Zakat, an Arabic word, means sanctity and growth. In fact, the mind of a person who gives zakat is sanctified from the greed for wealth and from miserliness. Moreover, the poor have a right on a portion of the wealth of the rich. According to Shariah, if the wealth of a Muslim is sufficient enough to meet the necessary expenses of himself and his family in a year and the wealth remains in his possession for the year, he is to donate certain amount from the accreted surplus to purposes sanctioned by the Shariah. Such donation is called zakat. Like namaz, zakat is a farz (obligatory) religious rite. The instruction to give zakat and perform namaz appears conjointly in many places of the Quran. It is to be noted that before the revelation of detailed rules on zakat the companions of the Prophet (Sm) used to donate almost all their surpluses that remained after meeting their necessary needs. Zakat has been given the same importance as prayers in Islam. The Holy Qur’an mentions prayers in 82 places and zakat in 32 places. And in 27 places prayers and zakat have been mentioned together. The Holy Qur’an also warns of the consequences if the able-bodied person does not pay Zakat. The system of Zakat has been introduced in Islam mainly to form a society based on equality. The order has been issued to pay Zakat so that the wealth is not in the hands of the rich in the society, so that an economically non-discriminatory society is established. Because if wealth accumulates in the hands of a handful of people in the society, then the number of poor people will increase, social and economic inequality and instability will increase. As a result, an imbalanced situation will be created in the society. That is why zakat has been made obligatory on the rich. It is not a favor to the rich. Rather the rights of the poor are due to the rich. An analysis of the Quran and the texts of hadith literature suggest that in the Islamic social system, zakat is treated as the main mechanism of attaining equitable distribution of income, social harmony and economic equity and equilibrium. Zakat has been made for the rich a tool for circulation of wealth in the society and its expansion, solution to the unemployment problem, and poverty alleviation. No other religion has such economic programme. The Great Prophet (Sm) said, “Take it for sure that Allah made it obligatory for the rich to give zakat that should be collected from them for distribution among the poor” (Bukhari and Muslim, Kitab-uz-Zakat). The people who can be taken care of by the zakat system are the destitute and the needy, such as the poor, orphans, widows, crippled and male and female persons who have no capacity to earn and buy the minimum for survival. Zakat is one of the five pillars in Islam and an important instrument for establishing social justice. However, in Bangladesh, the majority of wealthy Muslims are not well aware of this issue and reluctant to pay Zakat in an appropriate way. It is limited to giving cheap clothes to the poor in the form of sari and lungi, and a few bucks without any proper measure of business revenues and assets, liquid funds or savings, and gold or silver reserve at the basic rate of 2.5 percent. The collection and distribution of Zakat funds are yet to be effective. Zakat plays an important role in reducing poverty and promotes equitable sharing of wealth. An active role by the wealthy Muslims can be vital in alleviating poverty besides the conventional microfinance, tax collection, and other mechanisms. Also, the accountability issue should be taken into consideration during the processes of fund collection, distribution and promotion by individuals, mosques, government and non-government organizations. If we simply take the example of a few major cities in Bangladesh, there are a large number of wealthy Muslims there, and if they pay their due proportion of Zakat to the less fortunate in a meaningful way, poverty can be significantly reduced over time. And with the help of Zakat apps, one can easily calculate their due proportion of Zakat. Islamic scholars should devise a mechanism about how the Zakat system can be more effective for the particular case of Bangladesh. One can show how the Islamic Zakat system-based on the guidance of the holy Quran and Hadiths as well as proper marketing-can be utilized across the social spectrum to reduce poverty in Bangladesh. As it is mentioned in the Quran, “Truly, those who believe, and do deeds of righteousness, and perform As-Salat (Iqamat-as-Salat), and give Zakat, they will have their reward with their Lord. On them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.” (Surat: Al-Baqarah, Ayat: 277). Zakat can be used as an alternative approach to poverty reduction and capacity building for the poor to be more productive, thereby contributing more to the economy. On the other hand, the Islamic Zakat system has the same purpose: to assist the poor and alleviate poverty in a country. The Zakat amount doesn’t come with any interest attached and the recipients are not required to pay it back either. Zakat is not limited to providing subsistence living for the poor but it rather aims at enriching them. It works as a social charitable giving tool, and if managed properly, the recipients can establish for themselves small businesses to produce things and to meet their subsistence needs. The economic balance between the rich and the poor is maintained through zakat. In Islam, in the distribution of wealth, if the rich pay zakat on some of their wealth, the wealth of the poor increases a little and economic inequality is eliminated. The zakat-based economy made the Muslim Ummah a prosperous and developed nation in the contemporary world by eradicating economic inequality and poverty during the rule of Kholafaye Rashedin, the ideal Medina state of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). This will require a collective social commitment. Finally, we can say that zakat plays a significant role in socio-economic development. The economic condition of the society is strengthened by the zakat system. This is one of the best ways to reduce inequality between rich and poor. Without the provision of equality, social peace and order cannot be maintained. Society becomes stable only when poverty and unemployment are eradicated. Crime comes down. So it is an established fact that zakat plays a vital role in economic development and elimination of inequality in society.
(The writer is former Deputy Director General, Bangladesh Ansar & VDP).