Role of Zakah in Combating Poverty
Zakah stands on a clear Islamic philosophy that the real owner of wealth is God, and that human beings are only entrusted to make use of that wealth which they earn. The Qur’an says, “And spend (in charity) out of the (substance) whereof He has made you heirs” [57:7]. Islam ordains certain regulations for expending one’s wealth considering the welfare of the whole society. All creatures are the children of God and He is their sustainer, and this is why He instructs the believers to take care of the needy and the beggars. Within this general outlook zakah has been made mandatory to eliminate poverty. It is interesting to note that the highly developed countries in the West did not think of setting up a comprehensive social security system until the first quarter of the 20th century. “Even now the general feeling seems to be that this is a luxury which only the very rich countries can afford.” Because of its religious nature the Muslims continue to pay it since the time of the Prophet (pbuh) till today. There are six countries in the Muslim world which collect zakah by law: Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Sudan, Pakistan and Malaysia, while there are other seven countries which established special institutions for the collection of zakah on voluntary basis: Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Iran, Bangladesh, Bahrain and Iraq. Almost in, every country in which there is a significant number of Muslims, some mosques or organisations or individuals take the responsibility of collecting and distributing zakah. Another characteristic of zakah is that it is well defined from whom it should be collected and to whom it should be given. It is not up to the government of the day to tamper with it as it likes.
Since the major expenditure of zakah is on the indigent, it realises the policy recommended in contemporary studies that, for the alleviation of poverty “every country needs an adequate social safety net to catch those whom markets exclude.” Because of its fixed and recurrent nature, zakah allows the government to make a long-term strategy in combating poverty. In spending zakah priority should be given to the poor in the same region from which it has been collected. This creates a healthy feeling of solidarity between the rich and the poor of that region. Contrary to taxes, zakah does not create friction between those who pay it and those who administer it, and it is administered with minimal cost. Even in cases of legal collection the majority of workers carry their job on voluntary basis. Since zakah is taken annually from the capital, it encourages its investment. Otherwise, capital would be gradually eaten up by zakah.
Source: Poverty Alleviation in Pakistan: Present Scenario and Future Strategy, Mohibul Haq Sahibzada. Republished with permission.
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