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Zakat as a Welfare System

Social security plans were first introduced in the 1960s but have never achieved much success. Traditionally, the family and biradari have functioned as a welfare system that can be relied on in times of need based on reciprocal obligations.

In 1980, as a part of his Islamization program, Zia introduced a welfare system, known as the Zakat and Ushr Ordinance. Based on the Islamic notion of zakat, the aim was to forge a national system to help those without kin. The Zakat and Ushr Ordinance combined elements of the traditional Islamic welfare institution with those of a modern public welfare system. The ordinance's moral imperative and much of its institutional structure were directly based on the Quran and the sharia.

As a traditional religious institution, zakat involves both the payment and the distribution of an alms tax given by Muslims who enjoy some surplus to certain kinds of deserving poor Muslims ( mustahaqeen--see Glossary). The traditional interpretation by the Hanafi school of religious law stipulates that zakat is to be paid once a year on wealth held more than a year. The rate varies, although it is generally 2.5 percent. Ushr is another form of almsgiving, a 5 percent tax paid on the produce of land, not on the value of the land itself. Both zakat and ushr are paid to groups as specified in the Quran, such as the poor, the needy, recent converts to Islam, people who do the good works of God, and those who collect and disburse zakat.

The Zakat and Ushr Ordinance set broad parameters for eligibility for zakat, which is determined by local zakat committees. Priority is given to widows, orphans, the disabled, and students of traditional religious schools. Eligibility is broad and flexible and presumes great trust in the integrity, fairness, and good sense of the local zakat committees. Although the program initially focused on providing cash payments, it gradually has moved into establishing training centers, especially sewing centers for women. By 1983 the zakat program had disbursed more than Rs2.5 billion to some 4 million people. The program, however, has come under a great deal of criticism for the uneven manner in which funds are disbursed.

Shia have vociferously criticized the program on the basis that its innate structure is built around Sunni jurisprudence. Shia leaders successfully have championed the right to collect zakat payments from members of their community and to distribute them only among Shia mustahaqeen.

Data as of April 1994