The importance of Zakat in alleviating poverty in the Muslim community cannot be overemphasized. It played remarkable role in establishing a welfare state during the early history of Islam. Today in West, where Zakat institution is more organised, Zakat funds form a significant part of aid to poor countries in Asia and Africa. In an interview with The New Dawn’s Mohamed Sekenkei, Zakat Foundation of America (ZF) East Africa regional office representative Mohammed Wangusi shares his experiences on the management of Zakat and positive impact on the local Muslim community. Below are excerpts.
ND: Please tell us briefly about Zakat Foundation of America?
Well, the ZF is an international charity organization that helps generous and caring people reach out to those in need. We address immediate needs and ensure the self-reliance of the poorest people around the world with Zakat and Sadaqa dollars of privileged Muslims and other generous donors. It was founded by brother Khalil Demir in 2001.We are headquartered in Chicago, US.
ND: Many Muslim communities are unable to establish viable Zakat institutions. What is the secret behind the success of ZF?
These are two very essential parts of Zakah and I will respond in a way to be beneficial to Kenyan institutions. In management, we always minimize our expenses for Zakah collected in order to maximize on projects.
Secondly, we have established a Team which includes religious scholars and accountants that guarantee Zakah Funds are administered professionally and distributed in accordance with authoritative Islamic juristic opinion regarding the divine injunctions in the Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet (SAW).
Lastly, we publish annual reports that detail Zakah activities in specific and with complete transparency to establish impeccable public confidence.
On distribution, we keep our process simple and less bureaucratic to ensure that the needy get the help they require as soon as possible. For instance where there is an emergency like fire disaster, there is no time to have bureaucracies.
Secondly, we should remember that the needy are not just those who ask for help. As ZF, we go into villages and slums to indentify the needy in their homes. These are kind of people who have no desire to let anyone know about their situation. They keep their dignity and the Quran specifically mentions them.
Thirdly, as we distribute our Zakah to people, we treat them with utmost respect and compassion they deserve. Last but not least, we keep the names and identity of the people we have given Zakah in confidence. It is irreligious, hurting and embarrassing to disclose the persons who have received Zakah.
ND: Could you highlight some of your major projects in Kenya?
In Kenya, ZF is focused in Western and Daadab Refugee Camps. We chose the two regions because they are the most marginalized by Muslim NGOs and yet they have the most vulnerable people. For instance, ZF was the pioneer Muslim NGO in Daadab Refugee Camp. In the last four years, ZF has constructed three modern mosques. We are also having Free Housing and Water projects.
Notwithstanding that we have set up Food and Cloth Joints to ensure the refugees and the poor can have a smile. ZF Free Mobile Health Clinics provide accessible health services to the needy and refugees. ZF supports a Children’s home in providing basic needs to the orphans. ZF also funds a project through Heshima Kenya of Nairobi. The project is focused on skills training for refugee girls to make them self-reliant.
ND: What difference has ZF has made in lives of local target communities?
Ooh! It has been absolutely sensational! Women and children no longer walk for long distances to get safe drinking water. Moreover, cases of waterborne diseases have reduced. Our Mobile Clinic Program has seen reduced Maternal Child Mortality Rate for the last three years. Our skills training program has seen more than a thousand women and girls empowered economically. And then we have orphans who had dropped out of school getting education.
ND: How would you evaluate the institution of Zakat in Kenya?
Well, the Zakat system in Kenya is very informal and routinely. In essence, it has been reduced to mean offering Sadaqa in mosques during Jummah and Idd prayers.
ND: Do you think Zakat can help fight poverty in Kenya?
Certainly! You agree with me that Muslims are among the richest and big investors in Kenya and by extension in the world. Contrary to that, they have the lion’s share of the poor. The best way is to streamline the Zakat System.
I also share the opinion that youth and women should be in charge of managing the Zakat. They are the most vulnerable and will guard it ‘jealously’. We should also give knowledge to the needy on how to use the Zakah in an enterprising way.
That will make them economically independent and will with time be in a position to give Zakah to others. This is a long-term solution which can help reduce the gap between the haves and have-nots.
ND: Please tell us a bit about yourself?
I am a 33 year old who reverted to Islam at the age of nine. I went to Friends School Kamusinga and University of Nairobi’s (UON) Medical School. Attained leadership at school and perfected it at the university. It is worth noting that I started my charity work at the UON by providing free medical services to communities. After graduating from university, I worked for the Government of Kenya and Volunteer Kenya.
At Volunteer Kenya, I was mandated with providing medical services to all international volunteers. In the year 2010, I felt I should give back to the poor. I formed an Islamic youth community based organization (CBO). In 2011, my sparkling charity work prompted ZF to appoint me as Regional Coordinator for East Africa region.
ND: Anything else you wish to say?
Yes! Muslims should remember that Zakat is a religious obligation in the same way as Salah (prayer) or Saum (fasting). In conclusion, I must thank The New Dawn for giving space to remind Muslims on Zakat and for expressing their concern about the institution. This is rare with many Islamic publications.