Every year some poor people die in stampede while collecting zakat clothes or money. How to prevent such tragedies in future?

Bangladeshi women wait outside the house of a Muslim to collect cloths as ‘Zakat’ ahead of the Eid-ul-Fitr in Nabiganj, 20 kilometres from Dhaka October 11, 2007. These often lead to stampedes and death.— Reuters/Rafiqur Rahman

Bangladeshi women wait outside the house of a Muslim to collect cloths as ‘Zakat’ ahead of the Eid-ul-Fitr in Nabiganj, 20 kilometres from Dhaka October 11, 2007. These often lead to stampedes and death.— Reuters/Rafiqur Rahman

Zakat as explained in a dictionary of Arabic words is ‘cleanliness, gradual increase, excess, praise etc. According to the Shariah, zakat means a part of wealth whose payment has been made obligatory by Allah and His Prophet (SM) and giving off the precise part to the entitled people following specified rules and norms. According to the Qur’an’s Surah Al-Tawba, ayah 60, there are eight categories of people who qualify to benefit from zakat funds: ‘Alms are for the poor and the needy, and those employed to administer the (funds): for those whose hearts have been (recently) reconciled (to Truth); for those in bondage and in debt; in the cause of Allah; and for the wayfarer: (thus is it) ordained by Allah, and Allah is full of knowledge and wisdom.’
In a handful of Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and Pakistan, the zakat is obligatory and is collected by the state. In Jordan, Bahrain, Kuwait, Lebanon, and Bangladesh, the zakat is regulated by the state but contributions are voluntary.
In Bangladesh, the Zakat Board under supervision of the Islamic Foundation under the ministry of religious affairs was established on June 5, 1982 through the Zakat Fund Ordinance 1982. The collection of zakat fund and management of the fund, monitoring and controlling all activities of the individuals and the private organisations regarding zakat are the responsibilities of the Zakat Board. The board maintains bank accounts with most of the public and private banks across the country so that people can deposit their money to the fund of the Zakat Board. There are a central zakat board and district zakat boards for fund collection.
The distribution of zakat clothes and money by private contributors has become a social practice of the rich people. The direct contribution of zakat by local moneyed people is sometimes helpful for the poor and the destitute as they get instant benefits. But it causes serious problems when provided on the premises of the contributors with an announcement across towns and villages. Hundreds and thousands of poor people rush to the venues but such venues often may not be large enough to accommodate such a huge gathering of people seeking zakat money and clothes. As a result, the rush that takes place could cause death and injury.
I became tired, and furious, having to face a blockade just near my house at Muktagacha about 5:00am after driving a car all the way from Narayanganj through heavy night-time traffic of lorries. I thought I would be relieved of the agonies of driving on reaching the house within a few moments. Once I approached the Atanibazar crossing, which is just near my house, I faced the blockade as hundreds of people were marching through the road in a rush.
Lowering the window glass near the driving seat, I asked a man catching up the rush what special has happened, especially so early in the morning. The man hardly managed to reply in local dialect, ‘Zakat money and clothes will be distributed at the house of the late Nawab Ali, owner of Nawab Bari. Announcements were made yesterday and the day before across the town and neighbouring villages.’ Although I cursed my fate, I praised the fate of the people in rush even though they caused great sufferings to a sleepless driver. As far as I can recall, it was Saturday, October 21, 2006.
I could manage to sleep for only three hours and woke up about 11:00am as my younger brother Akram described to my father what happened in front of the house of Nawab Ali while clothes of zakat were being distributed to the destitute people in the morning.
At least six people, who included five women, died in a stampede and 15 others became injured when several thousand people gathered in front of the house. A number of the people were allowed to enter the house to collect the clothes while others were impatiently waiting outside pressing against the gate. The gate eventually collapsed triggering the stampede. The police rushed to the spot and recovered the bodies that were were sent to Mymensingh Medical College Hospital morgue for post-mortem examinations. The injured were sent to hospital at Muktagacha and in Mymensingh.
This is the high time the government sorted out this issue. The ministry of religious affairs and the Zakat Board along with the individual contributors should come up with a solution to this problem. The board should implement mandatory rules to be followed by the private zakat contributors. The providing of zakat with prior announcement in congested place could be prohibited and the Zakat Board should come up with this kind of regulation as the ordinance has provided the board with such authority. If zakat should be distributed with prior announcement, the authorities concerned should be informed of this beforehand so that preventative measures could be taken. The authority should assess the venue, its accessibility, provide no-objection certificates and employ law enforcement personnel for monitoring, controlling and tackling the rush.
If there are objections from the authority, zakat could be distributed in open grounds, playgrounds, stadiums, or other open places. Proper and adequate manpower, both of contributors and law enforcement agencies, should be deployed for a proper handling of the donation of clothes and money. They should make arrangement to make people stand in queues — queues for children, women, men and old people. This way the rush and probable associated risks could be minimised and accidents could be averted.
Md Aktar Hossain
Deputy project director
Skills and Training Enhancement Project (STEP)
Directorate of Technical Education

