Endpiece Of faith, fiqh and banks
Pakistan is perhaps the only country in the world where banks also assume responsibility for citizens’ religious obligations. They want to know the exact faith and ‘fiqh’ of their customers. Remaining silent or not declaring this very personal information (on a formal judicial affidavit) would result in the bank confiscating a part of your money as ‘zakat’ deduction. One needs to question this dangerous, uncalled-for and unprofessional banking practice. Invoking such religious injunctions is popular with governments who need to hide their poor performance, gain cheap popularity or extend their rule. For the rest of society it simply means further polarisation and hardening of the already sharp sectarian divide.
It is time that the citizens speak up about the untold misery, lies and bureaucracy that goes with the requirement of zakat declarations. Should we not ask a very basic question? Why should a citizen be required to declare his/her faith and ‘fiqh’ to a bank in order to seek exemption from the compulsory deduction of zakat? This requirement is completely redundant in view of the Supreme Court judgment of March 9, 1999, which recognises the right of any Muslim not to have zakat deducted through the banks. True to its clerical calibre, the government continues to insist that a citizen should sign a judicial affidavit (CZ-50), declaring that he/she is a Muslim belonging to any of the (so-called) recognised ‘fiqh’. The message conveyed by this ‘sect declaration’ requirement is that one must belong to one or the other sect in order to be a Muslim. Why is it that on this important issue, we do not follow the practice of our Holy Prophet (PBUH), who was the finest example of a good Muslim, but did not belong to any sect. So why does our government insist on demanding that we choose and declare our sect to financial institutions. This requirement is utterly irrelevant, illegal and against the very spirit of the religion.
Does our government realise that forcing citizens to prepare such judicial declarations is not merely a cumbersome procedure and an anti-religion activity, but also violation of a citizen’s right not to declare what is a very personal matter of individual’s faith. The freedom of speech equally implies the freedom to remain silent. The affidavit of such a declaration is an intervention into a private belief system of an individual and also an unnecessary disclosure of a private relationship between an individual and God. Citizens should not be required by the state to constantly carry evidence of their religion (or sect) on their sleeves, nor should they be required to provide judicial affidavits of their faith and fiqh (or the absence of it) in matters of routine transactions.
A very important consequence of such declarations is that it highlights, identifies and divides citizens of Pakistan into sects and creeds. It lays emphasis on what is different instead of what is common. It helps promote sectarianism, hatred and divisions in our society. Such religious polarization has already brutalized our daily lives. There is hardly a day when the newspapers do not report followers of one sect killing the followers of another. The state’s policy of requiring every account-holding citizen to stand up and be counted as belonging to this or that fiqh provides reinforcement to this already widening sectarian divide.
Each time we approach a bank on this issue, we receives the same old bureaucratic and sterile answer that it is a requirement of law in Pakistan. The new governor of the State bank of Pakistan is a respected and accomplished professional. It is, therefore, time to make an appeal for a direct intervention by the new governor. A bank should make Zakat deductions only when a citizen volunteers to have his/her Zakat deducted and informs the bank in writing to do so. This procedure will be in keeping with the Supreme Court judgment and with the international banking practice of safeguarding a customer’s investment and not confiscating any part of it without his/her written agreement. The application forms for opening an account in banks could have a box to be checked (just once) only by a person who actually wants the deduction.