Islamic civil society in Indonesia has a great role to play in community development
Although the term ‘philanthropy’ is relatively new in Indonesia, and there is no precise translation for it as yet, the practice of philanthropy has existed for centuries. In Indonesia, as in other Islamic communities, Islamic charity is a form of philanthropy. Philanthropy can take the form of zakat (tithes), infak / sedekah (alms) and waqaf (religious foundations or property donated for religious or community use). It aims to enhance community empowerment and economic justice.
The majority of contributions are personal, in the form of zakat, sedekah, and wakaf. There are two types of zakat: zakat fitrah, is given at idul fitri, the celebration at the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. It is usually in the form of money and basic food. This is given directly to poorer members of the community. Zakat mal, which is taken as a percentage (2.5 to 5 per cent) of ones total wealth (rather than simply income), when ones total wealth reaches a certain level. Those whose total wealth never reaches this point are not obliged to pay zakat mal.
Sedekah is often in the form of food, money, clothes, and other short-term consumer goods, and is usually given directly to those people in immediate need. To date, very little sedekah has been distributed via formal organisations.
Islamic philanthropy has great potential to empower the community. Unfortunately, in the past, resources generated by Islamic philanthropy have not always been managed professionally. Neither have they been distributed appropriately or in a clearly targeted manner. The late New Order used zakat to weaken traditional religious institutions, as the management of zakat was undermined and sedekah became a mere formality.
However, things have improved over the last ten years, with the establishment of several strong and capable philanthropic organisations, such as Dompet Dhuafa. Dompet Dhuafa and similar organisations manage zakat and sedekah money effectively to provide short-term community welfare. While this short-term charity used for procuring every-day consumer goods is necessary, Indonesia needs to develop sustainable, broad-based Islamic philanthropy to increase grassroots community development initiatives.
Nevertheless, waqaf and sedekah do pay for religious education, such as in pesantren and madrasah (religious boarding schools), which have been able to remain financially independent to a large degree. Contributions are given to kyai (Islamic scholars) and ulama (Islamic scholar-religious leaders), which are then used to pay teachers and develop the school.
Large religious social organisations such as Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah are in a similar position in that they are sustained by member contributions. These organisations have a great capacity to provide education, health, micro-finance, and other community services at the grassroots level.
Theology of philanthropy
In the teachings of Islam, there are prohibitions on amassing material possessions and being parsimonious. There are invitations and obligations to, and rewards for those who make charitable donations. Zakat and sedekah are of equal religious obligation as the five daily prayers (shalat).
Over time, these obligations have continued to be understood in their traditional form rather than in their modern context. The interpretation of philanthropic obligations developed in an exclusive cultural environment and therefore do not push for nor±achieve empowerment of the community. Justice, the fundamental principle expressed throughout the Koran, was drowned out by many of the pronouncements in Islamic law passed by ulama in the Islamic Middle Ages (9th to 11th Century AD). These laws were based on interpretations of what was revealed to Muhammad three hundred years earlier, and reflected and served an altogether different cultural and political environment.
While these interpretations are still considered sacred by many ulama today, others view them as a product of the stagnation, or even regression in discourse on Islamic law that was canonised in books written by the ulama of the middle period. These cemented narrow and piecemeal approaches to interpretation, and did not allow for contextual understandings and adaptations of the revelation.
One example of this unquestioning and traditional approach to interpretations and management of Islamic philanthropy in Indonesia is the fact that a large part of the funds from zakat and sedekah is given directly to people to fulfil their everyday needs. Zakat is given to the amil (mosque official who collects tithes), the majority of whom are not professional administrators of philanthropy, and do not work within the principles of transparency and accountability. Waqaf, in the form of land or buildings, which should be used to alleviate poverty and may be used to turn a profit, is left untouched and unutilised.
Islamic philanthropic organisations are divided into three types — community zakat committees (UPZ); state zakat boards (BAZ), and zakat institutions (LAZ). UPZ usually have a temporary committee structures formed by local communities, BAZ are government run, and LAZ are private organisations. UPZ are formed primarily to distribute funds for consumption and short-term needs, such as zakat fitrah. They number in the hundreds of thousands, and are established in almost every mosque, in Islamic schools and residential areas.
