Brunei: Who deserves the undistributed zakat funds?

Before Brunei was swept by floods, landslides and soil erosion, the hot topic in town was the hundreds of millions in surplus of the zakat or tithe collections.

The paying of the zakat is one of the pillars of Islam. It is an act of giving up a percentage of one's wealth to one of the different categories mentioned by Allah in the Quran. It is derived from the root word “tazkiyah”, which means “purification”. Zakat is thus hoped to bring about blessings, purification of the soul and an increase in good deeds. 

On Wednesday, 14th January, His Majesty the Sultan of Brunei queried the Islamic Religious Council of the balance of B$ 200 million (in 2004 alone) from zakat collections that were yet to be distributed.

Upon this public announcement of the surplus of zakat funds, it has created a form of ‘mass panic’ amongst the citizens. It had led to a mass congregation of people congesting the Ministry of Religious Affairs’s office, as they all had believed that they had a share to the zakat balance.  The office had then became too overcrowded, and they had to distribute the zakat application forms at the Stadium Hassanal Bolkiah. 

Brunei Lifestyle managed to take a look at the zakat application form and she said:

Before filling in the form, the front page made it clear on the definitions of those who have the right to receive the zakat. It says (in Malay) the definition of a:

Fakir –  Seorang Islam yang papa tidak mempunyai apa-apa pencarian atau harta atau orang yang tidak boleh mengadakan setengah daripada keperluan untuk nafkahnya dan nafkah orang-orang yang wajib ditanggunya.

Miskin – Orang Islam yang sungguh pun mempunyai sedikit harta atau apa-apa pencarian tetapi cuma dapat mengadakan lebih daripada separuh keperluan nafkahnya dan nafkah orang yang wajib ditanggungnya.

So applicants have to ensure that they are considered as a poor or it will be a sin for them to receive zakat when they know that they are not entitle to receive it. The MRA said that in 2007, about 4% of the Brunei’s population were classified poor.

Before filling in the form, the front page made it clear on the definitions of those who have the right to receive the zakat. It says (in Malay) the definition of a:

Fakir – A Muslim who has no source of income or wealth or those who are unable to fulfil half of the needs for him/herself and those of their dependents

Miskin – A Muslim who, though has a bit of wealth or source of income but could only manage to contribute for more than half of his/ her own need and their dependents

So applicants have to ensure that they are considered as a poor or it will be a sin for them to receive zakat when they know that they are not entitle to receive it. The MRA said that in 2007, about 4% of the Brunei’s population were classified poor.

Unfortunately, those who have sought for this share of the surplus of zakat collections did not appear to fall under the categories of fakir, or miskin. Many of the applicants who were interviewed by Brunei Times (a local news provider) admitted that they were burdened by debts accumulated due to overindulgence. Examples were excessive credit card bills, automobile loans and personal loans. Ranoadidas was concerned about such people who were demading this share of the undistributed zakat funds:

It’s a shame (if it’s true) that the working class of our society are applying for the remainders of the unused Zakat funds (BND 200 million). Or perhaps, they misinterpreted on who are be qualified to get share of the Zakat.

According to a source, the Ministry of Religious Affairs building was packed as tons of people made their way to get hold of the application form. To make things clear, the Acting Secretary of Islamic Religious Council of Brunei, Hj Abdul Wahab, said that not all will be eligible to claim the Zakat funds and that also includes those in debt with loans. I think there’s gonna be a long debate with regards to this matter.

Senor Pablo was also unimpressed with the idea of people claiming to be part of ‘al- Garimin’ category because of their huge debts that were due to this intemperance.  Those in the al-Garimin category are people who are in debted according to the Syariah Law. This is one of the groups that have a right over the zakat collections. In Brunei, to qualify under this category, one has to be Muslim, without any source of income to clear the debt, and is taking debt to finance basic necessities in line with Syariah Law (, 2009). Senor Pablo believed that people should learn to become independent and realistic in living within their means.

Hmmm. I dont’ think it is funny to pretend you are poor and think that you can get a slice of the pie. How humiliating to read that there were some who think they come under the ‘Al Garimin’ category when they drove in luxury cars… when in reality they are not poor or destitute.

What do I want my kids to learn from all these? Learn to be self-reliant, independent or as the title of the post says it… Berdikari! [Independent!]

Learning to be self-reliant and being realistic on what you can afford and what not. Be smart in making financial judgment is equally important. I guess some of us have the mentality of ‘keeping up with the Jones’. We always wanted to be above the rest. That is fine if you can handle it. There is no point in burdening one self just to keep up with others’ lifestyle.

Brunei resources said that the zakat funds should be given to those who are in real need of them. He is also concerned that an unfair distribution of the remaining zakat collections may cause some Bruneians to stop paying their zakat.

In our country of plenty, there are a number of these people who need our help. The Zakat funds must be used but not to pay for those who are on debt to pay because of over indulgence but to help genuine cases. The long queues to get the assistance forms and the media coverage on the possibility that many of these in the queues are in financial trouble of their own making have not helped.

It is also worrying that I have met a number of people who used to pay their zakats are now thinking of not paying zakats anymore. They said that why should their zakat money be used to pay for those on debts because they spent money on mobile phones etc. They might as well give their zakats directly to mosques and other noble causes. These are worrying trends and may have an impact in the amount of zakat collection in the future. We certainly need to think the right usage of the zakat funds.

Asid suggested that the Islamic religious leaders and the academian should come together and have a dialogue, and conduct research to solve any future zakat related problems:                                                                                                         

Perlunya diadakan satu perbincangan Ilmiah yg mengumpulkan Ulama2 dan cendikiawan2 bagi sama2 membincangkan permasalahan2 yg timbul daripada isu zakat ani. Kita perlu mendengar pandangan2 yg baru serta resolusi2 yg praktikal bagi menangani benda ani. Kajian2 akademik yg mendalam daripada bijak pandai akan sangat2 membantu menyelesaikan masalah2 yg timbul. Keberkesanan dan kecekapan badan yg bertanggungjawab hendaklah diberi perhatian penuh bagi sama2 mencapai dan menjunjung Titah dan Hasrat Kebawah Duli ini. Daripada pengumpulan, pembahagian yg adil dan seksama hinggalah pengagihan yg telus dan sempurna, semuanya harus dititikberatkan.

There is a need for a conference that could bring together Islamic religious leaders and academian to discuss the problems that arise due do this zakat issue. We need to listen to new ideas and perspectives, and develop practical solutions to handle this matter. A comprehensive and thorough academic research from the learned will be very beneficial in assisting the problems that may emerge. The effectiveness and efficiency of responsible organisations should become a key concern, so that they could become collaborators in achieving and fulfilling His Mesjesty's decree. From the collection, a fair allotment, to the distribution that is transparent and impeccable; everything should be focused upon.

The paying of the zakat is meant to bring about blessings, a purification of the soul and a way of increasing one's deeds. It allows us to narrow the gap between the rich and poor, and help those who may not even have the luxury of having a proper home or a proper meal. Thus, these basic ideas need to be communicated amongst the muslim citizens in Brunei, so that they could appreciate the function and the contributions of the zakat system.  Bruneians also need to learn to become independent, and to live within their means as to not bury themselves in debts due to their overindulgence.  Also, to overcome any possible zakat related problems in the future, a dialogue should be held amongst the different Islamic religious leaders, academian and the organisations that handle the zakat funds. 



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