Zakat alms contributions double to Dh8.6 million

Many wealthy Muslims in UAE 'still not paying enough', says secretary general of the Government's Zakat Fund

ABU DHABI // Islamic alms contributions paid through the Government have almost doubled in the first few months of the year, the Zakat Fund revealed yesterday. Revenues from individuals rose by 93 per cent in the first quarter of this year compared with the same period last year, to Dh8.6 million, and the number of contributors rose by almost 40 per cent. Zakat is the Islamic alms tax mandated for every financially able Muslim and its provision is the third pillar of Islam. The Zakat Fund is a government authority created in 2003 by Sheikh Zayed, the founder of the UAE, to receive and distribute Zakat contributions and to raise awareness of the Islamic tradition. Contributions usually spike in the holy month of Ramadan. The agency's total revenues in 2009 were Dh67 million.

Abdullah al Muheiry, the fund's secretary general, said the rise in revenues was the result of increased transparency about its budget and activities. "We adopt a policy of transparency between us and the Zakat provider, who should know where his money is going," he said. Despite the increase in revenue, Mr al Muheiry said he believed that wealthy Muslims were still not paying enough. "The increase does not match the amount of money being invested in the country and the continuous rise in the number of millionaires in the UAE, who now number in the tens of thousands," he said.

Abdullah al Araby, the imam of Dubai's Airport Mosque, said work still needed to be done to increase trust and adherence to Zakat. "People need to know that there is a Zakat Fund and that they can trust it," he said. While the fund had the name of an obligatory Islamic duty, most people viewed it as a charity organisation, he said. "My understanding is that it's a charity organisation that I can just give Dh1,000 or Dh2,000 to," he said. "The Zakat collector does not come to your house like in the past to find out how much you own, calculate the Zakat and then take it from you."

The basic annual Zakat rate is 2.5 per cent on financial assets, with varying rates for other assets, such as gold or livestock. Richer people were less amenable to paying Zakat since they had to pay larger sums of money than ordinary people, Mr al Araby said. "If you have 40 million, then you're going to have to pay one million from that." In addition, Zakat carried few immediate benefits for giving up money, whereas other Islamic obligations, such as Ramadan fasting, had an enjoyable social element to it and the Haj pilgrimage involved travel and tourism.

This meant, unfortunately, that less attention was being paid to Zakat as a duty, he said. "If every member of society pays the Zakat you would not find one needy person in this country,"Mr al Araby said. A recent survey by YouGov Siraj found that almost one third of UAE respondents mistrust charities because they lack accountability. Ahmed al Muhairi, a middle-aged Emirati, said he preferred to give his Zakat money to direct sources rather than to the Zakat Fund or the Red Crescent Authority.

"Sometimes I give to the fund or Waqf [an Islamic trust fund], but I don't really trust them," he said. He said he gave his money to a trusted man who is very religious and distributed it in Kalba, Fujairah and rural areas in the Emirates. "Zakat Fund will complain about a lack of budget no matter how much money they get. So does the Marriage Fund, they receive a lot of money from the Government and their budget is huge but they still complain," said Mr al Muhairi.

Shadia abu el Farraj, a 52-year-old Syrian housewife and charity worker, said she gave her Zakat money to various sources inside and outside the UAE, but she never thought of giving it to the Zakat Fund. "Spending the Zakat money should be done officially through the state, as they can see where the poor people are and then build projects that will help decrease poverty, but when states grew and communities scattered around the place, people became afraid that the money would not reach the right people, so people started giving out the Zakat on their own." She said it became traditional for certain trusted people to collect Zakat money and take on the responsibility of distributing it.

"I personally give my Zakat money inside the UAE to low income families that I know, or widows who have many children and can't afford to enrol them in school for example."