Academic and religious scholars have called for legislation to institutionalise payment of zakat by wealthy Muslims as an effective step to reduce poverty.
They made the call at the 2017 Zakat Distribution organised by the Zakat and Sadaqat Foundation (ZSF) in Lagos.
Zakat is the payment made annually under Islamic law on certain kinds of property and used for charitable and religious purposes.
Zakat is one of the five pillars of Islam.
The foundation distributed cash and materials totalling N108.28 million to 494 beneficiaries in Lagos State.
It had distributed zakat to beneficiaries in Delta, Ondo, Ado-Ekiti, Osun, Ogun, Oyo, Adamawa, Borno and Yobe earlier in the year.
Speaking at the occasion in Lagos, a religious scholar, Dr AbdulHakeem Abdul-Lateef, called on relevant organisations to sponsor bills in the House of Assembly and in the National Assembly for the Federal Government to institutionalise payment of zakat.
Abdul-Lateef, who is the Lagos State Commissioner for Home Affairs, said that Zakat was meant to help the needy, regardless of their religion.
He, therefore, expressed the belief that members of the public must understand why it was important to push private member bill in support of zakat institution.
SOUND OF DR ABDULHAKEEM ABDUL-LATEEF
“As important as zakat is, the redistribution of wealth is what can save the economy; and we are not poor, it is just that we have refused to redistribute wealth.
“So, members of the civil society organisations and leaders, as well as citizens, generally can call for the institution of zakat to help the poor.
“Zakat is meant to help the needy, regardless of the religious inclination.
“So I believe that members of the public must understand what it means to push a private member bill.
“Even members of the House of Assembly can do it; the whole essence is to complement the efforts of government.
“Government, every day is talking about public-private partnership, the whole essence is that government cannot do it alone.
“There are so many well-meaning Nigerians whose wealth, if the zakat is paid, will assist in mitigating the hardship faced by so many people,’’ the commissioner said.
Speaking in the same manner, a don and chairman of the occasion, Prof. Lai Olurode, said there was nothing wrong if the Federal Government institutionalise zakat and Sadaqat as a means of alleviating poverty among Nigerians.
SOUND OF PROF LAI OLURODE
“There is nothing wrong if you institutionalise zakat and Sadaqat.
“It will then makes it mandatory for wealthy Muslims to pay zakat just as we are talking about the partnership to complement government efforts.
“But, because of religious illiteracy and religious prejudices, Nigerians don’t think deeply that zakat is a strong economic tool that can be used to stem poverty.
“Even in Christian dominated countries, they are buying into Sukuk, they are buying into Islamic banking, but in Nigeria, they make it unnecessarily emotional and make it appear as if it is an attempt to Islamise the country,’’ Olurode said.
The Professor of Sociology, who is also the Chairman, University of Lagos Muslim Community, said poverty does not draw any boundary between people in terms of their religion.
“It does not draw a boundary in terms of their ethnicity; it does not draw a boundary in terms of their nationality, poverty is poverty, whether you are a Muslim or a Christian, you are going to be.
“So, whatever anybody can do to move people away from poverty should be done regardless of the institution.
So, it doesn’t really matter where the money is coming from, whether it is from Muslims, from zakat or whatever source.
“What is important is that you want to touch humanity, you want to touch a life; you want to give hope to people.
Nigeria today, not less than 70 per cent of Nigerians are surviving on less than two dollars a day.
“So, whatever you can do to partner with government to move people out of poverty, it should be done regardless of the religious inclination of thinking,’’ Olurode said.
According to Olurode Zakat and Sadaqat are a kind of human contrivance, which also has a religious foundation to project the frontiers of citizenship, to make sure that as many people as possible are moved away from poverty.
“I am not even sure that zakat and Sadaqat are only for Muslims, even those who are non-Muslims can also benefit.
“But what is important is that you want to touch humanity, you want to touch life; you want to make sure that people’s circumstances are better than what they were before.
“It will be a disaster if zakat funds and Sadaqat funds are treated the same way that people treat money coming from the state, which for them, is like free money, is like lunch, there is no accountability.
“But zakat fund and the Sadaqat fund should be related to in ways it’s should be related to in ways that people will know that they are (funds) going to be accountable. It should be regarded as a fund that is untouchable; untouchable in the sense that it should be violated, it should be abused, it should not be corruptly deployed.
The scholar advised beneficiaries of the zakat not to divert the empowerment items from the purpose for which they were given.
“If you are lucky today and you obtained a zakat fund that you get a motorcycle or a grinding machine, you cannot deploy it or use it otherwise.
“What you can do, if you know that the purpose for which you had applied has ceased to be, then you can get back to the foundation, obtain a fresh mandate from them and before you begin to divert or redeploy what you are given.
“I must say that I have heard of instances where zakat funds are not regarded as untouchable in Nigeria’s sea of decay because Nigeria is a decaying country. And if zakat can constitute an island, an island in the sense of the way in which we relate to zakat fund, then the religious community should be happy for that.
The Executive Director of the ZSF, Prince Sulaiman Olagunju, said that as at October 2017, the foundation mobilised zakat collection totalling N191,104,352.
According to Olagunju, the figure showed an increase of N71,907,592 over zakat collection of N119,196,760 last year.
Giving an analysis of how the 2017 zakat was distributed in Lagos, the director said N45.2 million was given out for economic empowerment purposes.
“Beneficiaries with health-related challenges were assisted with N31.06 million; education assistance to students gulps N11.17 million while N11.49 million was spent on welfare support.
The Renaissance reports that items distributed at the occasion include tricycles, motorcycles, photocopier machine, pepper-grinding machine, sewing machines, deep freezer, braille machine and books for blind students among others.
By Our Correspondent