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Being fair and transparent

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By  Navin B. Chawla

Two phases of the 2019 general election have been completed. Polling has finished in 186 out of 543 parliamentary constituencies. Polling in Vellore, Tamil Nadu, has been cancelled for corrupt practices. Five phases still remain till counting is comprehensively undertaken for all the seven phases of the election, on May 23. The reason to complete all the phases is that the result of any one phase should not influence the choices that electors may make.

Having served the Election Commission of India (EC) for five-and-a-half years during which I conducted the 2009 general election, I have an insider’s view, but of course am not privy to the inputs that the EC has and on which its decisions are made.

 

As I have argued in my recent book, Every Vote Counts, several negative features of our electoral scene have worsened. Since the Model Code of Conduct came into effect, in just the first two phases this time, money power has so reared its ugly head that seizures made of unaccounted cash, liquor, bullion and drugs amounting to ₹2,600 crore have already surpassed the entire seizures made in the nine phases of the general election in 2014. Most depressingly, this includes huge hauls of drugs, the vast majority smuggled into Gujarat. Uttar Pradesh is awash with liquor. Tamil Nadu has seen the largest seizures of illicit cash —over ₹514 crore.

These vast sums intended to bribe or influence voters prove several things. The first is that these sums almost certainly represent only a fraction of current illegal spending, a tip of the iceberg as it were. They have been detected by the EC’s machinery acting on the basis of tip-offs, or else by the vigilance of electoral officials in the States. Unfortunately, the bulk of illegal tranches of money, liquor or freebies would have reached their destination. Second, political players have refined their methods in being many steps ahead of the EC’s observers and their vigilance teams by moving their funds to their destinations even before the elections are announced.

Does this not make a mockery of the statutory limit of ₹70 lakh that each Lok Sabha candidate has as his poll expenditure limit?

As a country we need to ask ourselves some hard questions. When every rule in the book is being broken, when there is no transparency on how political parties collect or spend their funds, when limits of candidate spending are exceeded in every single case, then the time has come to debate whether we need to re-examine our rule book. In order to supervise the matches in play, the EC has had to deploy over 2,000 Central observers for the entire duration, drawing them out from their ministries and departments at the cost of their normal work at the Centre and in the States. Thousands of vigilance squads are set up and must act on the information they receive, which is why the current level of seizures have already made this India’s most expensive general election yet. An intelligent guess may lead us to a final tally of spending in excess of ₹50,000 crore, the bulk of which is made up of illicit funding and spending.

It is by now clear as daylight that electoral bonds, far from enabling a legitimate and transparent means of political funding, have proved to be the reverse. The EC, in its own affidavit before the Supreme Court, has admitted as much. The Supreme Court’s order has made sure that full disclosure, albeit to the EC, has already effectively killed further funding along this route. Nothing is a better disinfectant for camouflaged funding than sunlight itself.

With my experience this compels me to say that any serious reform with regard to funding must come from the EC itself, for it is very unlikely that any government will take an initiative in this direction. The EC must take stock after this election is over. It should convene a conference of all stakeholders, including of course all recognised political parties, both Central and State. But this should not be exclusively confined to them, for they will tend to support the status quo or they will be unable to reach consensus. The list of stakeholders must also include the best constitutional and legal minds in our country.

In my book I have also raised the twin problem of candidates fielded with criminal antecedents. The 16th Lok Sabha that has now passed into history, saw almost 30% of its members declaring, in their compulsory self-sworn affidavits, the list of criminal cases registered against them. They are also legally obliged to declare their wealth and their educational qualifications. This is the result of two vital orders passed by the Supreme Court in 2002-2003, the result of a battle that the Association for Democratic Reforms fought tenaciously. Unfortunately, in the first phase of this election, 12% of the candidates perforce declared that they had heinous cases pending, while in the second phase the figure was 11%. It may be noted that these cases include murder, attempt to murder, dacoity, kidnapping and rape. Have we forgotten Nirbhaya and 2012 already?

The matter of the Model Code of Conduct and its administration by the EC has been the most frequently reported single issue in this election. For those of a certain generation, the 10th Chief Election Commissioner (CEC), T.N. Seshan — he once famously declared that “he ate politicians for breakfast” — was the man who made the country sit up and take note when he decided to level the playing field as never before. There is little doubt that he reminded the EC that it had powers inherently enshrined in Article 324 of the Constitution — powers so great that there is arguably no other electoral management body with similar powers.

