Zakat, or a mandatory almsgiving, is one of the five fundamental pillars of Islam. All Muslims eligible to pay it must donate at least 2.5% of their accumulated wealth to charity. It binds the Muslim society together ever more than a common prayer. It teaches us to help those in the need and share what we have. Zakat is thus the glue that adds cohesiveness to any Muslim community.

We have already entered the digital age — most of us read newspapers, watch TV and do our shopping online. Some important religious practices will undoubtedly follow our Internet-centered lives.

The Holy Qur’an (Surah 9, Ayah 60) specifies 8 things that the Zakat funds can be spent upon:

- For the poor — we must seek to better the lives of the less fortunate;

- For the needy — Islam generally separates the poor and the needy, the latter ones being shy and hiding their needs;

- For the Zakat-collectors — only to cover the expenses of collecting and administration of Zakat;

- For new believers — as their lives often change dramatically and they may need our spiritual and material support;

- To free the enslaved — since the freedom in of great value in the eyes of Allah SWT;

- To help those who are in debt — Islam generally shuns debt and our goal is to help those who have fallen in a such debt trap;

- In the cause of Allah SWT — to promote Islam, to build and fund religious and educational institutions;

- For the stranded travellers — this was far more relevant in the past as the travellers brought with them culture, education and commerce.

The concept of wealth in Islam differs from the one we are used to in the West. There is no absolute ownership of assets and property — it all comes from Allah SWT and is only temporarily held by us in trust. So, the sharing of such entrusted wealth constitutes a sign of piety and religious devotion.

OXFAM estimates that anywhere between USD 200 billion and USD 1 trillion is collected every year in the form of Zakat. Unfortunately, most of Zakat collection is done informally, with very little accountability and reported usage of funds. Just over a quarter of Zakat contributions are formally accounted for and channeled through certified organizations. The great majority of Zakat payments are given, sent or wired informally, for example in a form of a cash donation to a relative or a friend.

Most Muslims are good God-fearing people and would not try to avoid paying Zakat. Many would also pay Sadaqa, the voluntary charity payment. But such charity payment collection should be made hassle-free, be convenient and reliable. In our digital age all these features can be taken care of by online platforms.

An online Shariah-compliant platform contacts some eligible recipients of Zakat, often some charity funds or programs. The users select the recipient that they intend to help and make payments to the program of their choice.

One of the first truly effective Zakat collectors was the Singapore-based GlobalSadaqah, which is backed by Selangor-based FinTech builder Ethis Ventures. It was launched just a few weeks ago. Its users can send donations to various Zakat-eligible programs operated by the platform’s partners — Mercy Malaysia, Islamic Relief Malaysia, Islamic Development Bank, etc.

You can learn more about the company on http://www.globalsadaqah.com

A more proper example of a Zakat platform is the upcoming project by the Dubai-based PayZakat. The PayZakat platform will shortly become a truly global player, which will allow its users contribute the funds in various currencies to at least 2 projects in each country of operation.

What is more important, PayZakat will stay with its donors until the end of each projects — the users will receive periodic updates about the projects they’ve funded, along with progress and usage of funds reports.

The platform is in the test stage and now is starting THE FIRST PROJECT, which is aimed to finance the construction of AR-RAHIM MOSQUE in Ufa (the Russian Federation). The main relic of the mosque will be a hair from the beard of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).

At this stage, the construction of the mosque under the dome has been completed, 4 minarets have been built and the main communications have been finished. What remains to be done:

- To implement the final works on the facade of Mosque, as well as interior works.

- It is also necessary to finalize slum upgrading works on the territory of AR-RAHIM MOSQUE.

Please visit PayZakat at https://www.facebook.com/payzakatbot/

P2P lending platforms, online payment services, and social networking sites are transforming our lives. I do not think that we are quite ready to pray in a virtual mosque via Skype, but paying Zakat on services like Payzakat will shortly become a very common occurence.