Meaning and Importance of Zakat

To pay zakat is one of the fundamental articles of faith for a Muslim. Zakat is one of the five columns or pillars upon which the whole edifice of Islam is built. Next to Salat (payer), Zakat is the most important of the religious obligations enjoined on the followers of Islam.

The importance of Zakat in Islam can be judged from this very fact that the Qur’an, the revealed book of Islam, mentions Zakat for more than eighty times, while for twenty seven times commandments regarding Zakat are found in close connection with obligatory Salat (prayer).

The word ‘Zakat’ literally means ‘growth’ or ‘increase’ or ‘nourishment’. Thus Zakat means ‘to grow’, ‘to increase’ or ‘to purify’. Zakat helps the purification of human soul from miserliness, selfishness, lust and greed of wealth and thus it paves the way for its growth and development. The spending of wealth for the sake of Allah purifies the heart of man from the love of materialism and instead inculcates in his heart love of God and love of humanity. Apart from its moral and spiritual effects, Zakat has also many economic and social repercussions. It establishes brotherhood, friendship and fraternity among the rich and the poor. Zakat prevents the concentration of wealth in few hands and ensures its distribution in the hands of many. It also discourages hoarding and brings about the circulation of capital into the national economy. In this way, Zakat ensures the growth of national wealth and promotes national integration and social bonds.

In the days of the Prophet and early Muslim caliphs, Zakat was compulsorily collected by the state as a tax and was spent strictly on the welfare of the poor and destitute as prescribed by the Qur’an. However the later Muslim rulers did not pay their proper attention to its collection on behalf of state and so it became a private charity, each believer paying it at his will to the poor in his locality. Recently the forces of Islamic revival have made several Muslim states to create institutions for collection of Zakat on behalf of government and for spending of it for the cause of the welfare of the poor.


Verses of the Qur’an:

Please refer to al-Qur’an 2:43, 2:110, 2:177, 2:277, 9:18, 9:60, 9:103, 22:41, 23:1-5, 24:56, 30:39, 98:5.

Ahadith of the Prophet:

Some of the Traditions of the Prophet about Zakat are:

1)     Ibn Omar reported that the Holy Prophet said: Islam is built on five things, to bear witness that there is no deity but Allah and that Muhammad (PBUH) is His servant, to keep up prayer, to pay Zakat, to make pilgrimage and to keep fast in Ramadan.   (Mishkat-ul-Masabih)

2)     Ibn Abbas reported that the Holy Prophet sent Mu’az to Yemen saying: Certainly you will come across a people, the People of the Book. Call them to bear witness that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah. If they submit to that, teach them that Allah has made obligatory upon them prayer for five times a day and a night. If they submit to that, teach them that Allah has made obligatory over them Zakat which will be taken from the rich and will be given to the poor among them. If they then obey that, avoid taking the best part of their property and fear the invocation of the oppressed, because between it and Allah, there is no veil.   (Bukhari and Muslim)

3)     Abu Hurairah reported that the Messenger of Allah said: Whomsoever Allah gives wealth but who does not pay its zakat, his wealth will be made to appear to him on the Resurrection day as a huge bald snake having two fangs for it. It will be put round his neck on the Resurrection day and then take hold of him with its two fangs meaning its two jaws. Afterwards it will say; I am your wealth, I am your hidden treasure. Then he recited: And let not those think who are niggardly, the verse.   (Bukhari)

4)     Ibn Omar reported that the Messenger of Allah said: Whoever acquires wealth, there is no Zakt therein till a year passed over it.   (Tirmizi)

5)     Ali reported that Abbas asked the Prophet about advance payment of his Zakat before a year passed. He gave him permission for that.   (Ibn Majah, Abu Daud, Tirmizi) 

