Rudaw file photo shows bands of Iraqi dinars.
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — The unilateral implementation of a depository for zakat in the city of Sulaimani announced by the Secretary General of the World’s Islamic Scholars, Ali Qaradaghi, has been criticized, despite estimates that wealthy in the Kurdistan region aren’t all contributing 2.5 percent of their earnings.
There is no formal mechanism for the funds collected for zakat in the Kurdistan Region and in most Islamic countries. So these donations are currently given unsystematically. Zakat is one of Islam’s five pillars. According to the Quran, it is obligated for wealthy people to pay the zakat — 2.5 percent in their annual income to the poor.
“They as an organization are free to raise money. But they took this step without consultation. We therefore will not allow them to use mosques and government institutions to collect zakat,” Mariwan Naqishbandi, the director of relations and religious coexistence at the ministry of religious affairs, told Rudaw.
He added that they submitted a project to set up a box for zakat to the religious affairs committee in Kurdistan’s parliament in 2008 so they could give their opinion on the project. They had later submitted the project to the Council of Ministers in 2010, so they themselves could submit it to the parliament.
“The project wasn’t debated because we knew establishing a box for zakat wasn’t going to be easy,” Siraj Khaylani, the head of the religious affairs committee in Kurdistan’s parliament said about the project.
Naqishbandi said the amount of money given as zakat in the Kurdistan Region at the time they submitted their project was nearly $30 million annually, an amount people had given randomly.
“There is a problem with collecting and distributing zakat. The Islamic League took the initiative to set up this box, which will help the government well to reduce poverty, especially at this time of financial crisis,” Omar Ali, media chief of the Zakat Box Committee said.
Ali also said that a high committee from scholars and charity people has been formed to come up with ways to collect and distribute zakat. The committee has also asked the ministry of religious affairs to send its representative or to observe the work of the committee at any stage. At the end of Ramadan, details of collecting and distributing the zakat will be announced to the public in a news conference.
Of the wealthy people in the Kurdistan Region, only three give in full. The spokesperson for Kurdistan’s Investment Union estimates the zakat from the region’s wealthy people could be $300 million.
Financial conditions of the Kurdistan Region improved after 2003. Investment projects and the oil industry were a boom. This led to an increase in the number of wealthy people in the region. However, Kurdistan Investment Union has said many of these wealthy people avoid paying zakat.
“There are three billionaires and tens of millionaires [USD] in the Kurdistan Region, who unfortunately don’t execute their religious duties adequately. Rich people of Erbil come first in paying zakat, then Duhok, and then Sulaimani,” Yasin Mahmud, spokesperson for the Kurdistan Investment Union, told Rudaw.
According Qaradaghi, the annual zakat of the Islamic world is nearly $400 billion.
“If the rich people of the Kurdistan Region pay half of their zakat, $150 million will be raised this year. Adequate use is not made of this zakat due to the lack of a special box for these purposes,” he added.
“There are many rich people in Kurdistan, who pay their zakat adequately. There are three wealthy people in south Kurdistan whose wealth is more than $1 billion,” Mahmud said. They pay $20 million for every billion dollars they make every year.”