By Dr M A Patankar
Islam is a complete guide to life and living. It contains a set of guidelines for overall development of human beings, covering all aspects of life be it the battlefield or bedroom or to say boardroom or Parliament. As a matter of fact, it gives principles and solutions to all the problems of human existence. However, the unfortunate part is that Muslims with the passage of time started drifting away from the teachings of the religion leading to rise in poverty and backwardness of the community. If a Muslim follows the teachings of Islam in a true sense, prosperity will be bestowed upon him here, as well as hereafter.
Zakat (charity) is one of the fundamental principles of Islam which is obligatory for all adult Muslims who earn a minimum amount of money each year – known as nisab. Zakat can be called a “solution” to all the problems faced by the Muslims and can be beneficial in solving the financial as well as the educational issues faced by them. It can put an end to both financial and educational backwardness. Besides, it will prove to be fruitful in establishing a clean society. While the majority of Muslims pay zakat, still some stay away from it by giving one reason or the other which is crime in the eyes of an Islamic state and punishable sin.
Nevertheless, the huge amount of money paid in charity (zakat) goes in vain, largely due to mismanagement. The payers do not bother to even enquire about their money or enquire about the people to whom the amount is reaching, whether they are needy or not, or whether they are deserving. It is also worth mentioning that certain groups and individuals indulge in embezzlement even as certain undeserving sections opt to ask for zakat, thereby depriving the real beneficiaries. In fact, habitual beggars too should be kept off the pool of the needy who are given financial assistance from the zakat fund. But it is hard to convince a benign, or say simpleton, Muslim to stop paying charity money to them.
Whether zakat is paid at an individual level or a collective level, it is important to collect all the information and verify all the details about the beneficiaries. Zakat needs to reach its original beneficiary. Islam does not encourage begging.
In our society, some people steal the amounts of Zakat by abusing and exploiting the sentiments of people on religious grounds. Beggars can be seen in large numbers outside mosques asking for zakat, but very few of them are needy. In fact, zakat should be given to the needy for their encouragement to earn lawful livelihood through hard work. It is, in a sense, a temporary financial assistance. The long lines and large groups of beggars inside and around the beautiful mosques are a shame for an entire community. The community should get rid of this scourge as soon as possible.
There is a societal stratum, so it is pertinent to identify the correct section to which the zakat should be paid to. There are set and clear guidelines in Islam, i.e Muslims should find out what is the best use of zakat by consulting religious leaders and scholars. A big part of zakat goes to religious schools called madrasas.
Zakat can be used informally as well. It has been tested on a limited scale in some parts of the nation and some good results have been achieved. This experiment needs to be supplemented on a larger scale with the advice of religious scholars of Islam.If Muslims collect zakat properly and spend it wisely, then poverty and backwardness will be history. Humanity, compassion and high moral values will be promoted in society. While giving zakat, one should pay more attention to those people who are suffering from various kinds of hardships. Some people suffer from incurable diseases, while others are in large debts. Some people are not able to fix the marriages of their daughters and sons. It is mandatory to identify such people and help them out. Efforts must be laid to protect zakat from going into the hands of corrupts and cooks and ensure that the money goes to needy and helpless people. If a real system of zakat is established, there will be prosperity and happiness all around. Such experiments have been carried out in the past, and can replicate even today.
According to experts, more than Rs 20000 crore are annually paid by Muslims to individuals as well as to institutions for education and welfare schemes. Yet, the Muslims found themselves in deplorable conditions. It’s beyond doubt that mismanagement mars the initiative. If zakat money is really managed properly, there will be significant changes in the socio-educational status of the Muslim community. Thus, the situation calls for setting up a centralised system to collect zakat and spend the same in areas in need.
Translated by Babra Wani
The writer is Mumbai based physician and philanthropist.