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Dawn Editorial 8 May 2020

Zakat matters

THE collection and distribution of zakat by the state has once more come under discussion, this time due to the Supreme Court taking up a suo motu case concerning the government’s handling of this religious obligation. The mandatory deduction of zakat at source from bank accounts is a holdover from the Ziaul Haq era, when the military dictator introduced various laws to ‘Islamicise’ the state. During a hearing last month, the apex court questioned transparency in the distribution of zakat funds, with the chief justice commenting that there was no clear information about how zakat funds were deducted and provided to deserving persons. At a follow-up hearing this week, religious scholar Mufti Taqi Usmani — who had been asked by the court to give his observations — said that if a fresh zakat collection and distribution system could not be put in place, perhaps it was time the state let go of the management of this religious tax.
Even when the mandatory deduction of zakat was introduced by Gen Zia, it was not without controversy. For example, in 1980 Shia protesters marched on Islamabad to protest the forced deduction of zakat. The primary reason for this was that the methodology used to calculate zakat differs in the Jafari fiqh as compared to Hanafi law. Zia had to relent. Later, members of all other sects could also opt out. In fact, just before the first of Ramazan, people belonging to these sects file affidavits or empty out their bank accounts to prevent the deduction of zakat. The fact is that there is a wide trust deficit between the state and the people; citizens are right in asking where and how their zakat funds will be spent. As the learned judges of the apex court also questioned, how can an amount collected for the poor be spent on “foreign trips, TA/DA or salaries. …”
With the matter currently being reviewed, this would be a good time to revisit the mandatory deduction of zakat by the state. As it is, Pakistanis are a generous nation. According to various figures, people in this country give billions of rupees in charity annually. The fact is that the state — with its various deficiencies — has no business forcibly collecting zakat. This is a matter between man and his Maker, and should remain as such. Moreover, with such controversy surrounding the spending of zakat funds, it is doubtful that the government can reform the system. Let people give zakat and other dues on their own. After all, many organisations working in the health and education sector have done stellar jobs by spending people’s zakat and donations for the uplift of this nation’s poor, sick and hungry in a transparent, responsible manner. It is about time the state stopped forced deduction, and let citizens give zakat to people or organisations of their choice.


A farce called NAB

NAB IS once more in the dock, literally. The PML-Q leadership — the ruling PTI’s ally — has challenged before the Lahore High Court a NAB decision to reopen a 20-year-old inquiry against Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi. The inquiry pertains to allegations of misuse of authority, assets beyond means and wilful default under the National Accountability Ordinance 1999 against the petitioners. The three probes had been recommended for closure by investigators in 2017 and 2018 but were reopened last year. The Chaudhry duo claim that the NAB chairman doesn’t have a single piece of evidence or material to form an opinion under the ordinance and authorise an investigation. They have also challenged the accountability body’s jurisdiction to invoke the money-laundering law against them. But has the lack of credible evidence ever deterred NAB from (re)opening a probe, arresting a person or overstepping its authority in general?
The petitioners argue that the bureau’s credibility and partiality had been the subject of public debate because of its use for political engineering, and maintain that the order against them was meant to “contain and cage” them and limit their party’s role in politics. They point out that even the superior judiciary had taken notice of NAB’s conduct and the manner in which its officials exercised their powers in the past. This sounds familiar. The Chaudhrys aren’t the first or the last casualty of the accountability body, which allegedly helped the powers that be to engineer the 2018 polls, demoralised bureaucracy and dampened business sentiments long before the Covid-19 contagion struck the economy. It is just that it has hit closer to the homes of those who thought they were protected against the bureau’s high-handedness. NAB’s poor track record in solving cases on the basis of solid evidence should be a matter of massive embarrassment for the anti-graft watchdog, which has lost its credibility, if, indeed, it ever had any. Realising the negative impact of its accountability drive on the economy, the government had a few months ago issued an ordinance to selectively clip the bureau’s powers to proceed against bureaucrats and businessmen. But that has not solved the problem. The accountability law that provides for NAB’s creation is a bad law and no change will ever give it credibility. The law needs to be repealed and the bureau shut down for the sake of ending this farce and creating an atmosphere where people can feel safe regardless of their political affiliations.


Deprived of inheritance

WOE betide a woman who insists on her rights in this patriarchal society. The full spectrum of family and communal pressure, underpinned by hidebound notions of ‘honour’, is applied to compel her retreat. A report in this paper yesterday told of the ordeal endured by 20-year-old Iqra Perveen in rural Punjab simply because she had the temerity to demand her share in the family inheritance. A series of interdependent family ties complicated the scenario still further, driving her to threaten suicide. An uncle of Iqra’s has filed an application with the police, claiming her father and brothers were indeed scheming to deprive her of her share and that she was in danger of being killed by them on the pretext of honour.
The story is sadly typical of a society where women have to navigate a plethora of prejudices and misogynistic traditions on a daily basis. Legislation to protect their rights may have been on the statute books for several years, but many women’s lived reality is quite different. Defiance can come at a very high price, and acquiescence in an essentially male-dominated environment seems far more practical than seeking redressal. Last year in Punjab, a woman was rescued after having been held captive in a room for an entire decade by her brothers who did not want her to get her rightful share in the family property. Under the Prevention of Anti-Women Practices Act, 2011, depriving women of inheriting property by “deceitful or illegal means” is punishable with imprisonment of up to 10 years, but no less than five, or with a Rs1m fine, or both. Nevertheless, men’s sense of entitlement continues to trample on the rights of female relatives. Sometimes however, outliers like Iqra Perveen emerge, refusing to be cowed by ‘tradition’, demanding they be given their due. The state must not countenance any attempt to intimidate women into giving up their inheritance; those guilty of trying to do so must be firmly dealt with. Only then can things change.


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