Zakat and the Covid-19 Pandemic
Covid-19 – the major health crisis that began in Wuhan (China) and was later declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) – has transformed into one of the worst economic crises of all time. The impact of the crisis is visible everywhere in the world, from migrant labour problems in India to an increase in the number of the newly-unemployed in the United States, and to the shutting down of the industries in almost all countries. While the crisis has created immense human suffering, it has also sparked worldwide action from institutions and people eager to help. Unfortunately, no country in the world so far can be viewed as a role model for its economic response to the pandemic.
Islam offers numerous pragmatic solutions that can best assist the poor in this unprecedented time of Covid-19. Zakat is among the potential solution that can reduce the socio-economic issues caused by the pandemic. Zakat is a beautiful concept in Islamic finance and is purely based on the principle of ethics, morality and empathy. Zakat in Islam is a religious obligation that is similar to the five-times-a-day prayers and is the third of the five pillars of the religion. It is a 2.5 percent annual tax charged on the productive wealth of both Muslim individuals and profitable companies owned by Muslims when meeting the nisab (full ownership) of possessing the wealth. Zakat is based on one’s possession of the wealth over and above the certain amount known as Nisab.
Zakat is considered one of the trusted methods of poverty-alleviation as per Holy Quran and Sunnah. It can prove to be an important Islamic finance tool to fight the adverse consequences of the Covid-19. Zakat is a compulsory payment by wealthy Muslims, and they are obliged to pay it as a part of their religious duty. Covid-19-affected people, especially the poor, can be provided with the essential items and/or cash as a relief. It is best suited to help the poor during lockdown, where daily-wage labourers and migrant workers have nothing to feed their families.
Islamic Financial System
Several Islamic scholars are of the opinion that Islamic finance is not only capable of fighting the economic consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic but that it also has the potential to emerge as an alternative financial system and can challenge the conventional financial setting. After the financial meltdown of 2008, the current pandemic has provided another opportunity for Islamic finance to prove its potential and shine. The Islamic financial system is based on the principles of risk-sharing, ethics and morality, which equip it to act as a potential warrior to safeguard the interests of the poor and the vulnerable under crisis. The importance of Islamic finance can be understood in terms of how it strives to achieve the ideals of equal distribution of income and socio-economic justice. There are specialized Islamic microfinance institutions that provide affordable finance to micro-entrepreneurs and the poor to increase their income, wealth and standard of living. One of the objectives of Islamic finance is to provide an ethical alternative to the world, especially to Muslims. Islamic finance does not support unethical trading practices such as betting, trading in alcohol and pornography, etc. It is not that Islamic finance was not affected during the global financial crisis of 2008; rather, it was certainly less impacted as compared to its conventional counterpart. Similarly, during the present global economic crisis, owing to its intrinsic strength vis-à-vis the conventional finance system, Islamic finance has a lot to offer.
Zakat for victims of Covid-19
Zakat can be paid to those affected by Covid-19. In this regard, the Grand Mufti of Dubai, Dr Ahmed Al Haddad, issued an edict whereby he said, “’Zakat can be paid to those affected by the current conditions in the form of food or meals as it fulfils one of the Sharia principles to help the needy.” The global pandemic the world is currently experiencing means that Zakat is more important, and will work harder, than ever before. Because it will go towards helping people whose health and well-being is already seriously compromised. The virus poses the greatest danger to those who suffer with underlying conditions, and the many thousands we support all suffer underlying conditions – from physical injury to emotional trauma – as well as living in unstable conditions.
Heads of Zakat
There are eight groups of people on whom Zakat should be spent, as mentioned in Al-Qur’an: “The alms are only for the Fuqara (the poor), and the Masakeen (the needy) and those employed to collect (the funds); 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, and for the wayfarer (a traveller who is cut off from everything); a duty imposed by Allah. And Allah is All-Knower, All-Wise.” [Al-Qur’an 9:60] The verse above describes the following eight groups of people:
1. Fuqara: all those people who depend on others for the necessities of life. The Arabic word fuqara is a general word for all those who are needy because of some physical defects, or old age, or temporarily out of living means, and can become self-supporting if they are helped like orphans, widows, the unemployed, etc.
