Saturday, October 14, 2006

Zakat: obligatory tax for Muslims

Zakat is the 3rd of the five pillars of Islam. Zakat is obligatory on every Muslim who has a specific level of annual saving. It is to be paid once a year to specific beneficiaries and serves a dual purpose: (1) The growth and general welfare of Islamic society along with distribution of wealth; (2) As a purification of the contributor’s soul by cleansing it from selfishness and greed. The recipient on the other hand is also cleansed of human weaknesses such as envy and jealousy. Is it any surprise then that Zakat means both “growth” and “purification” as highlighted by its objectives above?

Zakat is a 2.5% (minimum) levy on most valuables and savings held for a full year if their total value is more than a basic minimum known as nisab. At present nisab is $1,050 or an equivalent amount of any other currency. It is to be given to the following category of persons:

1. Fakir - One who has neither material possessions nor means of livelihood.
2. Miskin - One with insufficient means of livelihood to meet basic needs.
3. Amil - One who is appointed to collect zakat.
4. Muallaf - One who converts to Islam.
5. Riqab - One who wants to free himself from bondage or the shackles of slavery. (In Singapore, zakat due to this category of recipients is spent on those who need help to pursue education or to improve their standard of living).
6. Gharmin - One who is in debt (money borrowed to meet basic, halal expenditure).
7. Fisabillillah - One who fights for the cause of Allah.
8. Ibnus Sabil - One who is stranded in journey.

Even though Zakat is the easiest act of obedience to Allah, a lot of Muslims these days are founding begging (no pun intended!) when it comes to fulfilling this obligation. Many Muslims are not giving Zakat due to their ignorance of this article or that they are too engaged in their everyday lives. I personally try to remember this important act of obedience to Allah by keeping a count of my savings every Islamic year during the month of Ramadhan. Unlike prayers – God guide us, many of us these days find hard to establish 5 times daily – Zakat needs to be done just once a year! So we really have no excuses for not doing so.

Islam is a religion that stresses deeply on equality and justice. Zakat sets out to establish these important principles on which our civilization is based. One of the reasons why we find ourselves in the rut that we are is because we have distanced ourselves from these basic pillars of our faith. The Qur’an reminds us repeatedly on the importance of prayers (Salah) and Zakat. There is a famous saying of the Prophet (SAW) that states that one’s prayers are useless if he/she does not pay Zakat!

Finally, there are a few places in the Islamic World that are in major turmoil and require our Zakat today. Places such as Palestine where the Israelis and the West have choked our brothers’ livelihood for being defiant against their diktats; Iraq where the greed of the capitalistic West and their expansionist ways has claimed the lives of 655,000 innocent Iraqis since 2003; to Azad Kashmir and Indonesia where millions are still trying to recover from the earthquakes that struck last year. It is our duty to help out our brothers and sisters in need and as believers in the Day of Judgment, our actions today will decide our fate in the Hereafter!

Saturday, October 07, 2006

ISI under the microscope

Of late there has been much questioning the role of the ISI in the “war on terror”. In the face of continued resistance in Iraq and the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the “coalition of the willing” finds themselves in a tight corner. Like a drowning man clutching at straws, NATO generals from 5 countries have started blaming Pakistan for the heavy hits that they are taking in Afghanistan.

It seems no matter how hard Musharraf tries, he keeps falling short of the miracles that are expected of him. Joining in the bash-all-things-Pakistani fad are the Indians who are blaming the Mumbai train bombings (what they refer to as “7/11” – appealing to American sensitivities?) as a handiwork of the ISI. While Pakistan has been continually asking India to share evidence with it of any such findings, the Indians seem disinterested. Now the Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Singh, is going around “sharing" thesefindings with the EU and the US!

Is there a case being made to include Pakistan as an adversary in the “war on terror”? Perhaps it’s too early to comment, but the stars don’t augur too well for the Pakistanis. Musharraf has vehemently rejected calls to dismantle the ISI going out of his way in defending the ISI - the pivotal role it had played in defeating the communist USSR; capturing hundreds of Al-Quaida operatives; and unearthing terrorist plots such as the recent trans-Atlantic terror plot. Yet all his calls seem to be falling on deaf ears and now the push is getting to some serious shoving!

What aim can the West have in dismantling the ISI? My take on the matter is that the dismembering of the ISI is a key first step in rolling back the nuclear program of Pakistan. It is no secret that there are very few takers who trust Pakistan with nuclear weapons. It doesn’t help when people like Musharraf admit proliferation at the governmental level. Who has ever questioned how nuclear technology was proliferated outside of the US!? Moreover, the Intelligentsia of a country acts as a “firewall” to outsiders who may have sinister designs. Once this ring of protection is breached, then the possibilities are endless as to what can be done to the capabilities of a military.

We live in interesting times and Musharraf finds himself in the middle of it all! He is known to make U-turns on the slightest hint of pressure. Can he sustain this latest onslaught? To his credit, he has cut-off Western watchdogs from gaining access to Dr. A Q Khan. Only time will tell if he can stay his ground on this one.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Breaking the fast and the law!

Last evening I met up with old friends for iftar at a restaurant. The five of us have been together for a good 15 years now! Ever since we have started our professional careers, we get very little quality time together. It is a blessing from Allah to have such friends who stick with you through thick and thin.

After iftar, we all decided to go to one of our friend’s house where we could have some tea and catch up with old times. We talked about a variety of topics from leisure, to business, to the crazy traffic in Dubai and at the very end, politics. Four out of the five of us are Pakistanis (including myself) – the fifth being a Muslim Indian – and so most of our political chit-chat centered on Pakistan. We mainly discussed selected topics from Musharraf’s recently published memoirs as well as some history related to the partition era.

During this conversation with my friends I realized something about us Pakistanis that actually our Indian friend once alluded to – we are damn proud of our contempt for rules and laws! This is a very disturbing trend in self-professed “moderate” and “progressive” Pakistanis. I was surprised to see how all my friends (including the Indian friend!) supported the extra-judicial killing of Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti – a tribal leader of the Bugti tribe in Balochistan – by the Pakistan Army. To them, Nawab Akbar Bugti was a “state within a state” who had to be taken out in the “national interest of Pakistan”.

Granted Pakistan can do without the “sardarana” tribal system of Balochistan, but to support the blatant modus operandi of the Pakistani army in bombing a 2-time former chief minister of a province and a citizen of Pakistan is quite reprehensible. Doesn’t such high-handedness reduce to rubbish institutions such as the judiciary? What about the rule of law? What is more is that they were all agreeing that the Constitution of Pakistan categorically states that the President of Pakistan cannot hold 2 positions at the same time. Yet they support Musharraf’s illegitimate tenure at the office in clear violation of the Constitution of Pakistan! Their reasoning varies from Musharraf being the only person capable of leading this nation through these times, to their disappointment, which I share as well, with the political parties of Pakistan, to the more crude “rules are made to be broken” line of reasoning!

It is weird that all of these friends of mine lament how the law and order situation in Pakistan is so bad and how there’s no respect for the law. If only we could see how we have ourselves contributed to the lack of rule of law and due process!