My last post on this subject elicited some informed responses on this forum and a few other platforms. I would like to share a particular response to this thread by Prof Mohammed Mahmood, Professor of Political Science (Retired), Aligarh Muslim University. Here is what he wrote:
“The intent of the Shariah is to support and maintain the indigent, diabled, sick, old and unemployed of a local community by pooling the zakat proceeds in a locally managed Zakat Fund/Baitul Mal. But it is possible that some local communities fall short of funds to meet their obligation. In that case other affluent communities may redirect their funds to the deficit communities. Since Muslim communities are dispersed and unorganized in a continental country centralization of collection of zakat funds or their centralized dispersal is neither desirable nor possible. Let us evolve a confederal approach to management and distribution of zakat funds with different regional and local communities cooperating with and aiding each other. This naturally implies transfer of funds from the developed rich regions to the underdeveloped poor regions on a voluntary and humanitarian basis.”
I would like to add a few ideas here perhaps to build on his suggestions. I would like to differentiate between a central platform, a central organization and a central pool of funds or Zakat Fund.
It is indeed possible to create a “central platform” as well as a “central organization” without having to create a “central pool of funds”, as the latter is not quite in line with the “localized spending” concept as intended by Shariah. From what the Shariah experts tell us regarding priorities to be given (in zakat distribution) to the poor among one’s own relatives, neighbors, co-villagers and so on, the intended impact would be centrifugal (with the exception of crisis-like situations that would require emergency intervention).
The central platform would bring in huge economies of scale in collection (by cutting down costs in the form of remuneration claimed by collectors that is as high as 40 percent of inflows) and in distribution (by cutting down the transportation costs of carrying goods for distribution etc.). The central organization would bring in economies of scope and better tackle issues that are collective in nature (devising and implementing self-regulation mechanisms, standardized and transparent accounting and operating procedures, resolution of fiqhi issues and standardization of rules (even while retaining and respecting the divergence of views among different schools of thought and madhabs), education and training of the zakat professionals, awareness building among the public, advocacy with government and society etc.) At the same time, with the use of Information Technology it is possible to take decentralization in distribution to its ultimate level, where every zakat payer identifies with and pays to the zakat receiver (individual or organization) that he/she wants to. This would be good governance at its best and Shariah compliance at its best.
A beginning could be made in this regard by calling upon perhaps the most active part of the Indian Muslim community, i.e. the young IT professionals. A few volunteer-IT professionals may come together and build the platform as a pilot project and demonstrate to the community (especially our ulema and intellectuals) the great potential that lies ahead for community empowerment through efficient zakat management. I am sure the cynics and those resisting any change in status quo would certainly come forward to embrace the concept once they are aware of the possibilities. Any takers please?
Mohammed Obaidullah | February 24, 2014