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DAWN - Opinion; October 31, 2003

October 31, 2003

A model Zakat system

By Aslam Fareed


ZAKAH (pronounced as Zakat in Urdu) is an Arabic word and its literal meaning is to make clean and purified. The Quran lends a special meaning to this word. Mohammad Asad in his explanatory translation ‘The Message of The Qur’an’, defines the word Zakat as an “obligatory tax, incumbent on Muslims, which is meant to purify a person’s capital and income from the taint of selfishness (hence the name).

The proceeds of this tax are meant to be spent mainly, but not exclusively, on the poor. Therefore, technically it refers to compulsory deductions from outputs and savings in excess of certain exemption limits at the close of a lunar year. Unlike the charity or alms giving of which is a voluntary act, payment of Zakat is mandatory and its rate of deductions and heads of expenditures are well defined.

There are haves and have-nots in a human society. Some people are not well equipped to compete, others are physically unable to work or mentally unable to hold a job, and then some are economically broken either due to their own faults or due to the faults of others. Whatever may be the cause a sizable section of society finds it difficult to get along economically. Society must decide to do something about it.

Many societies allocate a part of the income raised from their financially well off sections to support the poor and deprived segments of society. They tax the rich and spend this money on the poor. For example, in the United States nearly 13% of total personal income in the year 2000 came from transfer payments (Bureau of Economic Analysis, Washington DC). A transfer payment is a payment to a person for which that person has not rendered any service. A large section of transfer payments are made to very poor because either they are unemployed or their income is very low.

In the Muslim society, from the very beginning, believers were motivated and encouraged to allocate a part of their earnings for the uplift of poor. Some very early revelations (Al Qur’an 51:19 and 71:24 & 25) in Makkah motivate believers to assign a due share (Haqqul Maloom) of the needy and deprived in their possessions. In Madina, when a Muslim society had finally emerged, wealthy sections of this society were made responsible for improving the living conditions of the poor and deprived people. Share of the poor and deprived segments in the wealth of well-off Muslims was specified in the form of Zakat rates and Zakat payments were made compulsory for every rich Muslim. Laws for collection of Zakat were enacted and heads of expenditure were specified.

Notwithstanding its spiritual significance, for all practical purposes Zakat is a tax and is meant to transfer payments from the rich to the poor and deprived sections of the society. Like all other taxes, for its proper collection it requires a system.

There is a consensus among all leading Muslim scholars that the heads of expenditure for Zakat funds are spelled out in the Qur’an. “The offerings given for the sake of God are [meant] only for the poor and needy, and those who are in charge thereof, and those whose hearts are to be won over, and for the freeing of human beings from bondage, and [for] those who are over-burdened with debts, and [for every struggle] in God’s cause, and [for] the wayfarer: [this is] an ordinance from God — and God is all knowing, wise” (Q. 9:60 translated by Mohammad Asad).

The order is important as it indicates the priorities for making payments from Zakat collections. Allowing payment to Aamleen (and those who are in charge thereof) from Zakat funds indicates that the Quran envisages a system of Zakat collection rather than leaving the assessment and payment of Zakat on individual’s will and discretion. In the later years of Madani period when Muslim society had fully emerged Zakat was collected by the specially appointed Zakat collectors.

During the Prophet’s time Zakat was levied on animal, property, gold, silver and coins (cash and savings), agriculture produce and buried treasure, merchandise and honey. Exemption limits were defined and rates of Zakat were specified on each type of property. These rates ranged from the lowest 2.5% on gold silver and coins to the highest 20%0 on buried treasure.

These rates were fixed by the Prophet (peace be upon him) himself and are consistent with nature’s contribution. The rate is the lowest when the nature’s contribution is negligible and men’s contribution is significant. The rate is the highest when nature’s contribution is largest and men’s contribution is insignificant.

For cattle production such as camel, cows, goats etc, rate of collection depends on the number of animals within certain range on their age, sex and exception limit. Based on the above principle, Islamic jurists of present age can formulate or derive rules (Ijtihad) to levy Zakat on many other types of properties, incomes and outputs that were not prevalent in the Arab society of seventh century AD.

