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Zakat (Obligatory Charity)
Mohamed Helal 265

Zakat (Obligatory Charity)

Poor’s Due Money (Zakat)[1]
 

     Zakat is one of the financial acts of worship in Islam. It means to provide help to the poor so as to meet their needs, and to public interest projects to be realized and achieved. It is an act of worship that is mandatory for the well-off in what exceeds their household needs. Zakat is obligatory with regard to cash, business profit, cattle, and crops, when any of these reaches a certain minimum amount estimated by jurists. Zakat with cash is paid once a year, while Zakat on crops is paid upon the harvest of each crop. [2]

     As an act of worship, Zakat is an individual duty prescribed on all able persons. Denial of Zakat is regarded as a serious deviation from the right path of Islam. Muslims unanimously agree that Zakat is compulsory and the Prophet Muhammad’s companions, may God be pleased with them, agreed on opposing those who deny it. Enjoining Zakat by Islamic legislation was gradual and ranged between absolute, general, optional and restricted specified obligatory spending. In its early phase in Mecca’s society, the Ever-Glorious Qur’an urged Muslims by various means to spend for the sake of God in general without specifying a certain amount or a certain kind of wealth to be spent. When Muslims settled in Medina and established a well-organized state, Zakat was ordained as a pillar of Islam and as a specific act of worship whose denial entails punishment.

Zakat was always accompanied with the obligatory acts of Oneness of God and prayers. Those three acts of worship have become the symbol of brotherhood in faith. Of the Qur’anic verses that prove this brotherhood are the following:

“So, in case they repent, and keep up the prayers, and give Zakat , then they are your brethren in religion” (Qur’an, 9: 11).

“In case they repent, and keep up the prayers, and pay Zakat , then let them go [safely] their way.” (Qur’an, 9: 5)

     Zakat is an act of worship that purges the believing Muslim from the maladies of misery and stinginess, covetousness and hunger for wealth. It accustoms one to preferring the love of God and seeking His pleasure to the love for wealth and the passion for amassing riches and spending money on trivial pleasures. Zakat also has an effective influence on cultivating a sense of sympathy for the poor and the needy, sharing wealth with them and enabling their households to avoid the risks of deprivation and starvation. In this sense it is a remedy for the hearts of the rich from cruelty, cupidity and greed. It is also a cure for the hearts of the poor from grudge, envy and jealousy of what the well-off community possesses.

     Moreover, Zakat has a considerable effect on fighting poverty in society and alleviating the pains of poor people’s misery and suffering. It signifies thanksgiving to God for bestowing His grace of wealth to His servants. While the physical acts of worship are thanksgiving to God for the grace of health and wellbeing, the financial acts of worship are an expression of gratitude to God for the provision and possessions.

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What is the wisdom behind the obligation of zakāh (the poor’s due)? And what is its nişāb[3]?[4]
 

     Stinginess is an old sign of imperfection in the human nature. It results from man’s love for himself, his concern for his own interest, and his look of uncertainty to the future. So, he tries to save as much as he can and gather more and more wealth for himself.

     The religion of Islam does not require man to hate himself or to act against his own interests. However, it disapproves man’s indifference to the others’ needs, feelings, and rights. Perhaps such human thoughtfulness is what tells man apart from an animal.

     An animal’s behavior is often driven by the laws of pleasure and pain; it would kill another animal for the mere reason of getting food for itself and its young ones whose lives are essential for the survival of its species. That is what the whole world is about for an animal.

     A man who degrades to such a state of animals spends all his entire life within the limits of his own needs and desires and thus his ideal maxim in this life becomes something like, “I must survive and let the whole world go to hell”.

     However, Islam has come to free man from this egotism and make him a part and parcel of a larger entity that represents one body. In so doing, Islam teaches man that loving others, showing mercy to them, and caring about their interests are a prerequisite for faith. Moreover, Islam emphasizes that faith would require man to have a sense altruism and giving out without reminders of his favors to others. Allah the Most Exalted says,

“Whoever is protected against the avarice of his ego, then those are the ones who prosper.” (Qur’an 64: 16)

“But the most pious will soon be made to avoid it (Hellfire). He who gives from his wealth to purify himself. Not giving anyone who has done him any favor to be recompensed, except for the sake of his Lord, Most Exalted.” (Qur’an, 92: 17-20)

     On reflection, we find that a person’s love for himself and his indifference to others’ needs would push him to fulfil his own needs at the expense of the suffering of other people who are deprived of their basic needs. In my entire life, I have never seen anything that breeds grudges like selfishness; it would turn people into a pack of wild hyenas.

