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Mr Bol Hassan and Fiona standing at the Zakat counter in Taibung Baitulmal Sarawak, Kuching, after an interview with Mr Bol Hassan and the General Manager. The Taibung Baitumal Sarawak is the zakat body that collects and distributes zakat in the state of Sarawak.


This photo was taken from the doorway of one of Kuching's mosques as Friday prayers were beginning. Friday prayer is the men's time at the mosque.


The main administration building of the International Islamic University, Malaysia. It is a lovely campus, situated in the Gombak area on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur.

Fiona Cutler

University of Otago

Fiona is enrolled for an MA in Anthropology and Management at the University of Otago. She is making a study of the way in which the Islamic banking system is shaped by "zakat" — a religious obligation for all Muslims that requires them to pay a small percentage of their annual income (2.5 per cent) to the eight beneficiaries as stated in the Qur’an. She has chosen to make case studies of banking institutions in two places — Kuala Lumpur and Kelantan; banks in these two cities employ contrasting methods of zakat administration. She used her Malay Studies scholarship of $2500 to support a visit to Malaysia in 2004.

Zakat Observed: zakat adminisration in Malaysia

Fieldwork in Malaysia, 2004

My fieldwork experience was an amazing learning curve for me, allowing my research skills to develop and providing answers and further direction on key research questions. Whilst in Malaysia I spent most days getting to interviews and learning about zakat. For example my first day there was spent at the Zakat Collection Centre (ZCC) in Kuala Lumpur where I interviewed practitioners at both management and operational levels. During the four weeks I spent in Kuala Lumpur, I visited the ZCC a number of times to collect resources and conduct interviews. The ZCC is where the collection of zakat occurs for the Federal Territory Kuala Lumpur as well as being a centre for the distribution of educational resources regarding zakat.

Interviews were conducted at the International Islamic University situated on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. Here I talked to academics in the Economics and Management Division. I also interviewed academics in the Islamic Studies Department at the University Malaya in Kuala Lumpur. Here I was able to meet and discuss zakat with academics in the field of Islamic Economics and Law.

By talking with Islamic academics as well as practitioners from within the zakat administration system I was able to appreciate the complex nature of my research topic. From these differing approaches to zakat I was able to gain insight into the range of aspects it incorporates and gain an understanding of the different experiences Muslims have with zakat. I was also able to see how and where the practice of zakat can differ from, yet also connect with, the theory.

I obtained membership at the main University of Malaya Library and the National Library of Malaysia. I spent time in these institutions reading and collecting resources. I was able to use resources that are not available in New Zealand but are highly relevant to my research. Although many were in Bahasa Malayu (BM) there was plenty of excellent information in English as well.

After four weeks in Kuala Lumpur I spent two weeks in Kuching, the capital of the state of Sarawak on the Island of Borneo. The administration of zakat in this state is slightly different because the collection and distribution of zakat is the responsibility of just one body. Here I had a great interview with the General Manager of Taibung Baitulmal Sarawak as well as another practitioner from the managerial level. As a resident of the INTI College Student Hostel, I was able to usethe College’s Library, which had some great books on Islam, Malaysia, Southeast Asia and politics in this region.

Whilst living in Malaysia I was lucky to meet a colourful assortment of people. There were the students staying in the same student hostels as me, and the academics based in tertiary institutions of international acclaim. I was able to socialise with locals as well as with Alumni from my University (University of Otago). I was helped by locals on the street when lost and by staff of, for example, the HELP Institute and other places I visited. I feel I was exposed to the genuine friendliness, multi-culturalism, and fine cuisine of this unique part of the world.


Fiona's first meal of fresh Malaysian seafood and crab at Port Klang's Restoran Port Village Seafood. She is sitting be-tween Belinda Kon and Stephen Wu, who were her hosts from HELP Institute.


Visiting a Chinese temple in Melaka (Malacca) in the State of Melaka, peninsular Malaysia. The historic port-city of Melaca has a long tradition of cross-cultural exchanges.


Haji Halib Sintol (left) is the Secretary of the Baitulmal (Public Treas-ury), which is the body responsible for the distrib-ution of Zakat in Federal Territory Kuala Lumpur.


Fiona's room at Millenium Court Student Hostel in Petaling, Jaya, Kuala Lumpur.
Vig, Fiona, Chung Ming and Pok Lee - enjoying some local Chinese cuisine