FT Islamic council defends scholarship for ex-FT mufti Zulkifli’s son, says financial status not applicable in this case

Malay Mail
Malay Mail

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 24 — The Federal Territories Islamic Religious Council (Maiwp) has today defended its award of a scholarship to the son of former Federal Territories mufti Datuk Seri Zulkifli Mohamad, saying it was carried out according to standard operating procedures.

After the former Islamic affairs minister was questioned online over the financial aid, Maiwp said the scholarship funded by zakat or Islamic alms collection is not only limited to those who are poor and needy, but also covers the asnaf or category for beneficiaries striving “in the cause of Allah”.

“Abdul Syakur Zulkifli (student) obtained results of 8A (7A+ for the subjects of English, History, Mathematics, Science, Arabic language, Quranic and Sunnah Studies, Shariah Education) and 1A (Malay language) for the SPM examination,” Maiwp said in a two-page statement here.

The council said that Abdul Syakur falls under the asnaf of fisabilillah, or "in the cause of Allah". It also justified its award by saying that Zulkilfi is only drawing on his pension and has stepped down from all his positions including as the chairman of Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia (Usim), which therefore makes the son eligible.

It also said that Abdul Syakur is an alumnus and former student at a Maiwp Islamic studies institution, the Pondok Moden Al-Abaqirah, and therefore is eligible to receive Maiwp’s scholarship to study abroad based on its SOP and policy for aid.

Zulkifli has previously described himself as the founder of the abovementioned Pondok Moden Al-Abaqirah.

Maiwp’s explanation came after Zulkifli fell under the media spotlight for his September 21 post celebrating his son’s award of a full scholarship from Maiwp to study Islamic jurisprudence at the University of Jordan, in which he thanked zakat contributors and also said the scholarship was based on his 8A-scoring son’s academic merit and the results of an interview.

Maiwp also said that Abdul Syakur’s scholarship award was the decision of a committee of the selection panel for the scholarship recipients on September 11 this year.

According to Maiwp, its policy for the zakat aid scheme was approved in early 2020, and the SOP for the management of the scheme was approved in a December 2020 meeting.

Maiwp said its policy for the distribution of zakat aid involves 30 schemes. These include the special incentive scholarship aid for excellent students who can be assisted including beneficiaries who fall under the asnaf categorisation, among them being fakir, miskin or fisabilillah.

Asnaf refers to those eligible to receive aid from money collected through zakat payments, with zakat being one of the five pillars of Islam. In total, there are eight asnaf categorisations. Those who deserve to receive zakat funds besides the three categories, include amil (those involved in distributing the funds) and muallaf (Muslim converts).

Fakir generally refers to those who have no means of livelihood, while miskin refers to those who are poor or needy. Maiwp said a meeting for a Federal Territories committee on Islamic law had on March 4, 2021 approved fisabilillah to be defined as those who are involved in an activity to uphold, defend and spread Islam.

Maiwp explained that those who fall under fisabilillah categorisation are not confined to had kifayah calculations which determine whether one’s financial means are below the minimum standard of living.

Zulkifli has in the past few days attempted to defend himself following questions over why a former minister's son was receiving a scholarship with a series of posts on X, formerly known as Twitter.

On September 20 afternoon, Zulkifli said he had decided to step down as Usim chairman and that he had sent his letter in early September to the prime minister and minister of higher education as he felt it was time for the post to be given to a new face. On September 19, Minister of Higher Education Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin had announced that Tan Sri Nik Norzul Thani Nik Hassan Thani had been appointed as the new chairman of Usim’s board of directors.

At the time of writing, Zulkifli is still listed on the Usim website as the chair of the university’s board of directors.

On September 22, he replied to a query over the scholarship that as a former minister he does not qualify for a pension since his tenure was less than 36 months, citing the Members of Parliament (Remuneration) Act 1980.

In a separate reply on the same day, Zulkifli also said he did not receive any pension for serving as a mufti for the Federal Territories — which he had held between 2014 and 2020 — as it is a contract position. In another reply, Zulkifli confirmed he does receive a monthly pension as a former Dewan Negara member, but did not disclose the amount.

Zulkifli was appointed senator and named minister in the Prime Minister's Department in March 2020 under the then Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin administration. His tenure was not extended in August 2021 when Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri took over Putrajaya, but he stayed as senator until the end of his term in March this year.

On social media, Zulkifli also explained that besides writing and lecturing, he is also a member of the Dubai-based Muslim Council of Elders, serving the Assembly of Muslim Jurists of America pro bono, and sits on Seri Kembangan-based Andorra Hospital’s board of directors.