In fact, the wave of hatred against religion in the societies that adopted Marxism was a direct consequence of such unfair imbalance in their life; protesters had not a grudge against the divine existence as much as they had against the hypocrisy and greed of their priests and the injustice inflected upon the suffering categories of the population. The Glorious Qur’an shows how such greedy priests are the main cause of people’ disbelief and that their acts avert people from the way of Allah:

“O you who have believed, surely many of the scholars and monks indeed eat up the riches of humankind untruthfully and bar from the way of Allah; and (so do) the ones who hoard gold and silver but do not expend them in the way of Allah. Then give them the tidings of a painful torment.” (Qur’an, 9: 34)

     Therefore, zakāh aims to purify the ego from its instinct sense of meanness and instills feelings of love, mercy and brotherliness into peoples’ hearts. Before one should pay out the obligatory charity from his wealth, he should make sure that he has given the laborers he hires their due wages and financial rights. Unfortunately, I have seen some people who share with other people their profits under false pretexts. I have seen an Arab man who would bring ten migrant laborers only to take half of their salaries. Indeed, Islam is absolutely innocent of such greed and unlawful takeover of people’s money.

     After the divine rulings of lawful and unlawful practices and the principles of justice have been well-established within the society, zakāh starts to play its crucial role as it redresses any imbalance that may arise. As such, zakāh promotes values of compassion and harmony among people. It is considered a means to purify one’s ego and the whole society before it becomes a means to provide the needy with financial aids. Allah Almighty says,

“Take of their riches a donation to purify them and to cleanse them thereby and pray for them; surely your prayer is tranquility for them. Allah is Ever-Hearing, Ever-Knowing.” (Qur’an 9: 103)

     There is not a religious system that pays such attention to zakāh and charity as Islam does. There are numerous texts from the Glorious Qur’an and the Prophet’s Sunnah that talk about zakāh. One feels that Islam uses zakāh as a means of spreading goodness, relieving distress and affliction, and bringing a happy smile to every face.

     Since ancient times, people hated giving out of their money and wealth and wished if their wealth would remain untouched and be kept solely for themselves. Yet, Islam resists this desire. It may even allow fighting those who insist on withholding obligatory charities until they return to the command of Allah. So did the first Muslim Caliph [Abu Bakr]. But will that need to happen once again?

     Al-Aḥnaf ibn Qays reported that, “While I was sitting with some people from Quraysh, Abu Dharr stood in front of us and said, ‘Inform those who hoard wealth that a stone will be heated in the Hell-fire and will be put on the nipples of their breasts till it comes out from the bones of their shoulders.’ A deep silence fell upon the people and no one uttered a word. After saying that, Abu Dharr retreated and sat by the side of a pillar. I followed him and said to him, ‘I think the people disliked what you had said.’ He said, ‘These people do not understand anything, although my friend (the Prophet, PBUH) said (to me), ‘Do you see the mountain of ˀUḥud?' I said, ‘Yes!’ He said, ‘I do not love to have gold equal to the mountain of ˀUud except to spend it all (in Allah's cause) except three Dinars. These people do not understand and they only collect worldly wealth.’”

     In another narration Abu Dharr reported, “I went to the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) and he was sitting under the shade of the Kaʻba. As he saw me he said, ‘By the Lord of the Kaʻba, they are the losers.’ I came there till I sat and I could not stay longer and then stood up. I said, ‘Messenger of Allah, dearest to me than my parents, who are they (the losers)?’ He said, ‘They are those having huge amounts of wealth. The only exception is those who spend their wealth generously on whoever they find around who is in need; and they are few. No owner of camels, cattle, goat or sheep, who does not pay zakāh would be spared punishment. These animals would come on the Day of Resurrection wearing more flesh and would gore him with their horns and trample him with their hooves. When the last one would pass, the first one would return (to trample him again) till judgment would is settled among people.’”

