Islam has financial instruments to alleviate poverty and distribute income fairly. Known as ZIS, they comprise mandatory tithes or zakat, infaq (voluntary charity to a group of people) and sadaqah (alms to anyone); the instruments therefore help government programs to reduce inequality and improve social welfare, thereby promoting economic growth.
Zakat comprises small parts of any asset given to eight categories of receivers including the needy, the poor and people trapped in debt, and the conditions in line with Islamic teachings are regulated in the 2011 law on zakat management. The conditions of one type of tithes, the zakat mal, for instance, is that the asset, including salaries, has to have accumulated for one year.
In addition to zakat mal, before celebrating Idul Fitri, every Muslim is required to pay zakat fitrah, which is around Rp 40,000 (US$2.72) per person, today’s value for 2.5 kilograms of rice. Its main purpose is to help the poor and needy join the celebration while purifying those who fast from inappropriate actions or comments.
To help the nation overcome this pandemic, one thing Muslims can do is optimize the aforementioned instruments to help communities survive. To help affected people and support the needs of health equipment, the Indonesian Ulema’s Council (MUI) even stated in its April fatwa on ZIS funds that contributions from zakat mal do not have to wait for one year’s accumulation of assets.
According to the National Alms Agency’s (Baznas) Potential Mapping Indicator, the potential for zakat in 2019 was Rp 233.8 trillion (US$ 15.7 billion). Its chairman, Bambang Sudibyo, said that the nationwide potential this year was about Rp 340 trillion. Even though the realization this year would be far from initial expectations, the amount of zakat income in 2020 would still be very significant to aid millions of people severely affected by COVID-19.
The Ramadan fasting month is the most popular time for zakat and charity. As usual, many individuals, various informal groups and communities – whether neighborhoods, mosques, schools, mass organizations, alumni groups or WhatsApp groups – have been collecting alms and tithes, even more intensively this year because of the economic hardships around us. In the holy month, the faithful are reminded to watch out for neighbors, relatives and anyone else who may not even have food for the day.
As always, the issue is accountability and whether anyone can raise such public funds. According to the Zakat Law, Baznas and zakat management institutions (LAZ) are authorized to collect and distribute zakat.
While Baznas was formed by the government to manage zakat at the national level, LAZ are formed based on community or organization initiatives. At present, Baznas exists in all 34 provinces and 514 regencies/cities. Meanwhile, there are 24 LAZ at the national level, 12 at the provincial level and 33 across regencies/cities
All LAZ must be legal as they manage public funds. Competence is required – adequate knowledge, skills and the right attitudes, willingness and ability to understand and comply with Islamic legal interpretations on zakat; thus good intentions are not enough for the manager or amil zakat. What is more important is accountability, which is both spiritual and operational. Accountability thus means the zakat managers’ accountability to God, and because humans are God’s representatives on earth, they must be accountable to their fellow humans.
Therefore, the management of zakat must meet the following requirements. First, it must be registered under an Islamic community organization managing education, Islamic preaching and/or social affairs, and as a legal, nonprofit entity.
Second, it must acquire recommendation from Baznas. Third, it must have a sharia supervisor. Fourth, it must have the technical, administrative and financial capabilities to carry out its activities. Fifth, it must have a program to utilize zakat for peoples’ welfare. Sixth, it must be prepared to be audited regularly according to principles of sharia and finance as regulated under the Zakat Law.
Article 38 of the Zakat Law also stipulates that people are prohibited from acting as the amil zakat to collect, distribute or use zakat without permission from authorities. The law states a violation of this rule can result in a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a fine of Rp 50 million.
Now, how can we align zakat management law with the informal collection and distribution of alms and tithes in the community? This is what needs attention. Don't let burgeoning charity, especially in these difficult times, be hampered by regulations and red tape.
The pandemic has aroused extraordinary solidarity among citizens, with all elements of society working to help others. Don’t dampen this spirit because some of the efforts may be considered illegal.
This is where Baznas and LAZ needs to be more proactive, simplify the bureaucracy and take the initiative to work directly with communities through neighborhoods and mosques throughout Indonesia by forming zakat management units among communities while involving the locals.
The local units would be able to obtain data on the amount of tithes and alms in the regions. Data collected from the community can be accumulated as part of national ZIS management data.
Any initiative to collect zakat funds must be monitored by the authorities to avoid fraud and to ensure the collection and distribution follows the law. In this way, zakat would become a real power that can be used to help the government overcome the COVID-19 disaster.
Abd. Rohim Ghazali is the executive director of Maarif Institute; Erni JA Nasution is a lecturer at the Ahmad Dahlan Institute of Technology and Business (ITB-AD) and secretary of the Indonesian Ulema Council’s Economic Empowerment Commission (KPEU-MUI).
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.