Zakat and its Role in Social Empowerment

The ultimate purpose of giving Zakat is to create self-sufficient people who could, in future, move from being Zakat-takers to Zakat-givers. This needs more than just your money – it needs your time and commitment.

By Abdul Rahim

Islam, as a complete way of life, mandates Ibaadat (worship) of Allah through several means – but all these have associated benefits too. If prayer connects us to Allah, fasting develops self-control and the Haj re-connects us to Islam’s spiritual past, then Zakat is surely Islam’s tool for social empowerment.
Zakat promotes detachment (from wealth), concern (for the under-privileged), humility (in giving) and empathy (in feeling their pain).
The Annual Zakat payable in India is estimated at more than Rs.40,000crores– almost 10 times the 2017-18 budget of the Ministry for Minority Affairs. If despite this great infusion every year, things are not changing on the ground – we need to ask ourselves – are we doing it right?
In our view, Zakat can be made more effective as a tool for social and economic empowerment if Muslims can follow three suggestions:

1. Calculate Correctly
Although there is no formal study, anecdotal experience suggests that Muslims pay Zakat on an incremental basis every year and are not aware of the detailed calculation requirements. A businessman who attended a ‘Zakat Simplified’ workshop in Kolkata admitted that after learning the process, he recalculated his Zakat and ended up paying thrice the Zakat amount that year. Miraculously, his business also doubled over the next one year!
The risk in under-paying Zakat is greater for the person than the community – for he shall be answerable to Allah on the day of Judgment. Hence, making an effort to consult and accurately calculate Zakat every year is a wise investment for the Hereafter.
2. Channelise Wisely
A Chinese proverb says:
‘If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day;if you teach him to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.’
This is the difference between ‘feeding today’s hungry’ versus ‘building tomorrow’s people’. At present, our Zakat amounts are being used only for meeting day-to-day needs – not to create long term capacity. The two most promising areas for this are – promoting education and building livelihoods. Instead of giving Zakat in cash, we can consider innovative models which will channelize funds to these areas. For instance, able bodied men can be given vending machines, vending stands, cycle rickshaws or even autos. Similarly, a scholarship fund can be set up which will be funded by Zakat and in which meritorious, but economically weak families can rest assured that their children can study unhindered in the future.
Another aspect is reaching the deserving people for Zakat. Isn’t it sad that we have job sites to connect employee with employer, matrimonial sites to search for potential spouse, but alas – no such facility is there to connect the Zakat deserving beneficiary with the Zakat donor. In its absence, it is imperative that Muslim run NGOs (as modern day Baitul-Maal) bridge this gap effectively.

3. Complement with Advice
The Spirit of Zakat is to give to others from the blessings that Allah has given you. So, if you are blessed with knowledge or skills, devote some time to teaching and sharing it with the underprivileged. If you have experience of running a business, help another person in his start-up. Our Zakat money, complemented with mentoring, will enable better long term results.
The ultimate purpose of giving Zakat is to create self-sufficient people who could, in future, move from being Zakat-takers to Zakat-givers. This needs more than just your money – it needs your time and commitment.
Request
As the month of Ramadan approaches, I would request the readers to consider three small changes in our annual practice:
i) Calculate your Zakat afresh every year with advice from a suitable scholar.
ii) From your Zakat, set aside an amount to be given as monthly educational scholarship to at least one deserving student and
iii) With your Zakat money, help at least one family to stand on their feet – perhaps give them a machine or an asset to earn a livelihood.
If you can’t do these things on your own, commit to an NGO which is working in this area – they will do the job of identifying the needy beneficiary and you can make the payment.
And yes, give some time to improve their lives. Zakat should not just be an annual ritualistic giving exercise, it should be a continuing effort for social empowerment and development.
(Abdul Rahim is a Chartered Accountant based in Kolkata. He is the founder of The Sirri Saqti Foundation (TSSF) and www.ZakatOnline.in ). He can be reached at [email protected])

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