6)     Abu Hurairah reported: When the Holy Prophet was dead and Abu Bakr succeeded him, and those who returned to disbelief from desert Arabs returned to disbelief, Omar-bin-al Khattab said to Abu Bakr: How can you fight with the people while the Messenger of Allah said: I have been ordered to fight with the people till they utter: There is no deity but Allah? So whoso utters: there is no deity but Allah, his property and life are under my protection except for its tax, and its account is upon Allah. Abu Bakr said: By Allah I shall surely fight against him who differentiates between prayer and Zakat, because Zakat is a duty on property. By Allah, if they refuse me to deliver young goats which they used to deliver to the Prophet of Allah, I will fight against them inspite of their refusal. Omar said: By Allah, he was not except that I saw that Allah expanded the chest of Abu Bakr for fighting. Then I recognized that it was right.   (Bukhari and Muslim)

7)     Amr-bin-Shuaib reported from his father from his grandfather who said that two women came to the Holy Prophet with two bangles of gold in their hands. He asked them: Have you paid its Zakat? ‘No’, replied they. The Holy Prophet then asked them. Do you both like that Allah will dress you with bangles of Hell? ‘No’ replied they. He said: Then pay its Zakat.   (Tirmizi)

8)     Samorah-bin-Jundab reported: The Messenger of Allah used to direct us to collect Zakat from that which we counted as merchandise.   (Abu Daud) 

Rules and Regulations

            The prophet of Islam (PBUH) instructed Mu’az, when the latter was sent to Yemen as Governor: “Teach them that Allah has made obligatory over them Zakat which will taken from the rich and will be given to the poor among them.” This Hadith of Prophet (PBUH) explains the nature and purpose of Zakat.

            The rules and regulations of Zakat as laid down by the Muslim jurists in the light of the Qur’an and the Sunnah are:

1.      Zakat is imposed on the wealth of a person who is (a) Muslim (b) adult (c) sane (d) free and (e) solvent. However, Zakat is also payable on the wealth of a minor as well as on the wealth of an insane person but it is paid by the guardian. As it is a religious duty, it is obligatory on a Muslim only and no non-Muslim is obliged to pay it. A slave and insolvent debtor is also not liable to its payment.

2.      Nisab of Zakat or the minimum limit of wealth which attracts liability of Zakat has  been fixed at various levels in case of different categories of wealth. Nisab in case of gold is 20 Misqal or 7.5 tolas or 3 ounces or 85 grams. In case of silver, it is 200 Dirhams or 52.5 tolas or 21 ounces or 612 grams. In case of camels, it is 5 in number. In case of cows, it is 30 and in case goats and sheep, it is 40 in number. Articles of trade and general merchandise qualify for Zakat when their value is equal to Nisab of silver.

3.      Rate of Zakat in case of gold and silver is 2.5%, in case of cattle wealth it varies between 1% to 2.5%, while in case of articles of trade it has been fixed at 2.5%. Assets of modern times like shares and stocks, cash and coins, deposits in banks, investments and debentures, etc. are also charged to Zakat at the rate of 2.5%.

4.      No Zakat is due on property before a Lunar year elapses. Ibn Umar reported that the Messenger of Allah said: “Whoever acquires wealth, there is no Zakat therein till a year passed over it” (Tirmizi). For the purpose of Zakat, the Muslim financial year begins with the month of Ramadhan. Advance payment  of Zakat is also permitted like the advance payment of Income Tax these days. Deduction of Zakat at source is also allowed.

5.      Properties which were subjected to Zakat in the early Islamic State included gold and silver, animal wealth, articles of trade, etc. During the reign of Caliph Umar, horses were also subjected to Zakat when they were bred and traded on a larger scale.

Industrial revolution and technological development have brought in their wake certain properties and assets which were not known in the early days of Islam such as: industrial machinery, bank or currency notes, bank deposits, bonds, securities, shares, stocks, debentures, certificates of credit, bills of exchange, insurance policies, provident funds, certificates of investments, etc. Modern jurists and scholars of Islam are almost unanimous that these assets are chargeable to Zakat in an Islamic State.   

6.      The following properties and assets have been exempted from the levy of Zakat:

               i).     Personal effects like clothes, articles of furniture, household goods except ornaments and utensils of gold and silver.

              ii).     Horses and asses for conveyance or Jihad.

            iii).     Arms or weapons for personal use.

            iv).     Cattle employed in farming or transportation of goods.

             v).     Tools of a professional for his personal use.

            vi).     Residential house.

           vii).     Slaves and servants.

         viii).     Books.

            ix).     Food for the owner and his family.

              x).     Agricultural land and factory building and machinery etc.

