Shia Khums: Where’s Our Money?

Some young people from Qatif have published an open letter to Shia religious leaders, calling for a reform in management of Khums. According to Shia Islamic legal terminology, Khums means “one-fifth of certain items which a person acquires as wealth, and which must be paid as an Islamic tax.”

In their letter, they raised questions on the fate of millions of riyals paid by the faithful. These enormous amounts of money have gone to support religious schools in Iraq, Iran and other places, as well as supporting liberation movements in other countries. Meanwhile, most people in the local Shia communities never dared to ask where does the money go and how it is spent, especially when our communities suffer from many problems that could have been solved using these vast resources.

I join these young men and women in their call for more transparency regarding the management of Khums money. The lack of transparency and accountability has led to increased incidents of corruption and misuse of power. If religious leaders claim the Khums money is spent the way God intended, then they should not be afraid to come out and publish regular financial reports to back these claims. I believe we have the right to know how our resources are managed, and I believe that our local communities are entitled to see these resources contribute to improving living standards of people here.

Why Banks Suck?

Let’s say you are a twenty-something Saudi guy who happens to have an account with Riyad Bank, which doesn’t shy away from describing itself as “your bank” when for the most of time it’s not. It is your first and only account and you have been actively using it for the past four years mainly for the university’s monthly reward, hopelessly trying to convince yourself that putting that 990 riyals in a bank account instead of your wallet would make you spend them slower. Alas, with the high cost of living on your own in a city like Riyadh you always find yourself struggle to make it through the month.

So one day you want to go to Panda to buy some groceries but you realize you are out of cash so you decide to stop by an ATM machine on the way to the supermarket. You try to withdraw some money, and before you know it the machine rejects your card because it has expired. You look at the card and it’s true: it’s expired a few days ago. “Nothing is forever, I guess,” you say trying to console yourself.

The next day you go to the bank branch on Takhassosi St only to find it closed for prayer. You wait, and wait and wait, all while you curse this retarded tradition that clearly shows how no one in this country respects time, silently of course, because you don’t want anyone of those waiting with you to take offense at what you’ve been telling yourself. After more than one hour the bank was ready to open its door again and people storm in. You take your number and when your turn comes you go and tell the bank clerk that your ATM card has expired and you have not received a replacement.

“Are you sure? Have you checked your mail recently?” the clerk asks you. Yes, you have been checking your mail box everyday for as long as you can remember and, surprise surprise, your new ATM card was no where to be found. “I would really like to help you,” he says, “but the device for issuing new cards is broken so you need to come back tomorrow and I will be glad to give you a replacement card tomorrow.” You try to believe the man although you are still not sure if the smile on his face is fake or not.

“So there is no way I can get the ATM card today? Because I kind of need it, because, you know, a boy’s gotta eat.” He says you probably can if you have enough time to go to another branch. You fly to another branch, the one in Raed district, and you sit at the disk of another clerk, but this time with no smile, genuine or fake. You repeat what has become a boring story by now. The clerk does not seem impressed nor interested. “Look, you need to call the bank phone service and ask them to reissue your card and it will take a few days before you receive it, or you can get it right now if you were willing to pay the SR 100 fine,” he firmly says as if to tell you: get off my back you stupid customer with a tiny account we won’t give two sh*ts if we lose two hundred accounts like it.

“It’s not as if I received this card and then lost it,” you say, “so why should I pay SR 100 to replace something I have not received in the first place?” Because that’s how the bank system was designed, you are told. Since the guy in the Takhassosi branch said nothing about paying money to have your card reissued you decide you are going to wait until tomorrow. You go there and you wait; another wasted hour of your life that no one cares about. It’s your turn finally, excited you go to the same clerk you met yesterday, and this time you are quite sure the smile he is hanging up his mouth is clearly fake.

He starts doing the paper work in order to reissue your card, and minutes later he gives you the papers to sign them, but before you do that he says in a rather apologetic voice, “but the bank has to charge you SR 100 for this process.” You tell him what you have told his colleague yesterday: “why should I pay SR 100 to replace something I have not received in the first place?” and he gives an answer similar to his colleague’s that you hoped you would forget his face by that time.

This makes you angry, but being the polite person that you are, you say nothing and you think you would just pay them the money and get it over with. Suddenly you have an idea, so you ask the guy to wait for a moment. You take your mobile phone out and call a relative who happens to be a manager for another branch of the same bank in a different city. You tell him a short version of the story and he quickly advises you to ask to meet the branch manager. You do that, and the clerk does not look pleased with your request. “The manager’s office is upstairs,” he says.

You go upstairs and find the manager standing outside his office saying goodbye to what looks like a ‘hamoor.’ He asks you if there was a problem, and you tell him there is one. He listens, he smiles, he signs at the top left corner of your papers and tells you to go and tell the guy downstairs that you don’t need to pay nothing. The whole thing took less than five seconds. Again, the guy does not look pleased but this time he doesn’t seem to have much of a choice. He tells you to wait for a moment. You go to to sit down in the waiting area and you realize he wants to make you wait just to make you feel that he is still in charge and he can control your financial destiny no matter what his manager says.

After more than half an hour of waiting you finally receive your new ATM card, but by that time you have started to ask yourself if you really had to go through all that hassle. Was it worth it? You are not sure if you want to continue doing business with them but for some unexplained reasons you decide to give them what seems like an undeserved second chance.