I learned this during my years as Election Commissioner, and these are the powers I exercised during the course of the 15th general election in 2009; I was successfully able to confront three Congress-ruled State governments and one Congress ally too. One of them even convened a special press conference to declare that his government would move the Supreme Court against the EC’s “arbitrariness”, but I personally had no doubt about its outcome. As it happened, he chose not to in the end.

The point I seek to make, by virtue of my own experience, is that the powers of the EC are so enormous and so all-encompassing that they exceed the powers of the executive in all election-related issues during the course of the election period. Of course, these must be exercised judiciously, fairly and equitably, not least because every decision is analysed in every “adda”, every home, every street corner and every “dhaba” across the country, where the EC’s decisions must be seen to be fair and transparent. During the years precedent to becoming CEC, I was fortunate that Mr. Seshan advised me whenever I called on him. As a result I never felt any need to make reference to government or court, once the process was under way.

If there is anything for me to applaud thus far in this election, it is the decision made by two political parties which have selected over 33% women candidates — Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress (41% for 42 Lok Sabha seats) and Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal (33% for 21 Lok Sabha seats). After years of patriarchy or at best lip service, these parties have taken a vital step towards empowering women politically.

(The Hindu)


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Opinion

WHAT RAMADAN TEACHES US EVERY YEAR!

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By Moin Qazi

O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may attain Taqwa [God-consciousness]


– (The Qur’an, Al-Baqarah: 183)

 

Religious fasting traditions- from Ramadan to Ekadasi to Yom Kippur and Lent -are meant to unburden believers from day-to-day compulsions, helping them replenish their spirituality, remember the poor, give up bad habits, make amends for moral deficiencies and get closer to their conscience. The most prominent among these spiritual fasting customs is Ramadan. Islam does not have a tradition of monasticism. Instead, observant Muslims become ascetics by seeking sacred abstemiousness during Ramadan every year.

Fasting(“Sumoo”, derived from the Arabic root of “Saama” and Syriac, “Sawma.”) means “to refrain” – and not only is it abstaining from eating, drinking , smoking and sex , but all forms of immoral actions including talking about others behind their backs, or indulging in impure or unkind thoughts. Fasting, like prayers, is an essentially solitary act; it represents a personal relationship each one of us has with God. When fasting, Muslims have one meal before sunrise, called sahur-the pre-dawn meal -together, and share another meal with friends and family after sunset, called iftar-the fast- breaking meal. The fast is actually much longer than what everyone normally perceives .It commences at the first ray of dawn, or, as it is said in the Qur’an, “when the white thread of day becomes distinct from the blackness of night.”

During Ramadan, the Muslim communities across the far corners of the world are unified by one food: the date, one of the earliest cultivated crops and an ancient icon of the Arabia, where the thick-trunked date palm is a symbol of hospitality, rest and peace.it is recorded that Prophet Muhammad always broke the fast with dates and water.

Fasting during Ramadan is obligatory for all able-bodied Muslims from when they reach the age of religious observance. Those who are exempt from fasting are those who are sick, the elderly, those suffering from a mental illness, and those who are travelling long distance .Menstruating and pregnant women are also exempt. So are breastfeeding mothers. However, the exemption has a caveat that those who skip the fast have to make up for the lost days after Ramadan. But if a person is not able to fast at all – particularly if that is for health reasons – he can compensate and partake of the holy month’s blessings by feeding a needy person for each day he does not fast (fidiya, or “expiation”).

Ramadan is a commemoration of the descent of the word of God, the Qur’an, from heaven to the earth. Just as the word of God has come down, the word of supplicants goes up to God more vigorously and efficaciously in Ramadan than at any other time.

The most significant hallmark of the month of Ramadan is the Night of Destiny, Night of Value or Night of Measure: Lailat al Qadr, in Arabic. According to the Qur’an, angels descend from heaven on this special night -most important, the archangel Gabriel — bringing peace and divine presence into the world. Prophet Muhammad did not mention exactly when the Night of Power would be, although most scholars believe it falls on one of the odd-numbered nights of the final ten days of Ramadan.
The Qur’an says:

“The Night of Power is better than a thousand months.

