Zakat is one of the five fundamental pillars of Islam. It is an indispensable instrument of an Islamic society. It is mandatory for Muslims for their physical and spiritual purification through parting a part of their annual income by way of donation to the poor and needy.
Where Allah ordered for Salah, He ordered to pay Zakat. Allah mentioned Zakat in the Holy Qur’an 88 times. From it we can realise the importance of paying Zakat. Allah also clarifies who will get benefit from Zakat. According to Surah Al-Tawba of the Qur’an, ayat 60, there are eight categories of people who qualify to benefit from Zakat funds: ‘Alms are for the poor and the needy, and those employed to administer the (funds): for those whose hearts have been (recently) reconciled (to Truth); for those in bondage and in debt; in the cause of Allah; and for the wayfarer: (thus is it) ordained by Allah, and Allah is full of knowledge and wisdom.’
But some people prefer to ignore this and try to present themselves as very generous individuals. In doing so, they cause more harm than good to the people around. Zakat related tragedies occurred every year. Statistics showed that 251 people have reportedly died in Zakat-related accidents in the last 35 years. From the disaster of the 1980s, the govt did not take any punitive action over the culprits. And Islamic scholar society doesn’t take any awareness raising programme to prevent such malpractice. The worst such incident was in 1990 in Chittagong where 35 people were killed. Who is responsible for snatching away Eid from these people who have died or were injured? Were these 251 deaths collateral damage for rich man’s charity? Does not this way of distributing Zakat negate the teachings of Islam? Is it so important to be known as ‘benefactor’ of the locality by killing men?
In this connection, I would like to criticise Islamic scholars for not bringing out any procession against such acts in the name of distributing Zakat. Why they don’t issue any statement about the tragic deaths of 251 people trampled underfoot in a rush to collect Zakat clothes? Why they don’t take any awareness programme to prevent such accidents?
In Bangladesh, The distribution of Zakat clothes and money by private contributors has become a social practice of the rich people. Distribution of Zakat by local rich people is often helpful for the poor who get instant benefits. But it causes serious problems when provided on the premises of the contributors with an announcement across towns and villages. Hundreds and thousands of poor people rush to the venues but such venues often may not be large enough to accommodate such a huge gathering of people seeking Zakat money and clothes.
I think, the method of giving Zakat in our country follows no rules or regulation. Otherwise, why they considered Ramadan as the only month to distributing Zakat? My opinion is that it can be done throughout the year. I think Islam is a pure and perfect religion where everything has been made very clear. Many verses in the holy Qur’an as well as things written down in the Hadiths show how to perform Zakat properly. So far my knowledge is concerned, there were no stories of sufferings for the poor in the distribution of Zakat during the reign of our Prophet (pbuh. In spite of clarification of the process and purpose of distribution of Zakat, some people use it as a stair for the sake of gaining honour, name and fame and establish themselves as kind-hearted men in society.
The main purpose to pay Zakat is eradication of poverty from society but the present rituals followed in Bangladesh to distribution of Zakat doesn’t refer to eradication of poverty but enhancement. How many people came out of poverty through distribution of Zakat in the present manner? By receiving Zakat money how many people changed their lives or livelihood? By means of Zakat, poverty can be eliminated from our society.
Everyone will be able to repay his/her debts. Once, during the rule of Hazrat Umar, there was a time where there were none to receive Zakat.
Hazrat Umar was able to establish proper distribution of Zakat during his tenure. The Zakat money by moneyed men should be distributed in such a way that the receivers can bring significant changes to their lives and livelihoods. This is a proper system for Zakat distribution.
Islam teaches us how to perform voluntary charity work. Islam teaches us to keep secret about any donation. We are taught that the left hand shouldn’t know what the right hand gives. We should remember that Zakat is not a voluntary charity work like ‘sadqah’ so that moneyed men summon needy people to take charity. Zakat is obligatory for the well-to-do Muslims for the benefit of poor widows, orphans, travellers, non-Muslims, revenue officials, and others. And even the non-obligatory sadaqah used to reach the poor through state machinery. Again, as Islam and Christianity prohibit “sounding a trumpet” before doing charity so that “they may be honoured by men”. A Hadith elucidates this with no ambiguity: “The best of alms is what the right hand gives, and the left hand does not know”. But unfortunately some people in our society often distribute Zakat for name and fame. And these people are responsible for Zakat related deaths.
However, due to lack of awareness, the concept of Zakat is often misunderstood in our society. This is the high time the government sorted out this issue. The ministry of religious affairs and the Zakat Board along with the individual contributors should come up with a solution to this problem. The board should implement mandatory rules to be followed by the private Zakat contributors. The providing of Zakat with prior announcement in congested place should be prohibited and the Zakat Board should come up with this kind of regulation as the ordinance has provided the board with such authority.
The writer is a Lecturer, Department of Philosophy, Feni South East Degree College. He can be reached at: