Artificial intelligence and Natural language processing (NLP) based FinTech model of Zakat for poverty alleviation and sustainable development for Muslims in India

Mustafa Raza Rabbani, M. Kabir Hassan, Shahnawaz Khan, and Mahmood Asad Moh’d Ali

Introduction

The recent innovation in the finance world in the form of financial technology (FinTech) has changed the finance world from what it used to be a decade ago. More and more organizations are adopting FinTech as a necessary ingredient for the successful implementation of their strategies and achieving their objectives. It is the need of the hour to adopt this disruptive technology to gain a competitive advantage and not to lag behind the competition. It has not only forced financial institutions to adopt FinTech but other organizations, like Zakat institutions, are also finding it extremely beneficial to use this innovation (Hudaefi et al., 2019). Islamic FinTech is any FinTech catering to the needs of Islamic finance users and follows the rules and regulations laid down by Sharia. The present study proposes a unique FinTech model using artificial intelligence and blockchain technologies for the distribution of Zakat to the real deserving poor and deprived sections of society.

Zakat is one of the five pillars of Islam. Zakat was made compulsory for the Muslim Ummah since 2 Hijri/624 AD. The Holy Qura’n (verses from Allah) and hadith (teaching of Prophet Muhammad (SAW)) have placed so much emphasis on Zakat because it bridges the gap between the poor and rich in Muslim society. In modern terms, it is one of the most important tools for poverty alleviation and financial inclusion (Ahmad & Mahmood, 2009; Zaid, 2004). As Islamic finance is based on the principle of social justice and the equal distribution of wealth, Zakat is an important tool for promoting social justice and eradicating the unequal distribution of income. On numerous occasions, the Prophet (SAW) has emphasized on the importance of zakat. It is mentioned 32 times in the Holy Qura’n also.

Payment of Zakat in Islam is made compulsory to help people in need and those who are poor. It has a positive impact on both the giver as well as on the recipients. The recipients fulfil their financial need by accepting Zakat whereas the giver purifies his wealth by paying Zakat (Al-Faizin, 2017). If we look at the divide between the rich and poor in India, it is known fact that the number of poor in the country is significant as according to the Global Hunger Index (GHI) 2020, India is ranked 94 out of 107 countries and the level of hunger in the country is flagged as serious with a GHI score of 27.2 (Global Hunger Index, 2020).

These are just some of the highlights of the grave situation of poverty in India (Sebastian, 2009). The above statistics are related to the general population of India. If we go in detail and look at the situation of Muslims in India, we find that is even worse. Being a developing country, India is fighting poverty and Muslims in India not only have to fight religious extremism and discrimination but also have to fight to eradicate poverty and provide equal rights and resources to their poor brothers and sisters. In this case, the role of the richer section of Muslim society becomes extremely important as it is their responsibility to uplift the poor by paying Zakat. It is not that the rich Muslims are not paying Zakat, of course they must be paying it, but there is a need to utilise these payments received in an effective manner by chanelling it to the most deserved beneficiaries in a transparent manner (Taylor, 2015). Innovations such as ATMs, financial technology, mobile apps, artificial intelligence, blockchain, and big data must be used for the distribution and collection of Zakat in India (Muneeza & Nadwi, 2019). There is a need to introduce a comprehensive Zakat-based poverty threshold for the deserving beneficiaries of Zakat, and it must be continuously monitored, controlled, and examined by Sharia scholars and kept up to date with modern needs. The proposed artificial intelligence and blockchain-based FinTech Zakat distribution system (ZDS) will bring more transparency and accountability to the Zakat system and will bridge the existing gap between the rich and poor in this regard.

This research study has been organized into seven sections. The next section of the study states and defines the objective of the study. Section three discusses the Zakat system in India and the issues in the context of India. The following section discusses the problems and issues in the Zakat collection and distribution system in general. Section five proposes a FinTech Zakat distribution system that uses artificial intelligence, blockchain, machine learning, and natural language processes. The next section discusses the results that will occur after implementing the proposed model. The last section concludes the research study and discusses the direction of future work.

