ZAKAT Zakat is an Islamic tax on wealth; it is levied at the rate of 25 percent on accumulated wealth and assets in excess of Rs 2,000 (not including principal residence and agricultural land), and in Pakistan it is deducted on the first day of the month of Ramadan President Zia ul-Haq promulgated the Zakat and Ushr Ordinance on 20 June 1980 The provisions of the ordinance concerning zakat came into operation from the date of its promulgation, while the provisions relating to ushr (land tax) became operative at a later date The ordinance prescribed the system to be followed for the collection of zakat and its disbursement to mustahequeen (the deserving) under the Islamic Sharia (law) Its Islamic origins notwithstanding, the introduction of zakat did not go unchallenged The Shia community objected strongly to the promulgation of the Zakat Ordinance on religious grounds According to the Fiqh-i-Jafariah—the legal code accepted by the Shias—zakat should not be levied on capital and trade The Shias also believe that the payment of zakat and the purpose for which it is to be used are the responsibility of the individual, to be exercised without any state interference After considerable agitation by the Shia community, the government amended the Ordinance and exempted the Shia community from the levy of zakat

The distribution of zakat is entrusted to an elaborate network of committees called Zakat Committees, elected by local communities throughout the country The principal function of the committees is to identify the mustahequeen eligible for receiving zakat funds Some 32,000 Zakat Committees now operate under a national body called the Zakat Council As with most other functions performed by government agencies in recent years, the process for the collection and distribution of zakat was not without controversy There was a growing feeling among the people that the mustahequeen identified by the Zakat Committees were not always the most deserving, and that the local functionaries of both political parties, the Pakistan People’s Party and the Pakistan Muslim League, were using some of the zakat funds to win votes for themselves and their organizations The use of zakat resources for funding religious institutions created a momentum of its own, the full extent of which was not appreciated when the decision was taken to use these funds for this purpose

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