Zakat and Charity should be instruments for developing the poor

by Prof. Dr. Mumtaz Ali Khan


President Obama on Zakat

One of the serious concerns of all those who have been blessed by Almighty Allah is the status of the poor. The wide gap between the rich and poor is alarming. It is not a reasonable argument that all this depends upon the will of God.

What efforts are we, as human beings, commanding certain surplus comforts and luxury, doing for the comfort of the poor? Islam has rightly given a mandate to all believers that negligence of the incapable does not earn the good will of God. Sharing whatever one has with one′s fellow being will enrich the former in many ways.

The arrogance of affluence has totally punctured our social behaviour. Islam does not permit display of arrogance just because of possession of excess of wealth. Let us remember quite often what Oliver Goldsmith said, “Where wealth accumulates, men decay.”

Muslims cannot be an exception to this universal truth. The rich in general tend to ignore the fact that wealth is a temporary phase in one′s life. How one uses wealth determines one′s later life. There are instances of great families who were millionaires once. But their children and grand children are seen suffocating in utter poverty. It was brought out by star T.V recently that the descendants of Akbar, the Great, the mighty emperor of Moghal dynasty, are struggling for survival. Who cares for them? How many Muslim individuals and groups have come forward to trace the descendants and rehabilitate them? It is in the nature of man “to take and not to give”. We may shed crocodile tears. We may show our concern and pride for Moghal dynasty. But when it comes to parting with our money, we take a retreat.

This is the fate of the descendants of Tippu Sultan. Tippu, the tiger, is acclaimed world over for his heroic deeds. But his descendents are living in huts, driving Tonga′s. Apart from lip sympathy, there is no concrete and visible sign of sincerity in taking up any rehabilitation measures.

Well, if this is the fate of the great ruler′s descendants, what about small men? The poor are suffering and continue to suffer. Rich may give charity and zakat once a year. How many rich, eligible to give zakat as an Islamic mandate do give every year? How many give happily and voluntarily? Should they confine themselves only to 2.5% of the admissible amount? Should they not be liberal? Well, it all depends upon the attitudes and mental make up of the rich. How much food do their children waste? How many pairs of dress do they need? These people adopt reckless and extravagant ways of expenditure totally prohibited in Islam.

What next? Should we not think of some measures through which we can find out medicine for this type of social pathology? One such measure which I instantly bring to surface is that, while the capable and eligible be encouraged to be liberal in giving zakat and charity, the tendency to enable poor to become parasites should be curbed. The poor should be motivated to work hard and earn their livelihood. The amount collected from zakat and charity should be pooled and operated. There is a need for control mechanism.

Our Baitulmaals can be effective agencies. But at present they are too weak and poorly managed. This system which is a trust created for the benefit of the poor should be restructured and its role well defined. There should be statutory controls. Law should be operative with punitive action. Trustworthy and capable Muslims should manage these institutions. Let every Muslim make some contribution in the name of God to this Baitulmaal. Zakat amount should be ploughed into this with proper accounting and auditing system.

Thus the pooled amount can be best used for starting programmes for deserving able-bodied person to help earn his bread through efforts. Dropouts from schools can be assisted to undertake economic activities. By the time they grow into adulthood, they should be capable of earning meaningful income. Experts with a sense of commitment should be roped in. There are eminent economists and industrialists who can be involved in preparing blue-prints for economic rehabilitation of the poor.

It should be underscored that besides economic inputs what is equally required is a social outlook in life. Such concepts as self-respect, self-reliance, honesty, hard work, avoidance of wastage, futurity and aspiration in life to become something better than the present status would help a lot in social development.

These are not at all alien concepts to Islam.

All that we require is to propagate a minimum message of Islamic blueprint for socio-economic development. The religious leaders too have a vital role to play in taking up practical measures while they give their sermons to ensure a slow but steady radical socio-cultural transformation to ensure blissful family life. Perhaps a day may come when the poor do not perpetuate poverty. They may come out of the shackles of poverty and see rays of better future. This is not a myth or an Utopian theory. This can be a social reality. Let us work together to see this glorious day.