A couple of weeks ago as I was leaving the local masjid, an older man approached me for a few minutes of my time. He was hunched over, holding up his weight through the use of a cane. His skin and the gray hairs in his beard were dry as if he had come through the desert and eyes so tired they spoke of a fatigue weary from some such travel. He asked, "Is there a place that my wife and I can rest?" Could they spend the night at the masjid, was there an external housing unit or complex? Whats the deal with zakat in cases like this? I hesitated to answer, because I didn't know.
So I grabbed my friend and we sat with the man over lunch as he told us his life story. He told us how he and his wife had come here from Washington D.C., how he had been in a car accident where his car was totaled (hence the cane) and all of his money went off with the car to the impound. He told us how he and his wife have been staying in a really cheap motel/temporary housing complex in Oakland and just need some time to recuperate and some money to get readjusted. He also told us that he had approached the people in charge of masjid facilities and finances, the executive board, and they declined assistance.
I asked politely if I could talk to my friend in private. He agreed. "You know, I believe him and his story. But if the masjid cant help him, what are we going to do? What can we do?"
I have yet to attend the masjid executive board meeting, but I can understand and sympathize with the masjid because of course their bookkeeping and accounting records must be immaculate for their own integrity's sake (tax purposes and what not). It would be difficult to provide charity on a one-on-one basis; they cannot give zakat collected money to just anyone apparently (guilt by association?? speculative but possible). The man told us that they need to see a California ID to start off. But I will investigate further.
As a temporary solution, we pooled some money together and gave it to the man. But I know he is not the only case; we just happened to be there when he was.
Sometimes, this all doesn't make sense to me. We can hold events and raise money for people on the other side of the world, but we can't even help the people down the street in our own communities? Or why cant we just give ans support; our intention is to do so to help the man and his wife for the sake of God, whoever he is? Isn't that part of faith? Where are our community service centers? All I am seeing lately are buildings to pray in and hold events for.
I know this is a complex issue that requires some kind of an infrastructure/process/framework. So I open it up to the other writers and readers. Have you ever come across an instance like this in your community? How do your community leaders handle it? What services do they/can they provide? What do you think we could do on an individual level, and possibly a community-wide level? To be continued....