PETALING JAYA: A US-based professor of Islamic studies expects resistance from some Islamic scholars to the idea of extending zakat distributions to non-Muslim recipients.
Such scholars would need to improve their Islamic literacy, said Ebrahim Moosa of Notre Dame University in a comment on PKR president Anwar Ibrahim’s proposal of the idea.
They could be unaware of opinions that poor non-Muslims could legitimately receive zakat, he said. “So it’s a matter of developing advanced Islamic literacy among them.”
He spoke of “changing norms” that some religious scholars had not been acclimatised to and said education was the key to addressing this.
But he told FMT the giving of zakat to non-Muslims was a practice going back to classical times.
Zakat is a religious obligation for Muslims who meet several criteria of wealth. A Muslim owning wealth above a minimum amount is obliged to pay an annual rate of 2.5%.
Anwar made his proposal recently when he called for reforms to Malaysia’s zakat institutions.
He said Islam encouraged the distribution of zakat funds to non-Muslims in a multi-religious society although he spoke of the need to ensure that needy non-Muslims were not sidelined.
Moosa said he was in support of including non-Muslims as zakat recipients because it would help in improving the lives of the poor of all religions and promote unity across all faiths.
“Several fatwas have already confirmed the benefits of this move,” he said. “All it requires is the proper political will and a sound moral sensibility.”
He said the challenge was in ensuring that zakat funds were effectively distributed in a way which would stimulate “social improvement, human development and the advancement of human dignity”.
Penang mufti Wan Salim Wan Mohd Noor agreed with Anwar’s proposal, but he said the distribution to non-Muslims should come after the Muslim community had been taken care of.
“First, zakat is a type of worship in Islam,” he said. “Second, it is collected only from the Muslims.
“For non-Muslims who need aid, the government can make use of other resources. If the zakat earnings exceed the needs of the Muslim community at the time, there should be no problem in distributing them to non-Muslims who require aid.”
He also said the decision to include non-Muslims should be made by state religious authorities and rulers.
Perlis mufti Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin told FMT his office approved the giving of zakat to non-Muslims in his state with the release of a fatwa in March 2017.
A statement from his office said zakat could be given to non-Muslims who are harmonious in their attitude towards Islam and their perception of the religion.
Prophet Muhammad approved the distribution of zakat funds to heathens and tribal leaders, the statement added.