In Depth

Zakat is an obligation, but is it ebbing destitution?

As the holy month Ramzan is bidding adieu, the faithful are exploring means to fulfil the ‘third pillar of Islam’ by paying Zakat to the needy. But in a conflict-ridden society packed with widows and orphans, a common refrain remains: Why isn’t our Zakat creating a sweeping social change?

From a tin-shed to a newly-built house, Yasmeena’s life journey—marred with family dispute, regular financial woes and distressed state of mind—is a typical example of how low-income families can bounce back in life, if supported through small charities, like Zakat.

Zakat is a set amount of one’s surplus wealth given in charity. Islam makes it an act of worship for Muslims, a spiritual duty, solely for the sake of Allah.

Married to a willow worker who hardly makes Rs 100 a day, life has been tough for Yasmeena and her seven daughters. After being given just one fourth of the property share by her father-in-law, she lived in a tin-shed, with her family.

“I had to move out of our old house because my father-in-law gave it to his younger son,” Yasmeena says. “We lived in a tin-shed for years.”

Bringing up seven daughters under those circumstances was a difficult for her. Help eventually came when her acquaintances, mindful of her plight, came forward, every year, and helped her with Zakat.

Being the third of the total five pillars of Islam, Zakat is mentioned alongside Salah in the holy Quran and is extremely important to Muslims around the world. It’s compulsory on four types of wealth: money, trading goods, agricultural products and livestock.

It was this system of Zakat, which prevented Yasmeena’s family from begging, she says, because whatever her husband earned, was exhausted before meeting monthly household needs.

“I’m thankful to Allah that in this dire situation, He created a window of Zakat for people like me,” she says. “It’s because of Zakat that I could not only build a shelter for my daughters, but also gave them education in order to make them self-sufficient.”

Representational Picture.

While three of her daughters couldn’t study (because of financial distress) beyond Class 12 and two beyond graduation, Yasmeena is now counting on her youngest daughter, studying to become a lawyer.

Although she remains hopeful, Yasmeena is now staring at a hard reality at the same time.

Earlier she got her two daughters married with the help of Zakat. But now, she is often told, “we paid Zakat to an orphanage or some trust”. The snub has deprived the family from a significant life-support.

In recent years, Kashmir has witnessed a boom of charitable organization and orphanages. As the political situation resulting in an ugly conflict rendered many as orphans across the Valley, these organizations emerged as a larger societal response to the situation.

But as they’ve become an easy way for people to pay Zakat and get off their religious duty, many ask, are these organizations creating a larger social change in the society?

Most of these organizations become active during Ramzan and start collecting funds in the name of Zakat by going door-to-door, village-to-village and office-to-office.

Having proper hierarchy of employees who get paid for their services, these bodies many a times seem to be business units. By selling the plight of these needy people, the collector gets a part of the amount.

And the sad part remains that this charity-collecting network isn’t always run by holy cows. Many mischievous persons have reportedly coughed up charity collected in the name of orphans in the past.

And therefore, many argue, Zakat should primarily go to one’s needy kith and kin circle. Even Islam ordains it.

But now, as the major portion of Zakat is fed to the trusts and orphanages, the larger destitution of the society remains unattended.

“I knew a widow from Srinagar whose condition remained unnoticed in the larger religious fervour around us during Ramzan,” says Hafeez Ullah, a doctor from Old Srinagar. “While the faithful would line up to feed alms to those strident and rumbling orphanage vehicles, her condition remained unnoticed. Every year, those jeeps would arrive and take home a bagful of relief and cash, but that widow suffered in want of support. And you know how sensitive some of these tormented women are. Some of them would rather prefer die in silence, rather than speak for support.”

A few years back, the doctor said, the widow’s silent funeral ended her unattended plight in an indifferent society.

Such cases make one feel that Kashmiri society is yet to come up with the larger mechanism to take care of their needy. And Zakat being an important tool in that, perhaps needs a revisit, rather than being distributed in a typical good-riddance manner.

And by finding out easy ways to pay off Zakat to these charitable trusts, many confuse it with a charity out of kindness like Sadaqah or Sadaqah Jariyah, rather than a yearly spiritual obligation.

Before paying it to any institution, one must first help the needy at an individual level, in one’s immediate circle. Only then, perhaps, Zakat will defeat the destitution.


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