Zakat, or charity, is one of the five pillars of Islam. The amount is calculated as 2.5% of a family’s annual savings and the donation can be made in cash or kind any time of the year, but most contributions are made during the Ramzan— a period of fasting and prayers — because it is believed that the rewards of good deeds in this month are greater.
“People plan their annual calendar around Ramzan and it is convenient to donate during this month,” said Aamir Edresy of the Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP), which channels donations to causes like education and employment.
In 2013, AMP collected about Rs2 lakh from 40-odd donors; in 2015 donations grew more than 10-fold to Rs21 lakh from 250 donors. In the first 10 days of this Ramzan, the number of donors has already crossed 50, said Edresy. Nationally, too, Zakat collections have been growing and AMP estimates that Rs7,500 crores are collected every year in the country. Edresy thinks that donations could even be Rs40,000 crores.
There has been no recent study to calculate the money that is collected as Zakat across the country. Dr Rahmatullah of All-India Council of Muslim Economic Upliftment, tried to find an estimate eight years ago using government and independent statistics on per capita income and charity. He arrived at the figure of Rs10,000 crores. “But keeping in view the increase in per capita income since then the contributions must have tripled. It is an estimate, but the amount could be Rs30,000-Rs 40,000 crores,” said Rahmatullah. For a comparison, the annual budget of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, the country’s richest, is about Rs 37,000 crores.
Siraj Hussain, former Indian Administrative Service officer, said that the figures are inflated. “If you see the per capita income of Muslim families in the NSSO (National Sample Survey Office) data and do a calculation, the estimate of charity is too high. There is no transparency because most transactions are in cash,” said Hussain. “The collection is poorly organised. The community is so poor that even if the donations are made by cheque the amount will be below the estimates.”
Rahmatullah said that the problem was not about transparency, but the way the charity is collected and distributed. “The system is such that there is no organised way to calculate how much money is collected. In fact there is a need for such a study; it is in the interest of Muslims,” said Rahmatullah.
While Rahmatullah said that not-for-profit groups should do research to arrive at a credible figure, Syed Zahid Ahmad, who was associated with All-India Council of Muslim Economic Upliftment, suggested that the government should set up bodies similar to the Wakf boards (a statutory body which administers Muslim religious trusts) to manage the funds. “There is mismanagement and donors and the agencies that collect charity do not reveal the true figures because there is a lot of black money.”
There is also no agreement on how the donations are being spent. Hussain said that a large part of the charity goes to religious institutions. “According to tradition, the first priority is the family; then the relatives. After these two categories, the donations go mostly to madrassas and mosques.”
Rahmatullah said this is changing. “Earlier people gave Zakat unmindful of what it is used for. There is a change in mindset now and people want to donate for education and healthcare. They think this will bring change in the Muslim community.”
Maulana Syed Moinuddin Ashraf, a spiritual leader from the city who is known as Moin Miya, said that the trend is to donate more for causes like education.
“I feel that medical help and education should get more importance. People know that if one person gets educated it helps the family. It is teaching people to fish, rather than distributing free fish.”