The Egyptian government has taken new measures to regulate zakat, ensure funds donated to help the poor during the holy month of Ramadan reach their intended recipients and prevent them from reaching extremist groups.
In a June statement, the presidency announced the establishment of the Egyptian House of Zakat and Charity, an independent body run by Al-Azhar that will oversee the collection and disbursement of zakat funds across Egypt.
Al-Azhar has started to lay the groundwork for the zakat house, meeting with experts a few weeks ago to work on a draft law to regulate the house's work and its organisational structure.
The zakat house is intended as a "safe and reliable entity through which Egyptians can distribute charity to deserving recipients, such as the poor, students and those who are ill, based on legitimate disbursement channels, in a bid to prevent the waste of these funds on non-deserving recipients", said deputy imam of Al-Azhar Abbas Shuman.
Al-Azhar's legal advisors are now drafting the law as well as the statutes of the house to ensure it is independent from the government and under the supervision of Al-Azhar, he added.
Egyptians donate up to 17 billion pounds ($2.4 billion) each year in zakat funds, according to Al-Azhar University's Saleh Kamel Centre for Islamic Economy.
ZAKAT UNDER STRICT CONTROL
Last year, the Ministry of Endowments called for zakat funds to be placed under the strict control of state institutions and called for transparency in the announcement of budgets, expenses and bonuses to ensure funds are not used to serve the interests of political parties or extremist groups.
The ministry also called for the establishment of an independent body that could work with the Ministry of Social Solidarity to create a network linking beneficiaries to disbursers and civil society organisations, in order to guarantee funds reach the intended recipients.
"Given the increasing danger posed by takfiri groups, a mechanism must be created to prevent zakat funds from reaching extremist groups and being used towards murder or acts of intimidation," said Al-Azhar Islamic Research Academy member Sheikh Abdul Aziz Hegazi.
"Therefore, an institution must be established to fulfil this role under the auspices of Al-Azhar, the largest religious institution in the Islamic world," he told Al-Shorfa.
This is something Egypt has lacked in the past decades, he added.
"This institution will develop mechanisms and strict controls for the collection of zakat funds and ensure they are not disbursed to undeserving recipients or used for purposes other than those for which they were collected, such as political propaganda or diverting them to extremist groups," he said.
Improving the zakat collection and disbursement process has been urgently needed, but the new process will need time to succeed as huge databases will need to be developed, he said.
EGYPT CAN BENEFIT FROM OTHERS
Thirteen Arab countries have a system in place for the collection and disbursement of zakat funds in order to use them as effectively as possible to fight poverty and improve human development, Al-Azhar University Islamic studies professor Amna Noseir told Al-Shorfa.
Egypt can benefit from the experiences of zakat houses in other Arab countries, she said.
Egypt's new zakat house should establish a link to the databases of non-governmental charity organisations "in order to create an integrated system for the elimination of poverty, and to avoid duplication in charitable projects", she said.
(Al-Shorfa.Com / 09 July 2014)---
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