MUCH is said about Zakah as an instrument of poverty alleviation. However, Zakah as an instrument of social relief cannot exist in isolation. The Deen, by its very nature, is not a closed system. The fact that the doors of ijtihad – legal reasoning – are still ajar indicates dynamism within Islam.
In other words, instruments within the Shari’ah are open-ended, adaptable and sympathetic to the needs of society. Zakah as an institution is linked to worship – it is regarded an act of ‘ibadah – mentioned many times in the Qur’an.
Islam is the only faith that sets out in such minute detail the mechanics of wealth redistribution. All faiths promote generosity, especially to the poor, but Islam addresses it in detail, codifying it and clearly marking out its recipients. As such, Zakah expresses itself collectively. Its aim is to relieve, uplift and energise the ummah.
Interestingly, Zakah has a close kinship to another Shar’i mechanism, waqf. Defined as a trust or endowment held in perpetuity for Allah’s sake, and with selling or individual ownership forbidden, a waqf is essentially a communal, fruit-bearing investment.
Remembering that Zakah is dependant on wealth, waqf is an ideal partner to Zakah as waqf is a wealth generator. As waqf is fully asset and Shari’ah-based, it offers a pure source of wealth untainted by haram initiators such as speculation, usury and investment sources such as breweries, casinos – or even non-environmentally friendly industries.
One of the first awqaf in Islamic history was Bir Ruma, the well in Madinah, that Sayyidina ‘Uthman purchased from a Jewess, who was charging people for its use. Sayyidina ‘Uthman turned the well over to the community, thus freeing up the monies that would be spent on water for other useful social purposes, such as Zakah.
Another waqf was created out of the estate of Rabbi Mukhayriq, a close friend of the Prophet [saw], who fought with the Muslims at Uhud. He told the Prophet [saw] that if he died in battle, he would bequeath him his seven palm groves. He was killed in battle and the groves were made waqf, thus benefiting the whole community, the profits from the date harvests providing charity for the poor.
From these abovementioned primary models, waqf developed into a sophisticated system that shaped social cohesion, created wealth and released Zakah. When the Islamic realm was at its peak, as much as one-third of agricultural land was waqf, as were roads, mosques, schools, hospitals, water sources, bridges and buildings.
The ‘Sunnah’ of waqf, to put it one way, is self-sufficiency – a decentralised social-‘ism’ that looks after the individual without state intervention, which is the biggest problem in poor countries today – where governments are incapable, or too inherently corrupt – to look after their own people.
The point here is that the marriage of waqf and Zakah is the anti-dote to the disease of state incapacity and incompetence. If Muslim communities fully embraced these instruments, even as minorities, the impact would be noticeable. And as the waqf institutions matured, so would their outreach.
In this equation, the end game is not just poverty alleviation, but poverty eradication via a re-circulation of surplus wealth. The distribution monies derive from the self-sustaining, profitable institutions, which incrementally build up base funds.
The marriage of waqf and Zakah is, without doubt, a win-win for our community in the long term. The maths is very simple: take a waqf of one million rand producing a surplus of R100, 000 in year one. By year ten, it could be distributing R500, 000, as the waqf investment swells to five times its size.
In other words, as our collective wealth increases, so does our collective Zakah. The happy marriage of waqf and Zakah is certainly something worth thinking about.