Religious leaders in Yemen are urging people who seek to pay zakat during the holy month of Ramadan to ensure they are giving their money to legitimate organisations that support people in need.
Their call comes amid reports that some groups posing as charities have been soliciting zakat funds to fill the coffers of entities that may not be serving the poor at all and may in fact be financing malign groups or activities.
"Ramadan is an opportunity to combine the virtues of fasting and zakat," Minister of Endowments and Guidance Ahmed Attiyah told Al-Mashareq.
"Zakat is obligatory when the nisab (a certain amount of money owned) is reached and has been in the possession of the owner for a full year," he said.
Before handing over zakat, it is important to investigate those collecting funds and verify the money is going to support members of the community who are in genuine need, scholars and mosques preachers have stressed.
"Those who are required to pay zakat may distribute a portion of it to the poor and targeted recipients, in addition to paying a portion of it to the state," Yemen's Deputy Minister of Endowments and Guidance Jabri Ibrahim told Al-Mashareq.
Paying zakat "provides a social service by helping and cheering the poor and needy", he said, noting that social solidarity is incumbent upon members of the same community.
Call for caution
Ibrahim said that each year he cautions those who are required to pay zakat from paying it to associations that "claim to be working in the charity field" because they may be working for suspect parties or terror groups.
"I have been calling on the public to refrain from paying zakat to such organisations or associations that claim to be charitable for fear the money may go to financing activities other than what sharia stipulates," he said.
Because he has taken this stance, Ibrahim said, a group threatened him and chased him out of the mosque in which he preached.
"Ramadan is an opportunity to educate the public about benevolence," Sheikh Yahya al-Najjar of the Yemen Scholars Association told Al-Mashareq.
"People are much more motivated in Ramadan to be benevolent, so it is essential to guide them during Ramadan and urge them to pay alms and zakat," he said.
"It is the duty of all preachers, guides and orators to educate people about matters of religion, especially the payment of zakat," said Mohammed al-Faqih, a preacher at Sanaa's al-Jaradi mosque.
Al-Faqih told Al-Mashareq he began urging people to pay zakat in the preceding month of Shaaban, "because the degree of poverty and suffering has increased dramatically as a result of the war".
Every family that has one wealthy member has a number who are less well off, he said, so those with financial resources "ought to pay the zakat to their relatives, rather than have them receive it from unknown sources".