Zakat is one of the main pillars of Islam. Rich Muslims should give zakat to the poor. While we distribute zakat only in the month of Ramadan, we can distribute zakat throughout the year to the distressed. We say our prayers to purify our hearts. Similarly, we should distribute zakat to purify our wealth. In Islam, both are very important.
By means of zakat, poverty can be eliminated from our society. Everyone will be able to repay their debts. Once, during the rule of Hazrat Umar, there was a time where there were not to receive zakat. Umar was able to establish this practice of zakat properly under his tenure. Allah has said, ‘You must give zakat, in the long run I will give you more and more.’ However, we like to receive money and wealth immediately.
Some people in our society often distribute zakat for name and fame. Some people also make prior announcements in their localities that they will be distributing zakat amongst the people. Thus, poor people gather at that location and wait for a long period of time. Generally in the month of Ramadan, particularly on Ramadan 27, when Shab-e-Qadr is observed, people distribute zakat. First, they enlist people then they distribute zakat.
The healthy and able bodied people usually make their way to the distributors first, creating a huge furore and chaos. In the rich areas of Dhaka, I have seen poor people gather and wait for as long as three to four days. Usually, they stay there day and night for the rich to begin distributing zakat. Then the rich people come towards the people and give a speech in order to receive honour and recognition. They like to give zakat with their own hands one by one. Sometimes their names are said out loud using loud speakers along with the words ‘Mar haba, Mar haba’.
This practice should be stopped. Islam does not condone this. Zakar or any other help to the poor, in the eyes of Islam is definitely good work. However, at present, it his become a process of earning name and fame. Allah does not ask us to give zakat for this reason. Allah likes secrecy. Zakat should not be given to earn name and fame, rather it should about the sincerity of our hearts.
It is believed that those who follow the proper rules and regulations of zakat will get Shawab or Punnah from the Almighty. Our great prophet, his four Khaliphs and a large number of followers have discussed and illustrated the proper methods in great details in the Hadiths. We see there that no poor person should be deprived of zakat. We should follow the system of zakat from the Arab history, from how our prophet and his followers carried it out.
Islam is a pure and perfect religion where everything has been made very clear. Many verses in the holy Quran as well as things written down in the Hadiths show how to perform zakat properly. In my knowledge, there is no story of sufferings for the poor in the distribution of zakat during the reign of our prophet.
The method of giving zakat in our country has no rules or regulation, this is unjustified. Nor is the month of Ramadan the only time when one can perform zakat. It can be done anytime. Why is it then that we see people giving zakat in only one month? It can be done throughout the year. We should be more conscious in helping the poor from our locality. Our relatives and close family members should get priority in receiving zakat. We can help them by funding their education, help them with their treatments, marriage, provide them with clothing, food, etc. We may also use our wealth to help build mosques, madrasas, etc.
I believe, every rich Muslim should perform zakat and obey the instructions of Islam. We should all come forwards and increase awareness of what is written down in the holy Quran as well as what is written in the proper Hadiths, so that no poor person is deprived of receiving zakat. So that no one suffers or dies in stampedes. Also, I would like to request to all of those who like to boast about giving zakat –– those who gives zakat for the sake of gaining honour, name and fame. That is not the purpose of zakat. Please follow the proper steps so that people do not die for the sake of what should be a noble purpose.
Tongi, Gazipur

There are five major pillars in Islam and giving zakat is one of them. It is extremely important. Muslims cannot ignore giving zakat. It is a must for all Muslims, particularly the rich Muslims. The zakat based economic system is the best economic system in the world. The more wealthy Muslims are supposed to give aid to the less fortunate –– this is called zakat.
In recent times, every year we see poor people being killed in stamped while collecting zakat. I believe, the main problem lies in how zakat is being distributed. Although Bangladesh is a Muslim country, this country severely lacks proper organisation corresponding to giving and receiving zakat. There are not many organisations set up to collect and distribute zakat amongst the people properly. People in our country give zakat individually and there is usually a crowd of people gathered around to collect it. This creates a crowded situation where it is quite likely for chaos to ensue, leading to the poor being killed in stampedes. However, if we had proper shariah based organisations willing to collect and distribute zakat these deaths could have been avoided.
I want to clarify this by giving an example of such an organisation –– Centre for Zakat Management –– which is a non government organisation. There is another such organisation named ‘Bangladesh Zakat Board’ which is currently not so active. CZM is an organisation which collects and distributes zakat in a systematic fashion.  This organisation has a selection committee which basically looks up the people who are in need of zakat. They arrange the proper steps through which people may receive this zakat aid. Many needy people have received sufficient help through this organisation, whereas, these steps are much more difficult for individuals to undertake by themselves.
Zakat money can help people start their own small enterprises in order to change and help their community, especially, since they do not have to repay this money. The systematic distribution of money that organisations can provide can help prevent deaths via stampedes. A study conducted by CZM found that Bangladesh can collect approximately 20,000-25,000 crore Taka each year, if it is collected through proper channels using proper methods. This money can help the poor of our country immensely and totally reshape Bangladesh altogether. I believe the unexpected death during stampedes can be stopped if zakat is collected and distributed by the proper organisations in a systematic fashion.
Selim Reza
Department of Public Administration
Jahangirnagar University, Dhaka

Zakat is an Islamic directive given to the wealthy Muslims who are supposed to distribute 2.5 per cent of their surplus wealth to the poor. It is distributed in order to share the happiness and joy with everyone. Zakat is usually distributed in Bangladesh, during Eid-ul-Fitr. The unfortunate deaths caused by stampedes during the distribution of zakat are very can mainly be attributed to improper methods of distribution leading to chaos amongst uncontrolled crowds of people. Thus, it calls for further examination.
However, I believe in order to prevent such tragic incidences from occurring there is a need for more manpower to be used while giving zakat. The use of more people can lead to better organisation and control over the crowds of people that gather to receive zakat. Thus, less chaos will ensue, and deaths caused by stampedes can be avoided. Furthermore, law enforcing agencies may also be used in order to maintain order and peace during the distribution of zakat.
No doubt, Bangladesh is an over populated country. Overcrowding in small spaces during religious gathering is a common feature in Bangladesh. Therefore, these places are vulnerable locations for people to get crushed under uncontrollable crowds. During the distribution of zakat, this is exactly what happens. However, if the proper steps are undertaken, such unfortunate events can indeed be avoided.
Shabnam Talukder Barsha
School of Law
BRAC University, Dhaka

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