7.      Zakat cannot be lawfully paid to members of the tribe of Hashim who was the great grand-father of the prophet of Islam. It cannot be paid to Non-Muslims. Servants and slaves are also not eligible for Zakat when it is paid to them in consideration of their services. A person possessing Nisab property is also not eligible for it. One’s ascendants and descendants are also not eligible for Zakat. A husband cannot pay Zakat to his wife. Similarly, according to some jurists Zakat cannot be spent on the construction of a mosque. However, it can be paid to the charitable institutions, according to most of the jurists. 

8.      Zakat is levied only on what remains after satisfaction of one’s basic necessities. Wealth for Zakat is computed after deducting the amount of debt which the assessee owes to others. All the wealth and assets owned by an assessee are not clubbed together for the purpose of Zakat because every category of wealth has its own Nisab and its own rate. In case of joint ownership of wealth, the share of each partner is considered separately. Zakat can be collected or paid in kind or cash, whichever method is convenient. Zakat on visible or apparent wealth is assessed and collected by the Islamic state but in case of invisible or non-apparent assets, Zakat can be assessed and determined by the Zakat payer himself. However, in this case also Zakat should be paid to the State.

9.      Zakat or Sadaqa levied on the agricultural produce is called Ushr. It is levied at the rate of 10% of the produce in case of rain-irrigated land and at 5% in case of land irrigated by artificial means of irrigation such as tube-well. Nisab or minimum amount of produce which attracts Ushr is 5 vasqa or 948 kg. Wheat, barley, honey, fruits (like dates and grapes) are liable to Zakat. However, views differ about Zakat on vegetables and fodder.

10.   Any Muslim who is poor and who does not possess wealth equal to Nisab is eligible for Zakat. To determine eligible persons for Zakat please see “Application of Zakat Funds”.

Application of Zakat Funds

The Holy Quran prescribes eight heads of expenditure in respect of Zakat revenues in its verse 60 of Chapter 9 which reads: “The alms are only for the poor and for the needy, and for those who collect them, and for those whose hearts are to be reconciled, and to free the captives, and to free the debtors, and for the cause of Allah, and for the wayfarers. That is the duty imposed by Allah; and Allah is Knower, Wise.”

Now let us discuss the categories or classes of persons on which Zakat Funds can be spent.

I.         The poor:        The word ‘faqir’ means a poor person who has no means or insufficient means to live on. The legists have held that the word faqir includes:

1)         All poor persons who need help to pull on.

2)         Incapacitated or physically disabled individuals who cannot earn.

3)         Helpless persons like orphans, widows, old and unemployed.

4)         Muhajireen or refugees who are forced to leave their homeland and their belongings under oppression or persecution and they seek refuge in another land.

5)         Students, teachers, preachers etc. who have dedicated their lives for the cause of learning and Islam and have no time or means to earn for their survival.

6)         Persons who are overtaken by some calamity like flood, earthquake, war, storm cyclone etc.

II.        The Needy:     The word ‘Masakin’ which is plural of word ‘Miskin’ is again not defined. It is a derivative of word ‘Maskanat’, which according to Syed Abul Ala Maududi, means humility, helplessness and disgrace. ‘Masakin’, in fact, are those persons who are very needy and indigents. Having nothing with them to live on, they are forced to resort to begging in order to eat and cover their bodies. They are perhaps in a worse condition than the ‘fuqara’ because of their poverty and hardship. However, for practical purposes, the difference between ‘faqir’ and ‘Miskin’ is not of much significance. 

