. Secondly we have to push the Muslims forward in the educational field. While making an all out attempt, it must be well kept in mind that literacy and economic prosperity go together i.e. higher education always brings along with it prosperity. Hence we should pay more attention and lay stress on educating our youth and children. This is the magic wand.
Significance of Zakat
The causes for our backwardness in these fields are many fold. Our leaders are equally responsible. However the times demand that overlooking all weaknesses, we have to fully concentrate on uplifting the Muslims so that they gain the capability and capacity of standing on the same pedestal as that of highly developed and progressive nations. For achieving this goal, we have to confidently utilise all means at our disposal. We should never stretch our bowl before others or even seek concessions from the government. In fact there is no necessity at all. We do possess a genuinely effective agency which is obligatory on us even from the religious and shariah point of view. If utilised with discretion and planning, wonderfully fruitful results can be achieved. I am referring to the system of Zakat which is obligatory on every Muslim as Salat is. Actually, if an eligible (saheb-e-nisab) Muslim offers prayer but skips paying Zakat, his Salat will not be accepted. Any person who refutes the obligatory satus of Zakat is expelled from the religion. In fact a war can be waged against those who rebut the basic system as was done by Hazrath Abu Bakr Siddique (R.A), the first Caliph.
Allah has rendered Zakat obligatory on Muslims so that the poor are discreetly helped to gain a position in the society, poverty is eliminated and does not pave any way for any loopholes that tend to degenerate the society. It is one of the foundation stones of Islamic Economics, as Salat is the exponent of the rights of God, that Zakat is the torch-bearer of the Rights of Human beings. Any society that establishes the true order of Salat and Zakat is ensured of the status of a balanced, clean and developing society.
Allah has made it obligatory on all affluent (saheb-e-nisab)
i.e. those with minimum taxable income) people that they spend 2.5% of their liquid wealth on the poor, the indigent, debtors, those who strive in the path of Allah etc. According to the clear cut classification made out in the holy Qur'an, eight categories of people are eligible for being benefited through Zakat. Affluent Muslims do take away crores of rupees as Zakat every year and distribute this huge amount among the poor according to their discretion. But these poor remain poor and improvement or any kind of transformation is never seen in their living. Even in the field of education, no visible progress is observed. The number of illiterates among the community is simply increasing. What might be the reasons? The answer is obvious. The Zakat amount is not being spent as it ought to have been. Naturally the expected benefits are not being obtained. This is solely because every person distributes this amount as it pleases him. As a result all the collective benefits are concealed from his vision. How a crowd gathers at the doors of a rich person disbursing the Zakat amount is a scene worth witnessing during the last quarter of Ramazan. The real beneficiaries are deprived of their right. To distribute a sum of rupees twenty to thirty or a few yards of cloth per head among the few hundreds gathered at the door is the most erroneous practice of disbursing the Zakat. It is against the very spirit of the system of Zakat and its utility.
Most Deserving Recipients
The most deserving recipients of Zakat are the poor and the indigent who satisfy one of the flowing conditions:
1. Their income should be less than the minimum taxable income fixed for the purpose of Zakat, and their needs should exceed this income. (According to Shariah, such persons are referred to as 'Fuqara' i.e. poor.)
2. They should not possess anything of their own. They are called as Masakeen i.e. Needy or indigent. These persons may try to maintain middle-class living standards. So they are generally overlooked completely as not eligible to receive the Zakat amount. In contrast only persons wearing torn or dirty clothes are considered as most deserving. This is a completely fallacious requirement because the poor and the needy are placed at number one and two positions among the eight categories of those that are eligible to receive the Zakat amount as per verse 60 of Surah Tauba (Repentance). The poor and the needy are such persons who, inspite of their earnings and maintaining a family, are fallen on evil days. Such persons should get their share without their asking, because they never extend their hand before anybody since their self respect and sense of honour do hold them back from doing so.
