Last week, Zaid Mirza, the Program Director at National Zakat Foundation Canada, spoke about the establishment of the organization, and how NZF came to be. It was surprising to learn that the idea was born from the struggles of a sister in UK, and the action of a brother who saw a need and decided to help.
“It was in 2010 that a brother in UK (Azim Kidwai) heard about a sister who was in dire circumstances. He found a way to get her help, but it immediately dawned on him that there were so many Muslims in the UK and many were probably in the same situation as this sister - alone and with no one to help them. And so, the idea of a National Zakat Foundation came to be. It was slow at first, but as cases began to trickle in, word got out, and around 2013, Canada and Australia opened up their own offices, with Switzerland and the Netherlands eventually joining in as well.”
Living in Canada, it’s easy to forget that poverty can and does exist here as well. So, what needs did Zaid see in the community? He mentioned how difficult it is for a newcomer to find an adequate job in Canada due to language barriers, and that it is even more difficult for refugees. He spoke about single parents, and how they make up 20-25% of Zakat applicants.
“It’s tremendously difficult to be a single parent; to support yourself and your family; having two jobs as one person. I can’t even imagine being a single parent.”
He spoke of those with disabilities and how unsecure their living situations could be. And the struggles of the elderly, and how vulnerable they are especially if they were to lose their jobs (or suffer financial loss).
How many people were part of the NZF team during its establishment?
“When we first started there was only one staff member at NZF, a sister named Nazneen. She was working with various Islamic projects at the time, but she was committed and maintained NZF along with some volunteers. Eventually, I joined as a volunteer caseworker, and a few months later I was hired as a full-time caseworker as cases began to pile up."
Establishing NZF in Canada with limited staff and limited resources was not an easy task.
“It was an extremely difficult and long process to receive our registered charity status, but by 2017 it was official. We were finally registered and could issue tax receipts to our donors.”
What was the main goal for NZF when it was first established? Has the organization reached this goal?
“Ultimately, we want to be the premier Zakat organization for beneficiaries and payers. What a masjid is to Salah, NZF is for Zakat. This is an ongoing mission of ours.”
What are the new goals for NZF in 2022?
"We truly want to be National. This means helping Muslims with Zakat across the country. This means providing services in both English and French. We need to translate everything into the French language so that we can serve Muslims who live in Quebec, for instance”
"There’s a lot of work needed in creating an awareness about Zakat and educate people about the obligation of Zakat. We want to make it easy for people who find it difficult. If you don’t pay Zakat for one or two years, then it will add up. That can be detrimental. So, some of our main goals are:
Revamp our online Zakat calculator so people can easily calculate their Zakat Expand consultation services
Expand our consultation services so anyone who has questions or doubts can get the answers they need
Use automation to make our Zakat application process faster and more efficient so we can help a lot more people
Conduct research & develop material on contemporary issues related to Zakat (investments, mortgage, businesses etc.)
Continue to connect with agencies and local NGO’s across Canada, and expand our services to meet the growing needs of the community“
What is it about the concept of Zakat that inspires you the most?
“The main thing is that Zakat is from a divine source. It’s not a human concept. It comes from Allah SWT, and knowing that is profoundly reassuring. When things get difficult, knowing that you’re doing Allah’s work and following his commands makes things so much easier.”
Why is local giving important?
“Local giving has always been important. Poverty looks different in Canada, or in the West in general, but it’s still poverty. It’s more hidden. You may not know who is in need or who is struggling just by looking at them. There are people here that often suffer silently, and they need Zakat. It falls on us to take care of our neighbours because no one else will.
The pandemic has opened many people’s eyes to a harsh reality, which is that poverty can strike anyone. Many people have lost their jobs and it was the first time for them to experience financial difficulty.”
Why is “Your Trusted Zakat Partner,” the vision of the organization?
“This is the short-form of the vision – or a tagline. The idea behind it is that when you choose someone to take care of your “money” (Zakat), the most important thing is trust. When we asked our donors why they give Zakat through NZF, the number one reason was trust. As for “partner”, we feel that our donors and supporters have given us the agency to distribute their money (Zakat) on their behalf. And so it’s a collaboration; without one, there’s no work for the other. Without Zakat payers, there are no Zakat beneficiaries. There is no Zakat. That’s why we see it as a partnership”
How would you explain NZF to someone who has never heard of the organization?
“For those not familiar with Islam, I would say it’s to bridge the gap between the rich and poor. For Muslims I would say, Salah and Zakat often go together in the Quran. Salah is our connection with Allah SWT. It’s our human-to-divine connection. Whereas Zakat is our human-to-human connection, whether we know or see that connection or not. When you give Zakat, you fulfil your obligation to Allah, and in doing so, you fulfill your obligation to the people”
How can Zakat facilitate social cohesion in Canada?
“Our long-term goal is to be deliberate about research and gather high quality data, so we can see the effects of Zakat on people’s lives. We want to show with evidence that there is no doubt that Zakat can change people’s lives. It can create self-sufficiency; help someone start a business; assist someone get the necessary skills to get employment; It can help someone learn the Quran; It can bring people to the masjid, etc. There are a lot of things Zakat can do at a communal and societal level and we have only just started to scratch the surface.
When the Zakat pool becomes big enough, poverty can be abolished in the Muslim community, and we will have extra left over. Even student loans can be paid with Zakat. We need to make progress to reach these other levels of Zakat administration.
“Zakat is only for the poor and the needy, for those employed to administer it, for those whose hearts are attracted ˹to the faith˺, for ˹freeing˺ slaves, for those in debt, for Allah’s cause, and for ˹needy˺ travelers. ˹This is˺ an obligation from Allah. And Allah is All-Knowing, All-Wise.”
- Quran [9:60]
“Zakat is not just for the poor and needy. It goes beyond that. It’s the solution to many societal problems. However, the percentage of people who pay Zakat is unfortunately low. If every Muslims took care of their Zakat properly, the level of support systems it could create can truly change the state of a society.”
Zakat is crucial to the well-being of the Muslim community in Canada. There are many Muslims who are in need of Zakat for various reasons. There are also many Muslims who are not fulfilling their obligation of paying it. The ways we can support one another through this pillar are endless, and Allah has blessed us with the means to do so. If one pillar is missing or is weak then our foundation will not be strong.