THE SANZAF International Zakah conference, held at the beginning of May in Cape Town, may not have attracted as many people as the recent Justin Bieber concert, but in terms of impact it certainly put the Beliebers to shame. Focusing on Zakah as a tool for humanitarian relief, it harnessed a wide range of local and international expertise.
With sessions on financial planning, women and Zakah, Zakah and NGOs and Zakah for entrepreneurs, conference goers were offered a wide choice of topics pertaining to the dynamic role that Zakah can play beyond its conventional understanding.
In the opening address, former Muslim Judicial Council president Maulana Igshan Hendricks, said it was critical that the local ‘ulama attended such events, and was disappointed by their lack of presence, though scholars such as Maulana Muhammad Carr, Maulana Sarfaraaz Hamza, Shaykh Basheer Moosagie, Shaikh Shahid Sulaiman, Maulana Abdul Fattaag Carr and Maulana Ta Ha Karaan did later make valuable contributions to the event.
Speaking to some of the international guests at the two day conference, they agreed Zakah in Africa – where rich-poor divides run deep – is a challenge. But lack of infrastructure, scarcity of funds, overwhelming poverty and even politics has not prevented civil society from rising to the occasion. To this end the Sudan-based Global Union of Zakat Rite was formed to address the question of Zakah in 2016.
Founded by 20 Arab and African countries, it has a membership of 40 Zakah organisations with its goals to spread awareness of Zakah and to build the capacity of Zakah agencies. SANZAF is an affiliate of the Global Union.
Shamsuddin Bolatito, co-ordinator of the Global Union said that educating people to be Zakah officers was one of its first steps. This, he said, was being done in collaboration with the Islamic Research and Training Institute of the Islamic Development Bank in Jeddah and the Accounting and Islamic Standards Organisation in Manama, Bahrain.
Both Professor Osman Khieri, head of the Global Union’s Strategic Council in Sudan, and Muhammad Lawal Maidoki of the Sokoto State Zakat and Endowment Commission in Nigeria, agreed that the ultimate prize was to be able to react immediately to humanitarian crises in Africa, as opposed to being reliant on international NGOs or the UN.
The swiftness of response from inside the continent was a critical factor in easing pain and suffering for communities affected by things such as fire, flood or famine.
Maidoki said that in the Sokoto region nearly 2 million people lived on less than a dollar a day. Whilst the Sokoto State Zakat and Endowment Commission enjoyed patronage from the region’s leadership, there was a need for the establishment and monitoring of Awqaf institutions needed to support and fund projects.
Dr Nunung Nurul Hidaya, lecturer at Ashton Business School in the United Kingdom, brought attention to a necessary inter-face between Islamic finance and philanthropy. She emphasised that Zakah and Sadaqah institutions should not be overwhelmed by the business for profit motive.
Islamic finance, she said, was essentially rooted in philanthropy with poverty alleviation and redistributive justice its aims. It had the potential to take care of the needs of the extremely poor and destitute.
She gave two examples of how in recent years Zakah has risen to play a significant role in alleviating poverty. Brunei, an oil-rich nation of a population of about 500,000, had experienced a 55% growth in Zakah in the past decade, disbursing R179 million in 2010. Indonesia’s Zakah-spend had increased 32 times in ten years, R3 billion being distributed in 2012.
Using Indonesia as a model, she said integration of organisations, their public accountability and accounting standards were still challenges. She also said that Islamic financial institutions were still too reluctant to embrace the Prophetic risk-sharing model in creating start-ups for the poor.
Dr Nunung also said that women were becoming increasingly significant players in the paying of Zakah, especially in countries where women were in the workplace. This point was emphasised in a radio interview with Fayruz Mohamed, national deputy chairperson of SANZAF, who headed a session on Women in Zakah with Western Cape General Manager, Yasmine Francke.
When asked about the role of SANZAF, the international guests said they were impressed by its capacity and outreach in a society where Muslims are a minority group. They said that SANZAF’s sophisticated distribution networks – via its 40 or so nation-wide offices – were particularly impressive.