Zakat system in India

There is no central organization for the collection and distribution of Zakat in India. There are mainly private organizations/individuals that collect and distribute Zakat based on their own convenience and objectives. Based on a survey (Shaikh, 2019) from more than 4,500 Muslims in India, it was concluded that 70% of the respondents feel that Zakat is an important tool to eradicate poverty among Muslims in India. The findings have also revealed that most of the people paying Zakat are concerned about how their Zakat money is being used. It has been a practice in India that mainly private individuals and/or representatives of Af«z/ww»/schools come to collect Zakat and use it for their own purposes. There is no transparency regarding how the funds are being used and the volume of money being collected by these individuals and representatives. There is a public view in India that Muslim underdevelopment and backwardness is a big hurdle in making India a global economic leader, and the efficient use of Zakat among Muslims could overcome this issue. Since India is a diverse country’ in terms of its social, cultural, and financial structure, this diversity is very’ much visible among the donors of Zakat aso.

While developing any' Zakat distribution model or making any principles and law/regulation, this diversity' should be given due importance (Obaidullah & Manap, 2017). Basically, India’s demographics are divided into rural and urban sectors. While defining poverty between the rural and urban sectors, one should also take into consideration the cost of living in these areas. It has been observed that most of the resources in terms of Zakat distribution go to the urban poor, and this may' be due to the fact that most donors live in urban areas and they' have access to these poor and vice versa (Johari et al., 2014). India is barely using information technology for the collection and distribution of Zakat. Despite everyone having access to information technology, the main medium to disseminate Zakat information is through word of mouth (Ahmad et al., 2015).

Problems and issues with Zakat collection and distribution

Zakat collection and distribution has always been changing and has seen many' improvements over the years in terms of technology', infrastructure, human resources, transparency, and accountability. But still, to an extent, it has not been able to achieve the objective of Maqasid Al-Sharia in terms of completely' eradicating poverty’ from the Ummah. No matter how good a system is, it should not leave behind the ultimate objective of Zakat, i.e., taking it to the needy' and poor people and helping them achieve a better standard of living. There are a number of issues that need immediate attention to make Zakat distribution more efficient and transparent.

Zakat collection and distribution has evolved over the years, and it has improved by' adopting technological advancements. In the past, people would either go to the Zakat houses to pay' the Zakat or a collection agent from the Zakat house/charitable organization used to visit the payer to receive the Zakat. Nowaday's, things have changed for good, and there are a lot of channels available through which to pay Zakat such as internet banking, mobile banking, card payments, and salary' deduction methods, etc. Islamic finance is based on the dual objective of the equal distribution of wealth and social justice. Through the proper distribution of Zakat, both these objectives can be easily achieved.

There is a need for Islamic countries to come to a consensus on the need for the collection and distribution of Zakat to the most deserving people across the globe (Johari et al., 2015). It needs to be automated to improve efficiency' in collection and distribution and also to minimize corruption. For this reason, Shirazi, Amin, and Bin (2010) conducted a study on 38 Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) countries to identify the need and total contribution received in the form of Zakat in the respective countries. They concluded that 50% of these countries that are receiving Zakat contributions are in surplus and this surplus can be used to help countries with a deficit. Shirazi et al. suggest that the surplus amount of Zakat must be pooled from these countries and then can be used to eradicate poverty in countries with a resource deficit. Zakat institutions must be assigned the responsibility of helping governments collect and distribute Zakat and help in the bigger objective of eradicating poverty. Zakat institutions should not only be responsible for the collection and distribution of Zakat, rather, they should uphold the spirit of Islam as the religion of humanity and compassion. Zakat can also be used for some other beneficiaries like creating a buffer to help the needy and poor in situations like recessions by capacity building. Problems in the collection of Zakat can be summarized into a few points, such as there is a lack of proper laws on the collection of Zakat, mismanagemnt of funds, and lack of coherence in governments’ legal philosophies. Lack of infrastructural resources for the collection of Zakat also affects its collection. One of the biggest problems in Zakat collection is the differences of opinion in the different schools of thought and citing this as a reason, the states are unable to enact a uniform law for Zakat in the country (Abdullatif, 2012).

