In addition to the materialistic understanding that profit is the product of capital, machinery, labour and management, Islam believes that in order for anybody to make a profit, the blessings of God (thoufeeq in Arabic) is also required. Zakat, the compulsory donation from the wealth of a Muslim, is the means through which you express gratitude for the blessings received. This immediately means one should be humble in being able to give Zakat, rather than proud.
It should also be reviewed how desirable it is that those who are giving continue to give with pride and those who take continue to take. Zakat should aim to equip, not just help. To orphans, destitute and poverty-stricken people, the ability to stand on their own feet is as important as getting food, medicines and shelter.
Scholars have pointed out that there is great virtue in giving tools to those who can work as zakat. If so, in the age of knowledge economy, the greatest zakat would be the money given for education for it will equip a person. Helping poor students to get quality education through zakat will help them gain social mobility and then, over a period of time, they can become givers from being recipients of zakat. Through such a step, zakat can be utilised as a potential channel for gradually, yet effectively, removing the social inequalities our society hugely suffers from.
Who are the rightful recipients of zakat? Shouldn’t it be given to the poor and the needy irrespective of their religion? As per the Islamic scripture, The Koran, among the eight deserving categories outlined, religious faith is not specified. There are records that show that the second Caliph Umar Khattab gave zakat to Christians and Jews as well. According to The Koran, zakat should be given to those “whose hearts have been brought close”— the egalitarian spirit of Islam should tell us that zakat can be used to bring hearts together.
Given that, as terrible poverty has ended in the Muslim community of Kerala, due to the good hard work of Gulf migrants in Kerala, shouldn’t zakat be extended to the poor among the Hindus and Christians, especially to Dalits and adivasis? At Dayapuram, we have been distributing zakat equally among Muslims and non-Muslims for more than three decades now. If used wisely, can’t it work as a social bridge across communities? The time to think is now.
(C. T. Abdurahim is chief patron of Dayapuram, Educational and Cultural Centre)