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Blog - Zakah in Action

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Our Blog

Zakah and poverty alleviation – the global lessons learned

blog ZAKAHAdapted from the World Islamic Economic Forum Foundation

ZAKAH is an ancient Islamic practice based on one of the five pillars of the religion. This obligation for us to give alms to the less fortunate is aimed at alleviating and eradicating poverty. Yet in many countries, poverty is a grim and persistent reality despite Zakah institutions.

What can we learn from success stories in Zakah management?

The Zakah model ensures the net transfer of wealth to the poorest people at the bottom of the pyramid

Poverty occurs due to the lack of transfer of assets to the poor. The Zakah model ensures the net transfer of wealth to the poorest people at the bottom of the pyramid, without burdening them with repayment and interest.

Zakah has to ensure sustainability for the recipients over the long term. A Zakah project jointly initiated by several corporations in Bangladesh has demonstrated success in helping poor families increase their income.

A post-assessment of the project found that not only was the original Zakah capital intact, but it had increased by nearly 15 per cent. The study also recommended a phase-out exit strategy of another two years, which will enable the families to be self-sustainable instead of relapsing into poverty.

Marriage of Waqf and Zakah

While Zakah can be a short-term arrangement, for long-term rehabilitation and poverty alleviation, Waqf institutions are needed to open up opportunities for the poor to access funds in the future.

Case study: Bangladesh

IN a village in Bangladesh, villagers were divided into groups of 30 families. Money was transferred to them and left for them to self-manage. In total, 90 lakhs had been given in three tranches over three years. The money belonged to the villagers, but they were told to use it in a sustainable way.

At the end of the three years, it was found that not only was the original Zakah capital intact, but it had increased by nearly 15 per cent. The villagers had also increased their income by 80 per cent.

They had used the initial sum to generate further income and send their children to school. Health levels and communal harmony had improved. The non-Muslim fishermen bought their own nets and boats and the 

Muslim families bought equipment for their bamboo business, or for cattle rearing.

In the traditional microcredit model, repayment and the interest can become burdensome for poor families. But in the Zakah model, a net transfer of wealth to the poorest people is ensured—a model that has proven to not just bring temporary relief, but to help alleviate poverty sustainably.

Zakah payers should be served as customers and treated as shareholders

To successfully institutionalise Zakah, the role of Muslim scholarship must be respected. Scholars need to work with practitioners to develop a framework for Zakah distribution, and come up with authentic and relevant solutions.

Zakah payers should be served as customers and treated as shareholders. As customers, Zakah payers want education and a deeper understanding of Zakah, including support for calculating Zakah. As shareholders, they want easy and accessible collection, an integrity of management, transparency of information and clear communication.

Zakah payers should not be taken for granted, even though Zakah is an obligation, as this attitude will cause a lot of disenchantment among the payers.

Transforming lives of Zakah recipients

To better serve Zakah recipients, data gathering and management are critical for correct distribution, to measure the impact, and to set a future agenda for advocacy and policy.

Zakah should not only aim to alleviate poverty among its recipients, but should also transform their lives. Gaining a deeper understanding of the community that needs help will enable the Zakah funds to be used more effectively, and strategically. This approach also enables Zakah organisations and institutions to determine whether those asking for aid are truly eligible, and are not violating social security laws.

Zakah should go beyond mere charity-giving

While the traditional understanding of Zakah is that Muslims give obligatory alms with the intention of sharing their wealth with the poor, Zakah should go beyond mere charity- giving. Hence, Zakah should be used for education, training, jobs creation and empowerment of people.

Furthermore, as Zakah is not always appropriate in all situations, the boundaries have to be very clearly defined.

Case study: the Zakah Foundation of America

THE Zakah Foundation of America was established in 2001, after the September 11 tragedy, with the aim of showing the true kindness and goodness of Islam through Zakah activities.

Khalil Demir, executive director of the Zakah Foundation, explained that the Foundation serves, firstly, as a resource centre on Zakah; and secondly, as a Zakah collection and distribution centre that is open to Muslims and non-Muslims.

With offices and operations in 40 different countries, the Foundation is able to carry out a lot of on the ground activities to distribute Zakah funds. For one, the funds are used for emergency relief in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Gaza and Afghanistan, making the Foundation possibly the most active charity organisation inside Syria and its surrounding areas.