2. Masakeen: those indigent people who are in greater distress than the needy people usually are. The Prophet (peace be upon him) especially enjoined the Muslims to help such people as they are unable to find the necessary means to satisfy their wants and are in very straitened circumstances, but are so self-respecting that they would not beg for anything, nor would others judge from their outward appearance that they were deserving people. According to a tradition miskin is one who cannot make ends meet, though his appearance does not show that he needs help nor does he beg for help. In short, he is a self-respecting person who has become needy.
3. Aamileen: those who collect Zakat dues, supervise the collections and keep accounts, and help in their distribution, irrespective of the fact whether or not they are needy or indigent; their remunerations shall be paid out of the Zakat funds.
4. Muallafatul Quloob: those who might be engaged in anti-lslamic activities or to those in the camp of the unbelievers who might be brought to help Muslims or to those newly-converted Muslims, who might be inclined to revert to kufr if no monetary help was extended to them. It is permissible to award pensions or give them lump sums of money to make them helpers of Islam or submissive to it or at least to render them into harmless enemies.
5. Ar-Riqaab: Those in bondage or captives – This can be extended to those in modern forms of slavery, such as human trafficking, debt bondage, and contract slavery – Zakat may be used to purchase their freedom. Zakat funds may be spent for the ransoming of slaves in two ways. First, help may be given to a slave for the payment of the ransom money, if he enters into an agreement with his master that he will set him free, if the slave pays him a certain amount of money. The second way is that the Islamic government may itself pay the price of his freedom and set him at liberty. There is a consensus of opinion about the first way, but there is difference of opinion about the second one.
6. Al-Ghaarimeen: such debtors as would be reduced to a state of poverty, if they paid off all their debts out of their own possessions, irrespective of the fact whether they are earning any money or not, whether they are indigent in the general sense or well off. According to some jurists, the only exceptions to this are those debtors who are spendthrifts or involve themselves in debts by spending money on wicked deeds. Help may be given to them only if and when they repent.
7. Fi Sabeelillah: “For Allah’s cause” is a general term which implies all those good works which please Allah. That is why some jurists are of the opinion that Zakat funds may be spent on every kind of good work. But the fact is, and the majority of the earliest Muslim scholars have opined, that here the ‘Allah’s cause’ stands for Jihad in the path of Allah, that is, the struggle to eradicate the systems based on kufr and to establish the Islamic system in their stead. Therefore, the Zakat funds may be utilized to meet the expenses of the journeys the people make, or for procuring means of conveyance, equipment, weapons and other articles needed for Jihad, irrespective of the fact whether they are so well off or not as to need any help for personal requirements. Likewise help of a temporary or permanent nature may also be given to those people who devote all of their time and energies, temporarily or permanently, for this work
8. Ibn-us-Sabeel: a wayfarer on a journey even though he might be quite well off at home. Some jurists are of the opinion that according to this verse, only that wayfarer who does not undertake a journey for a sinful purpose may be helped out of Zakat funds. But no such condition has been laid down in the Quran or the Hadith to this effect. Besides this, we learn from the fundamental principles of Islam that sins of a needy person do not prevent us from helping him. As a matter of fact, such a help may prove very useful in reforming sinful and depraved persons.
The pandemic has thrown thousands of Muslims below the poverty line. Millions of people today experience, owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, severe unemployment, crushing debt, distress, lack of educational opportunities, poverty, hunger, and lack of access to clean water.
Zakat has the potential to eradicate all these ills. Zakat system can be utilised across the social spectrum to fight this emerging grave challenge. 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, in the post-pandemic time.
The writer is a Lahore-based freelancer. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org