Zakat purifies the giver’s heart and soul of miserliness, greed and selfindulgence and cleanses his wealth from a portion allocated for the impoverished. Though it may seem that paying Zakat would diminish a person’s wealth, it causes the wealth to grow as it promotes circulation of wealth, multiplication of wealth and involves multitudes in its benefits.
Zakat is a fundamental and indispensable system in the Islamic way of living. The religion of Islam, which gives human beings a complete code of life, provides all-inclusive guidance to a person in his social, personal, economic, spiritual and moral life. The institution of Zakat is one such comprehensive system that ensures social security, alleviates poverty, discourages the accumulation of wealth, secures the basic needs of people, promotes benevolence and giving, curtails greed and selfishness, safeguards sustainable development of a society and upholds the dignity of an individual.
The Meaning and Definition of Zakat Literally, in the Arabic language, the word Zakat has multiple meanings. It means purification, growth, betterment, righteousness, praise and blessings. In Islamic terminology, Zakat is defined as an obligatory charity – one of the five pillars of Islam. It is a divine concept of redistribution of wealth among deserving people. Zakat is obligatory on all Muslims who possess wealth at or above a certain limit called Nisaab. One is required to pay zakat only if his assets reach or exceed the Nisaab limit, once in every lunar year on the capital, savings, possession of gold and silver, paper currency, cattle, business activities, farm produce etc. The Qur’an terms Zakat as purification and growth. “Take (O Prophet) from their wealth a charity, thereby purify them and bring about their growth” (Qur’an – 9:103) “As for the Zakah that you give, seeking with it Allah’s good pleasure, that is multiplied manifold” (Qur’an – 30:39)
Zakat purifies the giver’s heart and soul of miserliness, greed and self-indulgence and cleanses his wealth from a portion allocated for the impoverished. Though it may seem that paying Zakat would diminish a person’s wealth, it causes the wealth to grow as it promotes circulation of wealth, multiplication of wealth and involves multitudes in its benefits.
Zakat as a Tool for Poverty Alleviation Poverty has always been a problem in human society. The world at large is today talking about the causes of poverty and is discussing the measures to reduce it at different levels. Most of the poverty alleviation programs in today’s world focus on interest-based microfinancing systems which may show a little positive result in the beginning but eventually burdens the recipients with heavy debts and liabilities throughout their life. On the contrary, the system of Zakat ensures the fulfilment of the basic needs of human beings without burdening them with interests and debts. The main purpose of the system of Zakat is to not only provide the poor with basic needs but also enrich them, remove them from the poverty level and support them to set up means of earning so that they can empower themselves to meet their subsistence needs. Zakat aims at bridging the gap between the rich and poor and improve the quality of life for its recipients. Besides the purpose of purifying the wealth of the payers, Zakat has substantial economic objectives as well. Islam aims at community sustainability and Zakat becomes an excellent tool to achieve it. The establishment of social justice is a unique feature of Zakat. This system puts a check on the accumulation of wealth in any form. The very first thing on which Zakat is calculated is the hoarded riches. This unique feature cannot be found in any other economic system. In Islam, the motivation to assess wealth and pay Zakat year after year is nothing else other than pure God-consciousness. The system of Zakat is to be effectively institutionalized as it is ought to be and was carried out during the time of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), his companions and their successors. The importance of this system was such that Abu Bakr Siddique (RA) declared war on those Muslims who refused to pay Zakat. The purpose of poverty eradication can be achieved only through a systematic collection and distribution of Zakat funds. Islamic governments and Muslim organizations should establish this collective system by which the purpose of sustainability through Zakat is accomplished. It can be managed more efficiently when modern technology is adopted to enhance the benefits and make it more impactful on society. The effectiveness and success of institutionalising the system of Zakat can be seen throughout the early years of Islam. It reached an excellent level during the rule of Umar Bin Abdul Aziz, the Umayyad Khalifa. During his tenure as a ruler, there was a surplus of Zakat funds to the extent that Zakat workers could hardly find a needy person to receive the money.
