The Iran-backed Houthis (Ansarallah) are making a concerted effort to collect zakat during Ramadan, even as the salaries of public sector employees in the areas under their control go unpaid and poverty levels rise, observers said.
In late April, the Houthis launched an aggressive campaign to urge people in the areas under their control to pay zakat to their "General Authority of Zakat", an apparatus they established in 2018 that is not sanctioned by the state.
The campaign has been conducted via mosques, the media and SMS messaging to mobile phone subscribers, and is being promoted on billboards and posters in public places and through the distribution of fliers.
Rolled out in the early part of the holy month of Ramadan across Sanaa, the campaign targeted all those who are obligated to pay zakat -- including public sector employees who have not been paid for the past three years.
The Houthis also visited merchants and shop owners in person to demand the payment of the full amount of zakat to the militia's authority, without deducting any amount to be distributed to the poor by the payers themselves.
"Under Islamic law, zakat is clearly and precisely regulated," Assistant Deputy Minister of Endowments and Guidance Tariq al-Qurashi told Al-Mashareq.
The law establishes who has the authority to collect zakat, how it is distributed, who is a deserving recipient and how the money is disbursed, he said.
"It is impermissible to tamper with it, its collection or disbursement," as the Houthis are now doing, al-Qurashi added.
"We know and see with our own eyes that the Houthis are tampering with everything, including financial resources to finance their prominent figures, mercenaries and wars against the Yemeni people," he said.
"Those resources include collections from citizens made under various names, including zakat," he said. "It is not permissible to pay one fils [cent] to the Houthis under the name of zakat."
Pressure to pay zakat
"The Houthis are using all means to press people to pay zakat, and are punishing merchants and imposing the payments or other tributes on them and fining those who do not pay," economist Abdul Aziz Thabet told Al-Mashareq.
"Restricting the payment of zakat to the Houthi-affiliated authority deprives many poor people from obtaining financial aid and food baskets that are usually given directly to them by merchants," he noted.
This has been common practice in recent years, he said, at a time when around 80% of the Yemeni population, most of whom reside in Houthi-controlled areas, are in dire need of aid.
Thabet voiced his concern that the Houthis "will use all state resources, including zakat, which God imposed to help the poor, the needy and other groups, to finance its war effort that serves Iran and compounds the human suffering".
The Houthi-affiliated zakat authority "has used millions of riyals to marshal reinforcement convoys for the battlefront while poverty and hunger grow unchecked", he added.
The Houthis "do not care about citizens in the areas they control and are in fact imposing tributes and fines on them and collecting zakat and other fees", political analyst Faisal Ahmed told Al-Mashareq.
They have been imposing al-Fitr zakat on each family member at a rate of 500 Yemeni riyals ($2) per person, based on the previous year's rolls, he said.
"The Houthis paid state employees half salaries in late April, and demanded at the same time that they pay Zakat al-Fitr," he said, noting that the militia is showing little regard for the hardship these people are facing.