Zakat versus the Ehsaas programme

Published: January 4, 2020
The writer is a legal scholar and has taught as a professor at the International Islamic University. He can be reached at

The writer is a legal scholar and has taught as a professor at the International Islamic University. He can be reached at

The Ehsaas programme by the PTI government is indeed a commendable thing, and the criticism that Pakistan is being turned into a nation of beggars is not justified. The shelters are bringing relief to the poor in the cold weather. The programme is adding a new facility for the downtrodden on an almost monthly basis. To this we may add the health card being provided to those without medical benefits. All these are noble acts, but when we view these programmes from the perspective of Islamic law, the legal provision that emerges is that these programmes are functioning using tax money that people have paid under compulsion. The element of seeking nearness to God is lost in this arrangement. If the government is undertaking these programmes on behalf of the people, then it is a voluntary act undertaken by the government on behalf of the people, as their agent. This reasoning leads us to the conclusion that a voluntary act that may be justified as sadaqaat (charity) is being forced upon people at the expense of the mandatory duty of zakat, which has been implemented merely as an eye-wash by every government. The tragedy is that zakat has been converted into a voluntary payment in this country, while the voluntary charity has been turned into a mandatory tax for welfare programmes.

Zakat is a pillar of Islam. The first Caliph (R) waged a war to implement it. Surah al Baqarah, right at the start after mentioning faith in the Unseen and the establishment of prayer, talks about this payment. This is the view of those who undertake the interpretation of the legal verses of the Qur’an. Thus, a person who does not pray is answerable to God, but one who does not pay zakat is to be forced to do so by the government.

Jurists have concluded that zakat on pasturing animals must be paid to the government, but all other payments can be made by the individual on his own, according to his liability. This provision in no way means that the payment of zakat is optional. Unlike prayer, which is claimed a right of God, zakat, besides being a religious duty, is linked to the right of the poor. This right must be fulfilled and the duty of securing the rights of the poor lies squarely on the government’s shoulders. Every person, whether or not he claims zakat as a matter of principle as a beneficiary, must pay zakat, failing which it is to be taken forcibly from him. The zakat system must, therefore, be implemented through a system of zakat returns. Every person who owns nisab (minimum amount of wealth) must pay zakat. In return, if he claims, e.g., that he has paid the zakat due to an institution or an individual, he must attach a receipt with his return from that party. The government must make a law to punish those failing to comply.

Implementing the zakat system is expected to achieve three things. The first is that filing of zakat returns will lead to the documentation of the entire economy and private assets. The government can then improve its taxation system based on such information. Failure to comply is not a violation of the state law, but a violation of the Almighty’s directive concerning the right of the poor. Secondly, an efficient distribution of collected funds will eliminate poverty to a great extent. This is no idle boast, and those who think zakat collection is a minor effort compared to tax collection, do not understand the system of zakat. We can rest assured that it will at least be many times the amount to be spent annually on the poor through the Ehsaas and health-card programmes. Thirdly, once the poor have reasonable funds as a matter of right, they will not pay attention to the political campaigns based on the false promises of “roti, kapra, aur makaan”.

The sources of zakat, ushr and khums must be understood here. The reader, who pays zakat, is aware that the nisab for gold is 7.5 tolas, and 52.5 for silver. The nisab for paper currency is calculated by converting it into the silver nisab of 52.5 tolas to include more people. Our suggestion is that conversion for goods and cash should be on the basis of gold to enable a larger payment to the beneficiary today, who can receive up to the maximum of the nisab.

There are many other things that people do not worry about. The first thing is the goods employed in business. This means inventories and working capital. Every business whether a company, partnership, or sole proprietorship must pay 2.5% on the capital employed. Some implements and machinery may be excluded. The amount to be received under this head is beyond our reckoning.

There is confusion about rental income on property. Our scholars perceive that the income received is to be treated like ordinary income, i.e., amounts retained for a year out of this will be subject to zakat. Imam Sarakhsi, the greatest jurist of the Hanafi school, disagrees. He maintains that rental property has already seen a year in existence; therefore 2.5% must be paid on all rental income as soon as it accrues or is received. This is the more authentic ruling. If implemented, imagine the plazas and houses on rent that will come within its purview. The amount will be colossal.

Ushr at 10%, or five for irrigated land, must be paid on all produce. Include dairy farms in this, which will be added to business income. Ushr or custom duties are imposed on a reciprocal basis for zakat. This used to be 10% once. There are other things too, but we may turn to minerals and treasure troves now.

The hidayah, taught in every madrassah, says: “When a mineral like gold, silver, iron, lead or copper is found in kharaj or ushr land, then there is a fifth (khums) in it.” This means all land. The minerals mentioned are those well known then. Today, all minerals will be subject to 20% khums, and that includes the coal of Thar or minerals in Reko Diq. It also includes petroleum, although Arab countries have obtained fatwas that it is not. Khums may not be subject to the restrictions of expenditure that apply to zakat.

The amount to be collected from all the above will remove poverty from the country within a few years. If gold is used as a standard for calculating zakat today, the maximum that can be given to a deserving poor person will be Rs666,000. If silver is used, the maximum will be Rs55,125 at the prevailing rates. We are sure there will be enough for every poor person.

St Augustine once said that a state without justice is no better than a gang of robbers. An Islamic state without Islamic justice must be worse. We leave it to you to judge.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 4th, 2020.

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