Therein come down the angels and the Spirit by Allah’s permission, on every errand:

Peace… This until the rise of morn! “(Q97)

Better than thousand months. A thousand months are equivalent to 83 years and 4 months. The importance of this night is also mentioned in hadith, which are the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad as remembered by his companions:

“Whoever establishes the prayers on the night of Qadr out of sincere faith and hoping to attain Allah’s rewards (not to show off) then all his past sins will be forgiven.” (Sahih Bukhari Vol 1, Book 2:34).

Ramadan is always a very amazing month .We undertake a month long spiritual odyssey that is meant to rejuvenate us, both physically and morally. It enables us to detach from worldly pleasures to invest our time in intense prayer, charity and spiritual discipline and focus on our deeds, thoughts and actions. Every Ramadan, we undergo illuminating and enriching experiences that provide valuable lessons in understanding life and ourselves better. The extremity of the test reminds us of the fragility of human life and is meant to foster a closer relationship with God.

Over the years, the experience has been life-changing for me. I learnt to be disciplined; started feeling empathetic towards the poor, as Ramadan taught me how it feels to be less fortunate. Every year, we gain something substantial, as the entire spiritual gymnastic nurtures our soul, leaving us like a computer reformatted or an engine overhauled.

I remember the early years of fasting when my mother would recount her childhood stories about Ramadan –how the table at sunset would be full of delicacies; how she and her siblings would hold handfuls of food in front of their mouths, waiting for the cue from my grandfather to eat. At the end of the month of fasting, he would sacrifice a lamb, in the name of God, and feed it to the poor.

The first time I fasted was when I was attending school away from home. Marching up to the man in charge of the cafeteria, I fully expected to be rebuffed when I asked for food to take back to my dorm for a predawn breakfast. But he just looked me in the eyes and asked what I would like to eat. Had I not been so stunned by his acceptance, I might have asked for a table full of treats. I fortified myself by hearty food and sealed the fast with a full glass of fruit juice. The fast seemed interminable and intolerable because, as every Muslim would confess, no matter how much food or water or juice you pour into yourself at dawn, it is never enough to drown the body’s yearnings until sunset.

Later that night, nibbling on the meat sandwich, I realized, ”I’m fasting for Ramadan!” For the first time, I was doing something that wasn’t primarily for myself or for parents or for good grades. By fasting, I was doing something for God- that which would bring me closer to the creator and sustainer of all existence .it is said that it’s the only Islamic practice that’s invisible to an observer.

Later in college, on Saturday nights, other Muslim students and I would take the college van to a pancake house at 4 a.m. I told my non-Muslim friends, who always accompanied me to dinner in the dining hall at sunset, how the entire holy month of Ramadan was about feeling spiritually charged and elevated despite the hunger and deprivation.
The fasting ritual is an eagerly awaited interlude for utilizing the abstinence from food, drink and other indulgences to concentrate on prayer, meditation and worship. This, in turn, encourages greater reflection on one’s life and appreciation for resources we sometimes take for granted. It teaches us about patience, self restraint, spirituality, humility and submissiveness to God.

The act of fasting for spiritual prowess makes us more conscious, not just of food habits but of how we think, behave and interact throughout the day. Fasting does not mean Muslims retreat from their daily chores; rather they are encouraged to continue their normal routine. This is the real challenge, and fasting helps us hone our patience and endurance because, by refraining from consumption throughout the day, we learn the benefit of refraining from gratifying each of our desires in the moment.

Each fasting day during Ramadan is a trial on the body and our spiritual resolve. Removing the regular comforts from daily routine is intended to focus the mind on spirituality, prayer and charity. By fasting, we cut ourselves off from the temptations and distractions of our busy, hectic, materialistic lives and try attaining “taqwa”, or “piety” or “God-consciousness”. With a decaffeinated, empty stomach, and a thirst that is difficult to tolerate, this act of fasting connects us to someone else.

