One of the five pillars of Islam (other four pillars are shahdah or declaration that God is one and Muhammad is his prophet, namaz, roza or fasting in Ramzan and haj or pilgrimage to Mecca), zakat is meant to help in the economic up lifting of the community . But unorganized collection and under-utilization of the funds have hampered the cause. Nearly 60% of the total zakat money collected in India is reportedly being cornered by madrassas, including fake ones. Now there’s a rising clamour within the community to reduce the contribution to Islamic seminaries. There is a demand to instead use the funds to facilitate self-employment and modern education of members.
“Zakat should be aimed at eradicating poverty , not perpetuating it. The same individuals or madrassas keep grabbing a huge chunk of zakat money year after year,“ says Amir Idrisi, president, Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP). At a meeting held last week by the AMP on “proper utilization of zakat money“, speakers articulated the growing feeling that a substantial portion of the total zakat money goes to madrassa which educate just a fraction of the Muslim population. “The Sachar report said only 4% of the Muslim children go to madrassas. So, the community should be really worried about how to educate the 96% who attend schools,“ says activist Saeed Khan.
Zakat is considered obligatory for every Muslim who is “sahebe nisaab“, one whose annual saving equals not less than the value of 77gm gold (around Rs 1.92 lakh) or 520gm silver (Rs 18,120). Most Muslims give zakat according to the val ue of gold, not silver. According to AMP’s math, if there are around 18.75 crore Muslims in India and each family has on an average five members, there would be 3.75 crore Muslim families. Of this, even f 20% are zakat givers, it makes for 75 akh families. At 2.5% of the minimum eligible annual wealth, the total zakat money would amount to approximately Rs 3,600 crore. However, many experts believe this is a highly “faulty“ figure.“The economic condition of Indian Muslims has improved and at least 50% of the Muslim families give zakat. There are many big businessmen who give zakat in crores. The total zakat money would be anything between Rs 45,000 crore and Rs 50,000 crore,“ says economist Dr Rahmatullah, who is familiar with the pattern of zakat and whose organization All India Council of Muslim Upliftment (AICMU) collects and distributes zakat money through its wing called Baitul Zakat (House of Zakat). He also said that an authentic survey of zakat needs to be done.
Why do madrassas corner a lion’s share of all this money? Islamic scholar Maulana Wahiduddin Khan says the trend can be traced to the Quranic verse (9:60) which describes the kind of people eligible to seek zakat. The verse, as translated by Maulana Khan, says: “Alms are only for the poor and the destitute, for those who collect zakat, for conciliating people’s hearts, for freeing slaves, for those in debt, for spending for God’s cause, and for travellers in need. It is a legal obligation enjoined by God. God is all-knowing and wise.“ Although the verse does not provide for zakat money to be spent on religious education, those who run madrassas seek the funds in the name of poor children attending the schools, says Khan.
Collection of zakat and its distribution remain messy as there is no central zakat fund. Former civil servant Zafar Mahmood, who had established Zakat Foundation of India in 1998, says: “My foundation’s main aims include organized collection and institutionalized distribution of zakat. We use zakat fund to run orphanages and educationally empower the Muslim youths.“
Many also question the trend of giving zakat only in the month of Ramzan though it can be given anytime in the year. Since it is believed that every good deed done in Ramzan brings blessings 70 times more than in any other month, most Muslims give zakat in this month.“While it is true that Ramzan brings boundless divine bounties, collection and distribution of zakat should not be confined to just one month,“ says senior cleric Maulana Shoeb Koti, who calls those who seek zakat year after year “professional beggars.“ “These beggars are a bane and must be discouraged,“ ad vocates Maulana Koti. “Once you have taken zakat, you should be zakat giver not seeker.“ The likes of Maulana Qasmi who travel long distances to collect zakat will disagree.