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.

Unsettling

Sheikh Namer al-Namer is a radical Shia cleric who enjoys a following in his little hometown of al-Awamiya in Qatif. If Sheikh Hasan al-Saffar represents the dominant and more tolerant, open-minded voice calling for unity and dialogue with the government, then Sheikh al-Namer stands at the other end of the Shia spectrum with some extreme views and a divisive message. As you might expect, his views didn’t win him many friends, especially in the government who has detained him several times over the past few years.

In his Friday sermon last week, Sheikh al-Namer talked about a possible war between the US and Iran. He asked Iran to reassure the neighboring countries that their peoples’ vital interest will not be compromised, and at the same time said that Iran has the right to defend itself. “They would definitely have the right to close the Straits of Hormuz, to destroy the Zionist entity and to hit American bases and its interests present all over the world,” he added.

Moreover, he said “We stand by Iran and we will do everything to support this country.”

Now of course Sheikh al-Nemer has the right to express his opinion in any issue he wants, but I don’t think the pulpit is the right place to promote his political agenda. I don’t know what the hell he was thinking, but the message he is sending here is certainly unsettling to many of his countrymen and reinforces the prejudices some of them already have regarding the loyalty of Saudi Shia to their homeland.

There are some efforts on both sides to soothe the sectarian tension, but unfortunately most of these efforts remain modest compared to the loud voices of extremists like al-Nemer and his counterparts on the other side of the divide. I believe moderates should work harder and join forces with the King who has repeatedly shown his commitment to dialogue and better understanding between the different trends in our society, as well as between all Muslims and between major faiths around the world.