A Tale of Local Zakat: On the Giving and Receiving Ends of Charity

This is more important than personal morality. More important than building new mosques. More important even than protecting our children.

This is more important than personal morality. More important than building new mosques. More important even than protecting our children.

Ahmed Peerbux’s recent article prompted me to recount my experience at both ends of the local zakat chain.

Some years ago, I was temporarily appointed to lead our community of Muslims in Norwich. My short tenure corresponded with an influx of zakat which had been collected locally from Muslims in the city. Most of it was collected by well-placed men in the community. But one lady with some savings asked me to go with her to the bank, where she drew out her dues, handing me a fat envelope over which she mentioned Allah’s name. We sat on two adjacent blue chairs in the foyer and I made Du’a for her, as collectors are ordered to do. We must have looked like an unusual couple, but nobody took any notice of us. Then we went our ways.

My way took me to a meeting of five or six of my closest helpers, in a room next to the mosque. I placed the envelope on the table and they put down the money they had collected. I asked for the names of people who were struggling. They knew everyone better than I did. I was new to the city. 

“Rahim’s in need. His wife is unwell. It’s hard for them to make ends meet.”

I took a wodge of notes from the envelope, put it into another, wrote ‘Rahim’ on it, and handed it over. “Let me know once you’ve delivered it.”

“There’s Auntie Layla Fatima and Hajja Rahma. They could both use something.”

They’re both widows, people beloved to our community in different ways. I took out a few hundred more and sealed it in two new envelopes. “Who’s best connected to them? Give them these.”

There were several others. Soon the money was reaching its end. We were trying to think who was left.

“What about Khalid who owes Yusuf rent? What’s his story again?”

“Yes, there’s a bit of trouble there,” I was told. “Yusuf never stops complaining. Khalid’s not paying. He says he can’t and has a string of excuses, which are probably true as he doesn’t have work. Yusuf’s upset and wants him out.” 

Khalid lives on the fringes of the community; no-one knows exactly what he does. Still, he’s a Muslim and shows up from time to time to pray and socialise. Their dispute was bothersome because Yusuf kept bringing it up.

“Go down the mosque and find him, I think he’s around.”

My friend reappeared a short while later with Khalid, who looked dishevelled and uneasy. He must have known it was about his debts. I stood and shook his hand, then sat, but he remained standing, hands in pockets.

He looked down at me nervously as I handed him an envelope. “This is for you to pay Yusuf everything you owe, then you have to move out. Do you agree to do that?”

Khalid took the envelope and agreed. He swayed from one foot to the other, looking bewildered and grateful. Then he left. Later I heard that things had been sorted out between them. 

“There’s a couple of hundred left,” I said. I divided it up between the men and gave them a few notes each. “This is for you as collectors.” I knew some of them weren’t exactly well off. Not that small amounts like this would really help them. But collectors are in the category of recipients. It was for their hearts.

The money was gone as quickly as it came, now weaving and wending its way in envelopes and pockets through town towards its recipients, soon to be spent in the ordinary run of things, on food, bills, children’s needs. Life is not hard here in England in the same way that it is in some faraway lands. It is hard in another way. Our people are mostly not well off. And they are an underclass, a minority, living amid a sea of otherness of belief. They have to work for people who have no time for their way of life. Or they exist on benefits, numbed of ambition. The depression which afflicts this society is rife among us.

So many Muslims are in that most unnatural state of all: alone. And yet they all have so, so much. By being Muslim, they carry answers, one and all. Big answers to the big questions that gather gradually but inexorably on the horizon or our country and the world.

I stepped outside the building. I could smell the blossom and hear passing cars and the shouts of youths across the park. Summer was well on its way. My mind was on the people they’d told me about. Their struggles. I wondered how we could help them further. We should meet up again and discuss it, I thought; maybe more can be done. Meanwhile, I’d ask my wife to check on Layla Fatima. The prospect of helping these people, even just a bit, gave me energy and I moved off along the pavement with a spring in my step.

Some weeks later I encountered Layla Fatima in the vestibule of the mosque. She has a bright face and always smiles and has a good word to say. That day, her adab was even more luminous. I returned her greeting briefly and made my way through the shoes and crowds. 

Some time later I found myself sitting next to Rahim over lunch. He shook my hand and leaned in against me so I could feel the warmth of his shoulder against mine. Ever since that time, we’ve loved one another.

*  *  *

It is now three years later. I am living on the edge of Norwich. Someone else is carrying the burden of managing the community’s affairs. I have been unwell, in and out of hospital. My business, like so many, has been destroyed by political decisions. By Allah’s generosity, we eat well as we always have, but we live hand to mouth. At Eid, we receive a few visitors and sit out in our garden together in glorious sunshine. A friend hands me an envelope with my name on it. I slip it into my inside pocket. It’s zakat from my successor; I don’t even need to ask. My friend smiles knowingly and laughs good naturedly. Our conversation turns to other things. The birds are singing in the trees and the roses are beginning to blossom. Summer is well on its way again.

Later, towards evening, I remember the envelope and open it with my wife. Five hundred pounds. I give some to her and tuck the rest into my wallet, making it hard to close. Two weeks later I spend the last note. All of it has gone on food. Every time I’ve taken out notes, I’ve been reminded that some person whom I must know but do not know, has given this money as an act of worship, an act of obedience to Allah, an act of adoration of Allah. And every time, my heart is assured of His provision, again and always again, and my love for my community is renewed.

*  *  *

I have a dream. Gradually, in different Muslim cities – in Bradford, in London, in Leicester, in Bolton, in Manchester – individuals and their groupings emerge to collect zakat locally. These will not be ulama, although the exceptions will prove the rule. They will be natural leaders. People with connections. People of means. People of action. People in business. Student leaders. People of energy, enthusiasm, and initiative. People whom others look up to.

At first, they will be reticent. They will fear the reprimand of their mawlanas and the disapproval of the huge zakat funds that funnel money to faraway lands. And they will see themselves as unfit to take a leading role.

But slowly, here and there, they will be driven to act. Some by discomfort with the status quo. Some by love of their own communities. Some by insight. Some by healthy ambition.

These are the people who deserve to be helped. Once they begin to collect and distribute zakat locally, they will be helped. A completely new movement will emerge. And it will change their communities. It will change society. 

This is more important than personal morality. More important than building new mosques. More important even than education. It is the very activity that will protect our youth, because young men and women will want to join in and help. They will sense the excitement of this work. It is political and it is spiritual. That is what Islam offers and what people of sincerity want. Local zakat is the foremost priority for the leading Muslims in Britain.



Advertise on TMV