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A Glaring Imbalance - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Due the increase in the number of scholars enthusiastically issuing lightweight fatwas, any rational and objective Muslims observing this scene must definitely be wondering about the absence of serious heavyweight fatwas that have a direct affect upon people’s everyday lives.

There is a clear deficiency that cannot be ignored surrounding the scholarly interpretation of a jurisprudential issue that is also one of the pillars of Islam, namely Zakat [almsgiving]. This extremely important economic and social pillar of Islam was instituted in order to strike a balance between the haves and have-nots in Islamic society. There are specific rates or percentages [of income] that must be paid as part of Zakat, and these are mentioned in the Holy Quran, such as how much Zakat must be paid for different sources [of income], such as gold, silver, agriculture, trade, and others. However the huge developments that have taken place in the economic, financial, and even social spheres means that there must be genuine and serious development in how Zakat is calculated, as well as the kinds of income that Zakat should be paid on.

There is a new reality today for the rich and the poor (both of whom are involved in the Zakat industry as determined by God Almighty in the Holy Quran) and therefore there is a need for a new jurisprudence to expand the definition of the poor and needy to include, for example, the physically disabled (as took place in Saudi Arabia), divorced women (as took place in Kuwait), those suffering from kidney failure (as took place in Egypt) and other realistic examples.

The situation with regards to Zakat on fallow land also remains “ambiguous” and “puzzling” and this is undeveloped land that is not being used for either cultivation or construction and whose owner does not [financially] benefit from. If Zakat is imposed upon land such as this, the owner would either be forced to pay this sum or sell the land, thereby contributing to economic movement that represents a universal benefit that would not exist if this land is retained in its current state. Zakat on financial transactions in the economic market is also not clear enough, for why is this deemed “routine” and “necessary’ by [financial] trade companies and corporations, but not be companies that operate on the stock exchange.

Zakat is also not enforced upon insurance under the pretext that “insurance is forbidden” which is not right, and an idea that has gained credence over the past few years due to “inaccurate” information. This is due to unconscious repetition of information without first making sure of this, thereby generating an incorrect image about this new field. We find clerics issuing fatwas to the effect that “insurance is prohibited by the testimony of the noble clerics during the time of the Prophet.” However insurance is less than 120 years old at best, and so it is certain that these noble clerics predate the invention of this financial tool, and so it would be impossible that these clerics could have issued any fatwas about this. Insurance has become an essential part of our lives. We must deal skillfully and intelligently with all aspects of this field, and enforce Zakat upon this.

In addition to this, some types of Zakat have not been sufficiently developed, especially the Zakat [paid to] those who need to be looked after. This Zakat is paid in order to aid those Muslims who are in need of financial assistance to overcome certain problems, such as those who are in debt, and this is in order to help them extricate themselves from debt and overcome their problems. Therefore it is necessary that Zakat is spent in this way in order to resolve social problems. Another outlet for Zakat is for those who have been displaced, and this should be paid to refugees, the homeless, orphans, and other humanitarian cases. These are just a few simple examples that reveal the extent of the need – socially and financially – for Zakat, and the lack of juristic and media concern that this elicits, in addition to the religious clerics preoccupation with minor issues that have already been conclusively debated and settled by the grand scholars of Islam, whose opinions are followed by the majority of the Islamic world.

The state of fatwa issuance today is extremely sad, and many Islamic books talk about how in ancient times Islamic clerics would compete with one another in order to attain higher levels of knowledge, however today this competition has been transformed into petty rivalry. This is extremely sad, and as a result of this fatwas are issued in order to mobilize the general public against so-and-so, or in order to discredit so-and-so; such fatwas are issued by preachers in mosques, via SMS text messages and even on internet forums in order to settle personal scores. The Islamic faith is too grand, too important, and too precious to be affected by such marginal conflicts, and this is a sorry sight that clearly depicts the huge imbalance in jurisprudential priorities today.

Hussein Shobokshi

Hussein Shobokshi

Hussein Shobokshi is a businessman and prominent columnist. Mr. Shobokshi hosts the weekly current affairs program Al-Takreer on Al-Arabiya, and in 1995 he was chosen as one of the "Global Leaders for Tomorrow" by the World Economic Forum. He received his BA in Political Science and Management from the University of Tulsa.

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