Little is known of a country practising a system which can serve as a model for Zakat system. Pakistan moved towards Zakat system by levying Zakat at the rate of 2.5% on bank deposits and some other financial assets and 5% and 10% on agriculture produce (Ushr) from irrigated and non-irrigated land respectively in 1980. Pakistan’s total Zakat receipts in the financial year 1980-81 were Rs. 844 million around 0.31 per cent of the GNP. Twenty years later in the year 2000-01, Zakat receipts were Rs 4,276 million and 0.13 per cent of the country’s GNP.

Two prevailing practices, withdrawal of deposits in the days before the collection date and false declaration of oneself as non-Muslim, had, in the past, substantially reduced Zakat revenues. But beginning from the year 2001, the condition to get exemption from Zakat has been relaxed and now any one can get exemption from Zakat if he or she wishes so. Amounts of Zakat payments made to NGOs and individuals are not available. However a study of Pakistan Centre for Philanthropy finds that Pakistanis give Rs 70.5 billion in charity in cash and kind.

Given the substantial spending of Pakistanis in charity, prevailing practices of Zakat evasion indicate people’s lack of confidence in the government’s policies and practices about the utilization of Zakat revenues. Therefore, there is need to build an institution, transparent and autonomous, to collect and distribute Zakat revenues.

In Muslim societies mosques are built in each and every residential area to establish Salah. Management of these mosques is run locally by the residents of the areas. There is need to establish an institution to operate Zakat on similar lines. The entire country may be divided into local Zakat units. Management of these units should be in the hands of a committee of chosen locals. These committees should affiliate themselves with a central body. Zakat collected from each unit should be spent on the residents of that area in the heads specified in the Qur’an (9:60).

Surplus, if any, may be transferred to the central body to manage the funds effectively and efficiently. To discourage the culture of dependency, Zakat funds may be utilized to develop humane resource and generate economic activity. It is now obligatory on Pakistanis to develop and run a transparent system to operate Zakat as the Qur’an directs believers to establish Salah and operate Zakat, repeatedly.

US concern over nuclear strategy

By M.H. Askari


THE US defence department is of the view that India and Pakistan could be making nuclear weapons at a more accelerated pace than before. The information which is contained in a policy paper recently commissioned by the department cannot but be of utmost concern not only to the people of the two countries but to the region as a whole.

The CIA director, alarmed by the findings, has warned the relevant Senate select committee, that both countries are engaged in adding to their stockpiles and working on programmes aimed at the production of more advanced nuclear weapons and fissile materials. The programmes are further supplemented by plans “to develop long-range nuclear-capable missiles and cruise missiles with a land attack-capability.”

The findings to be made public soon will make Washington wary of Pakistan’s strategic aims and may even place the US aid plans for this country in jeopardy. At the same time the US may not be concerned much about New Delhi‘s intentions to the same extent as it looks upon India virtually as a partner in its own strategic plans. India has frequently indicated its ambition to be a strategic competitor of China and is continually engaged in upgrading its missile and nuclear weapons capability. This may suit the American long term plans for isolating China.

With the history of having been embroiled in wars with India repeatedly, Pakistan cannot look upon the Indian plans with any sense of equanimity. In any case, the hostile perception of the South Asian neighbours of one another has made the region “the most dangerous place” in the world. Saner elements in both countries as well as outside make no secret of their growing concern.

It is both unfortunate and ominous that immediately following India’s offer of a package of mutual confidence-building measures to Pakistan, the verbal exchanges between India and Pakistan should have degenerated into the talk of war. The perpetually abrasive Indian defence minister, George Fernandes, has observed that Pakistan has to choose between dialogue and war. His statement could not have been more ill-timed and callous. The Pakistan information minister Shaikh Rashid Ahmad’s response has been similarly abrasive. He has said that Pakistan is prepared both for war and talks.

It is sincerely hoped that the chances of peace, howsoever slim, arising out of India’s offer would not be lost in the dust kicked up by this talk of war. As it is, the people on both sides of the divide have had to contend with the spectre of war for long decades. The Washington Post report that both India and Pakistan are engaged in upgrading their nuclear arsenals has made the need for peace in the region more urgent than ever.

Paradoxically, large sections of people in both countries also recognize that there is a strong and dynamic constituency for peace on both sides of the divide. However, for reasons of political expediency, the leadership in both countries has ensured that this constituency should not make the impact that it potentially can. Even more unfortunately, domestic political pressures in both countries have prevented India and Pakistan from getting out of what has come to be recognized as the nuclear trap.

