ABU DHABI // Muslims will soon be able to make obligatory charitable donations through dedicated automatic teller machines (ATMs) to be introduced by the Zakat Fund. The Smart Zakat Payment service will give a 21st century update to one of the five pillars of Islam by allowing Muslims to pay zakat contributions at popular locations including shopping malls. Adult Muslims who are financially able and Islamic companies are obliged to pay zakat each year - generally calculated at about 2.5 per cent of net income. The new service will allow donors to pay by cash, cheque or credit card, and will eventually enable needy people registered with the fund to receive their zakat payments electronically.
Jamal al Mazroui, the manager of resources at the Zakat Fund, said he believed the fund would be the first to provide the service in the Islamic world. Muslims in the Emirates can already make contributions toward zakat online, through some bank ATMs or via an SMS service introduced last year. "Since the Zakat Fund was established [in 2004], we have been trying to keep up with modern techno- logy," Mr Mazroui said. "Dealing electronically is the most effective and fastest way of providing a good service. Also, we have to remember that we live in the UAE, which is a very civilised and modern country, so we must keep pace with this trend [led by the] Government."
The fund is overseeing the development of a prototype ATM that uses software developed in the UAE, and two machines will be installed initially at a cost of about Dh100,000 (US$27,250) each. The machines are expected to go online in July, with Marina Mall and Abu Dhabi Mall among the first locations. "People's lifestyles are getting more complicated and many do not have enough time to come to our offices to pay or receive zakat, so it's very important to give people this access," Mr Mazroui said. "We consider ourselves to be the first to provide such services."
Mohammed Suleiman al Baloushi, the chief of the Zakat Fund's Sharia law department, said: "We are trying to keep pace with the times and particularly the use of modern technologies in the collection and disbursement of zakat funds, to the speedy delivery to beneficiaries to ease their suffering. This project is a good example of the modernisation of Islam and how this great religion can fit all times and places."
Zakat contributions given to the fund are distributed through the UAE Red Crescent Authority and other welfare organisations to eight categories of people outlined in the Quran, including the unemployed, prisoners, widows, large families with limited incomes and the elderly. Each case is studied before money is allocated. While contributions are made on an annual basis, payments to those in need are generally made every month. Last year, more than 106,000 people in the UAE received financial aid from the Dh50 million donated through the Zakat Fund.
"Basically, the idea behind zakat is that if everyone contributed there would be no poverty," Mr Mazroui said. "It's like an investment in life." firstname.lastname@example.org