Part III: Charity (Az-Zakat)

Chapter 20

Basic Teachings Regarding Zakat

         To pay Zakat (which is obligatory charity) 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 (Prayer), 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 terminology of Islam, Zakat means a fixed portion of a Muslim’s wealth which he compulsorily gives to the Islamic state for the welfare of the poor or gives to the poor directly for their help. Technically, Zakat is a tax, a compulsory contribution which is collected from the rich and distributed among the poor or spent by the state for the welfare of the needy and helpless. Pickthall defines Zakat as a “Tax at a fixed rate in proportion to the worth of property collected from well –to-do and distributed among the poor Muslims.”  According to Majma, Zakat means “the giving of a legally stated portion of one’s property to a poor Muslim who is not of the Bani Hashim family or their client in such a way as to preclude for the giver any sort of benefit”. According to ‘Al-fiqh Ala al Madhahib Al Arba’ it is “to hand over a particular portion of wealth in given conditions to an eligible person.”

         The Prophet of Islam (PBUH) instructed Hadrat Mu’az, when the latter was sent to Yemen as Governor: “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”. This Hadith of the Prophet (PBUH) shows the nature and purpose of Zakat.

         However, before proceeding to discuss various aspects of Zakat, it would be fair if we reproduce some of the verses of the Quran and Ahadith of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH):-

Verses of the Qur’an

1.             Establish as-Salat, pay az-Zakat and bow your heads with those who bow (in worship). – (Al-Baqarah 2:43)

2.             Establish as-Salat, and pay az-Zakat and whatever of good you send before (you) for your souls, you will find it with Allah. Lo! Allah is Seer of what you do. – (Al-Baqarah 2:110)

3.             It is not righteousness that you turn your faces to the East and the West; but righteous is he who believes in Allah and the Last Day and the Angels and the Scripture and the Prophets: and gives his wealth, for love of Him, to kinsfolk and to orphans and the needy and the wayfarer and to those who ask and to set slaves free; and observes proper prayer and pays the Zakat. And those who keep their treaty when they make one, and the patient in tribulation and adversity and time of stress. Such are they who are sincere. Such are the God-fearing.  – (Al-Baqarah 2:117)

4.             Lo! Those who believe and do good works and establish prayer and pay the Zakah, their reward is with their Lord and there shall no fear come upon them neither shall they grieve.  – (Al-Baqarah 2:277)

5.             Then when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever ye find them, and take them (captive), and besiege them, and prepare for them each ambush. But if they repent and establish worship and pay the poor-due(Zakah), then leave their way free. Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.  – (At-Taubah 9:5)

6.             He only shall tend Allah’s sanctuaries who believeth in Allah and the Last Day and observeth proper worship and payeth the poor-due and feareth none save Allah. For such (only) it is possible that they can be of the rightly guided. – (At-Taubah 9:18)

7.             The alms are only for the poor and the needy, and those who collect them, and those whose hearts are to be reconciled, and to free the captive and the debtor, and for the cause of Allah, and (for) the wayfarers: a duty imposed by Allah. Allah is Knower, Wise.  – (At-Taubah 9:60)

8.             And the believers, men and women, are protecting friends one of another, they enjoin the right and forbid the wrong, and they establish worship and they pay the poor-due, and they obey Allah and His Messenger. As for these Allah will have mercy on them. Lo! Allah is Mighty, Wise. – (At-Taubah 9:71)

9.             Take alms of their wealth, wherewith thou mayst purify them and mayst make them grow, and pray for them. Lo! Thy prayer is an assuagement for them. Allah is Hearer, Knower. – (At-Taubah 9:103)

10.         Those who, if We give them power in the land, establish worship and pay the poor-due and enjoin kindness and forbid iniquity. And Allah’s is the sequel of events. – (Al-Hajj 22:41)

11.         And strive for Allah with the Endeavour which is His right. He hath chosen you and hath not laid upon you in religion any hardship; the faith of your father Abraham (is yours). He hath named you Muslim of old time and in this (Scripture), that the messenger may be a witness against you, and that ye may be witnesses against mankind. So establish worship, pay the poor-due, and hold fast to Allah. He is your protecting Friend. A blessed Patron and a blessed Helper! – (Hajj 22:78)

12.         Successful indeed are the believers, who are humble in their prayers, and who shun vain conversation, and who are payers of the poor-due; and who guard their modesty – (Al-Muminun 23:1-5)

13.         Establish worship and pay the poor-due and obey the messenger, that haply ye may find mercy.  – (An-Nur 24:56)

14.         That which ye give in usury in order that it may increase on (other) people’s property hath no increase with Allah; but that which ye give in charity seeking Allah’s countenance hath increase manifold. – (Ar Rum 30:39)

15.         And they are ordered naught else than to serve Allah, keeping religion pure for Him, as men by nature upright, and to establish-worship and to pay the poor-due. That is true religion. – (Al-Bayyinah 98:5)

Ahadith of the Prophet (PBUH)