Our fasting draws us to the story of a woman in Somalia who has been walking for miles in brutal temperature, with hot and dust-filled wind blowing in her face, to fetch firewood and water; successive droughts have scorched and ravaged her land, her body, and her children. She’ll thank God, if they all make it alive to the feeding centre. The baby she is carrying no longer gets milk from her breast; she feels him shrinking in her arms as she walks. Her other children, languorous and emaciated, are trailing her. The mother keeps repeatedly telling them that they must put their trust in God and keep moving. One can understand her thirst as she utters the words of prayer with every precious drop of water she goes without to give to her children for their survival.

Our act of fasting brings empathy for her that is greater than any ordinary day. We remember her when our head would go dizzy with thirst after running out on a simple errand in triple-digit heat. We can step back into our air-conditioned refuge; she can’t. We won’t complain of our exhaustion from too little sleep because we know she won’t find a sheltering place to rest in the harsh landscape. We’re hungry, but I can break my fast in a celebratory mood when the day is finished; we’ll take a cooling sip of clean, filtered water and literally feel it splash down in my empty gut at sundown. As we feel our body reviving, we are reminded that the Somali woman’s fast has been going on since well before Ramadan, and it will continue past. It is her way of life for years on end .For her “fasting” is not a choice, for her hunger is part of daily life.

As we slice up exotic fruits to refresh our families after fasting, we keep seeing this poor woman. How can we set a table with melons, dates, rice, other lavish goodies and dollops of dainty creams when she has none? How can we keep stocking up on provisions featuring a variety of so many alluring and exquisite foods, such as sweetmeats, spices, savouries and sugary drinks, with which to break our daily fasts, without thinking of the woman’s broken heart when she has to tell her children she has nothing for them; the crops failed, the livestock died, and food prices have shot so high that they are a luxury she can hardly afford. .She has no way to feed them. The suffering of these unlucky ones reminds us to be grateful for our fortunes.

At times we don’t realize how hard and coarse our hearts have become. The absence of regular and consistent times for contemplation and self-reflection has made us insensitive to the suffering around us. The pursuit of complacency has become our goal rather than the pursuit of contentment and we sacrifice things that would bring us everlasting comfort in pursuit of those things that simply give us the facade of comfort. The empathy for the suffering of those less fortunate people around us, created by the act of fasting, is only worth something to them — and to us — if we do something about it.

The emphasis on enduring the fast stimulates us to move beyond simply the physical aspects of it and reach out in the direction of a spiritual fast. It’s not just about mortification of the flesh. It’s about refraining from complaining, a fast from thinking ill of others, a fast from coarse language and harsh speech, a fast that’s focus is not on food or drink, but how the absence of those things leads towards the development of a strong heart and soul. That’s the fast that we should strive for – one that moves beyond not feeding our bodies but feeding our souls. The essence of Ramadan is to become humble, simple and free from ill-will, anger, meanness and hate. It is a one-month refresher course from which we can emerge as the greatest version of ourselves. It is a month of penance, peace, forgiveness, atonement and reconciliation.

I pray that Ramadan gets into our hearts and minds and makes us embrace all shades of mankind with dignity, respect and care acknowledging the diverse swath of traditions and cultures.

The greatest lesson every Ramadan teaches us is indeed the wisdom expressed in the Qur’an, Al-Hujurat:

“O mankind! We have created you male and female, and have made you nations and tribes that ye may know one another. The noblest of you, in sight of God, is the best in conduct. God Knows and is Aware of everything you do.”(Q49:13)

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THE ROOT OF MANY EVILS

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By Zeeshan Rasool Khan

From time immemorial, Kashmir has been enjoying recognition all across the world as ‘Resh Waer’ – Abode of Sages because the sages, savants, and saints from different parts of the world have visited this place. Some of them stayed permanently here and some had a transient stay. Also, there is a significant number of native godly and spiritual personages who were born here and exercised their influence on the masses. Consequentially, the religious, moral, and ethical influence on every aspect of Kashmir has always been predominant and conspicuous. However, dismally, the unique status that Kashmir holds is eroding day by day. Unscrupulous incidents that do not suit particularly to this land are happening at regular intervals. The occurrence of such unethical, immoral, and shameful episodes has seen a huge jump. Recently, a three-year-old child fell victim to the debauchery of the beast in human form. And such incidents amply suggest that moral values are declining and moral degradation has permeated the major segment of the society. These awful happenings undoubtedly involve moral decadence. Thus, while we raise our voice against these crimes, which these offenses demand, we as a society also need to look for a permanent solution to this emerging problem. And, that is not possible without elimination of root cause of the problem i.e., moral decline.

