National Zakat Foundation: Establishing Zakat provision for the needy in the UK

The National Zakat Foundation (NZF) is a startlingly obvious project that nobody seems to have gotten around to so far, but around which considerable talent is organising. Last month, I spoke with Iqbal Nasim of the NZF, who had been quietly working on the project for 6 months prior to rolling out the public engagement and champion programme.

Iqbal is a Cambridge grad in his mid 20s who worked as a stockbroker before joining Mercy Mission (the NZF’s parent organisation) last year. I first met him on a trip to the World Islamic Economic Forum in Kuwait during 2008, a rather obese affair to which Tony Blair was invited to advise the Muslim national corporati. In 5 star hotels we were wastefully catered for and patronised with talks of food crises, enough said really, other than the challenge of substance over style for our generation. 

Mercy Mission which was founded by Shaykh Dr Tawfique Chowdhury in Australia extends globally and is relatively new to the UK. It describes itself as a community empowerment organisation and has built a strong reputation and volunteer base through its activities in Islamic education provision via the Al Kauthar Institute. With NZF and a philosophy of unpretentious practical partnership working, they are providing one of the more real examples of Muslim mobilisation in the UK.

The provision of Zakat for Muslims in the UK has generally been thought of as a lesser priority when compared with causes more established in the Musalmind. Many of our ancestral lands are very much still needy places. They suffer everyday violence, inept and corrupt government, structural injustices of neoliberal capitalism, developmentia, war and environmental calamity. Directing our Zakat solely their way, or towards vivid flashpoints in the ummah heartlands seemed a no brainer until relatively recently.

The Quran, His Divine Speech, continually calls us to the virtues and beauty of establishing Salah and Zakat. For reference, the eight categories of persons eligible for Zakat are detailed in Surah Taubah, Ayah 60. Zakat is the poor’s due. We do not get to slap ourselves on the back for paying it as it is not even ours. In spite of state welfare provision, which we observe the withdrawal off, there is a significant body of people in need in the UK. This ranges from newcomers who have fallen between the cracks of an increasingly shrill immigration system, to new Muslims often young and female vulnerable to exclusion.

The NZF’s bread and butter, as Iqbal puts it, is dealing with applications from people seeking Zakat assistance on a case by case basis. By analysing applicant forms submitted on their website the team make a raw financial assessment of the application and proceed from there.

“It’s not just financial,” Iqbal continues, “everybody who has a financial problem, doesn’t just have a financial problem.” This directness is significant, we are all too familiar with bureaucratic workings of organisations with narrow boxes, remits and agendas. That an organisation is this open minded and approachable to the needy is an example to us all.

In addition, the NZF is working with St Mungo’s, a homeless people’s charity, to establish refuges for Muslim women suffering domestic violence in London, Birmingham and Manchester. It is heartening to see this group neither denying nor exploiting the uglier face of our malaise, but addressing its impacts by providing solid Ummahstructure.

Against a backdrop of PREVENT funded, posture organisations vying for the policy limelight, of corporate charities with overseas focus and exploitative public relations practices, and a rapidly shrinking welfare state, the UK Muslim Millet is broadly welcoming this initiative. A few weeks ago I bumped into some city workers I had not seen in a while. Not only had they bought fully in to the NZF idea, they were speculating as to the amount of unpaid Zakat simply floating around Canary Wharf and how it might be liberated. There is growing support from scholars and community institutions for this. We pray for the protection, success, integrity and longevity of this project.

It is worth dwelling for a moment on a growing problem in the Muslim third sector, that it has begun to adopt much of the language and PR imprint of the development industry. This superficial industry tends to make dramatic, heroic claims and portray its victims in a disempowering light. It exploits human emotion, distracts from the causes of our problems and is difficult to argue against as it wears the cloak of virtue and charity. It could even be called “poverty pornography”. We need not make this mistake; resemblances to such infantilising PR schemes are not an inevitable short term consequence of ‘reaching out’ to the wider community. It is not beyond the wit of Muslims to establish and respond to a language which is reflective, grounded and soulful. ‘Poverty alleviation’ is not it.

Cultivating discerning support is a strategic asset; perhaps the NZF might see it this way as it develops its participant base further outside Muslim youth. The Zakatable community does not have the same social view as the audience of the Badman videos on YouTube. It comprises a mixed population of savvy, world weary professionals, business people and workers in all sectors, who would not mind being treated as adults.

By altering the reach of Zakat NZF has embarked on leading work, complementing our current overseas Zakat relations with a much needed contract to the needy closer to hand.

As we parted company, I suggested that we institute Khums, the Shi‘i practice of giving 20% of one’s earnings into the communal cause. Iqbal smiled, “Let’s start with 2.5% Zakat and see where that gets us”.

For a whole host of tools, from Zakat calculators to educational aids do visit www.nzf.org.uk

UPDATE (8/8/12)
Sorry to say that the relationship between the NZF and the dubious #STOPKONY2012esque #savemaryam campaign (also from Mercy Mission) needs probing. This immense imitative bumwave, alarmist and insulting of Indonesian Islamic culture undermines the credibility of what the NZF is committed to doing. 'Diasporas' mustnt be colonial.


Reflection said...

They seem well intentioned, masha'Allah. However as we know good intentions are not enough alone to deliver success. They need to find the right formula to deliver lasting and sustainable quality of their welfare provision.

I hope that they stay focussed insha'Allah and not fall into the trap of spreading themselves too quickly too soon, thus compromising on quality. That would be a great shame.

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