     The above-mentioned prophetic ḥadīth urges every Muslim to pay the obligatory charity, which is the right of the needy and the poor, and calls Muslims’ attention to the imbalance that may arise in their society in order to quickly address it. This ḥadīth actually goes in line with the following verse in which Allah, Glory be to Him, says,

“The ones who expend their riches by night and day time secretly and in public, then they have their reward from the Providence of their Lord, and no fear will befall them, neither will they grieve.” (Qur’an, 2: 274)

     It should be noted that the required spending in charity is not such that a person should spend all his wealth until he becomes a bankrupt or a needy person like those who need his charity. What is rather meant is that a person resists his natural tendency towards meanness and supports the needy ones. Jābir ibn Abdullah, may Allah be pleased with him, reported that “A man brought some gold equal in weight to an egg, and said, ‘Messenger of Allah, I have got this from a mine; take it; it is charity. I have no more than this. The Messenger of Allah (PBUH) turned away from him. Then he came to him from his right side and repeated the same words. But he (the Prophet, PBUH) turned away from him again. He then came to him from his left side and repeated the same words. But he avoided him. He then came to him from behind. The Messenger of Allah (PBUH) took it and threw it away. Had it hit him, it would have hurt him or wounded him. The Messenger of Allah (PBUH) said, “One of you brings all that he possesses and says, ‘This is a charity’. Then he sits down and spreads his hand before the people (in request of help). The best charity is that which leaves one with competence.”

I wanted to explain this issue because some people said that Abu Dharr believed it was unlawful for a Muslim to save any gold and advised a Muslim to spend all his wealth in charity. In fact, there is a specified rate set by the Prophetic Sunnah for a Muslim to pay as zakāh. It is only 2.5% of one’s savings and business merchandise, 5% of the crops that require much labor and expenses, and 10 % of the crops that are easier to grow and irrigate. For the leased agricultural land, I opt for the opinion that its zakāh should be shared between the landlord and the tenant. I also opt for the juristic opinion that zakāh must be paid from all kinds of crops produced by the land, whether grains, vegetables, or fruits.

     The new changes which have been recently introduced to the matters of finance and wealth require us to revisit the traditional rulings of zakāh. For instance, the traditional ruling, we have studied earlier in our life, does not require a minister to pay zakāh from his salary as long as he spends all of it to fulfill his needs while they oblige a farmer who grows an acre of barely to pay zakāh from it on the harvest day. Furthermore, most of the earlier Muslim jurists held the view that zakāh is not payable from an acre of fruit trees although it would yield a fortune while they insisted that zakāh must be paid from the crop of an acre that yields one quarter of the acre of fruit trees.

     I have called people’ attention to such an interesting variation in the first book I have authored under the rubric Zakāt ul-Māl wa Zakātu l-Dakhl (Zakāh on Wealth and Income). It was a short reference to the changes which should be introduced to some jurisprudence rulings concerning zakāh, particularly that zakāh h is not an unchangeable obligation but rather one that is correlated with wisdom behind it and a set of renewable interests it must maintain.

     In reality, a committee including both economists and Islamic jurisprudence scholars must be formed immediately to translate the old terminology used in zakāh-related rulings into their temporary equivalents. For instance, such committee should show how much twenty weights of gold, two hundred dirhams made of silver, or five wasaqs (measurement units of volume used during the early Islamic era) of grains are in nowadays terms. And what impact does inflation have on the nişāb?

There is no doubt that the obligation of zakāh is such a wonderful pillar of our great religion of Islam. Over ages, it has protected the Muslim communities against many setbacks. Yet, it requires more investigation, wise applications and an accurate calculation of its rates to be handed over to those entitled to receive them in the most honorable manner.


[1] Prof. Aḥmad Muḥammad Aṭ-Ṭayyeb, Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, “Essential Features of Islam”, Al-Azhar Center for Translation (ACT), 2017, p. 123.

[2] Shaltout, p. 92.

[3] It is the minimum amount that a Muslim must have in his possession before being obliged to pay zakāh.

[4] Muḩammad El-Ghazāli, “A Hundred Questions on Islam”, Al-Azhar Center for Translation (ACT), 2017, p. 418.

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