To prevent moral degradation, it is important to reach at its roots to know where this moral decadence comes from. It is bitter truth that moral degradation starts from home and parents are mainly responsible for it. Parents have a key role in the life of a person. Home is the primary training institute for a child and parents are his/her first trainers. For the child’s physical, mental character, moral, and ethical development no outside influence is greater than that of parents.

 

However, the main problem that world including our Kashmir is facing is that; the parents are too busy to be parents. They are too much engaged that they do not have time for their wards. Entrusting wards to maids has become the new norm and in the absence of proper parental care, how one can expect ethically and morally sound child. As it is self-evident that the way a parent can foster his/her child is least anticipated from others.

In some cases, parental care has been reduced to the providence of luxury to the child. Furnishing the child, costly clothing, gadgets, gifts, toys, etc., and giving in to his/her demands is miscalculated as parental care. This misinterpretation of parental care has sharpened the moral decadence. In this way, immorality is purchased by parents into homes and into the hands of their children. Exposure to cultural and technological modernity in the absence of parental supervision is a contributive factor of moral corruptness. The child equipped with all modern facilities is bound to fall into the quagmire of vileness unless he/she would be under the observation of his elders. Similarly, some believe caring for the physical growth of a child is all that parental’ role is, but they are wrong. Parents have a great role in the moral and character development of the child. As a matter of fact, the way parents would guide their wards would be reflected in his/her ethics. In other words, the conduct that the child develops largely depends upon the mode of his/her upbringing by parents. Given the fact, the children imbibe everything rapidly, the approach of parents greatly influence them. Therefore, from the families with moral excellence, coming of morally declined children is near to impossible. Hence, if parents would discharge their responsibilities fairly, the problem of moral degradation is not invincible. It is also worth to mention that the impact parents have on their children is long-term and does not fade with time and circumstances. Whatever the child learns from parents’ remains with him forever and is least vulnerable to any sort of change.

There is no denying that there is huge contribution of teachers and friends in the moral development of a person. After parents, teachers have a significant role in the life of a child as the school-going child spends a big chunk of their day with teachers. It is the responsibility of the teachers at school to take care of a child’s overall development. Apart from imparting education, teachers must be keen about the character development of the child so that any lacuna, which may have remained during parenting, could be removed. Although teachers normally never evade their responsibilities in this regard, however; from several months videos are surfacing on social media, in which school students were seen immodestly, which indicates that the school administration is nonchalant about changing scenario.

Likewise, examples of moral degradation come into view in and around the tuition centers. Such flaws need to be removed so that the necessary ambiance is created that could boost the child positively.

Friends have a big influence over a person’s life and it can be positive as well as negative. Most often, a person coming from a noble family suffers due to his company he/she keeps and sometimes-good parenting fails to bring fruitful results because of the impact of bad friends over a person. Nevertheless, parents have a part to play here as well. They are authorized to know about the friends of their ward. They need to keep track of a child’s friend circle and their activities. This will help them to prevent their child from the effects of bad company.

To put it in a nutshell, by adhering to responsibilities and discharging duties justly; the chances of moral degradation will reduce per se. Resultantly, the valley that is going through a difficult phase on account of growing moral turpitude will be back on track and would be an actual representation of ‘Resh waer’ again.

(The author hailing from seer Hamdan, writes on diverse issues. He tweets @zeeshan_rk and can be mailed at: mohdzeeshan605@gmail.com)

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Opinion

Understanding Zakat

The Kashmir Monitor

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By Mohammad Aafaq

Zakat is one of the major religious duties in Islam. Literally, zakat means to “purify”. It refers to the purification of a believers’ wealth and soul. Wealth purification denotes the mobilization of assets for the purpose of financial growth and justified distribution. Purification of the soul implies freedom from hatred, jealousy, selfishness, uneasiness and greed. Other Quranic connotations also include the purification of sin.

Zakat is a fixed proportion collected from the surplus wealth and earnings of a believer. It is then distributed to prescribed beneficiaries and for the welfare as well as the infrastructure of a society in general. This contribution is made payable by a Muslim once every year.

