My last post on this subject elicited some informed responses on this forum and a few otherÂ platforms. I would like to share a particular response to this thread by Prof MohammedÂ Mahmood, Professor of Political Science (Retired), Aligarh Muslim University. Here is what heÂ wrote:
â€œThe intent of the Shariah is to support and maintain the indigent, diabled, sick, old andÂ unemployed of a local community by pooling the zakat proceeds in a locally managed ZakatÂ Fund/Baitul Mal. But it is possible that some local communities fall short of funds to meet theirÂ obligation. In that case other affluent communities may redirect their funds to the deficitÂ communities. Since Muslim communities are dispersed and unorganized in a continental countryÂ centralization of collection of zakat funds or their centralized dispersal is neither desirable norÂ possible. Let us evolve a confederal approach to management and distribution of zakat funds withÂ different regional and local communities cooperating with and aiding each other. This naturallyÂ implies transfer of funds from the developed rich regions to the underdeveloped poor regions on aÂ voluntary and humanitarian basis.â€
I would like to add a few ideas here perhaps to build on his suggestions. I would like toÂ differentiate between a central platform, a central organization and a central pool of funds orÂ Zakat Fund.
It is indeed possible to create a â€œcentral platformâ€ as well as a â€œcentral organizationâ€ withoutÂ having to create a â€œcentral pool of fundsâ€, as the latter is not quite in line with the â€œlocalizedÂ spendingâ€ concept as intended by Shariah. From what the Shariah experts tell us regardingÂ priorities to be given (in zakat distribution) to the poor among oneâ€™s own relatives, neighbors, co-villagersÂ and so on, the intended impact would be centrifugal (with the exception of crisis-likeÂ situations that would require emergency intervention).
The central platform would bring in huge economies of scale in collection (by cutting down costs inÂ the form of remuneration claimed by collectors that is as high as 40 percent of inflows) and inÂ distribution (by cutting down the transportation costs of carrying goods for distribution etc.).Â The central organization would bring in economies of scope and better tackle issues that are collectiveÂ in nature (devising and implementing self-regulation mechanisms, standardized and transparentÂ accounting and operating procedures, resolution of fiqhi issues and standardization of rules (evenÂ while retaining and respecting the divergence of views among different schools of thought andÂ madhabs), education and training of the zakat professionals, awareness building among the public,Â advocacy with government and society etc.)Â At the same time, with the use of Information Technology it is possible to take decentralization inÂ distribution to its ultimate level, where every zakat payer identifies with and pays to the zakatÂ receiver (individual or organization) that he/she wants to. This would be good governance at its bestÂ and Shariah compliance at its best.
A beginning could be made in this regard by calling upon perhaps the most active part of the IndianÂ Muslim community, i.e. the young IT professionals. A few volunteer-IT professionals may comeÂ together and build the platform as a pilot project and demonstrate to the community (especially ourÂ ulema and intellectuals) the great potential that lies ahead for community empowerment throughÂ efficient zakat management. I am sure the cynics and those resisting any change in status quo wouldÂ certainly come forward to embrace the concept once they are aware of the possibilities. Any takersÂ please?
Mohammed Obaidullah | February 24, 2014