How to make Zakat more constructive
ZAKAT is one of the five basic tenets of Islam. Zakat means purity. Thus, this implies that a man purifies his yearly earnings by giving away one part of it in the path of the God. This further implies that man should understand that his earnings or his possessions are not a result of his own making but they are a bounty given by Allah. Thus, Zakat is, in essence, a practical acknowledgement of God's bounties. And this admission is no doubt the greatest form of worship.
Payment of Zakat every year is obligatory, on every earning Muslim, at the minimum fixed rate of 2.5 per cent per annum, on all wealth that is subject to growth. This amount is given for worthy religious causes 'for the sake of God' and for meeting the needs of the poor and the helpless.
The second point above is more important. It means that through your alms giving or sharing your wealth you are helping the needy, poor and helpless, who are unable to sustain themselves. Thus, through this act of yours you are spreading your wealth and joy among the less privileged. And this is what is enshrined in the Islamic principle of equality of wealth, a concept that has been borrowed even by Karl Marx.
Zakat management in India
Every year a considerable sum of money is donated in the name of Zakat in India.
Have you ever wondered how much Zakat is being generated in India every year? Let's assume that out of 15 million Muslims, only One Million contribute the minimum amount of Zakat for a lakh of rupees, which is Rs 2500. Even at these conservative figures the amount comes out to Rs 25,000,000,000!!! And in reality the actual amount is much more than this.
It leads one to wonder where all this money is being spent and by whom? According to sources, conservatively we can say that 80 per cent of this amount is gobbled by the religious educational institutions. Fair enough, they have their expenses and needs to be taken care of. But does this figure reflect in the quality of education imparted by them or the overall personalities of their students? No not there, but in the style of living of their administrators!
Further according to sources, this year most of the institutions that collect Zakat, are deducting 40 to 45 per cent of the Zakat collected as administrative expenses, and these administrative expenses are completely unaccounted for.
This leads us to surmise that our Zakat money is not being used properly and productively for the benefit of the Indian Muslims, to ameliorate their lot. Instead it is being managed in an unsystematic, unprofessional and individualistic manner.
Secondly, most of us consider giving out Zakat as a burden, not as a duty or as a contribution enjoined by Allah to spread joy and wealth within the community. Thirdly, Zakat collection has become a business and many institutes who collect and survive Zakat are doing it in a professional and unIslamic manner.
How to manage Zakat more productively
In the current scenario it becomes incumbent on our religious scholars and leaders to ponder over this question. It would be prudent on their part to sit together and constitute a central Zakat Fund for the whole of India, with branches in every State capital and sub-branches in every big city and town.
Every Indian Muslim who has to pay Zakat, should be directed to deposit his contributions in specified bank accounts managed by the Zakat Fund, which in turn should be managed by a committee of religious, community and social leaders and professional accountants and financial experts.
In addition those who are not using the banking or digital financial tools, should deposit their Zakat in a box, which should be placed in every Masjid of the country, along with a box for contribution to the Masjid. These boxes should be opened quarterly and money deposited in the accounts of Zakat Fund. The Imam and Mueizzins of the Masjids should be made responsible to manage these boxes and their contents. The Zakat Fund should pay the salaries of the Imams and Mueizzins of the mosques, instead of them being disbursed by the respective state Waqf.
They should further be tasked to prepare a database of the needy and destitute in their locality and forward it to the State and central offices. This will engage the local Imams in the collection and disbursement of Zakat to the needy in their area based on real inputs. It will also empower them to handhold the families who are being given financial help, on how to better their life and circumstances and get out of the poverty by pursuing education or a small business and other means to better their family situation instead of relying on community help for life time. Once this starts happening in real terms, then we'll find that the number of poor in the community has come down drastically and instead once who were poor are now helping others.
The central committee of the Zakat Fund should oversee the total collections and their disbursement. First on the list should be the religious institutions, second destitute families and third would be community projects which would help the community in different fields like, education, medical facilities, scholarships, hostels, and educational expenses for the poor students and entrepreneurial seed funds for giving out loans to deserving individuals to start new ventures.
We can only imagine wishfully, if we have a Central Committee of committed elders which manages this money, then within a span of 2 to 5 years, we'll be able to build a well equipped hospital in every district of the country, a university in every State capital, a secondary school in every village, a degree college in every town and city and homes for destitute, widows, orphans and physically handicapped in every district of the country, to be used by every citizen of the country.
Personal Zakat management
Lastly, we should also discuss as to why most of us consider giving out Zakat as a burden. This is due to our own foolish thinking and money management and desire to get maximum benefit even for doing a good deed. A wrong perception prevails amongst most of us that Zakat should be given out in the month of Ramazan, as the reward for giving out alms in this month is 70 times more. Both these concepts are erroneous and unIslamic and have no mention in the Holy Quran.
So, to make our Zakat contribution easier on our pocket and also make it more fruitful, what we can do is to calculate our yearly Zakat and divide it by 12. This sum we should take out from our salary or business profits every month and keep aside and hand over to a needy as someone approaches us, instead of waiting for Ramazan. Remember, your Zakat for the next year becomes due as soon as the current year's Ramazan ends, which mean that you are continuously under obligation to the Almighty Allah to pay your Zakat.
These musings are just that of a common Muslim and are based on common sense and practical solutions. Let's hope and pray that our community's religious elders take heed of these ideas and suggestions. This will definitely make our community financially stronger and self-sustainable in a short time and also contribute to the welfare of our brethren in the country through institutions and programmes managed by our Zakat Fund. Ameen.
(Asad Mirza is a political commentator based in New Delhi. He writes on Muslims, educational, international affairs, interfaith and current affairs)