Zakat can significantly alleviate poverty

The holy month of Ramadan is coming nearer. People of some means are seen to be more charitable  now than at other times of the year. They are seen distributing  mainly petty cash and clothes among poor people as a way of discharging their religious obligation of zakat.  But  Bangladesh today is also a country where one comes across rather unwelcome spectacles of giving zakat. Stampedes are noted sometimes during the month of Ramadan and before the celebration of  the  Eid-ul-Fitr  which cause tragic  deaths of  some of those who scramble in a frenzy to collect  cheap cotton saris or lungis  given away as zakat.   Sad events like  these should have galvanized national thinking about how far such individual demonstrations of charity would be welcome and whether better channeling of resources for charity should be devised and implemented.
As it is,  cash  and clothes distributed by rich people  in Bangladesh during  Ramadan and the Eid  satisfy to some extent for a brief period basic consumption needs of  very poor people. This is not entirely without value but if the same resources could be moblised  under  a single fund or funds and then utilised to build progressively free feeding centres, shelters for homeless people, houses, hospitals, orphanages,  skill training centres and industries to take  care of the  poor and create skills in them to earn a livelihood , then the same could make a bigger and lasting dent in the poverty situation. One needs to  only recall the example of Prophet Mohammed (SM) in this connection. A poor woodcutter who came to the Prophet (SM) for alms was given an axe by the Prophet. The alms seeker was advised that he could  utilize this tool  and make a living out of it. The recipient of the axe did so and he no longer had to beg for alms. This should be an  evershining example for Muslim peoples all over the world. Affluent Muslims should feel an obligation to carry out their religious duty of paying zakat. But they should pay the zakat in a manner to  help the recipient to help themselves. In this way, the formidable problem of poverty in the Islamic countries can be  effectively addressed .
Policy planners in Bangladesh can think over the matter and sensitise people here to pay their zakat more in this institutional form. But paying the zakat institutionally is only one aspect of deriving greater value from it.  The other aspect is paying it in proportion to one’s surplus wealth as was ordained in the holy Koran. How many well-off people in  Bangladesh actually  discharge their zakat obligation very exactly ?   Very few indeed. Most of them pay zakat negligibly compared to what  would be due from them  from the estimation of their wealth. Thus, people should be urged to pay zakat  not only in token amounts but  in amounts they ought to  according to the Koranic instruction. Imams in their sermons in mosques should regularly emphasise this factor. Government should run regular campaigns  in the mass media to this end.
Government  presently runs a central zakat fund but its activities are very limited compared to the potential. However, we believe that the  size of the centrally operated zakat fund can become  massive — over time — if  resourceful people on a large scale can be motivated to send their zakat  to it in rightful proportion to their real wealth. In that case, this fund will surely grow to be a vast one in  size. Next thing to be considered would be its operation. The fund will have to be operated by persons with talent, vision and impeccable integrity of character. If  such persons take up the responsibility of administering the fund, then  it  will prove to be a very powerful agent for poverty alleviation and our social transformation.


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