Need for Institutionalising
To locate such needy persons, there is need for making a broad survey of the Muslims in each and every locality of every town and city. Then only can we know the really needy. This job cannot be done without having a central body, who will determine the really needy persons and will provide them their share of the divine help. This was the practice during the Caliphate's period. The deserving persons used to get the allowance from the Baitul Maal regularly. This itself is a valid shariah example for men from all times. The traditions also confirm this institutionalising of the Zakat system. One of the Traditions reads as follows:
Abu Huraira reported Allah's Messenger (Pbuh) as saying 'The poor man (miskeen) is not one who goes round to the people and is dismissed with one or two morsels, and one or two dates.' They (the Prophet's companions) said; " Messenger of Allah, then who is a miskeen? 'He said' 'He who does not get enough
to satisfy him, and he is not considered so (as to elicit the attention of the benevolent people), so that charity may be
given to him, and he does not beg anything from people'." (Sahih Muslim, 2/496-97)
In yet another Hadith miskeen has been defined as 'one who abstains from begging; and about whom holy Qur'an says they beg not of men importunately. (Ibid.,2/497)
It looks as if these traditions intend the rich to search for such people who even though lagging behind in the pursuit of suitable means of livelihood and of earning do not go with extended bowls. Their self-respect checks them to go begging. The second place is occupied by the eight categories of persons who are described in verse 60 of chapter entitled Tauba (Repentance). They are (1) The poor (2) The needy (3) Those employed to collect the Zakat funds (4) Those whose hearts have been inclined (towards Islam). (5) For freeing the Captives (6) Those who are in debt (7) Those who are working for Allah's cause, and (8) The way-farers.
The Eight Types of Disbursement
These are the eight types of people among whom the Zakat amount has to be disbursed. They are specifically categorised in the holy Qur'an. But this categorisation seems to have been put in cold storage. The affluent seem to be in a dilemma as to whom Zakat amount should go. The fault seems to lie with our scholars too because they do not attempt any authentic explanation. So the whole concept seems to have gone awry. The common notion seems to be that Zakat has to be given either to a beggar or to a student. This fallacy must go. The curtain must rise. The facts must be revealed.
The Apt Practice
The most deserving claimants have been referred to as 'fuqara' and 'miskeen' or the poor, the indigent and the needy who do not come out begging. Hence the most apt practice for distributing Zakat is to track down the deservingly needy people and give them according to the individual requirements. For example if the earnings of a family man do not suffice to meet the needs of the family, he must be provided for so as to become self-supporting. If someone is in a wretched status, he must be provided for to stand on his own legs through petty business or similar venture. He must be supported to become self-employed. If someone is in debt, his obligation must be cleared through voluntary donation from out of the Zakat pool. Similarly if the children are deprived of attending schools due to lack of finances, they should be fully patronised to complete their education. This, of course, will be a far-sighted investment. Even the people engaged in any scholarly or religious pursuit, must be supported because in modern times it is they who, when rightly educated and equipped, would counter the challenges of materialism and its counterparts. These are some of the items that need immediate close attention.
Thus for the proper distribution of Zakat amount institutionalisation is as much essential as seeking the ultimately rightful ends of this highly beneficial system of economic upliftment. All Philanthropic and compassionate people should join hands in establishing such a central body and work scientifically and methodically to pool the Zakat amount and utilise it to the best advantage of the Muslim Society. The ultimate results will be uniquely productive. The need is that sincerity of purposes and honesty should be the watch words for taking up and pursuing such an aim and venture.
It must also be not forgotten that more the educated among us, the more solidly will our economic and educational backwardness disappear. A greater number will then be added to contribute towards Zakat and the number of persons who can claim Zakat will also decline gradually. It is a fact that as the members of our society start getting educated and becoming well-to-do, they will be the ones who can be the contributors and donors for this scheme. It will pave the way for an economical and educational revolution. A day may dawn when, like the days of the golden past, there will be no takers of Zakat at all.
A Necessary Clarification
When we speak of a central body, it does not mean that every person has to compulsorily donate all his Zakat amount to this central pool alone. He can deposit a part of his Zakat amount here and will be free to distribute the other part as per his discretion among his relations, schools and other institutions. This will be a better and wiser disbursement. These central institutions have to be established in each and every state and at the mohalla level. It is urged that some sincere and bold people organise these institutions and experimentally implement the scheme of distribution of Zakat to the most deserving and it can confidently be said that the whole structure of Muslim society will change, Insha-Allah, in a short period alone.