The Executive Director, Zakat and Sadaqat Foundation, Prince Sulayman Olagunju, speaks with SAHEED SALAWU on the institution of zakat, the seriousness of the neglect of this third pillar of Islam by the vast majority of eligible Muslims and the implications for the Ummah and the society at large.
Zakat has been described as the forgotten pillar of Islam, given the unbecoming attitude of many Muslims to this obligation. What is the implication of this?
The implication is already being felt; poverty. Muslims are wealthy but they are equally not favourably placed in terms of economic empowerment in the society. The society at large is also not well-off because the institution of zakat is supposed to be beneficial to Muslims and non-Muslims alike. As a pillar of Islam, I feel that we should take it more seriously than we currently do. You will discover that very many Muslims are ignorant of zakat. They don’t even know the difference between it and sadaqat. However, while zakat is the compulsory tax for charity, sadaqat is a voluntary act of charity. Most Muslims engage in sadaqat and are content thinking that it suffices as zakat. This notion is wrong. There is no way the voluntary can replace the compulsory.
Ignorance is a major factor in this matter. Most Muslims do not know how important the institution of zakat is. Its benefit is enormous. It has the potential to alleviate, and even eradicate, poverty in the society if it is collected and distributed properly. I think ignorant Muslims are as much to blame as those of us who have saddled ourselves with the collection of zakat. In the south-West of the country, you hardly have any information about zakat and that is one of the reasons we at Zakat and Sadaqat Foundation have taken it upon ourselves to sensitise Muslims to zakat, and we are ready to collaborate with other zakat institutions. At the Foundation, we feel that a whole lot more needs to be done to get Muslims to accord zakat the priority treatment it deserves as an integral part of our faith.
Do you see the ongoing recession affecting obedient Muslims who have been paying their zakat regularly?
Zakat improves your earnings and insulates your property. So, if you have been paying zakat properly, this recession has no business with you. I heard a story wherein a fire burned people’s properties. They brought the news to a man who also had property at the scene of the fire but he just waved the news aside, saying his property could not have been affected because he paid zakat from it. And to the surprise of those who brought the news, when they all got to the place, his property was intact. So, a Muslim who pays zakat has no problem with recession. Zakat purifies your money. Zakat brings increment to you. With your zakat, you empower many people, and Allah loves those who do charity. Plus, those to whom your money is given would pray for you.
If you are the type of Muslim that has not been paying zakat, you can try it at this period of recession and then confirm the reality or otherwise of my claim. Okay, we talk of recession but we collected N127 million zakat last year and this year, when there is recession, as I talk to you right now, we have collected N138 million. So, I encourage people to honourably pay zakat. It is compulsory. It is a purifier. Just take the pain and pay it and whatever you have would be purified.
Could you shed more light on the difference between zakat and sadaqat?
Zakat is compulsory for all Muslims who have the means. However, both the haves and the have-nots are to participate in sadaqat. Sadaqat is general so that we all could earn blessings from Allah. Even if you give N5 as charity, you will be rewarded for it, but if you give nothing at all, there is nothing to be rewarded for. So, I encourage us to always pay sadaqat and pay our zakat – if we are able.
How would you advise the Federal Government to go about ending the ongoing recession?
The Federal Government needs to encourage the zakat institutions in this country. They need to create an enabling environment for us. They need to encourage zakat institutions on the collection of this religious tax from Muslims. Effective collection of zakat can help the government, even more than the regular tax, in reducing poverty in the land. If the government encourages and supports us, definitely, what we would be collecting as zakat would be more than we are collecting right now. Give us a ministry of zakat, let Muslims run it, collect zakat together and let’s see what we make of it. Adherents of other religions don’t have to do it with us. I have had the opportunity of visiting countries where the governments encourage the collection of zakat and they are not necessarily Islamic nations. The governments provide an enabling environment for the collection and distribution of zakat and thereby empower a lot of people, taking them out of poverty. The essence of governance is to bring peace to the people and see to their well-being, and religion is even not an issue in this regard. So, the government needs to support us. And if the adherents of other faiths believe that there are aspects of their religions that align with this, the government should support them as well. This is really going to benefit the country as a whole.
Do you think Islamic leaders and scholars are doing enough to sensitise Muslims to the obligation of zakat?
No, they are not doing enough. Many people are so-called scholars; they do not even understand the concept of zakat. Some only read it in the Book and they tell people but they do not know how to apply it. Of what benefit is that? Even some ‘scholars’ still talk about zakat in terms of toro and poun when somebody like me doesn’t even know those units of currency let alone younger people. They are okay with what people bring before them and call zakat. Some rich Muslims do not really understand this dictate of their religion and as such, the onus is on the knowledgeable ones to enlighten them and guide them to the obligation.
What is your advice for Nigerians as the nation trudges?
We should all feel concerned about our affairs. People should stop this it-doesn’t-concern-me attitude. It has really affected us. We never used to have all these problems we are having now because the underprivileged in the society were cared for. Now there is incidence of kidnapping, because people want money; they want to survive. And when you look at that kidnapper, he is either a Muslim or a Christian. So, what I’m saying in essence is that religion has a vital role to play in bringing succour to the adherents and one of the ways Allah has equipped Islam to play this role is through the institution of zakat.
We need to help one another. Pay your zakat, pay your sadaqat and let us have a change of attitude towards one another. A situation whereby I am able to send my child to a university where I pay N1 million per session and I see young boys and girls out of school and roaming my street, I should be concerned about them. If I can pay N1 million for my child’s tuition, it mustn’t be too much for me to spend N100,000 on about five of these kids’ education. At the end of the day, what we are going to have is an egalitarian society where everyone is happy. We have missed the point and we need to retrace our steps. While some of us take water for granted, in some villages, you find that there is no potable water. So, from the zakat we are collecting, we are sinking boreholes in places where they require them. I urge those who are well-off among us to care about the underprivileged and this will go a long way in solving some of the problems we have in this country.