Up, Up and Away: Tracing the Trajectory of International Cooperation in Zakat Management

The World Zakat Forum which ended its 5th International Conference in Jakarta on 16th March 2017 witnessed participation from 21 countries. During the last seven years of its existence (it was born in the October 2010 at a similar event in Yogyakarta, Indonesia), WZF has scaled new heights with high-profile events in New York (2014) and Banda Aceh (2015).

Islamic economists have always underscored the need for international cooperation in the field of zakat and waqf management. The Islamic Research and Training Institute of the Islamic Development Bank Group in collaboration with the governments of Jordan, Kuwait and the International Islamic Fiqh Academy have been in the forefront, coordinating activities of Muslim nations in the field of zakat and waqf since 1984. The First Meeting of the first such initiative – International Conference on Zakat – was held in Kuwait in May 1984. Subsequent conferences under this initiative were held in Riyadh (1986), Kuala Lumpur (1990), Dakar (1995), Kuwait (1998), Doha (2003), Kuwait (2007) and Beirut (2010). This initiative essentially recommended the establishment of a Forum for coordinating the programs and activities of zakat institutions. Though the First Meeting also recommended the creation of a Global Zakat Fund, the idea of centralized zakat collection and distribution of zakat was dropped subsequently.

A landmark development in 2006 was the proposal by the International Chamber of Commerce and Industry along with Government of Malaysia to establish an International Zakat Organization (IZO) to be headquartered in Kuala Lumpur. The proposal elicited strong support from various quarters. The Islamic Summit in its 11th session in Dakar, Senegal held in 2008 in a resolution mooted by ICCI “welcomed the World Zakat Authority and the World Public Institution for Waqfs and called on member-states to authorize the two institutions to open national and city branches”. It also highlighted “the need to mobilize zakat funds in the OIC geographical area and allocate them rationally and efficiently to the needy so that such a pillar of Islam is made a vital aspect of Islamic solidarity.” The ICCI proposed IZO essentially aimed at creating IZO as a subsidiary body within the ICCI with branches inside each OIC member country to act as a center for collection and distribution of zakat. The idea found mention in several resolutions of the Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM) of OIC member countries – 34th, 35th, 36th and 37th sessions held in Islamabad (2006), Kampala (2008), Damascus (2009) and Dushanbe (2010). The 34th session took note and appreciated the efforts of the Malaysian authorities towards finalizing the format of the establishment of IZO. The 36th session “appreciated the establishment of IZO as a subsidiary body of the ICCI and its regional branches in Benin, Egypt, Mauritania, Senegal and Sudan.” The 37th session urged ICCI “to rejuvenate the activities of IZO as a viable mechanism for socio-economic integration, poverty alleviation and disaster management in OIC member states.”

In 2010 Malaysia went ahead with a meeting of OIC member countries on zakat where the Articles of Agreement on IZO were adopted. Later in the year, the country recommended a change in the name to World Zakat Organization (WZO). Among other things, the WZO aimed to collect zakat, sadaqa, grants and other forms of charity for onward distribution among asnaf through provision of education and health care and creating employment opportunities for the poor. It sought to target high networth individual Muslims across the globe, managing the funds prudently with the help of reputed asset management companies and to leverage its network with establish Muslim philanthropy organizations. In doing so, WZO would not interfere in internal zakat management system of each founding member of WZO and other member-states of OIC. However, the launch of the WZO did not come to fruition.

Yet another initiative was proposed with the establishment of the Association of Tax Authorities in Islamic Counties (ATAIC) in 2003 in Malaysia. It aimed to facilitate improvement in tax administration and promote Shariah-based taxation, especially zakat, within Muslim countries. The ATAIC aims to meet once a year on a rotating basis in different member states of OIC and essentially aims to provide a Forum for discussion, deliberation, experience-sharing and facilitate the development and improvement of tax and/or zakat policies and administration.

The birth of World Zakat Forum in 2010 could not have been more timely. Though it was an outcome of the efforts of zakat experts mainly from Indonesia and Malaysia, comprising representatives from zakat agencies of these two countries – both private and public – and IDB as an international stakeholder, it was more appropriately, a fruition of the continuous efforts over several decades to enhance international cooperation in zakat management. And now, with Indonesia taking rapid strides in developing core principles and standards for zakat management for a global audience, international cooperation is here to stay. International cooperation in zakat is an idea, which is going to fly.

To parody the famous 1967 song sung by many well-known singers including Nancy Sinatra, this idea can fly, it can fly………up, up and away in a beautiful balloon.

(The author is a Founding Member of World Zakat Forum)

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