As a pillar of Islam, Zakat has enormous transformative potential. But it remains untapped, at what cost?

Most of us limit our understanding of the pillars of Islam as being individual, ritual obligations. As long as we bear witness to God and His Prophet verbally, pray, pay, fast and complete the pilgrimage, then we regard our duties to have been fulfilled and the pillars to have been upheld.

At an individual level, this approach may well be sufficient. But what it fails to appreciate is the collective nature of the pillars and their function at a community level. 

When it comes to Zakat, this is especially critical. Zakat is the one pillar that scholars have long identified as having a dual function, an act of obedience to God and a means to affect positively the lives of human beings.

Our personal duty to God is fulfilled by making an accurate and timely payment. However, it stands to reason and to piety that God expects us to work together to ensure that our Zakat has the maximum impact in providing support to the faith and the faithful.

The Zakat pot in Australia is at least $70 million per annum and growing. To unlock the transformative power of this large and regular source of funding, we urgently need to reconfigure the way in which Zakat is currently being paid, collected and utilised; and this is how we need to do it:

1. POOLING: Rather than each individual making their own decision as to where their Zakat should go, Zakat should be centrally collected and organised.

2. LOCALISING: Rather than it being scattered all over the world, Zakat is supposed to be focused locally to affect the very environment in which the Zakat payers live. 

3. BALANCING: Rather than being distributed only to the poor, Zakat is supposed to be balanced across the eight categories stipulated in the Qur’an (9:60), in a manner that reflects the needs of the time. 

All three components of pooling, localising and balancing across the eight categories of expenditure are inter-dependent.

The closer we can bring our utilisation of Zakat to reflect these characteristics, the closer we will get to Zakat being a pillar of devotion to God in our society.

If we maintain the status quo, regardless of noble intentions, the key efforts strengthening Muslims  and upholding Islam in Australia are likely weak.

Are we serious about tackling the internal and external challenges that weaken us and undermine our submission to God? If so, the shift that is required in our thinking and practice Zakat is nothing short of urgent.

On almost every measure of community wellbeing, the Muslim community in Australia rates worse than the national average. Specifically, when we look at numbers relating to poverty, social mobility, health, education, crime and how the community is perceived from the outside.

Our faith is misunderstood, often maligned, and there is very little that we are doing in the public sphere to rescue its reputation. 

The above issues are not only problematic in worldly terms. What makes them far more concerning is the effect they have on people’s ability to find and hold onto truth. All the categories of Zakat represent concerns that affect the very fabric of a community.

In His knowledge and wisdom, God is simply telling us to spend our money sensibly to tackle the various challenges that end up acting as barriers to people being able to remember, thank and serve Him. As with all His instructions, they are only for our benefit, in this life and the next.

To go “from pillar to post” is to go from one place to another in a haphazard manner that tends not to yield results. The divine institution of Zakat is supposed to represent the opposite: an ordered system, clear in its overarching objective and parameters but mercifully flexible in its applications.

So be smart with your Zakat. Think carefully about where you pay it and try to do so in line with the principles outlined above. Together, we can and must unlock the full potential of Zakat. After all, our future depends on it.

Adapted from original article by Iqbal Nasim, CEO, National Zakat Foundation UK.

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