The collection of Zakat has undergone many changes and seen many technological advancements, and it is already using various financial technologies. But, the issues related to Zakat distribution are still the same and need to be discussed by scholars and related stakeholders (Lubis, 2011). Zakat payers have some serious concerns that need to be addressed. This is because Zakat payers are concerned about the purpose for which Zakat money is being used. One common factor in previous studies related to the distribution of Zakat is about the speedy distribution of Zakat money as the collection process has become advanced while distribution has not been given the due attention that it immediately needs. The distribution process can be improved with the use of technology (Ahmad et al., 2006; Yahaya & Ahamd, 2018).

The issues in Zakat distribution can be broadly classified into three categories, the first being the inefficiency in the distribution of Zakat. There is a need to enhance the Zakat management system as the money does not reach the real beneficiaries, and this may be due to a lack of publicity/advertisement from authorities or a lack of knowledge among the beneficiaries about their eligibility to receive Zakat. Secondly, there is no proper database for the prospective receivers and payers of Zakat. Finally, there is a need for capacity building as paying a sum of money in the form of Zakat once a year/month will eliminate poverty entierly, and it is only a short-term solution. If we keep on giving a sum of money as Zakat, it will not benefit the beneficiaries as they will become dependent on it and will not strive to work hard and earn their own livelihood. There is a need to undertake a capacity-building initiative by giving training or short courses to the beneficiaries or providing education for the children of beneficiaries.

Zakat disbursement must be on the basis of the income of the beneficiary, for example, a person with a low income should get more benefit than a person with a relatively higher income. Most of the beneficiaries are associated with informal or unorganized sectors labour such as ‘construction workers, a labourer of small-scale industry, casual employment, the power loom workers, employees in shops and commercial establishments, sweepers and scavengers, workers in tanneries, the tribal labourer and the other unprotected labour’ (Chakraborty, 2020), and governments have no actual data related to their income (Johari et al., 2013). There is a need to develop an Islamic accountability framework for Zakat fund management. The people responsible for the distribution of Zakat should feel accountable to Allah (swt), the Zakat payer, the fatwa council, and to the recipients (Saad et al., 2014). Zakat distribution must be based on achieving the long-term objective of providing beneficiaries with a stable economic life along with the short-term objective of supplying the necessities of life (Bakar & Ghani, 2011).

Proposed system and methodology'

The previous section discussed the problems and issues in Zakat collection and distribution. However, from the above analysis, it is evident that the Zakat collection framework or process is more standardized than the distribution process. Therefore, this study focuses on Zakat distribution more than Zakat collection. This research study presents a ZDS that aims to standardize the distribution and also serves as the collection and intermediary' between the payers and payees. Based on a survey of the literature, the most common problem in the Zakat distribution system is a lack of transparency, and there is no mechanism to check whether the intended payee has received the Zakat or not. Similarly, the distribution process takes a lot of time. Another major issue is the efficiency' of the system, such as whether Zakat is reaching the right people or not; the payers and beneficiaries are not aware about their right to reveive Zakat and do not have a clear understanding of how the Zakat system works as per Islamic principles. Lack of communication has also been observed between beneficiaries and payers. At present, there is no database of the people who can pay' Zakat and who are eligible to be the beneficiaries of it as per the guideline provided in Quran. The anonymity' of the payers and payees is very important to the majority of the people who pay' Zakat and the payees as well. The proposed ZDS maintains a record of all the transactions and the privacy' of all the users is maintained under a username; users can only' see the username when paying or receiving Zakat. As Zakat payers have to pay Zakat every' year, the ZDS system maintains a record and sends periodic reminders to the potential payers who are identified based on their transaction history'. It has also been observed that at present, there is no Islamic accountability' framework that has clear responsibility' for Zakat distribution. This is related to mismanagement or discrepancies in the distribution of Zakat which helps beneficiaries to build their capacity and help them so that they can also become Zakat payers instead of remaining beneficiaries and surviving on support from other members of society. Table 7.1 summarizes the Zakat distribution issues and lists the corresponding solution by the proposed Zakat distribution system.