         Hadrat Muhammad (Allah’s peace be upon him), the Prophet of Islam, not only established an excellent system of collection and disbursement of Zakat but also made rules and regulations of this levy. Some of his Ahadith are reproduced as follows to highlight his teachings about Zakat:-

1.             Ibn Umar 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 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 a 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 Zakat 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.             Abu Hurairah reported that the Messenger of Allah said: There is no Zakat on a Muslim regarding his slaves, nor regarding his horse. In narration, he said: There is no Zakat regarding his slaves except charity of l’d.  – (Bukhari and Muslim)

8.             Ali reported that the Messenger of Allah said: I have exempted horses and asses (from Zakat). So take Zakat of silver, one dirham from every forty dirhams. There is no Zakat for 190 dirhams. When they reach 200 dirhams, then there are 5-dirham Zakat therefor. – (Tirmizi, Abu Daud)

9.             Ali reported: Zohair said: I take it from the Prophet who said: Bring one-fourth of Ushr, meaning there is one dirham for every 40 dirhams and there is nothing on you till it completes 200 dirhams. So when it comes up to 200 dirhams, there are 5 dirhams due, and what is in excess is upon that (proportionate) account. And as for goats, there is one goat in every forty up to 120; if they increase by one, then up to 200 two she-goats (of one year); if they increase then up to 300 – 3 goats of one year; if they increase over 300, then for every one hundred one she-goat; if you have no more than 39 goats, there is no Zakat due on you regarding them. And about cows, in every thirty is one calf of one year, and in every forty, there is one calf of full two years, and there is no Zakat due for the cattle engaged in labour.  – (Abu Daud)

10.         Mu'az reported that when the Prophet sent him to Yemen, he ordered him to take one male or female yearling for every thirty cattle, and one cow of 2 years old for every 40 cattle. – (Abu Daud, Tirmizi, Nisai)

11.         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)

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

13.         Abdul Mottalib-b-Rabiah reported that the Messenger of Allah said: Surely these Zakat – they are indeed the impurities of men. And they are not lawful for Muhammad, nor for the family of Muhammad.  – (Muslim)

14.         Abdullah-b-Amr reported that the Messenger of Allah said: Zakat is not lawful for the rich, nor for one possessing health and strength. – (Tirmizi, Abu Daud, Darimi, Ahmad, Nisai and Ibn Majah from Abu Hurairah)

Importance and Merits of Zakat

         Zakat is not only a tax but also an act of Ibadah (worship). It is one of the fundamental articles of faith for a Muslim. Zakat is one of the five columns or pillars upon which the entire edifice of Islam is built. Next to Salat (prayer), 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 (prayers). M.A. Mannan in his book Islamic Economics: Theory and Practice, remarks: “Salat (prayer) rouses the feeling of equality and brotherhood between the rich and the poor, the high and the low, and Zakat puts the feeling of brotherhood on a firm footing by making the rich and the capitalists responsible for the maintenance of the poor and the needy. The spiritual and moral values of Islam inculcated by Salat would lose its significance if men did nothing to eradicate poverty for bringing about social justice.” Shaikh Mahmud Ahmad in his book ‘Economics of Islam’ writes: “The spiritual discipline inculcated by prayer would lose its practical significance if men did nothing to organize themselves to root out poverty and bring social injustice. The brotherhood of man is not realized only by bowing together of the ruler and the subject, the lord and the peasant, the factory-owner and the wage-earner shoulder to shoulder before one God, but is established on a firm foundation even outside a mosque where the king and the lord and the factory-owner are made jointly responsible for the elementary necessities of life of the subject and the peasant and the wage-earner.” Whoever wants to enter the brotherhood of Islam shall have to establish regular prayers and pay Zakat regularly. It is obvious that those who want to remain in that brotherhood shall have to pray and pay Zakat. Both the practices are equally fundamental in importance.”

         Besides having religious importance, Zakat also plays very important role in the socio-economic life of the Muslim Ummah. It is the corner-stone of the financial structure of the Islamic state. Zakat not only provides the required funds to Islamic state for its welfare activities in sectors like education, health and social services but also enables it to discharge its obligations regarding its poor and deprived of citizens. In economic sphere, Zakat discourages hoarding and encourages circulation of capital in the national economy. It also prevents the concentration of economic power in the hands of few and ensures fair and equitable distribution of wealth. It checks growing income disparities and bridges the gulf between the rich and the poor. Thus its distribution aspect brings about social justice in the society and protects the community from bloody revolutions and political upheavals which are generally the result of ever growing disparities between the haves and have-nots. By strengthening the purchasing power of the poor, Zakat activates the forces of demand and supply and thus helps the growth of industry in the country. So the employment opportunities increase, national income enhances and the economy of the nation develops. In the social sphere, Zakat brings about equality, brotherhood and fraternity between the rich and the poor and thus cements social bonds and works for national integration.


