Local News

Zakat doesn’t always reach those in need

National Yemen

Dr. Al-Mohattwari, a professor of law and founder of the Bader Mosque

By: Asma Al-mohattwari

For Muslims, the greatness of Ramadan is reflected in the worship which Allah created to bring humans closer to him. One of these forms of worship is ‘zakat’, the third pillar of Islam. It is intended to bring rich and poor Muslims together, to create a spirit of compassion and love among members of society, and for social solidarity to be reached in Muslim communities. At its most basic level though, the aim of zakat is to provide poor and needy people with desperately needed money.

As poverty and unemployment are often considered the main problems facing countries, communities and families, states develop plans and strategies to combat poverty and unemployment. But as such plans – if they exist at all – can and often do fail to meet their objectives, the function of zakat can be regarded as a both a milestone and genuine achievement as far as dealing with such problems go.

However, an official source said that zakat funds in Yemen in 2011 were lower than in 2010 or this year because of the nationwide state of crisis, which resulted in the stoppage of many commercial and economic activities, and damage done to available capital and especially to small businesses. The collection of zakat funds naturally decreased.

Not all Muslims recognize the importance of zakat. Mohammed Meiad said a large segment of the Yemeni population, from different social groups, evades performing its duty because of ignorance of its conditions, leading them to confuse zakat and charity, which results in funds being given to the state.

People give millions to the state, but millions of people continue to live under the poverty line. Dr. Al-Mohattwari, a professor of law and founder of the Bader Mosque said one of the reasons behind the expansion of poverty in Yemen is the misuse of zakat.

According to him, zakat sometimes makes its way to corrupt individuals who line their own pockets with money which was supposed to reach the poor. In order for zakat to reach its intended segment of society, funds should go to fair Imams who pass it on to truly needy. On a spiritual level, for it to work as intended, zakat must be received by people who fear god.

“Actually, what has happened in Yemen is so shameful because political parties and officers are the ones who take zakat, leaving those poor people who are suffering poverty behind in their homes. Also, people who are in charge of zakat sometimes divide it among those who come and ask for charity. They just want to rid themselves of it without searching for those who are in real need,” he said.

The rich pay large amounts of taxes to the state, but still the state taxes zakat. In this regard Dr. Al-Mohattwari said that state should not take taxes from zakat, but should rather turn taxes into zakat.

“Zakat is only for poor people, and it is not allowed for zakat money to be spent on other things like taxes, projects and so on,” said Dr. Al-Mohattwari.

Al-Mohattwari also asked the state to take peoples’ ability to pay into account. “For example, it is difficult for a bus driver to pay both taxes and zakat…he should pay only one, zakat, because zakat is concerned with worship whereas taxes are more like fines,” he said.

Unlike Mr. Meiad, Dr. Al-Mohattwari said that it’s not necessary to pay zakat to people who are in charge, that people can give it to the poor and eligible directly.

“The state cannot reach all  the people who are in real need so I get zakat out to those I know; for example, I give it to my students, who I’m sure don’t receive anything from the state,” he said.

An employee at the presidential palace said an amount of money is given to him in order for him to provide it to those in need. He searches for the poor in his neighborhood and among his relatives and divides the money between them.

“If all people did as I do and worked honestly, all things would be good and poverty would vanish… but I don’t know what’s happened to people’s honesty. They take money from institutions and companies under the pretext of to giving it to charity but then keep it for themselves,” he said.

One mother – extremely poor with a disabled son and unemployed husband – said she hadn’t received anything from zakat.

“I have a disabled son and I went to the Social Fund for the care of the disabled to ask for help. Can you imagine how much they gave me? They give me 1,500 rials,” she said.

But she didn’t keep silent, and sought out Prime Minister Mohammed Basindowa. She managed to ask him for help and she told him about the reaction she received from the Social Fund. Basindowa wrote a letter to the fund with his signature in which he asked them to bear all the costs of her son’s treatment and to compensate the family for their losses. But nothing has been done until now and she hasn’t received any money – neither from zakat nor from the Social Fund.

Some people in Yemen are extremely poor, yet their dignity doesn’t allow them to request charity. Samira, a married woman with five children and a husband who was a worker at a grocery but who is now unemployed, said they wished they received some amount of zakat money but that they hadn’t.

“My husband is so stubborn; he refused to go to the person tasked with distributing zakat in our neighborhood. Although that person knows well that we are in real need of zakat, he didn’t give us any,” she said sadly.

Dr. Al-Mohattwari advised that when dividing zakat, the state should consult a pious religious scholar to request advice, but not a person who is joined to a specific party or who is working only for his or her own benefit.


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