‘As education is the only way to empower societies and communities, we also have schools in Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and the Dominican Republic. Through sadaqah jariyyah, we opened around 200 water wells last year, with each well serving around 500 families, and also distributed 500 milk cows to selected families,’ Khalil said, adding that hundreds of thousands of people also benefit from the Foundation’s Ramadan programmes around the world.

Institutionalising Zakah in society

The institutionalisation of Zakah needs to be carefully managed to achieve:

  • Scale of distribution
  • Quality in terms of appropriate distribution, and communication, to Zakah payers.

Establishing a proper collection and distribution method of Zakah is of spiritual and economic concern. To achieve this, more dialogue is needed across the state and community Zakah institutions to share knowledge, information and best practices. Islamic financial institutions have a significant role to play here.

One challenge of institutionalising Zakah stems from the concern that employees of a Zakah organisation could be biased or corrupt. This is why such institutes have to be stringently audited, as they are no different from any other institution, such as a government or a bank.

There is good and bad. What is needed is carefully managed and nurtured institutionalisation that gives scale to Zakah distribution, while making sure there is quality in terms of how it is distributed, and how communication is conducted with Zakah payers.


The WIEF Foundation is the organising body of the Annual World Islamic Economic Forum (WIEF), it comprises a Board of Trustees, who are supported by an International Advisory Panel and a Permanent Secretariat based in Kuala Lumpur.

The WIEF is focused on enhancing the economic well-being of the ummah via strategic alliances. It aims to package the Muslim world as a lucrative trade and investment location, and works to strengthen networking and to foster the exchange of ideas, information and knowledge.

The Foundation also undertakes various capacity building programmes under the WIEF initiatives of the Businesswomen Network (WBN), Young Leaders Network (WYN), Education Trust (WET) and Roundtable Series. For more info:

SANZAF fundraising dinner, enjoying a night of youth empowerment

“…people trust NGOs before they trust governments…” Maulana Hashiem Cassiem, opening address 2017 SANZAF fund-raising dinner, Cape Town.

“Let’s strike a blow for justice…let’s strike a blow for our youth…” Former Ambassador, Ebrahim Rasool, in his keynote address.

“We have to teach the youth not only to fish, but to change the fishing industry…” Yasmina Francke, SANZAF General Manager.

THE 2017 annual SANZAF fund-raising dinner was not only a glittering function, held at Islamia College in Cape Town, and attended by an array of prominent community figures, but a thought-provoking evening with its focus on the youth.

Maulana Cassiem’s opening statement (reflected above) threw into immediate focus, the heavy responsibility that NGOs, such as SANZAF, have to bear – particularly in developing societies with a massive youth bulge such as South Africa.  

Keynote speaker, former SA ambassador in the US, Ebrahim Rasool, said that as one of the most admired ummahs in the world, because of our civic freedoms, we had a duty in South Africa to remember the youth.

He drew on his apartheid era prison experiences to emphasise the importance of mentorship and guidance, mentioning the unsung role of Maulana Hashiem, who used to visit him in Pollsmoor prison during his detention in the 1980s, and help him with the Qur’an.

Rasool said he had returned to South Africa to try and help to re-establish the dignity of our country after the shocking scandals of the Zuma presidency. “Tonight is the future,” he said, “what country are we going to give to our youth?”

He went to compare the plight of the Seven Companions of the cave in Surat ul-Kahf to that of youth today. The verses in the Qur’an spoke of truth to young people. They rejected old beliefs that took their parents away from righteousness, and embraced a new one – monotheism and morality.

“These young men were anchored by a simple truth,” he said. Despite their hardships and challenges, they were bolstered with courage and  had sabr – true resilience. Their centuries’ long sleep protected them from fasad, enabling them to enjoy the opportunity of redemption: “…and the ability to absorb, but to push back”  and to remain who they were, in spite of things.

SANZAF, added Rasool, was here to build the youth. Allah, the Almighty, gave us – and especially the youth – potentiality for redemption, renewal and hope. The bulwark of this was through education. Lack of education was a ‘poverty sentence’ for young people.

“We should imbue our young people with resilience, the notion that they can redeem themselves if they err (because of their inexperience),” he said, commenting that adults become captive to (petty) details. The question was whether we were striking a blow for youth, for justice.

