Zakat is the third fundamental pillar of Islam.
All Islamic scholars unanimously agree that, to be a Muslim, it is mandatory to pay 2.5% of you’re your wealth as Zakat when one gains a certain amount of wealth.
It is a mandatory process for Muslims for their spiritual purification to donate a portion of their annual income or wealth to the poor and needy. According to the Qur’an’s Surah Al-Tawbah, ayah 60, there are eight ways to distribute Zakat: “Zakat expenditures are only for the poor and for the needy; and for those employed to collect Zakat; and for bringing hearts together for Islam; and for freeing captives or slaves; and for those in debt; and for the cause of Allah; and for the stranded traveller.”
But, some people prefer to ignore this and try to present themselves as very generous individuals. In doing so, they cause more harm than good.
Death by numbers
Zakat-related tragedies have become an annual occurrence. 251 people have reportedly died in Zakat-related accidents over the last 35 years. One of the first incidents was reported in 1980, when 13 people (including children) died in a similar disaster.
In its aftermath, the then government didn’t take any punitive action against the culprits nor did the Islamic scholar society initiate any sort of awareness programs to prevent such malpractice. As a result, people continued to die due to similar reasons -- the worst incident took place in 1990 in Chittagong, where 35 people died.
Who is responsible for taking away Eid from these people, who have died or were severely injured? Were these 251 deaths collateral damage for rich man’s charity? Doesn’t the ostentatious distribution of Zakat negate the teachings of Islam? Is it so important to be known as the “benefactor” of the locality, even if it means death of people?
In the Qur’an, Zakat has been stated as an indisputable right of the poor. Allah has said: ‘You must give Zakat, and, in the long run, I will give you more and more’
In this context, I blame Islamic scholars for not bringing out any processions against such deaths. Why do they not deliver any statement about the tragic and cruel deaths of people trampled underfoot in a rush to collect saris and lungis (donated as Zakat)? More importantly, why haven’t there been awareness programs to prevent such kinds of accidents?
In Bangladesh, the distribution of Zakat clothes and money by individuals has become a social practice for rich people. Although the direct contribution of Zakat by wealthy locals is often helpful for the poor, it causes serious problems when the distribution process is held on the contributor’s premises with an announcement across towns and villages.
Because, this way, hundreds (or even thousands) of poor people rush to the venue but such venues are often not large enough to accommodate such a huge number of people.
As a result, the rush leads to injuries or even death.
The method of giving Zakat in our country follows no rules or regulation. Otherwise, why do most people consider Ramadan as the only month to distribute Zakat? Generally in the month of Ramadan, particularly on Day 27, when Shab-e-Qadr is observed, that’s when people opt to distribute Zakat.
I think Islam is a religion where everything has been made very clear. Many verses in the Qur’an clarify how to perform Zakat properly.
What’s the point of Zakat?
The main purpose of paying Zakat is elevation from poverty but the present rituals in Bangladesh in regards to distribution of Zakat don’t translate to elevation from poverty. How many people did the current system of paying Zakat save from poverty?
If done properly, by means of Zakat, poverty can be eliminated from our society. Everyone will be able to repay their debts. Once, during the rule of Hazrat Umar, there was a time when there was no one in need of Zakat because Umar was able to establish this proper practice of Zakat under his tenure.
Zakat should be distributed in such a way so that the receivers can bring significant changes to their lives and livelihoods. One shouldn’t consider Zakat as tax, alms, or donation.
In stead, in the Qur’an, Zakat has been stated as an indisputable right of the poor. Allah has said: “You must give Zakat, and, in the long run, I will give you more and more.”
Zakat is an obligatory duty for the well-to-do Muslims to benefit poor widows, orphans, travellers, non-Muslims, and others. Moreover, the Qur’an instructs its followers to be discreet about the charity work they perform.
Due to a severe lack of awareness, the concept of Zakat is often misunderstood in our society. Now is the time for change.
Md Sharifur Rahman Adil is a researcher and a writer.