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Zakat cells: A Kerala model
By ARIF ZAIN, Malappuram
|Zakat is a pillar of Islam and one of its most important components. And next to prayers it is the most important religious duty enjoined on the Muslims. Muslims have agreed indisputably that zakat is obligatory. Whoever denies its obligatory nature after knowing this is outside the fold of Islam.
But of late this most important pillar of Islam has escaped the attention of the followers of Islam They have adopted 'a take-it-easy-policy' towards it, despite the fact that it is mentioned and linked with salat in a great number of places in Qur'an. Even Abu Bakr (R) fought those who differentiated between salat and zakat.
Taking this problem seriously, some Muslim organisations in Kerala gave special attention to this neglected area of sharia and appealed to the members of Muslim society to discharge their religious duties regarding zakat. Swimming against the tide, these organisations have set up special cells to collect and distribute zakat and fitr zakat in a systematic way. Taking the amount of zakat from the rich and giving to the poor, these cells have set a model for the Muslims of the State
"Individual payment of zakat loses much of its significance and it could have an adverse effect on the poor, it would create another form of slavery making the taker a protégé of the giver and the former could be used for the personal gains of the latter." says Abdul Qadir Zainuddin, general secretary of Kerala Nadwatul Mujahideen (KNM) and one of the founder members of its zakat cell se up in the state. "The individual payment will be in effect a tacit approval to beggary", he said.
Flocks of men and women wandering street by street on the 26th day of Ramadan to collect their 'zakat' was a common sight in the State-beggary in the guise of religious rite. When we found the situation deteriorating with each passing year it was in late seventies we began seriously thinking about a viable solution to this situation and this led to setting up of zakat cells", says Abdul Qadir "The result was inspiring," he added.
One of the main objectives of the cells, according to him, is to prevent poor Muslim public from running helter-skelter on the lailatul Qadr and on the eve of Id el Fitr. "We achieved this goal to a greater extent. Since the onus is on the committee to deliver zakat amount to the deserving, the poor will not have to take themselves to street to collect their zakat share. One of the great defects of individual payment of zakat is that it neglects the fuqara (the poor who do not beg), who hesitate to let their appalling agony be known to others; as a result they will be left starved even on the day of Id. Instead of considering zakat their right they would take it as some sort of beggary and prefer to stay at home", he added
The zakat cells under Kerala Nadwatul Mujahideen are working as an interlinked network; the local cells receive directions from the central committee. KNM has 600 odd mosques in its control in the State; around every mosque there is a small population of Muslims. The mosque and the people around are called a mahalla. Every mahalla is being managed by a local committee; this committee would form a zakat cell with a chairman and an honorary secretary. This cell would notify at the end of every assessment period requesting to the rich to deliver their due share of zakat to the cell (zakat is levied on a yearly basis, and normally the assessment period in the State is Ramadan to Ramadan, because people prefer Ramadan to give alms) and they would be given a detailed report of previous year's collection, disbursement and other expenditure. This is the modus operandi of zakat cells under Kerala Nadwatul Mujahideen.
Other zakat committees including that of Jama'at-e-Islami too have adopted more or less similar methods for collection and distribution of zakat. Though the Jama'at follows the above methods in collecting and distributing zakat at unit level, its central committee receives no share from the units. The central committee has a zakat fund of its own called Baituzzakat. It receives zakat from philanthropists from all over the State and distributes among deprived whom the Baituzzakat identifies as deserving, says A. Muhammad Ali, secretary in charge of Baituzzakat under Jama'at-e-Islami Kerala. Though the unit level zakat cells existed for some thirty years the Baituzzakat was opened only in the year 2000. The beginning of the venture itself proved a great success, he said.
The objections were raised by some ulama to the collective zakat system, he said. "the objections relating to the legal validity of collective zakat are negligible, he added. To say, zakat would not be discharged through zakat cells, is just like you say that salat will not be accepted if it is performed in jama'ah", he added.
Those who are advocating individual payment of zakat, seem to have mistaken zakat for sadaqa. Sadaqa is mere alms giving while zakat is an obligatory duty enjoined on the Muslims. Islam does not differentiate between zakat and prayer, zakat should be paid whether the needy existed or not but sadaqa is not so; if there is no needy sadaqa is not required to be given. He said.
The zakat cells are working systematically in urban and rural areas alike. In cities there would be more collection than that of villages. Take Eranakulam for instance, last year KNM zakat cell in this metropolis had collected 22 lakh rupees. After distributing Rs.2000 each among the poor to celebrate Id, the committee reserved the rest to build houses (19 houses) for the poor, medical treatment and annual pensions for disabled and deprived ones. The committee is planning to reserve a major portion of this year's collection of zakat for self-employment programme for unemployed youths. In Calicut city also similar amount of zakat was received last year by zakat cells controlled by KNM and Jama'at-e-Islami and other agencies and organisations.
"The success of KNM zakat cell in collecting a huge amount of zakat has attracted new entrants into this field in Eranakulam", says Noor Muhammad Noor Shah, secretary, KNM Eranakulam district committee. A faction of the Shafi Muslims, hitherto opponents of collective zakat system has announced this year that they were planning to collect and distribute zakat collectively " We welcome the move. In coming years there will be more newcomers", he hoped.
"Every year the amount is on the increase. This year's collection is the best we received ever, "says MP Mahaboob Ali, honorary secretary of the zakat cell, Pathappiriyam, an average mahalla by size with a membership of 300 families in the rural area of Malappuram district. "We receive zakat both in cash and kind." About its distribution Ali said, "We will give away this sum to the poor, indigent, debtors, and wayfarer.
Last year our cell distributed the money for medical treatment (10 persons), debtors (3 persons),house repairing (3 persons), self-employment (4 persons), education (4 persons) and the yearly assistance to the Pain and Palliative Clinic (PPC) and the Islahi Medical Care and Aid (IMCA). 1/5 of the total collection goes to the central zakat cell. This amount is being used for the benefit of the mu'allafatul qulub, (persons whose hearts have been inclined towards Islam) and distributed in the areas, where no zakat cell existed.
The zakat cells under Kerala Nadwatul Mujahideen, are operating in most of the important cities and towns in Malappuram, Calicut and Kannur districts where it has a strong presence and a densely Muslim population and other prominent cities like Eranakulam, Thiruvananthapuram and Trissur.
Though the call for collective zakat is receiving good response from different quarters within the community the nascent system has miles to go as a vast majority of orthodox Muslims did not stomach the idea such as the organisations representing Shafi Muslims, generally known as Sunnis (this reference has nothing to do with the general sunni-shia divide; shias are non-existent in this part of the country) who constitute majority of the Muslim community in the State, opposed collective zakat tooth and nail. According to them the responsibility of collecting zakat is on Islamic government. Where there is no Islamic government individual payment is the one and only alternative. Some of them have gone to the extent of saying that the zakat would not be discharged if it was given to zakat committees. They are of the view that there is no proof for collective zakat in Prophet's tradition.
Even as the resistance continues, some mahallas under the control of sunnis have introduced the scheme. Sunni mahallas like Manjeri, Tirur in Malappuram district have adopted collective measures for the collection and disbursement of zakat. More mahallas are likely to turn to this path in near future, anticipate promoters of collective zakat.
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