The first revelation in the Qur’an, said Rasool, was in reality, a ‘war’ against illiteracy, ignorance and stupidity. That 52% of the ummah, world-wide, was illiterate (especially women) was a sad indictment on us.

“We have to read, write and research…how is it that we have fallen to where we are now, more eloquent in fighting each other than fighting ignorance? We need to connect with the civilisational impulse that came with the Qur’an’s first revelation,” said Rasool.

Young people, he concluded, had to take up the cudgels in the post-Zuma era.

SANZAF General Manager, Yasmina Francke, told the audience that SANZAF’s Development and Empowerment Development programme (SEED) had expanded more than three times its original size in recent years to service 15 institutions, with massive potential to empower and enable even more young people, if given the chance.

She said the key to mentoring in youth programmes was to ensure that its beneficiaries received consistent and holistic support, from the early years to Grade 12, which could deal with all the concentration impeding distractions and issues.

“ We have to invest in the youth. We have to teach the youth not only to fish, but to change the fishing industry,” she said.

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A bunch of flowers from Paradise

IT was the middle of the night, 3 am, and *Hajji Yunus couldn’t sleep. It was not surprising as his bed was on the floor. That previous morning, the sheriff of the court had attached it plus his lounge furniture. His bones hurt, and so did his dignity.

It had not been easy submitting to the loathsome man, who’d arrived at his doorstep with a firearm at his side and an attitude that Hajji Yunus had committed a crime. “Why do people think you’re a criminal when you’re in debt?” he thought to himself.

A week before, the same man had taken his German car – his pride and joy – at 6.30 am in front of his two children, making them cry. He’d seethed with anger, wishing to punch the sheriff in the face for traumatising his family.

Three months previously, Hajji Yunus had been in a successful business partnership – successful until he’d discovered that good intention, honesty and accountability had somehow not been enough in a cut-throat corporate world.

Hajji Yunus was an entrepreneur. For years, he’d survived by buying and selling, his nose for saleable products earning him a comfortable living. One day, he’d discovered a fertiliser product, half the price of its equivalent, after a trip to a certain Far Eastern country.

It had taken much legwork and persuasion to convince a partner to come on board for the R800, 000 he needed for the first batch to be imported. On paper, it was a win-win: for his investor, the retailers and the farmers, as even with profits and costs factored in, the fertiliser would still be much cheaper on the market than its equivalent.

However, Hajji Yunus had not factored in the greed and corruption of certain customs officials and an established fertiliser corporate, alarmed at being undercut by some small fry. When Hajji Yunus refused to pay a sleazy official his ‘special release fee’ of R15, 000 at the harbour, his troubles began.

Peeved, the official notified a representative of the fertiliser corporate, who deposited R20, 000 into his bank account to ‘stall’ the container, which he did. Unaware that he was now being played for not participating in the ‘game’, Hajji Yunus found his overtures to officialdom being blocked at every turn.

Eventually, after six months his fertiliser – being a chemical product – went ‘off’, and he was sent a bill of R800, 000 to dispose of the now decaying consignment.

“You can imagine my feelings,” said Hajji Yunus to me afterwards, “I went from hero to zero with a R1, 6 million bill hanging around my neck. I never knew people could be so nasty and so corrupt. And, of course, you always learn the truth after the fact. Was I being naïve not to give a bribe?”

Hajji Yunus was innocent, but he ended up paying the price for those who weren’t. His partner, a Muslim, turned on him, suing him for R800, 000 plus interest.  That last bit really hurt me. I was absolutely defenceless and these people just wiped me out. After my anger subsided, I just felt numb. Very heart sore,” he said.

“That night I cried and made a du’ah for Allah to relieve my burden. I didn’t expect a miracle, but I certainly hoped for one!

“For weeks, for months, I struggled on, day by day. I ended up starting from scratch, my creditors grabbing every penny I earned. My wife – bless her – had to work, her salary paying for food and other necessities. My car and furniture brought in R280, 000 after the auctions, which was a blessing in disguise.”

Hajji Yunus went on to say that he would never wish his fate on anyone, even his worst enemy. But from the bad, from the suffering and from the personal pain, he said he started not only to build up his life again, but also his soul.

