The role of zakat in the provision of social protection: a comparison between Jordan, Palestine and Sudan
Zakat is one of the five pillars of Islam and considered a religious duty for wealthy people to help those in need through financial or in-kind contributions. In Muslim-majority countries, it has a long tradition of being part of the provision of social welfare. Countries vary significantly in the institutionalisation of zakat, ranging from obligatory to voluntary contributions. In some countries, the State supervises the collection and management of funds. The purpose of this article is to discuss the different modalities of zakat in Jordan, Sudan and Palestine, comparing them in terms of organisational nature, legal status and the services they offer. It also analyses how the Zakat Funds are placed within the broader social protection system in the country.
The article is based on a desk review of academic literature, and documents and reports produced by governments and international organisations. It shows that although Zakat Funds are based on the same principles, they can differ greatly in terms of institutional arrangements and benefit provision. For instance, while zakat contributions are mandatory in Sudan, the systems in Jordan and Palestine rely on voluntary contributions and are rather small compared to other national social protection programmes in these countries. Nevertheless, they play an important role in providing cash, food, health care and education services to the poor. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution in terms of the institutionalisation of zakat, yet decentralisation seems to be important, as the case of Sudan demonstrates. Moreover, implementing an efficient collection system seems to be crucial to increase funding, yet the mechanisms to develop it (i.e. through a mandatory tax or voluntary transfers) are context-specific.
Tax incentives can be an alternative way to increase contributions. Improving coordination among state institutions is crucial to enhance the role of Zakat Funds as providers of social protection. However, assessing its feasibility and ensuring the commitment of relevantstakeholders are essential steps for this process. Lastly, a ‘de-politicisation’ of Zakat Funds seems to be important to maintain the public trust that zakat has traditionally enjoyed.