Saturday, September 20, 2008

Blundering Baitulmal

Broadly speaking, Baitulmal means the Treasury. Within the Malaysian context, it functions as a collection and distribution centre for zakat (Muslim property tax) and fitrah (alms). Its job, pure and simple, is to help the Muslim poor.

For the uninitiated, Zakat is third in the Five Pillars of Islam, the framework of the Muslim life. It follows Syahadah (utterance of the testimony of faith) and Solat (prayer five times daily). After it comes Fasting in the month of Ramadan and the Haj (pilgrimage to Mekkah).

Zakat is a tuntutan (demand) of the religion. Mark that word 'demand'; it's a strong word. It demands the Muslim haves to help the have-nots by way of zakat (if you are filthy rich or just plain wealthy, propertied, or with excess funds) and fitrah (personal tithe or alms, a sum so small it's negligible, perhaps in the region of RM5-RM6, although nobody will ever stop you from giving more in the spirit of sadaqah [charity]).

Baitulmal's coffers are brimming with funds. Last year alone, more than half a billion ringgit in zakat poured in, courtesy of Muslim individuals and businesses. The number of people paying and the amount collected are steadily growing ("Poor Muslims slipping through the zakat net": NST, Opinion Page, 18/09/08).

The amount should be more than enough to help the poor, if not eradicate Muslim hardcore poverty altogether. According to the Economic Planning Unit of the Prime Minister's Department, 3.6 per cent of Malaysian households are considered hardcore poor. This means Muslim households living in abject poverty should be less than 3.6 per cent.

Now, if Baitulmal is awashed with more than half a billion ringgit, why are we still reading about fellow Muslims living hand-to-mouth existence, eating one miserable meal of nasi (rice) and kicap (soya sauce) a day? Here we are, fasting in the holy month of Ramadan and gorging ourselves silly come dusk, and our stricken brethren 'fast' every day out of necessity.

Off with the rose-tinted glasses. Let the glaring light of truth blind you senseless. And the unpalatable truth is, many of the hardcore poor are not even listed as zakat beneficiaries.

Go ask Baitulmal why, and I can rewind the list of answers that I heard 20 years ago as a reporter. The oft-quoted excuse, bandied about then as now, is "we are in the midst of compiling a database of the hardcore poor." It's as though Baitulmal is living in a time warp. And all the while, the poor continues to suffer.

Muslims have been paying zakat and fitrah ever since Islam came into being. By the same token, the institution of Baitulmal has been in place since the time of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).

The biggest setback, as far as I can see, is that the Baitulmal institution is under the ambit of individual state religious councils. Therein lies the bureaucratic mess.

The councils themselves are so knotted in red tape that, tuntutan notwithstanding, the task of alleviating the sufferings of the hardcore poor becomes secondary.

There have been calls for Baitulmal to be made completely independent by taking it out of the governance of the state religious councils, centralise it and place it under the Council of Rulers, who are heads of Islam for their respective states. I hope this will become a reality soon enough.

And then there's this issue of Baitulmal investing in stock markets and acquiring property. This is zakat funds we are talking about. Scholars are in agreement that zakat should be disbursed and not carried forward into the following year as a surplus.

They cautioned that putting zakat funds into business or risking it on market trends could be haram if the funds are used to generate income while there are still hardcore poor people in the community.

A former Baitulmal director, now retired, once told me his hands were tied when he was heading the institution. "Dia orang sibuk cari peluang nak melabur aja. Kalau biarkan kat aku, aku dah buat rumah murah banyak-banyak bagi kat semua orang miskin yang takder rumah. Habis cerita."

("All they were doing was looking for opportunities to invest [the zakat money]. Left to me, I would have authorised the construction of lots of low-cost houses and give them to the homeless poor. End of story.")

And I know that the soft-spoken Pak Haji would have done it, precisely as he had said it, given half the chance.


bergen said...

Insan yang benar-benar menguruskan harta baitulmal ialah Omar Ibn Aziz. Selepas beliau wafat, mana ada lagi manusia yang mempunyai iman semacam beliau untuk menjalankan tanggungjawab yang cukup berat ini.

Jangan risau, setiap sen yang tak dibelanjakan kepada mereka yang berhak menerimanya akan ditanya di akhirat. Jadi kalau orang lain dapat masuk syurga pukul 5 petang selepas di soal siasat, mereka yang tak jujur kenalah tunggu minggu depan baru boleh masuk syurga. Satu hari kat akhirat bukan macam 24 jam kat dunia.

Orang yang tak pernah rasa what it's like to endure hunger and misery memang tak ambil berat pasal prompt distribution of the zakat money to those yang berhak. Tapi kenalah ingat, doa orang yang teraniaya ni makbul.

Entahlah, I guess it's about iman. Iman yang menentukan samada kita suka menunaikan hak orang dan iman juga yang menentukan samada kita rasa selesa makan hak orang lain.

Iman - susah nak dapat.

Puteri Kamaliah at-Tarawis said...

Such sobering thoughts, bergen. Saya rasa sayu bila fikir pasal orang miskin serba kekurangan, when there are avenues to help them tapi amanah tak dipenuhi.

Kak Teh said...

Puteri, i never thought there'd be poor people in Malaysia. There shouldnt be people who have to go without.
BTW, may be this is a story i can share. My sister took in one elderly lady to look after her children. Much later, she was my mother's companion - but as they both aged and need other people to look after them, she went to live with some other people. Then, just last week, she wondering around - aimlessly - but then had the presence of mind to cometo my sister's (older sister) place. Her body was bruised where her bangles were pulled off her, her bank account was stripped dry. My sister took her to the social welfare and today reported back that she is so well looked after. She is happier. The home, it seems has so much funds and very clean. There's an account where we can send money to her. She has no one - we tried looking for her relatives, but to no avail. We are the only next of kin. But thank God - she found her way back to my sister's house.