 

Zakat is paid on the net balance after a Muslim has spent on basic necessities, family expenses, due credits, donations and taxes. Every Muslim male or female who at the end of the Hijri year is in possession of the equivalent of 85 grams of gold or more in cash or articles of trade, must pay his or her zakat at the minimum rate of 2.5 percent.

Zakat has a deep humanitarian and social-political value. This religious act prevents the hoarding of wealth and advocates solidarity with humanity because excessive wealth is distributed among the poor. The paying of zakat also helps purify one’s soul and encourages a person to have gratitude towards God’s bounties.

Zakat is mentioned along with Salat (prayer) in 30 verses of the Quran. It was first revealed in Surah 73:20;

“…. and establish regular prayers and give regular charity; and loan to Goda beautiful loan. And whatever good ye send forth for your souls, ye shall find it in God’s presence, Yea, better and greater in reward and seek ye the grace of God: for Godis oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.”

In another verse, God declares that those who pay zakat, are included within the Muslim society

“But (even so), if they repent, establish regular prayers, and practice regular charity, they are your brethren in Faith: (thus) do We explain the Signs in detail, for those who understand.” (9:11)

God says in the Quran:

“They were enjoined only to worship God, sincere in their faith in Him alone – and of upright religion – and to establish the Salat and the Zakat. Such is the upright religion, (98:5)

“Those who lay up treasures of gold and silver and spend them not in the way of God; give them the news of a painful punishment, on the Day when that (wealth) will be heated in hellfire, and their foreheads and their sides and their backs branded therewith: “This is the treasure which you laid up for yourselves! Taste, then, your hoarded treasure!” (9:34-35).

“Let not those who are miserly with what God has given them of His bounty think that this is good for them. Rather, it is bad for them. That which they withhold shall be hung around their necks on the Day of Arising. (3:180)

Bukhari and Muslim relate on the authority of Ibn Abbas that the Messenger of God sent Mu’adh to the Yemen he told him, “You are going to a people who have a Scripture, so call them to testify that there is no deity but God, and that I am the Messenger of God. If they respond to this, then teach them that God has imposed five Salats upon them in every day. If they respond to this, then teach them that God has imposed upon them a charity to be taken from the wealthy amongst them and given to their poor. If they respond to this, then beware of taking any more of their wealth! Beware also of the prayer of the oppressed, for there is no veil between such a prayer and God.”

Then he recited the verse: “Let not those who are miserly with what God has given them of His bounty think that this is good for them. Rather, it is bad for them. That which they withhold shall be hung around their necks on the Day of Arising.” (3:180)

Several conditions must be fulfilled before zakat can be paid. These conditions are necessary as zakat can only be applied on those who are of legal age and who own enough assets. These conditions are categorized into two broad categories, namely performer and asset.

Every Muslim who is of a certain age and owns enough assets is required to pay zakat.

Zakat is payable only on those assets that are acquired for the purpose of creating or generating wealth. Some examples of this type of assets are livestock or crops that are traded or sold, inventory of goods used for trading, and investments such as gold or securities that have potential for appreciation in value. However, zakat is not payable in the case of fixed assets such as buildings, if they are not subjected to “capital circulation”.

Zakat need only be paid on those assets that exceed a minimum value. This minimum value is calculated based on the market price of 85 grams of gold or 595 grams of pure silver. This minimum value is termed Nisab. The Islamic Fiqh and Research Councils, as well as Jumhur (majority) of Ulama’ recommend that gold be used as the basis for the calculation of nisab.

Haul is defined as the completion period for a zakat asset. The length of time for haul is one Islamic or Hijri year (1 year Hijri = 354.5 days, 1 year Solar = 365.25 days). Zakat is only payable on assets that have been held for at least this period.

Zakat can only be distributed to any of the eight eligible beneficiaries (asnaf) that are mentioned in the Quran in Surah Taubah: 60. However, priority should be given to the poor and needy. Where there is no central authority to administer zakat, it can be paid directly to the needy.

Those without sufficient means of livelihood to meet their basic necessities. For instance, those who, although may have a job, a house and a car, but whose income is below the minimum requirement.

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