Critique of a Charity’s Attempt to Collect Zakat

With the start of the new Islamic year upon us, I was reminded of a document that I had recently been given, and asked for my views concerning it. A document entitled: A Brief Guide to Zakat in the UK. It was produced by a Suffolk based charity in the UK. Of course from my own book written with Shaykh Abdalhaqq Bewley (Zakat – Raising a Fallen Pillar) and many subsequent writings and conversations, many will know that I don’t generally approve of charities taking on the collection of Zakat. In reality the pillar of Zakat requires a person in authority to be at the centre of it. If this person is backed up by a charity, then all well and good. For the moment we can overlook this as I want to concentrate on reviewing some of the other stances or methodologies that The Charity has adopted.

The Charity document has six pages. On page one they quite correctly state the great importance of sadaqa sent abroad to help needy Muslims and/or relatives. They quite rightly make a clear distinction between this and Zakat. Pleasingly they stress the fact that Zakat is to be collected and distributed locally and that sending it abroad is at best mukruh (disliked) except under very special circumstances. Indeed, on page two they offer evidence from the four madhabs to support this stance. This in itself is of the utmost importance in that they have not fallen victim to the anti-madhabi stance that characterise the modernists, who have all but abandoned the deen in this matter.

The document continues on page two to outline some important characteristics needed for the collection and distribution of zakat, namely, ‘.. honest, reliable and competent..” So far so good, but unfortunately these words are followed by the word “organisations.” So here they have missed a trick. The deen was not established by organisations. The collection and distribution of Zakat is authorised by people in authority, amirs, governors, sultans and the like.

Committees and Boards of Trustees cannot do it. Look at those things a Muslim leader is entrusted with such as announcing the two eids (thus the beginning and end of Ramadan), minting the gold dinar and silver dirham, appointing Imams to lead the prayer, maintaining the weights & measures in the marketplace and of course the collection and distribution of Zakat. These thing are the responsibility of the man in charge, backed up by advisors, deputies or lieutenants and so on. He can even be supported by charitable institutions/awaqf like The Charity in question.

To their credit the author(s) get back on track on page three when clarifying who should pay Zakat and quite clearly address the issue of minors. The document also clarifies when Zakat is due (anytime really) and that it is not connected to Ramadan and thus not to be confused with Zakat-al-Fitr which is an obligation connected to fasting in Ramadan. Also on page four they address the nisab on monetary wealth which is either 20 gold dinars or 200 silver dirhams. They equate this to 40 ounces of silver. However in reality this is in fact closer to 19 troy ounces of silver and nearly 3 troy ounces of gold. It is perhaps easy to see why this mistake may have been made.

Unfortunately it would seem that not many people bother to do the necessary research to establish what a gold dinar or silver dirham actually is. Today in many countries around the world Islamic Gold Dinars and Islamic Silver Dirhams are being minted under the auspices of the World Islamic Mint (WIM) according to the standards established by Umar ibn Al-Khattab. This includes the correlation specified between the Dinar and Dirham (that 7 dinars is the weight of 10 dirhams). hence we have a weight of 4.25 grams for a Gold Dinar and 2.975 grams for a Silver Dirham. So in weight the nisab would be 85 grams of gold or 595 grams of silver. Of course one should also work out the cost of obtaining a Silver Dirham or Gold Dinar in your locality and work it out on that price if the decision has been made to collect zakat on paper money and bank deposits etc.

It is interesting that they (The Charity) have decided to stick to the nisab of silver. This means that more people will be eligible to pay zakat as opposed to if the nisab of gold was taken. So at the time of writing anyone holding savings of around £1,000 (for over a year) would have to pay as opposed to well over £3,000 if the gold nisab were used. In my own community some years ago we made the decision to use the gold nisab. It was reasoned that this would avoid less well-off people having to pay, due to the depressed price of silver. However, I think that here The Charity have a much more authentic position by opting for silver in this matter. They do though, need to be aware of the current availability of actual silver dirhams in the UK and even the movement to have them used as currency. All of this is perhaps an indication that affairs of mu’amalat that involve daily commerce and other transactions tend not to be given the importance they are due. This is further evidenced by the fact that the document does not address the issue of Zakat on business stock or investments.

The Charity document quite correcly quotes from Surah Tawba the categories of person who may receive Zakat. These categories are the poor, the destitute, workers in zakat, people whose hearts are to be reconciled (mu’allafat quloobuhum), captives/slaves, people in debt, wayfarers/travellers and in the Way of Allah .

Although not made clear it seems that those behind The Charity are well aware that Zakat cannot be used to build mosques, schools or clinics and other similar noble causes.They are clear that it must be given to individuals in one of the eight categories mentioned. They are also well aware of the need to distribute Zakat locally. These two things by themselves are a great improvement and step forward that we hope will be replicated by other Muslim led charities. So for this the people involved with This Charity deserve great credit.

Sadly what has not been addressed is the matter of Muslim leadership, without which the pillar of Zakat can never truly be implemented properly. They have also failed to address the requirement to pay Zakat on monetary wealth in, Ayn or tangible wealth. In this case gold or silver (preferably dinars or dirhams) They are of course on shaky ground in assuming that paying in bank issued paper money is automatically acceptable, but perhaps we will see something more on these matters at a later date.

May Allah grant us all Success establishing Zakat, abandoning riba, and being a part of bringing Allah’s Deen to life in the lands where we find ourselves.


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