Puteri Kamaliah at-Tarawis said...

I am glad there is a happy ending to your story, kak teh. Di Malaysia ni, ready help doesn't filter to the poor and the destitute mainly because of red tape. I remember one baitulmal person saying the poor must come forward and fill the necessary forms to apply for aid. has it ever crossed his mind that many do not have the privilege of time and education to do it? the appointed amils must work harder to identify the poor and do the necessary. it's their job.

Anonymous said...

Kak Puteri,

I do not know how the system works here but while I was a law student in the UK, we volunteered in the Community Councils to help out ppl to claim for benefits; in the area I lived in was prevelantly young mothers (teen mums).

I guess here, the system must be more proactive to seek out to assist and not wait for the poor and destitute to go to them.

They've done a good job of collecting, they should be better at distribution. That's what I think.


Puteri Kamaliah at-Tarawis said...

Salaam, Aida. I can't deny they have done a real good job at collecting, especially in the past few years when payment of fitrah could be made almost everywhere - they even put up stalls in shopping malls and such. I salute them for their ingenuity. Tapi in the area of distrubution, many things are still lacking. I am inclined to attribute it to many factors - lack of manpower, lack of focus, poor management among them.

In the case of zakat harta, i was given to understand that collection was even easier - muslims become very attuned to the need to bayar zakat when the time comes - tak perlu promptings. that's why baitulmal senang fill their coffers. kebanyakan islamic businesses cepat tunai zakat.

the former baitulmal I quoted happened to be a fellow board director in a company we both served (after his retirement) and he agreed that there had never been a sense of urgency to identify and subsequently disburse money to the poor. He put down to attitude problem. it's painful to acknowledge but that's the truth - that fellow muslims yg diamanahkan not attuned to their own brethren's suffering.

Kak Enon mbsc said...

Akak cer u gi baca ni..

Hehehehehe...rasanya kalau Baitulmal nak ramai guna skim ini, offer kat depa yang ada niat mau pasang 2,3..( nasib puak ini tak termasuk dlm asnaf zakat, masuk kalu LINGKUP Baitulmal )..

puteri kamaliah at-tarawis said...

Kak enon, I think the scheme offered by Baitulmal tu is good - to enable single men yg tak mampu kawin tapi nak kawin, financial assistance to enable them to kawin. like you said la..jgn disalahgunakan duit zakat untuk tambah bini dah ler....

kak enon mbsc said...

Btw..kat sini..bebudak dah start letupkan meriam... sat ni tadi depa dok lawan letup meriam between 2 kampungs...belah kiri dan kanan Sg.Bidor...

(zakat tahun ini RM7.00 seorang kat sini.. SELAMAT BERZAKAT SEMUA.. )

Anonymous said...

I have never paid my zakat to Baitulmal because I did not have the time to do it and may be because at the back of my mind, I was questioning if they distributed the funds properly why was I still reading news about people who are so poor they only get RM80 assistance from Baitulmal? Just RM80 when presumably they have collected millions of ringgit already? So I have been paying my zakat in the form of sedekah to people whom I thought are also deserving in the papers, magazines etc. but waiting endlessly for more help from Baitulmal to save them which never came. I have always thought that was sufficient, that I have done my duties. But recently I was told off that a proper zakat (or zakat that "counts")is one that is paid to the pusat pungutan zakat who will channnel the funds properly to the needy. I am not to take matters into my own hands and decide who are deserving and who are not. I am still questioning this but I have agreed to start paying from now on to PPZ because I sure don't want to be questioned in akhirah for not having paid my zakat!


puteri kamaliah at-tarawis said...

Anon, I would be the first to admit my kejahilan in terms of what counts and what do not. BUT I think you have been doing the right thing by identifying the poor yourself and giving them your zakat directly to the deserving.

My late brother, a businessman, used to give his zakat (for his harta dan perniagaan) by way of getting his staff to collect and collate information on the poor in Perak (the staff went all out to meet with masjid committees, visited all the ceruk kampung) and came back with a list. then he would appoint one day, hire a hall, and we would all go to help him give away his zakat (money, beras & foodstuffs).

i cried my heart out to see the poor and the destitute berduyun2, collecting their bahagian then walking out of the hall with their paket/guni beras on their heads. arwah my brother would also arrange for transport for those yg tinggal jauh.

what i am trying to say is - bukan hak baitulmal saja untuk collect and distribute zakat. you can do it yourself. that's your prerogative. what are they to tell you your zakat dont count? Allah lebih mengetahui.

laptop said...

Eh!! betoi ka ada bantuan tuk yang terigin nak bina mesejid nie? Lagu tak pecaya laa.

Anonymous said...

It is my first post here, so I would like to say hallo to all of you! It is definitely pleasure to join your community!

Anonymous said...

May, buat ajer macam Kelantan..they distribute to the poor at the building 4 times a month and they have the list of who deserve it. For those who can't collect at Kota Bharu, they can collect at their respective district office where the amils will be there twice a month. The dates are fixed, whether it is a holiday or not the amils will be there to distribute. And for your info, Zakat Kelantan never carry forward the fund as they distribute all for the year. Wallahualam

Kama At-Tarawis said...

anon - kalau betul macam ni, bagus sekali sebab diorang betul2 menyempurnakan amanah..