On March 26 a very interesting document â€œAn Act of Faith: Humanitarian Financing and Zakatâ€Â prepared by Chloe Stirk was launched at an event hosted by Development Initiatives and MuslimÂ Charities Forum in London. The paper echoes the concerns expressed by UN HumanitarianÂ Summit at the ever-increasing demand and supply gap for humanitarian funds. For instance, theÂ paper points out, â€œthe total funding requested from international donors within the UnitedÂ Nations (UN)-coordinated humanitarian appeals system more than doubled between 2011 andÂ 2014. While international humanitarian funding has increased to record levels in response, theÂ financing gap appears to be getting bigger: the proportion of appeal requirements met in 2014 wasÂ the lowest since 2001 (58 percent), and the volume of unmet requirements was the highest onÂ record (USD 7.5 billion).â€ Adding to the on-going humanitarian crises in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, theÂ Nepal disaster has further enhanced the need for resources.
Among other sources, the World Humanitarian Summit process is looking at faith-based finance inÂ general and Islamic social finance in particular, that includes zakat and waqf as possible solutions.Â As has been reported in these blogs earlier, figures on zakat mobilized in Muslim societies do offerÂ hope. Countries like Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Sudan and Indonesia alone, for which actual officialÂ data is available, raised over USD 4 billion, USD 630 million, USD 220 million and USD 217Â million respectively during the latest year. While the estimates provided in the paper may appearÂ to be too optimistic at a staggering range of US$200 billion and US$1 trillion (given that a veryÂ large percentage of zakat is paid at individual level), the fact remains that even the officiallyÂ reported numbers (together, the four countries mobilized over USD 5 billion per year) canÂ potentially make a huge difference.Â The paper compiles data from a variety of sources, primarily from IRTI Islamic Social FinanceÂ Report 2014Â seeking to highlight the possibilities offered by zakat in terms of mobilizingÂ and channeling additional financial resources to support international humanitarian response. InÂ addition it identifies a number of potential barriers that will need to be overcome if it is to fullyÂ realize its humanitarian potential. These fall broadly under two main categories:
1) Logistical: These include barriers to streamlining and formalizing how zakat is collected, byÂ whom, and how it is channeled to the humanitarian response community. The logistical barriersÂ are well understood by professionals in the sector and include (i) transparency issues with zakatÂ collection and utilization, given that a huge part of zakat is managed privately by individuals for aÂ variety of reasons; (ii) increasingly complex and restrictive counter-terrorism measures makingÂ institutional transfers of zakat resources extremely difficult; (iii) perceived trade-off betweenÂ centralized coordination and flexibility of localization. Some of these barriers are indeed rootedÂ not in subjective preferences but in religious piety and purity of action. For instance, â€œDonate byÂ one hand, while the other hand does not knowâ€ may encourage private action. Similarly, when aÂ zakat payer believes that his/her liability and obligation extends well beyond making a paymentÂ to ensuring that the contribution flows into the right hands, (s)he may be inclined to avoidÂ institutional zakat managers, unless they are highly transparent and credible.
2) Ideological: The key barrier here relates to addressing the conflicting opinions on whether non-Muslims can benefit from zakat and where it can be used. It is pointed out, if zakat is limited to beÂ used only for Muslims, this would be in direct contradiction to the humanitarian principleÂ of impartiality, namely that â€œhumanitarian action must be carried out on the basis of needÂ alone, giving priority to the most urgent cases of distress and making no distinctions on the basisÂ of nationality, race, gender, religious belief, class or political opinions.â€
What does Shariah say regarding use of zakat funds to help the victims of humanitarian crises?Â For example, given that Nepal is predominantly a Hindu nation, what explains the presence ofÂ zakat-funded NGOs from Indonesia, such as, Dompet Dhuafa Republika, Rumah Zakat and PKPUÂ in Nepal?Â Dr Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, a well-known contemporary scholar, in volume II of his treatise Fiqh Al-Zakat extensively deals with this issue in Chapter 9. According to him, there is hardly anyÂ disagreement on the position that the following categories of individuals must NOT be paid zakat.Â These include the rich, those capable of earning, the disbelievers and apostates who fight against IslamÂ and the descendants of the Prophet (p). The holy Quran is explicit in proscribing any zakatÂ payment to individuals who are at war with Islam. Regarding the non-Muslims who are at peaceÂ with Islam and the Muslims, there seems to be conflicting opinions, the reasons for which may beÂ traced to the well-known saying of the Prophet (p) reported from Muâ€™adh, â€œGod prescribes zakatÂ on their wealth, to be taken from the rich among them and rendered to the poor among themâ€.Â Some scholars believe that the pronoun â€œthemâ€ refers to Muslims. However, as Qaradawi says,Â this saying does not clearly exclude non-Muslim poor, since it may simply mean that zakat shouldÂ be collected and distributed in the same area. Indeed, this saying is often quoted to support theÂ policy of localized zakat management. He also notes that there is absolute nothing againstÂ payment of other forms of charitable contributions to non-Muslims. A few contemporary scholarsÂ opine that zakat may be paid to non-Muslims after the needs of Muslims are met. They seemÂ to favor a priority for Muslims over non-Muslims in zakat distribution, on the ground that zakat isÂ contributed by Muslims only.
Considering some recent initiatives, it appears that the opinion of the scholars associated withÂ some formidable institutional players, e.g. the Islamic Development Bank, Islamic ReliefÂ Worldwide, is not to discriminate between Muslims and non-Muslims. The generalized nature ofÂ the verse in the Qurâ€™an that defines the eligible beneficiaries of zakat is cited as the basis.
â€œThe offerings (zakat) given for the sake of Allah are (meant) only for fuqara (poor) and theÂ masakeen (needy), and ameleen-a-alaiha (those who are in charge thereof), and muallafat-ulquloobÂ (those whose hearts are to be won over), and for fir-riqaab (the freeing of human beingsÂ from bondage), and for al-gharimun (those who are overburdened with debts), and fi-sabeelillahÂ (for every struggle) in Allahâ€™s cause, and ibn as-sabil (for the wayfarer): (this is) an ordinance fromÂ Allah- and Allah is all knowing, wise.â€ (9:60)
The eight categories of eligible beneficiaries as above do not contain an explicit qualifier that theÂ beneficiary must be a Muslim. A case in point is the recent joint initiative of the IslamicÂ Development Bank and the Islamic Relief Worldwide to help the victims of the devastatingÂ earthquake in Haiti that killed around 200,000 people and left 1.5 million homeless. Islamic ReliefÂ Worldwide that is primarily funded by zakat has been a major humanitarian organisation on theÂ scene and has spent over USD 20 million on programs in Haiti over the last five years. One of itsÂ programs to rehabilitate quake-damaged government schools is supported by IDB funding of USÂ $4 million.Â Three Indonesian zakat-funded institutions, the Dompet Dhuafa Republica, Rumah ZakatÂ Indonesia and PKPU in addition to several others, e.g. Islamic Relief, Muslim Aid were present inÂ Nepal offering humanitarian assistance. While Islamic Relief USA launched an appeal to raiseÂ USD100K Dompet Dhuafa had plans to spend USD40K for relief efforts in Nepal. These examplesÂ demonstrate that notwithstanding reservations among some sections of jurists, the verdict amongÂ humanitarian professionals working with worldâ€™s leading zakat-funded institutions is rather clear.
A poor and needy does not need an additional qualifier to be assisted with zakat.
Mohammed Obaidullah | August 20, 2015