Zakat or giving 2.5 percent of one’s earnings as charity is an important religious tenet laid down by the Koran. It is customary for Muslims who live away from home to come back during Ramadan to perform Zakat during the Ramadan celebrations after feeding the poor and needy or send their Zakat contributions back to their home land to disburse to the poor.
Mercy Mission UK has brought a new perspective to this age old practise by asking British Muslims to make their Zakat offerings in the UK itself. The mission was set up 3 years ago to encourage Muslims to play an active role in the local community instead of remaining insulated. It launched the National Zakat Foundation this week to encourage British Muslims to contribute to local causes rather than overseas to endorse their affinity with the local community.
Azim Kidwai GM of Mercy Mission backs his request to do local charity with a religious sanction which says that Zakat should be given locally. Opinion however seems to be divided among Muslim Charities in the UK, while British Charities such as Muslim Aid and Islamic Relief UK are encouraging Muslims to pay Zakat to help fund their overseas relief operations including Pakistan in the grip catastrophic floods. The National Zakat Foundation started by the Mercy Foundation however points out to the high number of Muslims living below the poverty line in Britain and is more inclined to spend Zakat funds received from British Muslims on their welfare. Kidwai of Mercy Foundation expressed that while there is naturally a stronger urge to donate to Pakistan especially by Pakistani immigrants settled here in view of the terrible floods there, Zakat as laid by the scriptures should be given locally. He expressed that Muslims should also donate to the Pakistan flood relief as extra measure of charity after meeting the Zakat obligation of 2.5 percent in the UK. Haroun Atallah, Finance Director of Islamic Relief while agreeing that there is a religious ground to do Zakat in the land it is collected said that there is a strong Islamic belief that if Muslims were settled in a land of plenty Zakat can be moved to another land. He explained that while they do spend some charity in the UK, when disasters occur elsewhere as in Pakistan and when there is an overwhelming sentiment among donors for that cause they as a charity facilitate the transfer of Zakat funds to the said regions.
The spokeswoman for Muslim Aid spoke in almost similar lines, she explained that while her organisation spends a lot of Zakat funds on education and social ills in the UK they need to address a grater responsibility in the developing countries where 1.02 billion or one sixth of humanity go hungry. She explained that Zakat has to be channelised into more deserving areas of the world taking into consideration elements of proportionality and maximising beneficiaries.