Olive harvest zakat: religious obligation or pretext for incursion into Kafr Takharim?

A popular demonstration in the town of Taftanaz against the entry of Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham into the town of Kafr Takharim in rural Idlib - 7 November 2019 (Omar Kaddour Facebook account)

A popular demonstration in the town of Taftanaz against the entry of Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham into the town of Kafr Takharim in rural Idlib - 7 November 2019 (Omar Kaddour Facebook account)

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In early November 2019, Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), which controls most of Idlib province in northwestern Syria, attempted to raid the town of Kafr Takharim, in the northwestern Idlib, alleging that the residents of Kafr Takharim did not pay the olive harvest zakat (an Islamic form of taxation). 

Forcible collection of zakat by the HTS led to objections about the legitimacy of the group and the HTS-backed Salvation Government (SG). Subsequently, these objections raised questions of whether HTS is using the issue as grounds to attack the town and some oppositional elements within it.

Does HTS have the right to forcibly collect olive zakat?

The Syrian Islamic Council (SIC) said in a statement on 7 November that the SG and its affiliated HTS have no authority over the areas in which they are deployed.

The SIC pointed out that the HTS has no legitimate authority even if it is in control. The council stressed that “the SG and HTS are not recognized as a sovereign state, neither by the areas they control, nor by others […] they have no authority over the locals. And those who obey them are afraid of their wickedness and oppression”.

The SIC said that this obligatory zakat contradicts the principle of ijmaa (“scholarly consensus,” which is a recognized source of Islamic jurisprudence). According to ijmaa, people are required to give a set of proportion of their properties which can be stored and eaten later. This includes fruit and grains such as wheat, barley and corn, but not olives.

The SIC stressed that even if some Muslim scholars said that people have to pay a zakat of olives, the payment should not go to the HTS or to its affiliated SG. The SIC added that “we have learned that the locals formed committees for collecting zakat from families and the people of their town voluntarily. They would distribute it to the poor in the town. This is what zakat is supposed to be.”

Ali al-Arjani, a former Sharia legislator, pointed out through his Telegram account that those who follow Hanafi and Maliki Islamic legal traditions beliece that paying zakat of olives is mandatory, but they also say that zakat should not paid to a lecherous leader let alone a bunch of thieves and lechers who govern people by force.”

Al-Arjani added that, “the ruler who leads by force” has no legitimate authority, according to Muslim scholars. “These leaders are lecherous and heretical according to the ijmaa. The HTS has no legitimate mandate to govern the rebellious areas where they think people have to obey them.”

Kafr Takharim

The situation in Kafr Takharim was tense on 7 November, following demonstrations by its residents against the zakat collection committees. The committees were trying to collect zakat of olives from the residents of Kafr Takharim who refused to pay the SG’s committees and kicked them out of the town.

Witnesses from the town confirmed to Enab Baladi that what happened was not a refusal to pay zakat, but to pay to “the HTS”, and its s-called “Muslims’ treasury.” They wondered if there is actually a “Muslims’ treasury”.

Two citizens of the town told Enab Baladi that the refusal to pay zakat was not absolute. The situation is quite the opposite; the people want to pay but not to the SG.

They added that the residents collect and distribute olive zakat to the poor people of the town every year. The expulsion of the committees came after an agreement was made between the dignitaries of Kafr Takharim and the HTS. The agreement stipulates that the zakat funds remain in the town. However, the HTS reneged on the deal and started to collect zakat money again. This prompted people to organize a demonstration and expel the committees from the town.

The National Liberation Front (NLF) and Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) reached an agreement to reduce tensions in the city on 7 November, which was confirmed by NLF spokesperson, Naji Mustafa, and the media and communications director at the HTS, Taqi al-Din Omar. But the two sides did not disclose the details of the agreement.

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