Welfare not, Development!
The concept of charity has undergone a sea change the world over. Welfare is no longer the objective. Now the charity is used for development in a big way in order that people become self-reliant and look after themselves. This concept has helped the Western countries and some selected communities in India in alleviating poverty and turning the society from that of takers to one of givers. Sikhs run the Sri Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) in a democratic fashion, pool their charities and run hundreds of schools, colleges, hospitals and langars (feeding centres for visitors at Gurdwaras). Nearly all the people who eat at langars are from communities other than Sikhs.
But the Muslims still stick to the traditional concept of feeding of poor, arranging the mass circumcision, organising the last rites of the unclaimed bodies, maintaining the widows, or in extreme cases, funding the marriage of poor girls, contribution for madrassas, treatment of the sick among the poor, etc. But nothing beyond that. To say the least, this concept is myopic and does not help the needy to come out of the miserable rut they are caught in. On the other hand, it perpetuates poverty and dependence. This is in contrast to the concept of charity for development and imparting self reliance to the needy.
By the time you have this issue in hand, the holy month of Ramadhan will be on, heralding the season of piety and charity for the faithfuls. But the cities in South India will see a swarm of safeers (charity collectors) of madrassas from Deoband, Lucknow, Basti, Saharanpur, Darbhanga and Patna. And down south in Kerala and Tamil Nadu some stampedes-and even deaths — could be in evidence for grabbing free saris doled out by the Muslim philanthropists. The very Muslim elite whose kids are born in missionary hospitals and receive education in missionary schools would set out with families to make a repeat performance of umrah. This is a sickening spectacle. Sickening because an undernourished, illiterate and for most part, sick community squanders its limited resources on unworthy causes and is totally oblivious of the task of turning the society from that of takers to givers. A takers’ society has no self-esteem and self-confident people, people who could be emulated in the society. One reason why a class of ulema has fallen in disgrace is because it has taken to sycophancy of the rich and the powerful and are unable to preserve their own sense of judgement and impart any vision to the time and society they live in.
It is time our charities are diverted to institutions engaged in purposeful and productive education, hospitals, elimination of child labour, rehabilitation homes for the disabled, libraries, media, technical educational institutions, construction of hostels, old age homes, shelters for the terminally ill people, centres for empowerment of women etc. These are the centres that ensure that the human resources are developed in order to empower the society. But surely, such a concept is all likely to be opposed by the traditional class of avaricious ulema who are the greatest beneficiary of the Ramadhan charities and for whom development and empowerment hold no meaning. Even more obnoxiously, there would be posters on the mosque notice boards describing specific madrassas “the only deserving institutions” for zakat or sadaqath (charities). This is the modern way of out-stooping others while vying for charities. Obviously, those who are unaware of the difference between welfare and development and charity and investment in HRD cannot be blamed for what they do with people’s money.
Then there is the weird interpretation of uses of zakat whereby the zakat givers are prevented from contributing for modern institutions such as schools, libraries, media, hospitals and construction of such facilities that benefit the whole of the community. It is argued that Hanafi maslak restricts the investment of zakat in common facilities and exhorts you in placing the money in the hands of the poor, or in other words making them absolute owners of the money. This narrow vision and approach would take us nowhere. Most of the charities pooled from Arab sheikhs do not come from Hanafis. The Arabs are Hanbalis in maslak and do not believe in placing the money in the hands of the poor. It will therefore be appropriate that we Indian Muslims too interpret our needs and priorities in tune with the times and society we live in.
Let us be reminded that the West and the Western ideology did not owe their rise to welfare scheme but to the concept of development. An outstretched arm or a begging bowl can never be withdrawn, unless the person to whom they belong has self esteem to strive to earn his own bread and the necessary skills to achieve that aim. This cuts out a role for our charities.