Since the Qur’an mentions the ‘masakin’ in close proximity with near relatives and orphans, it has been held that close and near relatives who are poor and needy, enjoy preferential claim on one’s Zakat and Sadaqat. According to a tradition reported in Abu Daud, Hadrat Abu Hurairah asked the Messenger of Allah, which charity is the best? The Prophet (PBUH) said: “The charity of the needy. And begin with one who is a kinsman”. Again, it has been reported by Solaiman-b-A’mer that the Holy Prophet said: “Alms to a poor man has one merit, merit of charity, but alms to a Kinsman has two merits, merit of charity and merit of connection” (Ibn Majah, Tirmizi, Nisai). If everyone looks after his poor relatives, poverty would be alleviated because every poor man has some relative who is rich. 

III.      The Collectors:           ‘Aamileen’ or collectors are those employees of the Islamic state who have been entrusted with the assessment, collection, management, preservation and disbursement of Zakat and keeping of its accounts. They fall under the category of the beneficiary of Zakat funds. So the salaries, allowances and the emoluments of state officials engaged in the administration of Zakat are a charge upon the Zakat revenues.

            It would be very pertinent to point out here that the very fact of application of Zakat funds on the emoluments of Zakat collectors, establishes beyond any doubt that Zakat is a state levy and the Quran makes it an obligatory duty of the state to collect and administer it. It is not a private charity as some people hold it.

IV.       Persons whose hearts are to be reconciled:          this is the fourth head of expenditure of Zakat revenues. Zakat Funds can be applied to benefit those persons whose hearts need reconciliation.

According to the jurists and scholars of Islam, following classes of persons are included in ‘Muallefa-tul-quloob’:

1)     Infidels and enemies of Islam whose active hostility needs to be reconciled or neutralized as they can be harmful to the cause of Islam.

2)     People converted to Islam whose faith is still weak and there is apprehension that they would relapse into infidelity if they were not provided financial assistance.

Whether this head of expenditure still exists or not, the jurists have no unanimous view. According to the Hanifi school of thought, this head of expenditure stands abolished after the death of the Prophet (PBUH).

V.         Freeing of Captives Slavery has been a great curse for humanity and Islam took many steps to remove this curse. Islam not only gave rights to the slaves but also encouraged the affluent believers to purchase the slaves and set them free. An important charge on the Zakat revenues is to help the slaves in getting their freedom.

VI.       Debtors:         Another important charge on the Zakat fund is to help the debtors in paying off their debts. Debtors who are to be helped from Zakat are those who do not possess wealth worth Nisab over and above their debt. In other words, if these debtors pay off their whole debt from their own means, they are left with an amount less than the minimum level which attracts Zakat.

According to the Jurists, only following categories of debtors are to be helped in discharging their debt obligations:  

1)      Those who incurred the debts for genuine needs e.g. for buying necessities of life, for wedding their daughters, etc.

2)      Those who incurred the debts by helping other people e.g. by standing surety for others, by bringing about peace between combatants or by composing feuds between hostile tribes.

3)      Those who made every effort to discharge their liabilities of debts by affecting all possible means but failed to do so.

However, those debtors who incurred the debts for indulging in luxuries, or for unlawful acts like gambling or drinking, or for extravagance, would not be helped by the Islamic state.

VII.     The Cause of Allah:   Fi Sabil Allah means in the way of Allah or for the cause of Allah. This is the seventh head of expenditure of Zakat funds. This head of expenditure is very wide and the allocation of funds made under this head covers all acts of pity and virtuous deeds. Generally speaking, Zakat funds under this head can be applied to the following acts:

1.      Hospitals and medical aid centres can be maintained to provide relief to sick and wounded, especially to the poor patients.

2.      Educational institutions can be established to provide education to those who cannot otherwise afford it.

3.      Charitable institutions, orphan houses, social work centres etc. can be established or financially assisted.

VIII.    The Wayfarers:          Ibn-us-Sabil is the traveller or wayfarer. Expenditure for the relief and welfare of the travellers is another charge on the Zakat revenues of an Islamic state. Funds allocated under this head can be used for the following purposes:-

1)     The wayfarer, though he may be rich at his home, can be helped financially provided he needs such assistance to complete his journey.

2)     Facilities and comforts may be provided to the wayfarers such as meals, rest houses, baths, etc.

3)     Roads and bridges can be built and their repair or maintenance can be undertaken.

4)     Means of communication, traffic and transport can be improved.




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