Since India’s decision to go overtly nuclear was rooted in its ambition of becoming a global power, it is difficult to visualize that it would take the initiative to denuclearize in the circumstances. Pakistan’s policy of pursuing nuclear restraint unilaterally appears unrealistic. Even Indian specialists of nuclear weapons technology concede that virtually from the time of its birth, the Rashtryaswayam Sewak Sangh (RSS), of which the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), now in power in New Delhi, is a direct offshoot, has been committed to the ideal of “Unite Hindus and militarize Hinduism.” This is what prompted the BJP-led government to carry out the nuclear blasts in 1998 shortly after it came to power and provoked Pakistan into a tit-for-tat response.

With the national elections due next year BJP cannot afford to abandon its link with the RSS and the Hindutva ideology. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee therefore cannot be expected to bring about any radical change in his nuclear weapons policy for the present. According to all indications he is determined to maintain India’s lead over Pakistan in this field. This is also evident from the policy paper developed for the benefit of the US defence department.

Indian leader Jaswant Singh, who was India’s foreign minister at the time of New Delhi’s 1998 blasts wrote in the journal Foreign Affairs: “Nuclear weapons remain a key indicator of state power. Since this currency is operational in large parts of the globe, India was left with no choice but to validate and update the capability that had been demonstrated 24 years ago in the nuclear test of 1974.”

India’s view of its place in world politics has not changed in any way since these words were written.

On its part, Pakistan maintains that in view of India’s nuclear weapons capability it is constrained to retain its “minimum nuclear deterrence.” As such whichever way it is viewed, the outlook for peace and stability in the region in the foreseeable future appears to be dim,if not actually bleak. In his book The Cost of Conflict & The Benefits of Peace, Maj-Gen Mahmud Ali Durrani of the Pakistan Army, maintains that since the cost of nuclearization to any country is shrouded in mystery there can be no reliable estimate (in rupees or dollars) of what India and Pakistan have spent on their nuclear programmes. However, to help make a rough estimate, he has quoted an American author, Steven Schwartz, on the amounts that the US has been spending. It appears that the total estimated cost of the nuclear weapons programme in the US between 1940 and 1996 was “an astronomical 5821.0 billion dollars.”

Durrani also says that the current (2001) annual expenditure by India on its nuclear and allied programmes is one to seven billion dollars while the parallel figure for Pakistan is 0.3 to 0.4 billion dollars. However, there is no way to verify the accuracy of these figures. The bigger and vastly more unacceptable cost resulting from the proliferation of nuclear weapons is in terms of the lives which would be lost, the number of people destined to be maimed and the havoc likely to be wrought on city centres such as Karachi and Mumbai in the event of a nuclear strike.

Indian nuclear specialist, Praful Bidwai and Achin Vinayak, estimate that the destruction in any city in the subcontinent would be significantly worse than what Hiroshima suffered (140,000 people perished) in 1945.

According to another eminent Indian M.V. Ramana, formerly of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the number of people likely to be killed if a bomb was dropped over Mambai would be as high as two to six million. Moreover, exposure to intense radiation would be liable to lead to leukemia, thyroid cancer and lung cancer, in addition to birth defects, cataracts, mental retardation, etc.

Even to a layman it should be clear that the continuation of their nuclear weapons programmes by India and Pakistan would mean assured destruction — destruction on an unprecedented and perhaps incalculable scale. Even a casual reflection on the horrifying prospect should make the ruling elites in the two countries sit up and revisit the wisdom of adhering to their nuclear weapons programmes.

America’s loss of goodwill

THE global outpouring of grief and support the United States received after the 9/11 attacks was unforgettable. It seemed then that nations far and wide were ready to stand as one in saying that terrorism was despicable and that drastic steps needed to be taken against it. How did the US squander such invaluable international goodwill, and what can be done about it?

These are issues just tackled by a State Department panel, which offered unsurprising but sound recommendations. The advisory panel said in its report, released this month, that it made no sense to take on the whole problem of the United States’ loss of favour — a major dip recorded, for example, by a 49-nation Pew Global Attitude poll of 66,000 people. Though “hostility toward America has reached shocking levels,” especially in the Muslim world, said the report from the panel, led by Edward Djerejian, former US ambassador to Syria.

