Last few years have seen increasing number of Kashmiris voluntarily paying the compulsory Islamic annual tax known as Zakat and, astonishingly, it has corresponded with increasingly more begging hands visible particularly in the month of Ramzan. This is intriguing in the backdrop of mushroom growth of charitable institutions and seminaries who claim to provide free meals, clothing, lodging and education to poor and needy by utilizing zakat funds collected from public. In our mosques, emissaries from various madrassas and institutions collect zakat funds in Ramzan. This is besides the huge collection drive undertaken through mobile vehicles by different trusts collecting zakat for the philanthropic activities they conduct for provision of basic necessities to needy and poor children and adults. This begs a simple question! If more funds are available through zakat every passing year, why are begging hands also increasing and why are the needy families not experiencing an economic uplift?
Islam has prescribed an economic structure in which zakat system induces course correction at the end of a financial year. Those who were left behind in the course of economic activity due to less opportunity or less use of opportunity and lack of initiative or ability during the previous year are entitled to a substantial amount of zakat to enable them to bring their life back on track. So, zakat is not merely giving out doles to poor for sustenance, as is commonly understood.
Primarily, the full potential of zakat funds is not realized since huge amounts due from shibe nisab (those having wealth above the basic threshold limit) are not paid as per the sharia calculator. This is because such Muslims either dont take into account all their liable assets or simply pay much less than due from them. Secondly, while making payments to any one of the eight channels prescribed in verse-60 of Surah Taubah, the actual needs of the recipients are not determined or assessed, hence by making meagre payments to them, the payer falsely contends himself that he has fulfilled his obligation.
Zakat being one of the basic pillars of Islam, it is astonishing to note Muslims in general are mostly ignorant towards their duty or are simply lethargic in fulfilling the obligation entrusted to them.
A recent phenomenon in the Valley orchestrated through Institutional collections and disbursement of zakat in the name of the destitute, needy, orphans, etc has disturbed the basic structural requirement of collection and disbursement in terms of sharia rulings besides infringing upon the economic objectives of the system.
One fundamental requirement of zakat system is called tamleek in sharia vocabulary, which means transfer of property and its rights to the recipient of zakat funds from the giver. From this, it flows that the recipient is entitled to absolute ownership of the property so vested with him and to dispense it according to his wishes. Resultantly, it also implies that the intermediary has no rights to retain with him the funds so collected for someone else. In an Islamic government, amaal, the collectors, officially appointed for the purpose are entitled to receive salaries from the collections for the service they render in collection and disbursement of Zakat. However in the present political setup in Kashmir, appointment of official collectors for collection of zakat is not possible. Therefore the collectors who represent various institutions / trusts at present should not be mistaken for amaal as they are self-appointed intermediaries which in the light of sharia can be best described as vakil whose job may be to identity the needy and they may also pass on the zakat amount on behalf of the giver to the needy. Therefore these Vakils are not entitled to the salary which is due to amaal appointed by an Islamic government. They are also not allowed under any circumstance to retain the collections with them as it vitiates the basic condition which is tamleek or transfer of title and rights in the funds meant for the needy.
Second debilitating effect of Institutional collections in Kashmir is absolute control over dispensation of the funds by these Institutions. In practical terms, it is seen that these Institutions keep the funds with themselves parked in a bank account from where the funds are withdrawn as per institutional requirement of food/ clothing and fees for the inmates or public as the target group may be. Therefore, tamleek does not happen as the rights in property are not transferred to the recipient as per the requirements of Shariah. All the four imams representing four religious schools of thought are in complete agreement that the zakat is not held to be paid if tamleek does not happen. And in the case of institutional collections in the Valley, this is exactly what is happening. Regarding application of the collected funds the Institutions spend part funds as per their requirements and keep the balances in their accounts and in many cases it has been reported that balance funds are then utilised to cover up administrative, capital and other miscellaneous expenses of the institution. In other words, the institution/ trust itself exists by utilising zakat funds which are exclusively meant for poor, needy and destitute, as vividly described in the Quran in verse 60 of surah Taubah. This is gross misappropriation of the funds meant to uplift those who were left behind in the economic activity. On the contrary, by providing for only basic human needs out of the collected funds, the institutions make sure that the recipients do not get enough to raise their standard of living and instead always remain dependent upon the doles given out periodically to them from the Institution out of the bank balance lying with them.
It is also interesting to note that zakat is an annual charge calculated on the basis of lunar calendar. It implies that before next the years collections are made, there should not be any funds stacked from the previous years collections. Stacking funds and not passing these on to the needy either means there are no needy left which is not the case or it proves that the funds have been kept away and needy have been allowed to suffer despite funds being available. Fault again lies with illogical, ethically wrong and above all illegal stacking of funds by Institutions. No wonder poor are remaining poor and begging hands are not decreasing despite spurt in collections.
Thirdly, institutional interference in collections and disbursements have also created another anomaly in that the zakat so disbursed to madrassa students in particular is that it should not be given to those who may themselves fall under the category of givers as their annual savings may be more than the basic threshold limit. It is noteworthy that the basic threshold limit for the current year is around Rs. 25,000/-, which is equivalent to present market value of 52.5 tolas which is 612 grams of silver. Again, when the zakat funds are utilised for meeting food/ clothing of inmates of a madrassa or a trust, there could be cases where some of the inmates may be having more than Rs. 25000/- as savings back home or their parents may be well off, in such a case zakat funds cannot be utilized for them as it amounts to another wrong application of these funds. Nobody seems or has means to verify except the institution itself but since the institution becomes a stumbling block between the giver and the needy, proper application of zakat funds is seriously hindered.
No wonder Muslims, despite having a wonderful zakat system to correct financial imbalances in the society, are always seen with begging bowls and stretched hands not seen in other communities. Zakat system has been abused by undue handling by the self-styled intermediaries who have yet to come to terms with the economic aims of zakat institution in Islam.
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