“I began to appreciate things…my health…a sunrise…the smell of the rain…a smile…a word of wisdom…the laughter of my children…eating chips on the beach…the Qur’an, and of course, my prayer. My focus shifted and what was important became important. But one day I had an experience – you could say an epiphany – that changed everything.

“It was Muharram, a time when we would send food around the neighbourhood. For some reason, this year we’d been overwhelmed. There was a knock on the door, and a nervous child greeted me.

‘As-salam alaikum, boeta. My auntie Zarina says she doesn’t earn a lot, but she wants you to have her Zakah.’ She handed over an envelope, and ran to a waiting car that cheerfully hooted in greeting as it drove off.

“I was gobsmacked. Her auntie had worked for me many years ago. And now here I was, her former employer. How did she know about me? It was the most humbling moment of my life. I opened the envelope and inside it was R2, 000. My eyes teared up. R 2,000 wouldn’t solve my problems, but – wow – it would certainly help us…

“For me it wasn’t the money. It was the thought. The thought that someone else actually cared about us. When I gave the envelope to my wife she cried as well. That Zakah really lifted our spirits…it had the most amazing barakah, I tell you. It was like a bunch of flowers from paradise.”

Sadly, shortly after he paid off his debt, Hajji Yunus passed away, but I will never forget his story of how one simple gesture of Zakah had filled his life with such joy.

*A pseudonym, as this is based on a true story.

Zakah and the Rohingya – how to make a difference

ZAKAH – often described as one of the forgotten pillars of Islam – is by its very nature, a dynamic and adaptable system. With eight major categories outlined in terms of those who can benefit from Zakah, there are many sub-categories attached to the eight.

Of course, this means that Zakah bodies do carry a heavy weight in terms of responsibility and accountability.  Zakah is more than just dealing with money intended for charitable purposes. Zakah is part of a Muslim’s ‘ibadah – a person’s worship – and is understood more as a cleansing of wealth than an obligatory kind of alms, or tax.

Metaphorically, Zakah is like a glass, the nutq at the base its stem and the bowl-shaped letter a container extended to the heavens, filling itself with blessing and light.

For Muslims who give charity and Zakah, a fretful scenario in recent weeks has been the Rohingya crisis, where the Myanmar authorities, spurred on by an extremist Buddhist monk, Ashin Wirathu, have been raping, killing and burning Rohingya villages in the western Rakhine State bordering Bangladesh.

In recent weeks, nearly 400,000 Rohingya have fled and thousands have died in the violence, prompting the UN to accuse the government of Noble Prize winner, Aung San Kyi, of ethnic cleansing. Before the most recent surge of atrocities, there had been just over one million Rohingya residing in the Rakhine area.

Wirathu’s nationalistic 969 movement fears Myanmar will be overtaken by Muslims, which is bizarre, seeing that Myanmar’s population is 52 million and that Myanmar’s Muslim population is only 4 per cent.

Wirathu has been condemned by Buddhist luminaries, but so far has been legally unchecked by the Myanmar government. The Rohingya have been in Myanmar since the 15th century as subjects of the former sultanate of Arakan, yet are regarded purely as “Bangladeshi” by the political heads in Rangoon.

Historically – and tragically – it is believed that resentment against the Rohingya derives from the divide-and-rule policies of the British before and during World War II, when the indigenous Muslim population was preferred over the Buddhist one, which aligned itself with the Japanese in the conflict.

After the post-colonial 1962 coup, minorities such as the Rohingya did not fare well, their citizenship being stripped from them in 1982. Crackdowns in the 1990s saw the first waves of Rohingya fleeing the country for neighbouring Bangladesh. Protests in 2012 and the rise of the small, previously unknown Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), which attacked the military in 2016, saw further aggressive curbs by the state.

On 25 August this year, ARSA launched an attack on an army base, which has resulted in the current asymmetric response of ethnic cleansing.

Having spoken to various NGOs, including representatives of the Turkish government, who have visited refugee camps just across the border in Bangladesh, the needs of the Rohingya are dire. I also spoke to Azhar Vadi from Salaam Media in Cox’s Bazaar, just over the river from Myanmar where he said he had witnessed food stampedes.

