Zakat, for Whom, for What, How Much

I wish to give Zakat to some poor relatives, beggars, homeless, orphans, madrassahs and masjids. But wait a minute, have I really considered the priorities of collecting and distribution of Zakat?, am I doing the right thing by following my Zakat wishes? I think many Muslims simply hope to feel satisfied that they did their duty to Islam whilst giving zakat to their chosen charities or individuals. Somehow, this method of collecting and giving Zakat clashes with the Zakat system painted in Islamic History Books.

First of all, zakat is not a matter of choice. Its a mandatory obligation upon every Muslim who earns above the bare minimum, or basically, every non-exempt adult Muslim is bound to pay Zakat. The giver is not being personally kind or generous by giving, it is among his compulsory duties to do so and its non-compliance also comes with consequences. What kind of consequences? The first caliph of Islam Khalifah Abu Bakr RA declared war on a tribe which refused to pay Zakat. Its importance to the Caliph was like Salah (prayer) and the fact that Salah and Zakah are mentioned together in the Majestic Quran at several places..

Next, I want to highlight that Sadaqah and Fitra don’t carry the same obligation as that of Zakat. Individuals are free to give Sadaqah and Fitra as much as they would like to for the benefit of the society. Donations are absolutely at the discretion of the giver. Whereas Zakat is fixed, mandatory and obligatory upon every non-exempt Muslim.

It seems that in many Muslim societies Zakat and Sadaqah have become somewhat confusing to distinguish. Zakah, like income tax, has to be assessed by a Zakat collector. How much Zakat should I pay is not something that I should calculate. Imagine if I were free to assess my own income taxes for the year! I would love to do that BTW but it doesn’t work that way. Its called Conflict of Interest. A zakat official assesses income and charges the assesse for a certain amount to be paid to state treasury.

Individuals don’t decide what to do with the Zakat money, the Chief of that locality will do that. Why? Because he knows more, he sees more and has more knowledge about the economic condition of his city and its surrounding areas. It may be the case, that his city is quite wealthy already and needs no Zakat but another city struggles for food and water. In other words, as an individual I will never have the complete picture of the greater community and therefore it makes a lot of sense for me to give zakat to an authority with broader and wider view of things. Obviously, this authority should be a public entity so as to avoid any potential conflict of interest.

One of the 8 recipients of zakat is “way of God” (Fi Sabilillah). Some people suggest it means to build a masjid. I disagree. I understand that it means that Zakat can be used for the struggle, to fight for the victory of Deen over the evil forces of Shaitan. Lets say there is an evil king who has engaged in genocide and civil war against his people. I believe Zakat fund can be utilized more efficiently by giving to those people who strive to replace the evil king. This would be better than setting yet another orphanage or another madrassah while the evil king continues to spill blood in the land. The ideological struggle is what I understand by “Fi Sabilillah”, and this is a great and epic battle between the forces of good against the forces of evil.

As you may appreciate, we have a problem now. See, in most countries the Zakat system is just a personal thing. Governments take income tax (which is far higher than Zakat), leaving Zakat in the same rank as any other acts of worship but at the discretion of individuals as if it was sadaqah. Although some Muslims came up with really innovative ideas to collect and channel zakat through charitable institutions, it still remains very much a personal decision to decide on how much and to whom to give zakat. The result of this is that every year funds get poured into masjids, madrassahs and orphanages, which is not a bad thing at all, but the far greater issues of Muslim societies either get worse or at best remain as bad as they are already.

So much talk of Zakat on TV makes me wonder, isn’t there one scholar who could stand up and ask for zakat to help the Yemenis, the Syrians, the Kashmiris, the Arakenese or the Palestinians? Obviously a celebrity scholar will not say such un-polite things on TV! I already knew that. But I just had to throw that in there…

At the moment, Zakat fund would be best utilized for rescuing Muslim countries from the grips of evil forces. Majority Muslim states are either colonized by their own elites or indirectly controlled by a superpower. If you agree with me, then would you agree that Muslims are only living in an imaginary “Free” world, whereas  in reality are chained to the commands of the dark forces as if they were modern day slaves (of policies and strategies of superpowers). The most urgent demand on zakat in this decade would be to free the necks from the chains that bind them together in humiliation and indignation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harry Potter in Godric’s Hollow

My daughter asked me to read something to her. So I borrowed my little sister’s book Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Kids like magic and fantasy stories, so why not read this famous children’s book to my little sweetheart. After the first chapter, I felt there was something wrong in it. Although my baby fell asleep but I simply couldn’t out the book down. JK Rowling had cast a reading charm on me it seemed. Next few weeks my girl saw less of me reading to her and more of reading for myself silently until I got all seven books completed.

