Friday, June 24, 2016
Ramadan 2016, Day 18 – Zakat continued . . .
In my previous blog post I discussed Zakat without mentioning what it was for. I remember calling it a religious tax but the money collected for Zakat can only go to specific causes.
The uses of Zakat are outlined in Surah 9:60 of the Qur’an (items in brackets are clarifications from the translator):
(Zakat is) only for the poor, and those employed to collect (the Zakat); and to attract the hearts of those who have been inclined (towards Islam); and to free the captives; and for those in debt; and for Allah’s Cause (those fighting in a holy battle), and for the wayfarer (a traveler who is cut off from everything); a duty imposed by Allah. Allah is All-Knowing, All-Wise.
So Zakat is not a general tax that can be spent on things like road maintenance or government upkeep.
My Zakat post timed well with a news article that I saw in the paper yesterday. The Sheikh Thani Bin Abdullah Foundation for Humanitarian Services had a radio fundraiser to help Qataris who are in jail because of defaulting on debt (in Qatar there is no such thing as personal bankruptcy, if you cannot pay your debts you go to essentially a debtor prison). As it is the season for generosity they were able to raise around QR 4 million (~$1.35 million) from the community.
To some Westerners a radio appeal to help people with tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars of consumer or business debt would seem a bit odd but for Muslims it is one of the Five Pillars of Islam to give Zakat, and one of its uses is specifically to help people in debt.
What about others, especially non-Muslims, who might be in prison due to debt? There are differences of interpretation between the various Islamic Schools but in general Zakat cannot be given to a non-Muslim, while a minority are of the view that it can be given to non-Muslims after all Muslims have been assisted. I believe the Hanbali scholars (Hanbali is the main school of Islam in places such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia) abide by the “Muslims-only” interpretation. Internet searches, such as this website, indicate that as well.
As the Holy Month continues there will be further charity appeals to help the poor and people in debt.