Sultan queries zakat distribution, balance
By Azaraimy HH

His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam, yesterday in a titah queried members of the Islamic Religious Council on the large sum of money from zakat collections yet to be distributed.

The titah was delivered at the opening of the meeting for the Majlis Ugama Islam or Islamic Religious Council at the Legislative Council building.

Pointing to the huge balance, His Majesty asked if it is possible for this money, which in 2004 alone stood at over $200 million, to be distributed because there are apparently people who still need it, especially the poor, and those who are heavily burdened with debt or the al-gharimin.

In Islam, there are six rightful groups or asnaf that can receive the zakat and they include the fakir miskin (poor and needy), tithe collectors, Muallaf (Muslim converts), to redeem slavery, fisabilillah, ibnus sabil and al-gharimin.

The Islamic Religious Council is involved directly in the management of zakat collection in the country.

His Majesty believes that it will be momentous if Brunei can declare itself free of poverty even for a day if the balance of zakat money can be used.

Is it not the principle of zakat to be distributed to the poor or the needy, even if it takes all of it? His Majesty asked at the meeting. He assured that the zakat coffer would never be empty so long as there are Muslims who can contribute.

The Islamic Religious Council holds an immense role in handling all the problems that have religious significance and this role is far reaching.

His Majesty noted that the poor who are among the rightful group, as stipulated, are placed first on the priority list to help them escape from the grip of debt.

His Majesty asked about the position of these people, especially in the "Hukum Zakat" (requirements), who are considered poor and those in debt.

Among the queries raised was whether these people are given the zakat swiftly or if the assistance can be delayed or postponed.

Similarly, can the zakat collection be expanded into some investment or any similar ways, while there still exist people who needed assistance? asked the ruler.

His Majesty pointed to an issue with regards to the balance of zakat collection after distribution, which apparently amounted to a hefty sum. According to a general audit for the 2004 figure, the amount stood at $239,631,073.56.

The monarch asked whether this amount was still available.

Touching again on this huge sum of zakat, His Majesty asked if all the rightful groups, in particular the needy and the al-gahrimin, have been given assistance to a point that there are none left to receive them, which contributed to the huge balance.

If this is the position in Brunei, where after all the groups received their rightful share of zakat adequately leaving behind a hefty balance, His Majesty asked whether the balance can be kept or should this balance be distributed to other remaining groups or to those people who also have the right to it.

His Majesty sought an explanation on the undistributed balance of zakat.

"Has there been a study or has it been taken into account the rise or drop (of value) of the currency, a situation which is happening now as the world is experiencing an economic crisis.

"Who will be held responsible for the devaluation or losses, who can be punished or held responsible for the losses?" His Majesty asked.

Other than focusing on the asnaf (eligible recipients of the zakat) who are poor, His Majesty asked about those who suffer from debt (al-gharimin), in particular the conditions in which they are entitled to receive the zakat.

"Has there been any study on the position of these people who are unable to pay their debt such as those who are unable to pay for the government housing and others such as STKRJ, RPN, Yayasan Housing Scheme and others?" queried His Majesty.

All the while, the share of the al-gharimin group have been given to those who have run into debt on building projects such as the construction of mosques or schools.

In this regard, His Majesty saw the logic in also considering giving the al-gharimin share to those with overdue debt or those who have to borrow because of personal problems.

His Majesty noted that poverty could be eradicated imme-diately if the balance of zakat is distributed to the poor.

The ruler said that based on the calculation, we can declare the country free from poverty even just for a day. The monarch during the opening of 4th Legislative Council Meeting last year had laid out his vision to bring the nation's poverty level to zero.

Based on the total zakat balance, His Majesty said even if we have around 10,000 poor people or more, it is possible that each head of family could receive around $20,000 each.

His Majesty said there could be concern that the zakat might be over but does this fear have any basis at all.

In His Majesty's view, the zakat is collected for the purpose of distributing it to the rightful groups systematically. There should be no fear whatsoever concerning the zakat money running out so long as there are Muslims and those who are blessed with "rezeki" or income shall always contribute to the zakat. - Borneo Bulletin (14th Jan 2009)