Though many organisations collect zakat and use it for the poor and needy, the Hyderabad Zakat and Charitable Trust is delivering tangible results in the area of education.
More than 25,000 students are studying in educational institutions run by the trust in Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra. Started in 1990, the trust, headed by philanthropist Giasuddin Babu Khan, has so far helped over 400,000 students graduate. Many of them are now engineers, doctors, lawyers and chartered accountants.
"The trust has done a lot of work in education. We have so far spent Rs.110 crore on our activities," Mohammed Ziauddin Nayyar, trustee, Foundation for Economic and Educational Development (FEED), a part of Zakat Trust, told IANS.
Zakat, one of the five pillars of Islam, is a mandatory charity for every well-to-do Muslim as a measure to remove economic inequality. According to Islamic scholars, every Muslim whose assets reached 'anisab' or minimum value (current market price of 60.65 tolas of silver) has to pay 2.5 percent Islamic annual tax on his wealth.
Most Muslims pay this during the holy month of Ramadan. For want of a collective system of zakat, the money gets scattered among individuals and charity groups.
The Hyderabad trust is trying to show how zakat, if properly channelled, can achieve its purpose of eradicating poverty and backwardness.
The trust, which believes that education is the most powerful weapon to battle poverty, has adopted 105 government-run Urdu medium schools.
Over 3,000 students also study in its five English-medium high schools in Telangana.
Focussing on excellence in education, the trust last year set up the Hyderabad Institute of Excellence (HIE) to hone the skills of 10th standard toppers from poor and needy families.
More than 250 students are studying in 11th and 12th standards at its sprawling 120-acre campus near Hyderabad. They are also receiving coaching for entrance exams for professional courses.
HIE will also have a high school from next year.
"HIE is in line with the vision of Giasuddin Babu Khan to provide world-class facilities to poor but bright students so that they can excel and become assets," said Nayyar.
The trust also helps the poor and needy with financial assistance to make a living.
This Ramadan it distributed ration and clothes to 3,000 widows to help them celebrate Eid. The young widows were given packets worth Rs.950 to Rs.2,000.
The trust also motivates young widows to re-marry and provides an assistance of Rs.25,000 each. It has helped in re-marriage of 120 widows.
Last year, the trust received over Rs.9 crore zakat. It has a network of 60 employees to identify the deserving.
The families of Babu Khan and Abdul Aleem Khan, who heads FEED, contribute the maximum for the trust. Hyderabadi Muslims settled in the US and the Gulf also make a sizable contribution.
"After seeing our activities and the transparency, more NRIs are coming forward to contribute," Nayyar said.
The trustees, however, feel that what the trust receives is not even one percent of the zakat Muslims can pay in Hyderabad and other parts of Telangana.
According to Babu Khan, the potential of zakat collection in Telangana is Rs.1,000 crore but the actual collection and distribution is only Rs.100 crore.
Community elders say only 10 percent Muslims pay zakat to institutions, mainly madarsas, while 90 percent pay to individuals who approach them.
"They don't even check whether those seeking zakat are really poor and needy. Thus the really deserving who don't beg are deprived," said a member of Jamaat-e-Islami, which is active in distributing zakat.
Activists also rue the fact that many wealthy Muslims don't pay total zakat. "If all Muslims pay zakat in full and it is channelled properly, the community can overcome the problem of poverty," said Nayyar.