According to today’s report in The Guardian, a third of the world is in lockdown in the fight against COVID-19. The experts’ advice is self-isolation, lockdowns and complete social distancing. Hospital staff are doing a tremendous job on the frontline and deserve all the praise and support. Governments are injecting stimuli into their economies to keep things afloat.
Islam has given several stimuli for the economy, such as Zakat, Waqf and Sadaqah. Each of these play a role in boosting the economy, supporting the needy, bridging the gaps for businesses and provide more funding in emergency situations.
Zakat is interesting in the fact that it supports people in need in various areas. Zakat focuses on empowering individuals as they are the fundamental engine for production. No factor of production works if people do not make the factors work. From among the factors of production, labour is human effort. Land and capital need human intervention and oversight for produce. Entrepreneurship requires the ingenuity of an individual to cleverly string together various factors into a productive engine. Therefore, Zakat cleverly focuses on empowering humans to bring the factors of production into motion. Everything on the Earth needs human input to be of value to humans. Things are inert and humans have to expend effort to derive some form of value. Thus, Zakat plays an interesting role as a stimulus to the economy by focussing on empowering individuals.
More central to our discussion, how can Zakat help ‘flatten the curve’ and derail the trajectory of COVID-19’s impact? From among the Zakat categories, four are pertinent to ‘flattening the curve’:
- Faqir (the poor)
According to many scholars, a Faqir is a Muslim who has absolutely nothing to their name. By increasing Zakat expenditure on the Faqir in our societies, it will help them move off the streets and into accommodations where they can stay indoors and away from unnecessary exposure. This will help reduce the COVID-19 cases, ease pressure on the frontline medical staff, and ultimately make that slight bit of difference to change the trajectory of the curve. Every little bit counts in this national effort.
Miskin refers to Muslims who are struggling to make ends meet. Their current income does not cover their cost of living. Likewise, those laid-off from work, those whose contracts are ending due to force majeure, the self-employed who can no longer work due to the lockdowns all potentially fall under this category and can be supported financially with Zakat. Supporting these individuals and keeping them going whilst at home will be in the interests of the entire society and assist in reducing COVID-19 cases.
Gharimin refers to those in debt. Zakat effectively plays the role of a guarantor through this category. Zakat can play a powerful role in the COVID-19 battle by paying off individual debts incurred to fund front line medical kit, provide relief to business people who are struggling to pay off creditors and support start-ups who cannot meet expenses and liabilities due to a halt in cash flows as supply chains dry up. Therefore, Zakat can actively support frontline staff and directly help flatten the curve or assist the wider economy in staying afloat and not be dragged down by COVID-19.
- Ibn Sabil
This category of Zakat refers to those who are in an emergency situation and temporarily dislodged. This category focuses on supporting anomalies and emergency situations. Zakat is effectively deployed as bridge funding to ensure a person can traverse their current predicament and get back to business as usual. There are many people stranded overseas due to lockdowns and they do not have sufficient funds or access to funds to help them on their journey back home. Likewise, there may be elderly people who only use cash and do not use mobile banking; thus, they are left stranded as they fear going out. They cannot pay for any deliveries in cash and are in an emergency situation. There may be many in self-isolation and quarantine, who need financial support. Zakat can be channelled to all such people to give them that peace of mind and security in what are, unprecedented times.
The above are just a few examples of how Zakat can also play a role in flattening the curve and support the overall economy. By helping individuals, Zakat ensures the society as a whole grows.