Poverty is a much more common experience among Muslims than other religious groups in the UK. British Pakistanis, for example, are around three times as likely to be in poverty as their white British counterparts. According to a study by the Centre for Social Investigation, 50% of Muslim households are in poverty compared to the national average of 18%. This doesn't mean destitution (i.e. being without any money, food or possessions), but it does mean half of Muslim households struggle to pay for essentials and participate fully in society.
A range of factors including rising living costs, low pay lack of work and long-term illness mean many Muslims in Britain struggle to pay for essentials. Most Muslims in the UK are of Pakistani and Bangladeshi descent. These communities - our communities - are the UK's lowest earners, and have the highest rates of not being in paid work, with 41% of the working-age population not working. They also experience the highest rates of heart disease and diabetes in the UK. Currently, 57% of British Pakistanis and 50% of British Bangladeshis are considered to be living in poverty.
Our neighbours have clear rights over us. The example the Prophet ﷺ set for us is one of deep care and concern for our neighbours. Aisha reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “He is not a believer who spends the night satiated while the neighbour to his side is hungry.” It is clear, therefore, that we are in part responsible for our neighbours' wellbeing. When Al-Hasan was asked about who our neighbours are, he said: "The term 'neighbour' includes the forty houses in front a person, the forty houses behind him, the forty houses on his right and the forty houses on his left." Our neighbours are our community. Establishing zakat locally - paying our zakat to a collector who will distribute it locally - is a very important way in which we can meet this obligation towards our neighbours.
Localised collection and distribution of zakat can help to nurture a greater sense of social harmony between the wealthy and poor in our communities. Through a greater sense of social responsibility towards those in need around us, we can strengthen the bonds of our local communities, making them better, fairer places for us to live in, and show our non-Muslim neighbours the transformative impact of Islam up close. Through our marvellous mosques and madrassas, countless community hubs, and friends and families, the Muslims in Britain have already established the human connections needed for effective local zakat networks. We have the communities in place, and collecting and distributing zakat within these communities will only result in us looking out for one other and cooperating even more. Local zakat collection and distribution empowers our communities, economically as well as spiritually.
During the time of the Prophet ﷺ, zakat was administered by people, not distant, large, complex organisations and charities. He ﷺ appointed zakat collectors to almost every corner of the Arabian peninsula; people who were personally responsible for taking zakat from the wealthy, identifying those in need, and physically disbursing the proceeds to them. By putting the responsibility of zakat back into the hands of local collectors, we can hold them to greater account than we can a large organisation due to their more immediate proximity and drastically reduce the costs of administering zakat, ensuring more gets to the people who need it most. We can keep it simple and human - just like the Sunnah!
The Prophet ﷺ said, "The believers are like one body. When one limb suffers, the whole body responds to it". There are Muslims all over the world facing war, persecution and poverty, and without a doubt we have a duty to help our brothers and sisters abroad. By reviving and reconnecting with an important sunnah and establishing zakat locally, we would not be neglecting them. Instead, we can appreciate the important distinction between zakat (the compulsory wealth tax) and sadaqa (voluntary charity). Muslims are the most generous charity givers of all faith groups in Britain. Alongside a locally administered zakat, we can continue to have an enormous, meaningful impact overseas through the tens of millions we donate in sadaqa every year.