The Recipients of Zakat Zakat cannot be spent according to the whims and opinions of people. The Qur’an specifically lists the areas where Zakat can be spent. “The alms are meant only for the poor and the needy and those who are in charge thereof, those whose hearts are to be reconciled, and to free those in bondage, and to help those burdened with debt, and for expenditure in the Way of Allah and for the wayfarer. This is an obligation from God. God is All-Knowing, AllWise.” (Qur’an – 9:60)
This verse exclusively mentions eight categories of Zakat beneficiaries; 1. The Poor: The Arabic word for poor here is ‘fuqara’ 8 AURA eMagazine April 2023 which means the ones who depend on others for the necessities of life. They can be poor due to some physical disabilities, old age, unemployment etc. 2. The Needy: The Arabic word for the needy here is ‘masakin’, the destitute whose income is not sufficient to fulfil the basic needs such as food, clothes, shelter, health care, education etc. people who are in greater distress than the needy people usually are. They are the ones who are in need but neither do they beg for help nor show their helplessness in their outward appearance. 3. Those who are in charge thereof: This includes workers who are appointed to collect Zakat, keep accounts, and arrange its distribution. They are to be given their remunerations out of Zakat funds. The mention of this category among the recipients of Zakat indicates that the collection and distribution of Zakat is to be institutionalized and carried out in an orderly manner. 4. Those whose hearts are being reconciled: This category of people can be those who have embraced Islam recently, those that may need to strengthen their loyalty to the faith, those whose evils towards Islam could be warded off or those who would defend Muslims.
5. To free those in bondage: A part of Zakat funds can be spent as ransom to free slaves. This could be done in two ways. A contracted slave can be helped from the Zakat funds to pay his master or the slave could be bought from the master and set free. This provision proved to be a masterstroke in the elimination of slavery. It was one of the several means by which Islam initiated the abolition of slavery. Freeing Muslim prisoners of war also fall under this category. 6. Those burdened with debt: Persons trapped in the clutches of debt come under this category. Those that would be reduced to a state of poverty if the debts are not paid off. 7. In the way of God: This means spending to support the religion of God in all ways, fighting for its cause and spending on numerous outreach activities that are counted as striving for the cause of God. It includes all the struggles and efforts made to educate masses about Islam and address their misconceptions regarding it. To carry out this task there is a dire need for a comprehensive set-up of newspapers, periodicals, TV channels, information technologies etc. Contemporary Muslim scholars believe that the category ‘In the way of Allah’ includes all these endeavours. Sheikh Yusuf Al Qardawi, a renowned Islamic scholar writes in his book ‘Fiqh Az Zakat’ “Another example of fi sabeelillah is the establishment of newspapers which would provide guidance to Muslim men and women in their daily lives and lead Islamic political and social awareness. Issuance of Islamic books is yet another area where striving in way of God can be practised, for it is crucial to reveal the treasures of this religion as a better way of life.” 8. The Wayfarer: Though this category may include numerous types of wayfarers with various problems in brief it can be explained as a traveller who must have been stranded, cut off from his means of wealth or depleted while travelling.