At a time when the US will spend billions of dollars on military and reconstruction efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the panel, known as the Advisory Group on Public Diplomacy for the Arab and Muslim World, sensibly said more also must be spent on reaching ordinary citizens to explain to them US history, culture and values — the definition of public diplomacy. Without this context and background, and with the US involved militarily in the Mideast and other Arab and Islamic hot spots, it is all too easy for the barber and the homemaker to misunderstand the United States and its motives, the group said.

It was one thing for the US to dump Cold War-style propaganda campaigns over the past few decades and quite another to lose exchange programmes, exhibits of American art, concerts with top US performers and US reading rooms and libraries abroad that educated about the United States without hectoring.

Besides pressing the State Department to step up its efforts, the panel recommended that a top White House official act as coordinator. The Bush administration should also recognize and begin to remedy the appalling lack of expertise and knowledge in the US about Arab and Islamic culture, tradition and language.—Los Angeles Times

Vajpayee’s vision of peace

By M.J. Akbar


PRIME MINISTER Atal Behari Vajpayee has many virtues, but the principal one is conviction. He is not rash: by definition a successful politician cannot be rash. This is why he does not waste his convictions by spreading them too thin. In over five years of governance, there are two policy lines that are indisputably his. One is the transformation of infrastructure. No one had ever given as much priority to surface communication, and roads in particular, as Vajpayee.

When he first proposed this vision, it was met by the kind of scepticism from the Congress that the left had reserved for Rajiv Gandhi when he ushered in the computer and telecommunications revolution. Dr Manmohan Singh, finance minister for five much-lauded years, told the Rajya Sabha that the new prime minister did not know arithmetic: such vast outlays as necessary for such vision did not emerge out of budgets as he understood them. Dr Singh’s successor, the academically-undoctored Yashwant Sinha, showed precisely how a budget could produce the money for investment in life. Those roads are a reality and a vital element of the feel-good factor that has energized our economy towards an eight per cent growth.

The second was a commitment towards peace with Pakistan. This obviously needed more courage. The controversy over roads was essentially insubstantial and disappeared like passing mist. The problem with Pakistan was visceral. Vajpayee had to deal with at least four incompatible elements. He belonged to a party that had been formed to distil hatred for partition into Indian votes, and was thus historically anti-Pakistan; there was a genuinely deeply held view among his senior colleagues that peace would alienate the BJP’s traditional voter; decisive elements of the Pakistan establishment, since the late eighties, had convinced themselves that a low-level insurrection in the Kashmir valley would succeed where two full-scale wars before that had not; and years of violence had made Pakistan an unpopular idea with Indians outside the BJP matrix as well. Talk of a lose-lose situation.

Relations between India and Pakistan can be divided into two unequal patches of time and difficulty. The first lasted some 17-odd years, until 1965. Whatever the future holds, it is unlikely to equal that past of the first 17 years. The longest war between the two nations broke out within ten weeks of freedom, but strangely it did not embitter relations in the manner that future generations were to witness — perhaps because both countries could claim some kind of victory from that war.

India could claim that it had successfully reversed the unexpected Pakistani offensive, and held on to the part of the valley that mattered; while Pakistan could ensure that what it held provided it with sufficient base from which to search for a future.

Or may be the memory of war was lost in the larger sea of blood that accompanied partition. In any case, the two countries honoured the letter and spirit of the Nehru-Liaquat Pact: visas were easy to obtain, trade was calibrated but persisted, and the rhetoric rarely degenerated into snarling.

Everything changed with the second unexpected offensive, in the autumn of 1965. This too was reversed, but it set in motion a second partition of the subcontinent, and then a third. The second partition drew a curtain on family tourism. Indian Muslim families who had been separated in 1947 could still make an annual trip to relatives; weddings were possible within extended families.

That war froze communication, and all later attempts at reheating were desultory at best. We shall never know the full truth behind Field Marshal Ayub Khan’s decision to start the 1965 war, but there is enough evidence that he wanted to exploit a perceived military weakness in India. His judgment was surely influenced by the less than competent performance of the Indian army in the 1962 war against China.

However, Ayub was no Mao Zedong, and the Indian army had opened its eyes after the wake-up call of 1962. Instead of marching to Delhi, the Pakistan army was forced into rearguard action on the outskirts of Lahore. Its tacticians proved to be worse than its strategists. It even lost space in the Kashmir under Pakistan’s control.

