The Central Council of Iraq Scholars announced on Wednesday (August 24th) a new mechanism to ensure that Iraqis' zakat money does not end up in the hands of terrorists.
Sheikh Omar Khalid al-Bakar of the council's general secretariat said committees have been formed in every Iraqi city comprised of council members, members of the Sunni Endowment, mosque sheikhs, local mukhtars and citizens. The committees will oversee the collection and distribution of zakat money to previously registered widows, orphans and the needy.
"The objective of this operation is to ensure the money reaches its proper destination in a way that prevents even one penny from reaching terrorists who would use it to launch terrorist attacks against Iraqis," al-Bakar said.
Sheikh Mouayed Ahmad, imam and preacher at a mosque on the Karkh side of Baghdad, said that Iraqi religious scholars have determined zakat this year to be 4,000 dinars.
"This year, we shall guarantee that Muslims' money will go to the victims of terrorists, not the terrorists," he said.
"If we calculate the number of those paying zakat, the amount would be very large. If some of that money reached the terrorists, they would use it to threaten the lives of peaceful Iraqis."
Iraqi security leaders praised the religious scholars' call to direct zakat money to serving the needy directly.
"That is what we want," said Col. Talal al-Obaidi of the Iraqi Ministry of Defense. "Religious scholars' and citizens' cooperation with us will deprive the terrorists of a resource of power."
"We must know that one dinar that reaches the hands of the terrorists may destroy the life of a person," he said. "If we are sure that zakat money is directed in the right way, we shall dry up the terrorists' financial sources."
Rasheed al-Mutlaq, professor at the College of Sharia and Islamic Science at Baghdad University, urged Iraqis willing to pay zakat to find a poor Iraqi family or orphaned children and pay the zakat directly to them if they are unable to find a trustworthy recipient group.
"Those who do not know to whom to pay zakat money may fall into the traps set by militants who claim to be religious and collect money on behalf of the terrorists, and this is wrong," al-Mutlaq said.
He said Iraqis are increasingly aware of the importance of confirming where they donate their money.
"There is a general tendency in Iraq this year to verify where the zakat money is going, because Iraqis are mindful and they do not want to finance terrorist operations that kill innocent people," al-Mutlaq said.
Many citizens welcomed the formation of committees to oversee the collection and distribution of zakat.
"We used to be surprised every year by someone who came knocking on our doors forcing us to pay zakat on the pretext that they were legitimate agents collecting money for the needy," said Majid Hassan, 41, who lives in Fallujah. "However, it may have been used to go to our killers."
"Today, we shall not hand over our zakat money except to those who need it, and we shall not give our money to groups that come in the morning to kill us with it.''
Malik Hameed, 53, a Baghdad resident, also heeded the religious leaders' call.
"Terrorist groups used to exploit religion to collect money from citizens," he said. "Therefore, we shall not pay money except through the special committee or directly to people whose needs we are aware of and whom we wish to help.''