By Dr Mohammed Obaidullah
Islam came to the Necklace-Islands ((Mala and Dweep respectively in Sanskrit) or Maldives in the 12th Century. The famous Moroccan traveller Ibn Batuta who visited the Maldives in the 14th century, wrote how Abu Barakat also a Moroccan, was believed to have been responsible for spreading Islam in the islands. The influence of Arabic language and culture is too conspicuous to be missed even today. When I visited this island country a few days back, I was determined to know how the institutions of zakat, awqaf and hajj are managed in this nation of about 395,000 people living in about 198 of the 1192 coral islands.
The quantum of zakat collected and distributed has been steadily growing over the years. The Ministry of Islamic Affairs (MIA) created in 2008, that has the mandate to collect and distribute zakat, collected about Rf 48 million rufiya (USD3.1 million approx.) as zakat during the year 2013, increasing from Rf14.9 million (US$1 million) in 2008 and around Rf7 million per year over 2002-2005.
The distribution of benefits over the past eight years among the eight eligible categories (asnaf) is as follows. Poor and needy (fuqara and masakeen) account for 62 percent of the total zakat mobilized. Administration of zakat (amileen alaihi) account for 1 percent, the sympathizers (muallafatul quloobuhum) for 0.1 percent, the indebted (gharimin) for 1.4 percent, stranded travelers (ibnu sabeel) for 0.5 percent of zakat collected. Finally, 35 percent was spent in the path of Allah in daa’wah activities (fi sabilillah).
With a cent percent Muslim population, the importance of zakat, awqaf and hajj for the state and its people can be hardly overemphasized. Management of these matters in Maldives is entrusted to the state. The Ministry of Islamic Affairs (MIA) has the mandate to deal with these matters. Housed at the famous Islamic Centre, a dedicated Zakat Unit established under the Ministry of Islamic Affairs carries out the collection and distribution of zakat. Zakat collection is currently undertaken manually. Within the ambit of Public Finance Act 2006, zakat funds are paid into a Public Trust Account, under the Ministry of Finance. Moves are however, afoot to create an independent zakat fund under the Ministry of Islamic Affairs. The Zakat Unit also deals the distribution of zakat with the advice and recommendations from a special Zakat Committee set up for this purpose. The Zakat Committee has the mandate to advise in matters related spending of zakat funds on the eight categories, and especially on fi-sabilillah. The Committee has 14 members including the Minister, the State Minister and the Deputy Minister, representatives from various other Ministries (Health, Education, Home and Finance), the business community and the city council and the judicial commission. A Shariah Committee comprising five members provides Shariah rulings and advice on zakat matters to the MIA, the Zakat Unit and the Zakat Committee.
Private institutional collecting and distributing entities for zakat-al-mal do not exist, but may be permitted to operate by the MIA. In case of zakat-al-fitrah, two telecom companies (through SMS) and the National Bank of Maldives have been allowed to collect the same.
Traditionally, zakat amount is distributed among the poor who self-declare and register themselves with the MIA. On average, approximately 60,000 individuals have been receiving benefits that are very modest (RF120 per year and per beneficiary). Recently, the MIA entered into an agreement with the National Social Protection Agency (NSPN) under which it placed about Rf6 million to provide medical assistance to needy. This would essentially be to supplement the medical assistance traditionally provided by NSPN to all needy and ensure that such assistance is provided under one-roof.
Currently, the Ministry of Islamic Affairs is working on a comprehensive legal system that is expected to provide for mandatory collection of zakat and bring in detailed guidelines for distribution of zakat.
Awqaf in Maldives are in the nature of religious awqaf – the masjids. The capital, Male, currently has over 30 masjids. The most recognizable is the Islamic Center in Male, whose golden dome dominates the low-slung skyline. Recently however, there have are some interesting developments on the awqaf front in the form of creation of investment awqaf. While new waqf of land in Male is restricted by law, the MIA has acquired two pieces of prime land and aims to build large waqf buildings on the land pieces. In case of the first project alone called Darul Iman, the Ministry expected to construct a 10-story building shortly that would result in a recurring annual inflow of more than 2 million ruffiya that is a very large amount to manage mosques. The MIA has also entered into MOUs with local island councils in five islands for allotment of land that would be developed to create local waqf funds for the respective islands.
Maldives has also taken rapid strides for financing and management of hajj for its 800-odd pilgrims every year. It has established the Maldives Hajj Corporation under the Ministry of Islamic Affairs along the lines of the Malaysian Tabung Haji Corporation. It has recently introduced a salary deduction scheme for its prospective pilgrims and aims to mobilize around 100 million Ruf during the current year. The Corporation was established in the face of reported cases of gross mismanagement of hajj by private operators. Initially it aims to take care of fifty percent, or 400 out of its quota of 800 pilgrims.
[Dr Mohammed Obaidullah is Senior Economist and Training Specialist with the Jeddah-based Islamic Development Bank. He writes on Islamic Social Finance dealing with issues in management of organizations based on Islamic philanthropy, such as, zakat, awqaf, as also based on mutuality and cooperation and all other not-for-profit microfinance initiatives that are aimed at alleviating poverty and strengthening social solidarity. His works can be found on his blog Sadaqa.in. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org]