January 30, 2008

Nigerian State Introduces Sharia Wealth Tax

by Rachael Grant

According to Islamic custom, Muslims are supposed to give a percentage of their wealth to charity in order to purify it, but the Bauchi State government in Nigeria have now passed a law, as an act of forced giving, that commands that the rich give this tax, termed Zakat, to them instead.

It has been said that under Islamic law (or Sharia), those who refuse to do so will either be flogged or sent to jail. Last year only eight people gave their donations to the government department who deal with the dispersion of such monies, and the Sharia Commission said that it received just over £12,000 from traditional leaders and top civil servants.

Now that the law has come into effect, the Sharia Commission has sent out over 3,000 letters warning that if tax isn’t paid to the government then the people in question will receive either three months jail time, will be fined, or given 20 lashes.

Tradition suggests that the rich give donations to their neighbours or family in need, an act which is considered private between them and God, and that the new laws will mean that this can’t continue. Mohammed Ahmed, a top civil servant in the Bauchi State Education Commission, also runs a farm, and gives large sacks of grain to his neighbours, following the custom that either money or produce may be given as Zakat.

However, last year Ahmed gave his donation to the Sharia Commission instead, saying that ‘I’m not against the rule doing it by force, but I think it’s too soon’. He went on to say that people needed to understand more about the aims of the commission, and that they were used to doing things their own way. He also thinks that corrupt civil servants will dodge giving to the government altogether.

Another Bauchi resident, Zubairu Yukabu, who is the managing director of the National Inland Waterways Authority, asks how it can be proved that a person is eligible for paying Zakat, referring to the selection process of the Government, who went to traditional leaders and regional heads, asking for their advice. “I can’t save the amount they say,” Yukabu says, alluding to the supposed savings of £856 a donor must have before they become eligible. “The money comes in from my salary, and goes out again.” His family, who he regularly gives donations to in the form of grain, rely on the direct approach of the Zakat.

The only thing that seems to be clear about the entire thing is that there is only a tiny percentage of poor people living in Bauchi who are receiving any help at all from the Sharia law. Last year 116 people received a handout of £42, and a handful of institutions, such as orphanages, received £420.

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