The issues that have been discussed above can be solved by the proposed Zakat distribution system. To solve the lack of transparency in Zakat distribution, the proposed system introduces the use of blockchain, and if the beneficiaries do not have a linked bank account, then money cannot be transferred directly to the beneficiar)'. In that case, the Zakat money is distributed and delivered by the ZDS organization, and the Zakat payer gets a notification that the Zakat has been received by the beneficiaries. ZDS uses an artificial intelligence, machine learning, and blockchain-based model for Zakat distribution. The use of these innovative technologies makes the transactions fast and solves the issue related to the speed of distribution and also makes it a more transparent and secure system. The problems of efficiency in distribution, including reaching the right beneficiaries are also addressed by the proposed system. The Zakat distribution FinTech organization communicates regularly with the beneficiaries to record their updated financial status in the system. As per the analysis and literature review, the researchers were not able to find any central database in India; therefore, people are usually reluctant to pay Zakat to anyone they do not know. This also develops a lack of trust in the organization or the social worker who collects and distributes Zakat. ZDS maintains a central database of Zakat payers and all the beneficiaries after verification. It has also been observed that sometimes Zakat is distributed to the valid beneficiar)' but not to the neediest one. Some of the beneficiaries might receive Zakat from various sources, and some of the beneficiaries receive a very small amount while they require and deserve more. To overcome this issue, ZDS maintains an updated record of earnings of all the beneficiaries. However, ZDS does this after agreement with the beneficiar)'; if the beneficiar)' does not agree, then no record is maintained. Zakat distribution takes place based on the earnings of the beneficiaries. The lower the total earnings of the beneficiaries, the higher the Zakat they receive. ZDS also provide an automated system for calculating Zakat. The Zakat payer just has to fill in the details asked, and the ZDS provides the total amount of Zakat due on all kinds of assets, savings, and earnings. In India, there is no existing accountability framework as per Sharia law, which regulates and manages the distribution and collection of Zakat. This is why Zakat payers might have a lack of trust and confidence in the people who collect and distribute Zakat. ZDS maintains a record of all the transactions using a blockchain system to have transparency in all transactions. All the Zakat payers become the peers in the distributed blockchain.

Figure 7.1 explains the working of the proposed Zakat distribution system. The ZDS provides an online platform for the Zakat payers and beneficiaries. The Zakat payer can register with the ZDS platform directly by accessing the online ZDS online platform. Beneficiaries can also register online; however, the

Table 7.1 Zakat distribution issues and solution

Issues in Zakat Distribution Solutions

Transparency

Speedy distribution

Efficiency

  • • In reaching the right and most well deserved beneficiaries.
  • • Beneficiary’s lack of awareness about their right to receive zakat.
  • • Poor communication management between the distribution authority and beneficiaries.

Lack of central database

Distribution must be based on the total earnings of the beneficiaries

Zakat on savings

No Islamic accountability framework - distribution authority should have clear responsibility for distribution related to mismanagement or discrepancies in the distribution

Room for capacity building of the beneficiaries

Payer gets a notification on the delivery' of Zakat to the beneficiaries.

