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Islamic Society ( 5 Aug 2012, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Zakat Is Being Misused


By Mohammed Wajihuddin

Aug 6, 2012

Last week, Arif Raza, a representative of a madrasa in Bihar, hit the headlines when two miscreants at Dharavi thrashed him, robbed him of Rs 45,000 and locked him up in a room. Raza tried to escape through the window but landed up in Sion Hospital with a fractured spine.

Raza is one of the thousands of Zakat collectors camping in Mumbai during the month of Ramzan. While no Zakat collector should meet Raza's fate, his way of collecting Zakat money and his lack of concern for its safekeeping speaks volumes about the serious lacunae in Zakat collection.

A religious obligation, Zakat is mandatory for every Muslim who must donate 2.5% of his/her annual savings to charity. However, unorganised Zakat collection, a lack of transparency among the individuals and institutions which receive it and unprofessionalism in its distribution are collectively causing a colossal economic loss. Those who have studied the system of Zakat collection and its distribution are aghast at the way the money, which could fund thousands of welfare schemes for the Muslim community, is being frittered away.

The major chunk of Zakat money goes to the thousands of madrasas that have mushroomed across the country. Though Zakat can be given throughout the year, most Muslims give it during Ramzan since every good deed done in this month is supposed to bring boundless blessings. And so every Ramzan the madrasas send out their representatives to big cities like Mumbai to collect Zakat.

Often, it is the same set of individuals and madrasas which approach the affluent to receive Zakat. This deprives the truly deserving of Zakat money. "Ideally, one who takes Zakat once should be able to give Zakat next year. Unfortunately, that is not happening," says Maulana Burhanuddin Qasmi, director of the socio-cultural organisation Markazul Maarif.

Who deserves Zakat? The Quran mentions eight categories of people who can take Zakat: the poor, destitute, the indebted, pilgrims, missionaries, poor non-Muslims who evoke sympathy among the Zakat giver and the collectors of Zakat who are poor. Who cannot get Zakat? Those who are sahi-be-nisaab. A sahi-be-nisaab is defined as one who owns at least 75 grams of gold or 520 grams of silver or an equivalent amount of money which they have saved in a year.

Zakat collectors work mostly on commission. Armed with the names and addresses of individuals, they swoop down on the city. Those who give Zakat have no time to verify the credentials of the collectors. "Many of these Zakat collectors are professional beggars. Nobody checks whether their Zakat really exist or exist only on paper," says senior cleric Maulana Shoet Koti. He says that at present the total Zakat money collected in the country must be to the tune of Rs 25,000 crore. Given the general impoverishment of Muslims, it can be safely said that Zakat money is not going to the deserving. "If we have so many poor among us, where does the money go?" asks Islamic scholar Zeenat Shaukat Ali. "If Zakat money is managed properly, it can be used for the educational upliftment of the community. This will be possible when Muslims centralise the collection of Zakat.

In the past, there have been attempts to centralise Zakat collection in the form of a Baitul Maal or House of Zakat. Dr Rahmatullah, economist and founder of the All India Council of Muslim Upliftment, floated a Baitul Zakat in the mid-1990s in Mumbai. However, his efforts were stonewalled by the clergy. Even the response from rich Muslims was not encouraging. "Those who give Zakat in crores have established their own channels for its distribution. They feel good when there is a queue of hungry, helpless people standing outside their bungalows, waiting for Zakat," Rahmatullah explains.

It was to stop this mockery of a divine duty, hailed as one of the five pillars of Islam, that city-based physician Dr M A Patankar tried to set up a central Baitul Maal a few years ago. In 2009, he convened a two-day All-India Zakat Conference at Haj House. Yet, it never took off. "I have been ditched by those who promised to back me. There is a lack of sincerity in establishing a Baitul Maal," rues Dr Patankar.

However, the Delhi-based Zakat Foundation of India (ZFI) has partially succeeded in this attempt. Founded in 1998, ZFI collects several crores of rupees and runs over two dozen institutions, including orphanages and widow shelters. It selects bright Muslim graduates and funds their coaching for the civil services (IAS topper Dr Shah Faisal a couple of years ago was coached by ZFI). "Uplifting and empowerment of the community are part of our objectives. We utilise the money prudently," says ZFI's President Zafar Mahmood. ZFI's success is an exception in a country where huge chunk of Zakat money gets misused.