The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has started a new scheme to distribute zakat funds for its relief work after obtaining a fatwa (religious ruling) from senior Muslim clerics.
In its zakat collection and distribution report, UNHCR states: "Muslims make up the majority of today's 15.1 million refugees." With that in mind that UNHCR said that it had consulted with Muslim scholars concerning using Zakat as a source of aid and "several specialists in Islamic law confirmed that zakat is a viable source provided that it meets certain conditions".
The Refugee Commission said it had obtained religious rulings from top Muslim clerics, including Sheikh Abdullah Bin Bayyah, Dr Sheikh Ali Gomaa, as well as a number of Islamic institutions: The Fatwa Council of Tareem; The Senior Scholars' Council of Morocco; Dar Al-Ifta Al-Missriyyah.
UNHCR's report revealed that it had sought advice through the Tabah Foundation of Abu Dhabi, UAE. After consulting with several of today's leading Islamic legal scholars and institutes, Tabah concluded that UNHCR can collect and distribute zakat provided it fulfils the basic requirements.
The conditions specified in the fatwa are to make sure that zakat is given to the categories mentioned in Quran: Muslims who are poor and needy, in debt, or whose journeys have been interrupted by lack of funds. And the second is to ensure zakat funds are not used to cover expenses or wages.
In its conclusion, the fatwa noted that for the UNHCR to succeed as a zakat distributor, it must "earn the Muslim community's trust in their zakat operations".