Maulana Hamid Sharif, a religious teacher, manages a seminary and a mosque adjacent to it in Karachi’s Orangi Town locality. In the Islamic months of Shaban and Ramadan, Sharif and his team would make the annual budget and raise their annual revenue through donations from two factory owners and mosque-goers.
But this year, amid the coronavirus outbreak, their donors have already given zakat to a known charity in the metropolis to support its free ration distribution campaign. Also, because of the closure of the factories for around two months, they are not able to give donations to Sharif to run his seminary and mosque this year.
“We are mainly dependent on the donations collected during Shaban and Ramadan to pay salaries to the prayer leaders, the teachers and other staffers along with clearing the utility bills and providing free food and accommodation to the seminary students,” said Sharif.
In the government’s policymaking and debate about the closure of mosques in Ramadan, the major concern of the clerics is the collection of donations which is forcing them to resist the government’s moves to ban religious congregations, analysts believe.
Unlike the rest of the Muslim world, mosques and religious schools operate independently in Pakistan and do not come under the government’s direct control. Therefore, the government does not provide them with any financial support to operate.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic and the lockdown imposed by the government to limit its spread, donations have majorly shifted to the charity organizations. In the meeting of religious scholars with President Arif Alvi on April 18 for inking a 20-point agreement for Ramadan, the participants expressed their concerns over a sharp fall in donations, according to those aware of discussions during the meeting.
While announcing the agreement as he addressed the media, President Alvi especially requested the people not to reduce their donations to the Islamic institutions in Ramadan. He said the donations, including alms and zakat, were the right of mosques and seminaries.
Interviews with managers of various seminaries suggest that they wait the entire year for Shaban and Ramadan for donations.
“Many of them do not pay salaries for four months before Ramadan in which they pay them in a lump sum after the collection of donations,” said Sharif. He said the madrasa administrators would be forced to slash the salaries of their staff by half or terminate their services. Mostly, he added, the staff is already underpaid.
Mufti Muhammad Naeem, principal of the Jamia Binoria Al-Alamia, also confirmed that donors had shifted their donations to the charities which were running ration distribution campaigns because of the coronavirus pandemic. “Because of it, seminaries and mosques have been facing a financial crisis,” Naeem told The News.
Giving an example of his seminary where around 5,000 students study, Naeem said it would be difficult for them to continue the operations. “The government does not provide financial support to the mosques and seminaries and they completely depend on donations,” he said. Naeem requested the people to donate to the seminaries which had suffered badly because of the lockdown.
Almost all mosques and seminaries have been trying to figure out their next steps and, resultantly, some of them have set up charity fronts. “Because donors are interested to donate the money to the charities running the ration distribution among the needy people, many of them have set up their own charity fronts over the night to collect the donations,” said a religious scholar, who is familiar with the affairs of madrassas.