Most of the beneficiaries do not receive

Zakat when they' need it most. The machine learning based inference engine in the proposed system helps with fast distribution

Zakat payers have the option to specify the potential target payees and select the payees themselves

The Zakat distribution system also spreads knowledge and information related to Zakat and other key principles of Islam

The Zakat distribution system communicates regularly' with the beneficiaries to record their updated financial status with the system

The proposed system maintains a central database of the Zakat payers and maintains the privacy' and anonymity of the payers and payees

The Zakat distribution system maintains an updated record of earnings of all the beneficiaries, with their agreement, and all the payments made to an individual beneficiary', and distributes the Zakat based on the earnings of the beneficiaries

The Zakat distribution system helps to calculate the total Zakat that must be paid by an individual. The proposed system also generates notifications based on past payment history'

The Zakat distribution system keeps an anonymous record of all the users (payers and payees) and uses a blockchain system for transparency in all transactions

The Zakat distribution system also provides an option to the payees to participate in various capacity-building projects by the Zakat distribution FinTech organization to further help the beneficiaries

Zakat distribution system

Figure 7.1 Zakat distribution system.

information and financial conditions of the beneficiaries must be verified before they can be eligible to receive Zakat. On registration, Zakat payers can set their preferences for choosing the potential beneficiaries for Zakat payments and can also calculate the exact amount of Zakat to be paid by an individual Zakat payer based on the assets they own, their savings, and earnings they receive from various categories of income resources and means.

ZDS uses artificial intelligence, machine learning techniques (Khan & Mishra, 2011), natural language processing (Khan et al., 2018), and an inference engine for recommendations. Artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques are the primary contributing technologies in predicting and forecasting, such as sentiment predictions (Shahnawaz & Astya, 2017) and machine translation (Khan & Usman, 2019; Shahnawaz & Mishra, 2015). ZDS recommends the potential beneficiaries based on the user’s preferences using the inferences engine. The Zakat payers are presented with a list of potential beneficiaries with their financial conditions, which helps the Zakat payers to choose and make their decisions. The beneficiary information is displayed under a username which serves as a user account from the blockchain system. When the Zakat payer selects a user account for payment, the Zakat amount is transferred directly to the beneficiary. However, in case there is no bank account associated with the beneficiary’ username, the Zakat is transferred to the ZDS e-wallet under the Zakat payer’s name, and when this amount is delivered to the beneficiary, a notification is sent to the Zakat payer. All the transactions that take place on the ZDS platform are recorded in the electronic ledger through blockchain.

Results and discussion

The current means of Zakat distribution and collection raise many issues such as transparency, slow and uneven distribution, lack of efficiency in reaching the right people, lack of communication management, lack of a central database and distribution authority that is accountable and responsible for mismanagement or discrepancies in the collection and proper distribution of Zakat. The proposed Zakat distribution system addresses almost all the issues in Zakat distribution and collection presently. ZDS uses blockchain to record transactions. Blockchain is a secure and transparent way of maintaining transaction history. The proposed Zakat distribution system uses machine learning and a natural language-based inference engine for beneficiary recommendations and a Zakat payer can send the Zakat amount directly to the beneficiary without any intermediary, which resolves the issues of uneven distribution and lack of efficiency in reaching right people. ZDS also serves as the central database for payers and beneficiaries and operates as the means of communication between payers and beneficiaries. Because of the immutability of the transactions in blockchain, it is almost impossible to make any changes to the transaction once it has been made, even by the ZDS itself; this feature rules out the issue of discrepancies in the collection and distribution of the Zakat. As has been discussed above, the proposed Zakat distribution system is able to address all the issues and provide a sustainable solution for Zakat distribution and collection.

Conclusion

The present research study discusses and identifies the major issues related to Zakat collection and distribution in the world and in India. The study of the existing literature reveals that at present, there are several problems and issues in Zakat collection and distribution in a non-Islamic country like India. This research study reviews, collects, and summarizes the issues in the context of Zakat distribution and collection. To address these issues, this research study has proposed a Zakat distribution system which uses artificial intelligence, machine learning, natural language processes, and blockchain to resolve various issues and present a solution that is reliable, transparent, and efficient and the system can be an accountable and responsible solution for the distribution of Zakat. The result obtained is inconsistent with the results by Syed et al. (2020). The researchers are working on improving the quality, efficiency, and effectivity of the inference engine. The authors are also looking to improve the efficiency of blockchain so that it consumes fewer resources in the consensus mechanism used in blockchain technology' for new transactions.

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