(From left) Advocate Shahid Ansari and Gulzar Azmi at the Jamiat office
(From left) Advocate Shahid Ansari and Gulzar Azmi at the Jamiat office

The month of Ramzan is one of the most important ones in the Islamic calendar, and for more reasons than just the dawn to dusk fast. During this month, Muslims also donate the mandatory annual charity called Zakat, usually to an organisation that works closely with the needy.

One such organisation is the Jamiat Ulema, which spent over Rs 1.2 crore on education relief in 2016-17 alone, including school fees for underprivileged children and scholarships for meritorious students. The national organisation that was set up in 1919 has been putting the amount collected via zakat to many charitable causes. "The first word from the Quran that was revealed to the Prophet was Iqra (read). And, therefore, the emphasis on education is high," said Gulzar Ahmed Azmi, general secretary (legal), Jamiat Ulema.

Keeping kids in class
The Jamiat gets thousands of applications seeking scholarships and educational grants. The organisation has an internal assessment team that screens the applications before short-listing the final candidates. In 2015, the Jamiat’s expenditure on educational aid was Rs 45 lakh, and the amount has more than doubled in two years.

Legal eagles
In addition to educational aid, the Jamiat has also been providing legal aid to undertrials who are unable to afford the services of a lawyer. Some of the cases and trials that the Jamiat has funded over the years are the Malegaoan blasts (2006) case, Aurangabad arms haul case, Mumbai train blasts trial (2006). Nine accused were let off in the Malegaon case, while one was acquitted in the train blasts case. Since 2007, the Jamiat has provided legal aid to over 550 accused and seen over 75 acquittals in trials across the country.

In the last year, the Jamiat has turned up a bill of Rs 1.7 crore in legal fees alone. Recently, the Jamiat scored another acquittal in the case of Gulzar Wani, who was accused of involvement in the Sabarmati Express blast in 2000. The court in Barabanki, UP, acquitted Wani in May 2017, after he had languished in different jails for over 16 years. Coming down heavily on the state, the court observed, "Cognisance of the case was taken illegally. The chargesheet was filed without proof."

Gulzar Azmi added, "The Jamiat has been providing legal aid since 1947. Post Partition, many innocents were picked up and arrested. The Jamiat came forward and provided them with lawyers to defend them."

Advocate Shahid Ansari said, "Every accused is innocent until proven guilty, and has the right to a lawyer. Often such accused are unable to engage a lawyer for lack of financial support. Our legal team comes to the aid of such people."