Having escaped with nothing more than the clothes on their backs, the Rohingya need everything from food, fresh water and medical care to cooking utensils, counselling and shelter. According to Islamic Relief and the Turkish agency, AFAD, the Rohingya need millions of dollars of aid.

The beauty of Zakah in an ugly situation is that one of its eight categories is specified as relief for those who are suffering. And for those of us who have been paralysed by the horrors of the Rohingya crisis, we are in a position to make a real difference by supporting those on the ground doing their best to look after nearly half a million frightened and terrorised people.

The joy of Qurbani

‘EID ul-Adha is best described as a joyous time of sacrifice, for over the three days of the Islamic festival, millions of Muslims worldwide will sacrifice – or “Qurban” – camels, cows, goats and sheep, the meat being distributed to the needy.

At SANZAF, its Qurbani share programme was fully subscribed, alhamdulillah, with the result that hundreds of animals were sacrificed from KwaMashu to Kwandebele in KwaZulu Natal, to Philippi on the Cape Flats. Furthermore, those in the impoverished areas of SADC, in Malawi and Mozambique, were also able to benefit.

Animal sacrifice is one of the oldest forms of devotion. We all remember the story of Nabi Adam’s son, Habil, offering a she-goat to settle a conflict with his brother, Qabil (who apparently sacrificed crops), on who should marry the most attractive twin sister. As the Qur’an relates, Allah accepted Habil’s offering because he was the more righteous.

Our Qurbani reflects that heritage through Nabi Ibrahim [as], who in one of human history’s most poignant moments, held a knife over the throat of his beloved son, Isma’il, with the very same hands he’d used to make du’ah for him to be born.

For Nabi Ibrahim, and a young Isma’il, it was not a question of their fears and desires – as much as they would have had them – but a question of obeying Allah, and Allah alone. Nabi Ibrahim [as] had already passed the test of the sun, the moon and the stars and the leaving of Sayyidah Hajr in the Bakkah valley, but now he faced a trial no other prophet had ever faced before.

Ibrahim [as] took the 12-year old Isma’il to a place near Mina, outside Makkah. Some Hadith say that the knife refused to move, telling Ibrahim [as] it could not cut the throat of the ancestor of Muhammad [SAW]; other Hadith, and the Holy Book, tell us that Allah, in His Mercy, provided a ram to be sacrificed instead. The old scholars of Makkah once told me that the horns of this ram used to be displayed in the Ka’bah.

As we all know, the Qurban is part of the Hajj rituals – and of course – a vital component of ‘Eid ul-Adha for those outside the Hajj. Indeed, the scholars say that there is great boon, tremendous mercy and healing for those who sacrifice. They describe Qurban as a “natural expression of homage, a sign of gratitude and a display of submission” for which Allah honours the faithfulness of the sacrificer.

There are also traditions that state when a child is given the ‘aqiqah – a recommended Sunnah after birth – the sacrificed animal will carry that person over the Sirat ul-Mustaqim, the narrow path over the pit of hell, into Jannah after Judgement Day. I have seen historical pictures of these animals decorated with saddles, and dressed up with great finery to honour the occasion.

On ‘Eid day I attended a small Qurbani at a private home in Cape Town. Held in a picturesque backyard, only five sheep were sacrificed. It was quite a while since I’d last attended a Qurbani, and it proved to be a dignified, moving and intimate occasion, as the one animal was Qurban-ed for my son.

As it was brought before us, I couldn’t help seeing the submission of Isma’il in the eyes of the black-headed ewe. Then great calmness, and dignity, was afforded by the takbir…”Allahu Akbar…Allahu Akbar” recited in the drawn-out, melodic style of the Cape, which calmed the animal.

I witnessed the compassion of the knife-men as they gave the animal water, and held it down without struggle. What moved me profoundly was the respect we have to show to the animal, as a Creation of Allah. That Allah had put sheep and cattle on this earth for our use. That there was so much barakah in this animal, from its skin to its meat. That we were part of it.

As we walked back to the car, it reminded me of the verse of sacrifice in Surat ul-Hajj:

“…So invoke God’s name over them as you line them up for slaughter, and when they have fallen down dead, feed yourselves and feed the needy – those who do not ask as well as those who do. We have thus subjected them to you so that you may be grateful…”

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