UNHCR Refugee Zakat Fund

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UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), The UN Refugee Agency is a worldwide association committed to sparing lives, ensuring rights and providing better future for people in need and displaced. The Refugee Zakat Fund (Arabic: صندوق الزكاة للاجئين Sundouk El Z'akaah lil lajiīn) is an activity by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) that gathers and distributes 100% of Zakat assets to refugees[1]. UNHCR Zakat Program in 2016 was the main driver for the Refugee Zakat Fund, leading to its official launch in 2018.[2][3][4] It gives Muslims all around the world the chance to channel their Zakat to refugees and IDPs, and ensure proper help for Zakat eligible[5] individuals.

This idea was inspired by the original “Zakat Fund”, which was established to help the poor and needy through collecting the funds of Zakat in a box. The Zakat Fund was to be established and governed by a governmental department who would collect Zakat funds and distribute them to eligible people.[6]

The beneficiaries of the Refugee Zakat Fund are eligible refugee and internally displaced families who fall under the mandate of the UN Refugee Agency, mostly in the Middle East and North Africa region, though also including Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. (Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan; Displaced families in Yemen; Displaced families in Iraq; Malian refugees in Mauritania; Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh).

UNHCR is working to extend the reach of the Refugee Zakat Fund to include eligible refugees and internally displaced families from other places around the world.

What is Zakat?

One of the five pillars of Islam[7], Zakat is a religious obligation for Muslim, which requires them to pay an annual obligatory alms on their wealth.[8]

Zakat is a language: purity, development, blessing, and praise. As for Sharia, it is: worshiping God, by taking out a special duty that is specifically prescribed by law, from a particular wealth, at a particular time, to a specific sect, under special conditions.

It is the third pillar of Islam, the Messenger of Allah peace be upon him said: Islam was built on five: a testimony that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of God and the establishment of prayer, giving of zakat, Hajj, and fasting of Ramadan.[9]

Abide by [Al Tawba: 103]"Take from their wealth a charity by which you purify them and cause them to increase"[10], zakat is a religious obligation for all Muslims who meet the necessary criteria of wealth. The payment and disputes on Zakat have played a major role in the history of Islam.

Zakat is based on income and the value of all of one's possessions[11]. It is customarily 2.5% (or 1/40) of a Muslim's total savings and wealth above a minimum amount known as Nisab, but Islamic scholars differ on how much Nisab is and other aspects of Zakat.

The wisdom of Zakat is the purifying of the soul of the rich from stinginess, and the poor from the envy and hatred of the rich, which leads to the bonding of the members of society. It demonstrates the love of a slave to God and submits his obedience to the lust of raising money. It helps the poor and aims to cover their needs, whether for food, housing, clothing, and it accustoms the self to give and to give for God and in favour of those in need. Finally, it protects society from spoils as the poor do not resort to theft or scam to meet their needs.[12]

UNHCR's Zakat Initiative

In September 2016, UNHCR[13] in coordination with the Tabah Foundation[14] launched its Zakat initiative aiming to raise much needed funds for the most vulnerable refugees in the region.

It also provides an easy and precise Zakat Calculator for givers to calculate their Zakat and dedicate it to refugee or internally displaced families in the countries they chose, showing the direct impact by revealing the number of families benefiting from their Zakat donations.

Who are the eligible Refugees for Zakat

Muslims make up the majority of today’s 22.5 million refugees[15]. Eligible refugees fall under 4 of the 8 categories of people who are eligible to benefit from Zakat[16], which was clear in Ayah 60 of Surah-Al-Tawbah:

“Zakah expenditures are only for the poor and for the needy and for those employed to collect [zakah] and for bringing hearts together [for Islam] and for freeing captives [or slaves] and for those in debt and for the cause of Allah and for the [stranded] traveler - an obligation [imposed] by Allah . And Allah is Knowing and Wise.”[17]

· The Poor and the Needy (Al Fuqara’ wal Masakeen) [18],[19]

Many refugees are poor, lacking assets or income and fall under these categories. They have a limited ability to cover their basic everyday needs for themselves and their families. Some refugees might have had a good source of income, but once forced to flee, most leave with no more than the clothes on their backs.

· The Stranded Travelers or Wayfarers (Abna’ al Sabeel)[20]

A traveler, whilst they may be wealthy in his or her country of origin, is deemed to be stranded and consequently in need of financial assistance. Refugees, in most cases, can be categorized as stranded travelers who have fled their homes with limited resources and have undertaken a perilous journey to protect their families from conflict or persecution. The term ‘Ibn al Sabeel’ (singular of Abna’ al Sabeel) has been mentioned eight times in the Quran, all of which involve philanthropy and charitable work.

· The Debtors (Al Gharemeen)[21]

Refugees may be considered debtors, since, in many cases, they lose their homes, their belongings and personal possessions, which prompts them to incur debt to replace lost essentials. Taking out a loan is what makes them debtors and therefore eligible to receive Zakat.

Why Zakat for Refugees

UNHCR has consulted with Muslim scholars concerning using Zakat as a source of aid. Several specialists in Islamic law confirmed that Zakat is a viable source provided that it meets certain conditions.

This establishment is the official body for looking after the world’s 15.1 million refugees. There is a chronic need for additional funding. Since Muslims are a significant portion of the world’s refugees, it makes sense to look to the Muslim community as a potential source of funding. In 2008, it was estimated that Muslims donate between $20 billion and $200 billion annually, including voluntary Sadaqah and obligatory Zakat. In contrast to voluntary Sadaqah, there are several conditions related to collecting and distributing obligatory Zakat. UNHCR sought advice through Tabah Foundation of Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

After consulting with several of today’s leading Islamic legal scholars and institutes, Tabah[22] concluded that UNHCR can collect and distribute Zakat provided that they fulfill the basic requirements of one of the legal schools.


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  17. "Surah At-Tawbah [9:60]". Surah At-Tawbah [9:60]. Retrieved 2019-12-16.
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  22. "مؤسسة طابة للأبحاث والإستشارات | Tabah Foundation". Retrieved 2019-12-16.

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