Zakat in the Qur’an The order to pay Zakat is mentioned several times in the Qur’an. While some passages mention zakat and prayer together, there are scores of verses that separately admonish to pay Zakat. A few are as follows;
- Establish Prayer and dispense Zakat. Whatever good deeds you send forth for your own good, you will find them with Allah. Surely Allah sees all that you do. (2:110)
- Establish Prayer and dispense Zakat (the Purifying Alms) and bow in worship with those who bow. (2:43)
- Truly the reward of those who believe and do righteous deeds and establish Prayer and pay Zakat is with their Lord; they have no reason to entertain any fear or grief. (2:277)
- (O Prophet)! “Take alms out of their riches and thereby cleanse them and bring about their growth (in righteousness) and pray for them. (9:103)
- Establish Prayer and pay Zakat and obey the Messenger so that mercy may be shown to you. (24:56)
- Verily those who give alms, be they men or women, and give Allah a beautiful loan shall be repaid after increasing it many times; and theirs shall be a generous reward. (57:18)
Qur’an also mentions the repercussions of ignoring the divine order of Zakat;
- And there are those who amass gold and silver and do not spend it in the Way of Allah. Announce to them the tidings of a painful chastisement. (9:34)
- Those who are niggardly about what Allah has granted them out of His bounty think that niggardliness is good for them; it is bad for them. What they were niggardly about will turn into a halter round their necks on the Day of Resurrection. To God belongs the inheritance of the heavens and the earth; and God is aware of what you do. (3:180)
Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) has extensively articulated the virtues of Zakat in several Ahadith;
- “Allah says, ‘Spend, O son of Adam, and I shall spend on you. The right hand of Allah is full and overflowing and in nothing would diminish it, by overspending day and night” (Sahih Muslim)
- “The best charity is to satisfy a hungry person. He also said, “No wealth (of a servant of Allah) is decreased because of charity.” (Al-Tirmidhi)
- “Every day two angels come down from Heaven and one of them says, ‘O Allah! Compensate every person who spends in Your Cause,’ and the other (angel) says, ‘O Allah! Destroy every miser.” (Sahih Bukhari)
- given wealth and he spends it in the right way, and a person whom Allah has given wisdom (i.e. religious knowledge) and he gives his decisions accordingly and teaches it to the others.” (Sahih Bukhari)
- “There is no envy except in two: a person whom Allah has given wealth and he spends it in the right way, and a person whom Allah has given wisdom (i.e. religious knowledge) and he gives his decisions accordingly and teaches it to the others.” (Sahih Bukhari)
- The Prophet (PBUH) sent Mu`adh (RA) to Yemen and said, “Invite the people to testify that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah, and I am Allah’s Messenger, and if they obey you to do so, then teach them that Allah has enjoined on them five prayers in every day and night (in twenty-four hours), and if they obey you to do so, then teach them that Allah has made it obligatory for them to pay the Zakat from their property and it is to be taken from the wealthy among them and given to the poor.” (Sahih Bukhari)
Zakat and Women There is no act of worship in Islam that is gender specific/biased. Men and women have the same religious duties and responsibilities in Islam. Both face the consequences of their deeds similarly. The Qur’an says; “Never will I allow to be lost the work of any of you, whether male or female, you are of one another… (Qur’an – 3:195). It further says; “Whoever does good and believes -whether he is male or female – such shall enter the Garden, and they shall not be wronged in the slightest.” (Qur’an – 4:124) Accordingly, Islam empowers women to acquire their wealth and manage it. History bears witness to scores of influential Muslim women who owned and managed vast ventures and wealth. While women in Islam are privileged of having enormous financial rights, they are equally responsible to carry out their financial responsibilities on the wealth they own. Islam gives women complete control over the possession and disposal of their riches. Therefore, it becomes obligatory for a woman to pay Zakat on her wealth if it reaches or exceeds the limit of Nisab. Although Islam places the overall financial responsibility of women on the men of the household, men are certainly not obligated to pay Zakat for the property women own. Women are obliged to do it themselves. If men volunteer to pay it on behalf of their women, it will be an act of generosity and charity on their part. However, if they do not volunteer it is the duty of the women who own the wealth to calculate and pay the Zakat due. When a woman has wealth but isn’t earning an income, she is obliged to dispose of a part of her wealth and pay Zakat for it. Such is the gravity of Zakat in Islam.
- Zakat is extremely bountiful and is filled with enormous benefits and blessings.
- Its benevolence encompasses the payers, receivers and society at large.
- The payer fulfils his act of worship and enjoys the tranquillity of purifying his wealth and soul.
- The receiver has a sense of satisfaction as the system of Zakat saves him from the humiliation of begging and establishes human dignity.
- Society is protected from the evil of wealth being concentrated in fewer hands thereby creating solidarity between the haves and have-nots.(24:56)
- The less privileged are purified from being envious and resentful.
- Zakat reduces unemployment and poverty which further reduces social tension, frustration and crimes.
- Annual redistribution of wealth takes place and the rehabilitation of the poor will undergo methodically.
- Arrogance has no place here because the payer knows that Zakat is not a benevolence of the rich to the poor. It is the right of the poor in the riches of the wealthy.
When the system of Zakat is institutionalized it guarantees social security, and a sustainable economy, and creates a loving and dignified bond among the people of the world.