The story begins with an orphan, whose parents have just been murdered in their very home in God-ric’s Hollow. Its not a mystery novel because that’s not how its presented. The identity of the murderer is not at all relevant but the thought behind the man is what really matters. All through out JK Rowling has the reader thinking about the purpose and motive behind this double murder. Why kill the Potter family?

Let me talk about my girl again. HP’s author is asking an 11 year old to walk into the mind of a “murderer”. What could my daughter say, “dad, tell me, why did you-know-who murder Harry’s parents? what was their fault? Why does he want to kill Harry so badly?” It makes me wonder, since when do children’s books target the lives and works of murderers and serial killers?

The murder scene at Godric’s Hollow is central to all the 7 books. Again and again we are reminded how the Dark Lord kills James and then moves towards HP. Lily pleads for Harry’s life. Move away you silly girl…as if to say “I just want the boy, not you, so just step aside”. Lily is murdered. Voldemort approaches Harry and wham. The Dark Lord falls. Harry rises.
Because the sacrifice of Lily was supremely cast in blood, being the purest form of miracle, it was stronger than anything any Dark power could ever muster. It was the power of pure love from a “Mugblood” that destroyed Voldemort when he was at the very top invincible, undefeatable, all powerful. It was SACRIFICE that brought the Dark Lord down to his knees. In Islam its called Shahadat, martyrdom.

Godric Hollow, James and Lily’s home town, was also the birth place of Godric Gryfindor, the Lion. Tom Riddle on the other hand is a descendent of Slazar Slytherin, the Snake. Godric, Slytheirn, Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff founded Hogwarts. The Lion and the Snake were always at odds at almost everything, including Quidditch. Hogwarts was setup 1000 year ago. James and Lily died in 1981, so the school’s founding date must be around 1000 CE. Interesting, that was the time of the Crusades. It is well known that the European crusaders came into contact with an advanced Islamic civilization in Jerusalem (Al-Quds). One of the interesting areas where Arabs claimed world leadership was in their knowledge of Sciences like Physics, Biology, Medicine, Astrology, Mathematics and ofcourse – Chemistry (which they called Al-Kemia).

A particular branch of Al-Kemia dealt with transmutation, that is the study or research of how to turn lead into gold. Alchemy as it turns out had two aspects, physical and spiritual. The spiritual alchemy desired to transform ordinary men into purified souls. In Islamic terminology its called Tazakkah, to purify. The one who is purified is the one who is successful and is the one who will be accepted and received by the Lord of the Universe. Purification of the soul disregards obstacles such as blood, color, language, race, identity or any other prejudices.

The Knights Templars brought back with them newly found treasures from Jerusalem at the end of their missions. Some of those treasures were ancient books, wisdom, science and technology and ofcourse philosophy. It may just be a wild guess, but God-ric Gryfindor might have been a Templar who brought back the sword from the Arabs alongwith the ideological knowledge of Alkemia. Slytherin must have not liked very much to see his race loose power to half bloods and Mugbloods. For the preservation of his race he went the other way, over to the Dark side. This ideological conflict must have carried on down to the present age when Harry and Voldemort face off just like Dumbledore and Grindelwald did earlier.

Lets come back to Godric’s Hollow. This is where the story begins for this age, with roots that go back more than the crusades, even before the time of Christ (PBUH). It goes back to the Pharaos, especially to one known as Akhenaton, the first monotheist Pharaoh of Egypt. They say, Alchemy started here in Egypt. I don’t doubt that because Egypt (Misr actually) being the birthplace of civilization should have had world religious influence as well. The very idea of resurrection, return to God and submission to God’s will captures the essence of God-ric Hollow if seen through the Alchemist’s eyes. I that room, Lily represents Light, Life, Faith and Goodness while Voldemort brings the face of ego, envy, greed and hate. This war between the two sides started back in Eden and haunts us this very moment. How we respond to it, the choices we make, define us and our souls.