An important political point was, however, established in the peace talks at Tashkent in January 1966. By exchanging territory captured across both the international border and the Line of Control in Kashmir, India and Pakistan gave a de facto status to the LoC as the Kashmir border by mutual treaty. No one hands over territory that it considers a legitimate part of its national space. This is why, for instance, India gave up the Haji Pir pass — and Pakistan took it back, while ceding what it had gained during the 1965 war. Implicit was made explicit at Tashkent.

Ayub Khan therefore suffered a double defeat. He failed totally in his attempt to wrest the Kashmir valley from India, and then compounded this defeat at Tashkent by accepting the Line of Control as the line behind which Pakistan would live. Nothing in the rhetoric of the future would change this basic fact.

His foreign minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who had been the hawk with the largest wingspan before hostilities began, realized what had happened in Tashkent. He also knew that he was complicit, but, being a politician with flexible morals, turned on his mentor when facts became nasty.

When his turn came to negotiate after defeat, in 1972, he proved to be more adept than Ayub, but the substantive reality did not shift: Pakistan once again accepted the LoC as the dividing line in Kashmir. To be fair to Bhutto, in the circumstances of 1972 he had little option.

The tensions of politics and war took their toll. That heavy curtain between people became a wall. The only Indian politician who made any conscious effort to find some room through that wall was Atal Behari Vajpayee, even if he had to leave his party disappointed if not disoriented. Other politicians were either indifferent, or when they had the will, could not find a way through the system. Vajpayee reopened the visa regime when he was Morarji Desai’s foreign minister during the Janata rule between 1977 and 1980; and when he came to power as prime minister, his second important initiative was to try and find peace with Pakistan, through the Lahore accord.

The proposals with which India has resurrected the peace momentum are linked by one thought: that people must pay as small a price as possible for the vagaries of politics, or the compulsions of policy. The prime minister understands that the bulk of those Muslims who have been divided cannot afford airfares. Hence the thought that a ferry service could start between Mumbai and Karachi, making travel more accessible between the centre and south of India to Pakistan and vice versa.

For five decades the governments of India and Pakistan have been saying that they want to do the best for the Kashmiri people: here is a practical chance to actually help them by opening a bus route between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad. The risks in this idea are all being taken by India, because this route will be vulnerable to both political and real crossfire.

Normally, even politicians who are inclined towards peace rather than war get tentative when they see an election approaching. Vajpayee seems, paradoxically, spurred by the thought of an approaching election. He believes that while you can win on a war platform, as he did after Kargil, you can do even better on a peace ticket. This is heresy in the prevalent cynicism.

Pakistan’s generals may not understand such logic, since their lives are blissfully uncomplicated by elections. But Vajpayee may be motivated by something even more heretical: he may want peace for its own sake, because it is good for India and Pakistan, because the cost of conflict is colossal, and not because it makes good or bad electoral sense. As an idea this is, alas, unusual enough to be radical. For a party like the BJP this must be positively revolutionary. You cannot, of course, clap with one hand. Pakistan is within its rights to deliberate over a response; but it would be dismal if its response were so conditional-conventional as to sabotage this package. Indians and Pakistanis have become so weary of failure that they have stopped believing that anything sensible can happen. President Musharraf has said that the sense of dismay in Pakistan at the failure of Agra was profound. He too then heard the echo of a muted longing for peace and normality. Here is a chance to reawaken that oft-defeated hope. This also sets the stage for a series of steps leading to the Saarc summit in Islamabad in January.

Delhi does not live in a vacuum; it knows that talks with Pakistan must resume at some point, even if cross-border terrorism does not end. Home minister Lal Krishna Advani has lent his weight to the process by opening up the opportunity for talks with the Hurriyat. (The Hurriyat’s initial confusion is understandable; it never expected that its demand would be acceptable.)

The Vajpayee initiative, then, has been thought through. It is measured, rather than frantic. It would be a mistake if some clever strategists in Islamabad persuaded their leader that this initiative is a sign of weakness, or that American displeasure with India’s stand on Iraq can be turned to Pakistan’s advantage. The world has become more complex; such theorizing is self-delusion rather than ingenious.

Those in power are always tempted by war booty. They rarely realize that the peace dividend pays out much, much more. Civilians find it easier to appreciate this. Generals must find the mindset to understand this too.

The writer is editor-in-chief of Asian Age, New Delhi.