In 1980 Zakat and Ushr ordinance was issued in General Zia’s era with an objective to Islamize our economic system, and since then the government has been authorized to collect and distribute zakat while at the same time people can fulfill this religious obligation on their own in private capacity as well. The collected wealth is deposited in the State Bank’s Central Zakat Fund from which it is released to Provincial Zakat Funds of each province in a specific ratio and from there District Zakat Committees get their own shares which deliver these to the end recipients via local teams on village and mohalla levels. It has been noted that most of its operations are kept under cover especially when it comes to the final beneficiaries in order to unfairly serve some people.

There are some serious flaws in this system which needs to be highlighted. Those who sit on the zakat committees have mostly political affiliations and occupy this position because of the same reason that is why one can hardly find any poverty-stricken family maintaining apolitical stance that receives assistance from zakat funds. The undeniable and disturbing fact is that many influential people and landlords (read politicians) have been enjoying free access to these funds in different areas in connivance with the local officials applying the principle of give-and-take. Many draw cash via foul means while some receive costly treatment under zakat funded programs, whereas those who deserve support do not know how to stand up for their rights. When it comes to needy people, those at the helm wouldn’t release funds on simple demand without their palms being greased.

Though nominal, what number of people get marriage allowance on their wedding ceremonies which is to be granted from the zakat fund? Probably, a lot on paper. Having many poor people in our closed circle who merit support on their nuptials, neither I nor any of my acquaintance know of any one availing this facility. In fact, most of the readers would be hearing it for the first time that the lower class in Pakistan is entitled to marriage allowance. Most of the destitute even don’t know if there is any government zakat system in place for them. As fragile trust exists between the state and its people, individuals prefer to give their zakat to NGOs and non-profit organizations.

Zakat is one of the most important pillars of the Islamic financial system. It is a progressive taxation policy introduced by Islam where the upper class provides resources for the growth and advancement of the downtrodden people. It promotes economic equality and decrease the concentration of wealth in few hands. It automatically helps in alleviation of poverty and inculcation of social justice in minds of the people. But rampant corruption in our society has neutralized its fruits and benefits.

In order to transform and considerably improve our system of zakat, clarity and transparency must be brought into it. District Zakat Committees are responsible to prepare, compile, and maintain the accounts of the District zakat funds, all this should be available online to the general public throughout the country. Names of all the people who get zakat donations, marriage allowances or have free treatment for a disease should be put on the concerned websites along with their national identity card numbers. It will reduce chances of the fund being exploited by venal elements within the society. Still some opulent people will take advantage of the identities of those belonging to the lowest tier of society, but a door to investigation will always remain open in this regard.

Moreover, schools, religious seminaries, vocational training centers, and welfare institutes which run on money from the zakat fund must display banners on their entrance gates bearing such notice so that only the poor make use of these facilities. While financial status of those who ask for assistance from the zakat fund must be investigated first. Poverty is the root cause of many evils as stated by many philosophers and thinkers, combating it means combating all these evils. Our religion presents a perfect solution for its elimination via complete and smooth implementation of zakat system. If this is realized efficiently, it will soon render the government’s Ehsas program redundant.

On a side note, State Bank of Pakistan announced in June this year that bank accounts having equal to or more than 44,415 rupees will be liable to zakat cut. The Administrator General of zakat should have make known to people on which formula this calculation has been made and why? There are hundreds of thousands of people in this country who may have 44,415 rupees on first day of Ramazan in their bank accounts, but still live lives under the poverty line and are eligible to receive zakat themselves. At the end of the day, what 44,415 rupees worth in this age of inflation?