COVID-19: Role of bayt-al-mals in J&K comes into focus amid lockdown

Bayt-al-mals look after welfare of families and in some cases, migrants, in the union territory

By Khalid Fayaz
Published: Thursday 23 April 2020
The volunteers of Syed-us-Sadaat, a trust that emerged out of a bayt-al-mal deliver PPEs in Anantnag's government medical college Photo: Khalid Fayaz

The role of bayt-al-mals — or treasuries run by the Muslim community in Jammu and Kashmir — has been in focus for their welfare activities across the union territory amid the nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

There were 407 reported cases of the disease in the union territory, resulting in five deaths, as of April 23, 2020, according to the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

The need for bayt-al-mals was necessitated after money inflows were received by Muslim caliphates. The institution operated more or less like a modern government exchequer.

The Muslim community set up different institutions for the regulation of their religious affairs in non-Muslim countries. It became hard, however, to keep track of money as the institutions expanded, with the result that the governments of the countries merged these institutions in their own ways.

The government in the former state of Jammu and Kashmir constituted a new department that operated under the Indian Waqf Board.

The tradition of awqaaf — the plural of waqf — committees continues to this day. These small committees operate in every village or neighbourhood, independent of government intervention.

“In our village, we have two awqaaf committees and both have their own bayt-al-mals,” said Mushtaq Ahmad, a resident in north Kashmir’s Sopore district.

Bayt-al-mals — operating either under such awqaaf committees or independently — have increased activities across the valley, whenever the former state was under a curfew since 2010.

One such lockdown — stretched to four months after the killing of Burhan Wani in 2016 — necessitated the creation of a second bayt-al-mal, according to Masood Ahmad, a resident in south Kashmir’s Shopian.

“We formed another one to do our bit, where only youngsters were the contributors and workers at the same time,” he said.

The bayt-al-mals distributed around two dozen food packets and kits containing essentials for families in the current lockdown, said Ahmad.

Migrant workers stuck in the union territory since the lockdown have been taken care of by bayt-al-mals, said Sabzar Ahmad, who is a resident of Pulwama. “We have about a dozen migrant families to whom we give food packets on a weekly basis,” he said.

Some of the bayt-al-mals began to operate as trusts, after their reach increased and they took on the responsibilities of taking care of more families. Their operations, however, are still based on the bayt-al-mal structure.

One example of such a trust is the Syed-us-Sadaat, which donated 173 personal protective equipment, 200 hand sanitisers, 500 N95 masks, 200 shoe covers, 200 hand gloves and 400 soaps to hospitals across Anantnag district.

Rs 12.5 lakh was transferred to 520 families, of which 60 families were from other districts in just one phase of its operations, said Adil Sheikh, a member of the Syed-us-Sadaat.

“We expect to double the numbers in our second phase,” he said.

The source of income for bayt-al-mals was zakaat or a form of religious obligation and alms. Muslim farmers give a tenth of their produce as zakaat on their total produce during harvests, explained Nayeem Muhammad, a freelance journalist based out of Budgam.

This has been the primary source of income for bayt-al-mals, apart from collection during Eid, he said. “But most of the income comes during Ramadan for two reasons: People give more alms during this month and because they mark the period of zakaat. It has to be given every year, from Ramadan to Ramadan,” he added.

Another trust that emerged from a bayt-al-mal is Falahudarian, based out of Baramulla district.

The trust spent Rs 25 lakh on 1,332 families from March 1 to April 10, the trust said on social media.

The J&K Yateem Foundation is another trust that has started their work taking care of orphans or yateem. The trust is the biggest in the region after Jamat-e-Islami, a banned organisation.

The J&K Yateem Foundation has, however, always shifted their priorities to help more groups of people during lockdowns. They donated Rs 1.34 lakhs to 124 families in Ganderbal district and reached out to 200 widows in Bandipora district, apart from taking care of orphans in the current lockdown, according to their social media page.

Each family received food items worth Rs 2,000 and Rs 800 in their bank accounts. They carried out this work in collaboration with the Markazi bayt-al-mal in Bandipore.

The trust is also taking care of 53 migrants, including women and children, in Chawalgam in Kulgam district, in collaboration with the Bait-ul-Hilal bayt-al-mal. It is also providing voluntary services at the Shri Maharaja Hari Singh hospital in Srinagar.

“We could teach the world how to survive lockdowns, if they lifted the ban on 4G internet,” said Riyaz Ahmad Bhat, a farmer from Anantnag, who gives a tenth of his apple produce every year to a local bayt-al-mal.

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