British Muslims should spend Zakat in UK

Pakistan floods: British Muslims should give money to UK causes, says charity

Pakistan floods A child at a temporary shelter in Thatta in southern Sindh. Pakistani troops and workers were on a “war footing” over the weekend battling to save the city of Thatta after most of the population fled advancing flood waters. Photograph: Rizwan Tabassum/AFP/Getty ImagesAn Islamic charity says British Muslims should fulfil their religious obligation to help the poor by giving money within the UK rather than abroad – despite the devastation caused by the floods in Pakistan.

Muslims are required to pay 2.5% of their wealth above a minimum amount to the poor and needy each year. The Zakat, as it is known, is often paid during Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, which ends next week. Many British Muslims traditionally donate the Zakat to help the needy in their mother countries and with the floods that have devastated Pakistan, the country would seem an obvious choice for help this year, especially for the 43% of British Muslims who are of Pakistani origin.

But Mercy Mission UK, a charity set up three years ago to encourage Muslims to play an active part in their communities, is launching the National Zakat Foundation this week to encourage British Muslims to give to local causes rather than overseas. “Although it hurts us to see what’s going on around the world, the Zakat is meant to be given locally. The idea is to reach out to the poor right here,” said Azim Kidwai, Mercy Mission UK general manager.

British charities such as Muslim Aid and Islamic Relief UK are currently encouraging Muslims to pay Zakat to help fund their overseas operations, including in Pakistan, which aim to help people regardless of their faith. But the National Zakat Foundation points to the high number of Muslims living below the poverty line in Britain and is pledging to distribute donations received towards local communities where Muslims are in need.

Kidwai acknowledged that the campaign would prove controversial, given the situation in Pakistan, but said that there was a religious basis for the position of the National Zakat Foundation. “It’s 2.5% [the Zakat], you can still give to other countries over and above the 2.5%,” he said. “We genuinely believe Zakat should be given locally. We [also] genuinely believe extra support should be given to Pakistan. You need to support different types of giving. There’s some that is required [under the religion] and other that is extra.”

Haroun Atallah, finance director of Islamic Relief, said: “There is the religious basis that you should spend the Zakat on the land that it is collected. However, there is very strong Islamic belief for saying where in a land where people have enough provision for themselves, the Zakat can be moved to another land. We have [in the UK] a social welfare system, a health system. We do spend some Zakat in Britain but when you have disasters like we’re having in Pakistan some people are giving specifically for Pakistan and, as a charity, we have to give the money to where they want it to go.”

A spokeswoman for Muslim Aid said the charity spends 10% of Zakat funds on education and social ills in the UK, but added: “Every day 1.02 billion people go hungry; one sixth of humanity. Zakat spent in these [developing] countries addresses a greater need for humanity than addressing causes in the UK. Zakat can be spent on the deserving anywhere in the world, including the UK, taking into consideration elements of proportionality and maximising the beneficiaries.”

Despite generosity in Britain, where the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal has reached £40m, the UN says the relief operation in Pakistan is still underfunded.

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