Tolkien, Lewis, Orwell and Rowling

Four writers I regard as the best in my generation shared one thing in common. They viewed the world from my eyes. Sound strange doesn’t it? But not so much if you studied their characters carefully. These four esteemed writers believed and brought to life, in their books, noble characters who lived very ordinary lives that didn’t matter much for politicians, journalists, preachers or the so-called “upper-class nobility”. The Hobbits, the Mugbloods, the orphans, who dared to fight the power of evil all had humble beginnings and this is the important connection that means a lot to me, because I am from the common working class social category.

I used to think that writers sit down at a café with their “Apple” laptops and start firing away, playing with words like a Thesaurus was being revealed to them. I had the feeling that they “build” their story as they go on writing. This simple assumption might be the most important why most people never get to write a good book. At least seems that way to me. I did not understand the “thought” process that goes into weaving a good story. Writing is dam hard work. Its like a “pensieve” where one must fall into a world where characters unfold their stories and memories for the writer to glue them together into a nice package. Basically, writing a good book is HARD WORK.

Just to share an example, it took Tolkien 17 years to finish LOTR (Lord of the Rings)! He wrote his masterpiece “in between” work and family chores. Another great example, and my favorite one, is of JK Rowling, the charming writer who can throw spells on her readers from the moment they open the first chapter of her book. She was actually a single mother, bankrupt and on the verge of a mental breakdown. At possibly the worst moment of her life, she began to write Harry Potter series which eventually became the world’s best selling books with over 400 million copies sold world wide.

After reading Harry Potter, it dawned on me how much thought and effort goes into “imagination”. Of-course, words and prose are very nice to have, but that’s not the reason why readers fall in love with a story. A good story should have interesting plots, mysteries, adventure, humor, pain and excitement.

One more point, writers like Tolkien and Lewis read their stories to each other (the inkling club) where they challenged each other’s creativity, not their language, and that included books like LOTR and Chronicles of Narnia! Lewis didn’t think much about the Elves, while Tolkien was not too pleased about Lewis bringing Christianity directly. What I am trying to say is, lets instead ask the question, “can you think of a good story?”

Why cant we dream in Yemen?

Zain is from Yemen, the starting point of Arab civilization, the origin of Semitic peoples. I feel very lucky that Zain is still alive after the Saudi bombs destroyed his school and the lives of a dozen children all aged under 12. I am so glad Zain still has his nerves together after loosing his father, mother, brother and sister in another Saudi air raid just before Eid. Neighborhoods in Sada have basically turned into make shift open sky hospitals where mothers earned medical degrees overnight. Doctors with proper University degrees are either dead or imprisoned. So its now up to the newly qualified mothers to provide what Yemeni children need the most, a little bit of love and care after the after the horrors caused by Saudi bombings.

Zain talks world politics like a Senator. This is not due to his school, no, it’s because Zain and all the other kids are always faced with political questions at home, at school and in the playgrounds. The question is also almost always the same, which is, “Why are Saudis bombing Yemen”? Answers will also circle around a theme very common in Zain’s area. Kids know that Saudis cant really fight a real war on the ground, for if they did, every Yemeni youth would be firing slingshots enough to blind the attackers back to the other side of the border. That is why Saudis decided to not face real men on the ground.

As for Zain, he thinks Saudis are only doing what their friends in Tel Aviv advised them to do. They are only following friendly “orders”.

How is Yemen important to Israel? Well, Zain thinks its not so much about Yemen as such but its really about the rise of a revolutionary idea. What is that idea? Its this thing called “Hope”. See, Yemen, like so many other Muslim countries, wants to change the normal thought that nothing can be changed, that the status quo must always be maintained, that powerful people must not be challenged, that politics is not the agenda for common people, but now the Houthi movement wants to challenge all that. Houthis want to say that Change is possible and it can happen. Common people can choose to dream differently, to think of changing the society and say bye bye to state hypocrisy. This is Zain’s understanding as a 12 year old.

Zain’s thoughts strike so much similarity with people across the Muslim world that its difficult to whether Zain comes from Sada or Baghdad or Damascus or Cairo. The basic rule seems to be quite common amongst the rulers of the Muslim world. They survive on the pill that makes Muslims loose hope in their identity, history and above all they give up on their natural abilities to change their circumstances.

Why should it be like this? Why should Muslims feel hopeless in their own country? Zain stares at the sky asking whether it was another Saudi jet that he just saw flying over a minaret.