By Shahril Ahmad
January 2, 2016
Charity is an essential part of the Islamic faith. It is the calling of each and every member of the ummah to do charitable works, whether in the form of zakat (obligatory) or sadaqa (voluntary). The Prophet, peace be upon him, once said that on the day of resurrection, it is our charity that will become our shelter, when all other shelter and shade is gone. He also said that charity stands in the way of calamity.
Millions of Muslims nationwide give zakat fitrah during Ramadan, and those among us whose income exceed a certain amount (nisab) give additional zakat as well. This money is collected by the state religious councils, which then distribute it in a (theoretically) fair way to ensure that it reaches those whom it is meant for. In that way, the poor in our society are cared for by all.
But is that really the case? If so, why does it seem like our poor and needy are crying out for help even more than ever? Yet all that people like FT Zakat Centre Chairman Che Mat Che Ali can say is that it is sinful to give zakat directly to the poor. His reasoning – that the zakat will not be distributed evenly or even fairly – is sound in theory, but when a poor blind pak cik walks by my table at a food court asking for alms, I am not about to deny him zakat because someone has declared it to be sinful to give it to him directly instead of through the government.
And really, should we not be doing more for our poor? Just the other morning, I read with great sadness that an activist, Syed Azmi Alhabshi, had to beg the management of Masjid Negara to allow the homeless to seek shelter within the compound, a service provided by neighbouring mosques like Masjid Jamek, I might add. The objections seem to be cleanliness and the threat of theft, but the homeless can be taught to clean up after themselves, and the mosque can employ guards. Tell the homeless they are welcome after visiting hours at the popular tourist attraction.
Syed Azmi said he would often see the homeless outside the mosque in pouring rain as they were not welcome inside the mosque compound. Thankfully, after Syed’s heartfelt plea went viral, Masjid Negara offered to hold a meeting with him to discuss the matter.
But really, the crux of the matter lies in Syed’s original plea. He said, “I do know of friendlier houses of worship, which accept the ones that are in need. No questions asked. I hear there is even a laundry service provided. I hear ladies with children can get shelter, work, and still take care of their little ones with some earnings.”
I do not think I would be wrong to say that some of these “friendlier houses” are churches and temples.
It would be easy to point fingers here, but the question remains: are we really doing enough? Charity is one of the foremost callings of our faith, and we, as a community, need to take better care of those less fortunate, not because we want our place in heaven assured, but because that is how God created us – to be compassionate, caring, and charitable. If there is one resolution we all should make this New Year, it is to be better humans in the eyes of the Almighty.