By Zia Ur Rehman
KARACHI – Religious scholars and experts have expressed grave concern over the growth in individuals and groups collecting donations in the name of non-existent mosques or madrassas, and urged people to check the credentials of such collectors before donating.
“It is an immoral act to blackmail people in the name of religion. I advise people not to give your donations in the name of any madrassa unless you are personally sure … the madrassa or mosque is genuine,” said Mufti Wali Khan Al-Muzaffar, a prominent religious scholar and co-ordination secretary of Wafaq ul Madaris, a country-wide representative organization of madrassas.
“If someone pays Zakat or a donation to a person, a mosque or a madrassa which is eligible in his eyes while it was not an eligible recipient, his liability is cleared,” Al-Muzaffar told Central Asia Online. “But in our society, there is a known pattern of deceivers or cheaters, therefore it is his responsibility to check the credentials before paying anyone Zakat or donations.”
Every citizen should ask for the credentials of the person soliciting the donation before handing over money. This will stop fake organizations, which are earning a bad name for Islam and hijacking the rights of deserving organizations, from collecting, he said.
He also advised people to turn in fraudulent collectors to the police, who are aware of the issue.
“Law enforcement agencies are aware of such fake groups collecting donations for the construction of madrassas and were to take action against them when being informed,” said Abdul Basit, a police officer, adding that they have received reports from intelligence agencies to monitor fake and unregistered madrassas, and groups who collect donations. Such fake groups might use the collected donations to support the militancy, he said.
“Fund collection in the name of madrassas or mosques has become a lucrative business across the country as spurious groups, exploiting the generosity of Pakistani people, are involved in this illegal business,” said Salman Abbassi, a Karachi-based journalist who covers religious affairs.
Central Asia Online has also learned that dozens of bogus organizations are collecting donations in Karachi’s markets and residential areas, placing donation boxes at shops and public places, and conducting door-to-door campaigns. They have hired and trained young boys – ages 8 to 12 – as representatives, and given them fake donation receipt books and letters authorizing them to collect money.
“One can find such fraud groups or individuals in (busy) places like bus terminals, traffic signals, markets to trap the people and collect donations,” Abbasi said.
A person calling himself Ashraf Ali is collecting donations in buses in Karachi’s Empress Market for a madrassa named “Jamia Sootul Quran” in the Makhdoom Rasheed area of Multan. When asked, he displayed a letter authorizing him to collect donations signed by the head of madrassas. However, Central Asia Online learned there is no madrassa at the address on the letter. Locals in Makhdoom Rasheed said they had never heard of it. Ali did not respond and fled when asked about authenticity of the madrassa.
“The government should check such people and organizations to learn who is collecting donations and where they are sent,” said Qari Abdul Sattar Madani, a religious scholar and principle of a madrassa in Karachi. “The government should take strict action against such fraud element which are not only maligning the name of Islam but also may use these funds for criminal activities.”
Madani said there are hundreds of donation boxes placed by phony groups requesting funds for construction of madrassas and food for the poor students in shops, markets and public places. The government should immediately remove such donation, he suggested.
Increase in madrassas part of the problem
Security experts say there has been an increase in madrassas across the country; most of them are not registered with government or representative governing bodies of madrassas like Wafaqul Madaras (Deobandi), Tanzimul Madaras (Brelvi), Wafaqul Madaris (Ahle Hadith), Wafaqul Madaris (Shia) and Rabtiaul Madaris (Jammat-e-Islami).
“The government has no mechanism for verifying the legitimacy of madrassas, but the five governing bodies of madrassas keep the records of madrassas for their school of thought across the country,” Abbasi said.
“Madrassas which are not associated with such governing bodies are considered unauthentic and they should not be donated to,” Madani said, adding some of such fraud groups also visit the Gulf States, especially the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, to collect donations from Pakistani expatriates.
Pakistanis not aware about such fake groups generously donate in the name of Islam, he said, stressing the need to create awareness among the people in this regard.
This video, taken in the United Arab Emirates at an unknown time and posted on several websites, shows how to protect against giving donations to fraudulent causes. The cameraman asks the solicitor who he is and what the money is for. The collector says he is collecting for a madrassa. The cameraman asks for some identification. The collector avoids answering, instead asking where the cameraman lives. The cameraman continues to ask for papers that show the funding drive is real and the collector runs away. The cameraman addresses the camera and says: “This is what going on, I am present in Sharjah now, and this person was collecting money in the name of a mosque. They are defaming our Sunni brothers and such people are very much active. This is the defamation of the whole Muslim world, these people are defaming Pakistan. They are collecting money in the name of a madrassa. They don’t have any identity. … This one is not the only one. I have seen a lot more like him, and they fled like him, so today I tried to record him on camera.”