There are BAZ located in each province, suburb and municipality in Indonesia. A number of these organisations have lost the respect of their communities, and are merely a formal government presence. There are some BAZ that enjoy a good reputation, such as Bazis in Jakarta.
It is the third type of organisation, the privately managed philanthropic organisations, that is proving the most inspiring, and which is cause for optimism regarding the development of Islamic philanthropy in Indonesia. There are only a handful of these at present, but they are on the rise and their activities and assets are already quite substantial.
A few of the better-known LAZ include Dompet Dua’fa, Dompet Sosial Ummul Quro, Yasmin, PKPU (Post for Justice and Caring for Humanity), LAZ Bank BNI, and LAZ Pupuk Kaltim. Some of these are highly independent foundations and semi-independent agencies set up with funds from multi-national corporations, banks and educational institutions. These organisations are very dynamic, and many of these have won high levels of public trust due to their transparency and accountability.
Private philanthropic organisations have adopted some very interesting methods of fundraising. These include acquiring property donated for religious purposes, the collection and distribution of donations of second-hand items (BarBeKu), and facilitating on-line donations for events such as Idul Adha, a Muslim holy day on which goats and cows are slaughtered in remembrance of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ismail. Wealthier Muslims buy the animals, and the meat from the slaughter is distributed among poorer communities throughout the archipelago.
Management of LAZ philanthropic funds is professional and innovative, with some funds invested to ensure the long-term sustainability of programs, and other funds being used to provide credit to small businesses. The distribution of philanthropic assistance is also being diversified. However, the vast majority of funds is dedicated to education, health and religious activities. Aid to victims of natural disaster in the form of money, food and basic necessities remains a central focus as people are more touched by and interested in giving aid to this sort of cause.
Claims have been made that Islamic charities have financed terrorism. This may have been the case on a few occasions, but this is not at all representative of the mainstream. To date, Muslims’ views on charity have been very traditional in that they believe that funds should only be used for things that are of service to and in keeping with the faith, such as building mosques and religious schools, conducting Islamic activities and contributing to the development of the community.
Research, networks and dialogue
Research and development of Islamic philanthropy is relatively new in Indonesia. What research is being done is largely directed towards theoretical questions rather than towards issues of endeavour and initiatives. There are at least two research institutions that are focusing more intensely on philanthropy from the perspective of community development. These are the Public Interest Research and Advocacy Centre (PIRAC), and the Centre for the Study of Language and Culture (PBB) at the State Islamic University, Jakarta.
With assistance from the Ford Foundation, the research being conducted at PBB takes a more practical approach to the investigation of Islamic philanthropy. It focuses on strengthening institutions that emphasise social justice.
Efforts to create a philanthropic network in Indonesia are already under way. This is extremely important for the robustness of philanthropic discourse, especially in directing it towards promoting the strengthening of philanthropic organisations in areas such as fundraising, programming, management, financial self-sufficiency, and distribution mapping. Fortunately, in early 2003, the organisation Kehati received aid from the Ford Foundation to establish just such a network.
Further steps must be taken to ensure that Islamic philanthropic organisations can gain and enhance public trust. Principles of transparency and accountability, as well as professionalism must become entrenched. More importantly, the use of philanthropy for achieving social justice in a non-discriminatory manner needs to be elaborated on and monitored.
Donating does not require large amounts of money, as exemplified by the campaign of one Islamic philanthropic organisation using the slogan ‘No money, No worry’. It can take the form of labour, ideas, or goods that are no longer deemed necessary to their current owner. There is a need for a concerted effort to implement and expand such endeavours, and to demonstrate that the giving of zakat, alms and bequests is best done through trusted philanthropic organisations.
Amelia Fauzia (firstname.lastname@example.org), is Executive Director of the Centre for Language and Culture at the State Islamic University, Jakarta.