Zakat and Sadaqat

         ‘Sadaqa’ is derived from ‘Sidiq’ which means the truth. Technically it means to give alms and charity. ‘Sadaqat’ is plural of ‘Sadaqa’ and is used in the Qur’an and the Sunnah to cover all kinds of charity. It is a very wide term which embraces voluntary charity as well as compulsory charity. Zakat is a compulsory charity and thus can be considered as a branch of Sadaqat. Hence Sadaqat is a wider term than Zakat. While every Zakat is Sadaqa, only the Sadaqa which is obligatory is Zakat.

Zakat and Interest

         The Holy Qur’an says: “That which you give in usury so that it may increase on other people’s wealth has no increase with Allah; but that which you give in Zakat seeking Allah’s pleasure, indeed such people will have manyfold increase” (Surah 30 Verse 39). It again says: “Allah destroys usury and gives increase to Sadaqat (Alms and Zakat). And Allah loves not the disbelievers and sinners” (Surah 2 verse 276). So according to the Qur’an, usury or interest causes destruction, whereas Zakat and Sadaqat (given to the poor) cause increase in wealth.

         The golden principle, enunciated by the Quran as narrated above, has been explained by the scholars and the economists as follows: God has prohibited interest  therefore He does not bestow His blessings on those who earn interest on their money given to the needy as loan. The wealth earned by them through interest being an easy and windfall gain is soon lost by these persons on their luxurious style of living. On the other hand, God bestows His blessings on those persons who give their money to the poor and the needy as charity and alms. He increases every penny spent by them on the poor by seven or ten or hundred or seven hundred or seven thousand or seventy thousand or more times as reported in the Qur’an and Ahadith of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). So this phenomena causes decrease in the wealth of those who earn interest on it, and it causes manyfold increase in the wealth of those who spend it in Zakat and alms, at individual level.

         The economists tell us that interest causes destruction of economy at national level also because it deprives the poor of their purchasing poor as they are the people who usually get loans for their personal needs and give interest. Moreover, the interest given by the rich on commercial, industrial and agricultural loans enhances cost of the industrial and agricultural products and pushes their price beyond the capacity of the poor and middle classes. So they donot purchase such goods or purchase in less quantity which causes destruction of industry and agriculture throwing many people out of jobs. On the other hand, money given by the rich in charity to the poor enhances the purchasing power of the poor who are large in number and whose demand for industrial and agricultural goods increases. This causes multiple effects on economy by increasing production of such goods and enhancing employment. Thus interest destroys national economy whereas charity causes growth in it.

Zakat and Tax

         Tax is a compulsory contribution imposed and collected by the state from its citizens to fulfill certain obligations. A levy which fulfils the following conditions is regarded tax by the economists:

1)            It is a compulsory payment.

2)            There is no quid pro quo, and

3)            It is levied on all citizens.

         Zakat fulfils all the three conditions in the case of an Islamic state, whose all citizens are Muslims, but in a state which has got some non-Muslim minorities, Zakat would be collected from its Muslim citizens only and thus it would fulfill the first two conditions and not the third one. Since Zakat fulfils the conditions of a tax, it is considered a tax by many economists. However, to consider Zakat like an ordinary temporal tax would be a gross injustice to this term. Zakat is much more than a tax. It is not only a compulsory levy collected by the Islamic state from its Muslim citizens but also a religious obligation of the Muslims. Thus it is a tax as well as an act of worship for the Muslims.

         Encyclopedia of Seerah underlines the following differences between Zakat and an ordinary tax:-

a)            Zakat is a religious duty and an act of worship, whereas an ordinary tax is only an economic expediency adopted to collect revenue for the State.

b)            Zakat is levied upon the Muslim citizens of the State only, whereas an ordinary tax is generally levied upon all the citizens of the State, irrespective of caste, creed or colour.

c)             Zakat is an obligatory duty upon the Muslims which must be paid under all circumstances and can never be abolished or remitted. An ordinary tax, on the other hand, can be abolished by the Government of the time.

d)            The Nisab or amount of wealth liable for Zakat and the rate of Zakat are determined by the Sunnah and can never be changed by any person or Government. The Nisab and the rate of an ordinary tax, on other hand, can be changed from time to time according to requirements by the Government of the country.

e)            The items of Zakat expenditure and the beneficiaries of Zakat are also prescribed by the Holy Qur’an and the Sunnah and no person or Government has the right or power to change them; whereas ordinary tax expenditure can be changed or modified as required by the Government.

f)              Zakat is collected from the wealthy and is spent on the poor and the needy, while an ordinary tax benefits the rich as well as the poor and may under certain circumstances benefit the former more than the latter.

g)            Zakat, unlike an ordinary tax, is levied not only on money saved but also on commercial goods, agricultural produce, animals, minerals, including gold and silver, and ornaments, etc. But tax is levied on income of persons or on goods or on assets.

h)            Zakat is levied fundamentally to check uneven and inequitable distribution of wealth and concentration of wealth in a few hands, while an ordinary tax is levied mainly for revenue purposes.


Copyright (c) Dr. Muhammad Sharif Chaudhry. All rights reserved. For more information, please contact at alshaufi(at)yahoo(dot)com