What is Zakat?

Zakat is a divine injunction and an ordinance from Allah Himself. It is not a personal matter or a voluntary contribution; rather, it is an obligation for which one will be called to account before Almighty Allah.

Zakat is indispensable as it helps achieve reform, both financially and spiritually. It eliminates misery and greed from hearts and consolidates the Islamic economy, leading to its stability and prosperity.

The Qur’an describes Zakat as:

  1. The means by which to attain Allah’s mercy:

    “My Mercy extends to all things. That (Mercy) I shall ordain for those who have God-consciousness and give their Zakat and those who believe in Our Signs.” (Surah Al-A`raf 7:156).

  2. A precondition to obtain Allah’s help:

    “Allah will certainly aid those who aid His (cause); for verily Allah is Full of Strength, Exalted in Might, (able to enforce His Will). (They are) those who, if We establish them in the land, establish regular prayer and give their Zakat, enjoin the right and forbid wrong: with Allah rests the outcome of all affairs.” (Surah Al-Hajj 22:40-41).

  3. A sign of brotherhood in religion:

    “But (even so), if they repent, establish regular prayers, and give their Zakat, they are your brethren in Faith.” (Surah Al-Taubah 9:11).

  4. A distinctive feature of the faithful community:

    “The Believers, men and women, are protectors one of another: they enjoin what is just and forbid what is evil: they observe regular prayers, pay their Zakat and obey Allah and His Messenger. On them will Allah pour His Mercy: for Allah is Exalted in power, Wise.” (Surah Al-Taubah 9:71).

  5. A distinctive quality of the believers who go to and maintain mosques:

    “The mosques of Allah shall be visited and maintained by such as believe in Allah and the Last Day, establish regular prayers, and pay their Zakat and fear none (at all) except Allah.” (Surah Al-Taubah 9:18).

  6. A distinctive quality of the true believers:

    “Who are active in paying Zakat.” (Surah Al-Mu’minun 23:4).

Objective of Zakat

The objective of Zakat as emphasised in the Quran:

 Take, [O, Muhammad], from their wealth a charity by which you purify them and cause them increase, and invoke [ Allah ‘s blessings] upon them. Indeed, your invocations are reassurance for them. And Allah is Hearing and Knowing.

Allah created the worlds with the objective of worshipping and praising Him. Creation worships Allah using all their faculties and abilities, including physical, mental and material forms of worship. Some financial worships of previous nations required them to feed their material resources to a burning fire. Islam as the final and complete message doesn’t allow wastage of resources. Therefore, all financial worships in Islam find their route to the pockets of the poor and needy.

The inner intention when discharging Zakat should be based on the fulfilment of the Commandments of Allah. The objective is to engage in a specialised form of worship, solely for the pleasure of Allah. The individual who sincerely dispenses his Zakat most definitely becomes the recipient of the promised rewards and benediction of Allah.

 Surah Al-Baqarah (2:276) tells us that: “Allah will deprive usury of all blessing, but will give increase for deeds of charity: For He does not love the one who is ungrateful and wicked.”

The Hadith of the Prophet (peace be upon him) enunciates this concept very beautifully:

 Abdullah bin Abi Aufa narrated: When the people brought Sadaqah to the Prophet (peace be upon him) he used to say, “O Allah! Bless them with your Mercy.” Once my father came with his Sadaqah to him whereupon he i.e. the Prophet (peace be upon him) said. “O Allah! Bless the family of Abu Aufa.”(Bukhari)

When a Muslim pays Zakat, Allah increases his sustenance. Although at a human level it may seem that giving of wealth means reduction of wealth, in reality it is not. At a metaphysical level, Allah blesses the giver of Zakat to an extent that is beyond human perception.

This is very well-defined by the following Hadith:

 “Charity does not diminish wealth.” (Muslim)

 Zakat: The Third Pillar of Islam

 ‘Abd Allah ibn ‘Umar reports that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Islam is based on five (principles): To testify that none has the right to be worshiped but Allah and Muhammad is Allah’s Apostle, to offer the prayers dutifully and perfectly, to pay Zakat, to perform Hajj and to observe fast during the month of Ramadan.” (Bukhari)

As the third pillar of Islam, Zakat is first of all an Ibadah (worship) whose spiritual impact on purification and sanctification is its most important function. In fact, the Qur’an describes the objective of taking Zakat out of their amwal (wealth) as Tathir (purification) and Tazkiyah (sanctification). Tazkiyah also means material and/or spiritual growth.

The fact that a critical objective of Zakat is the attainment of socio-economic justice is not disputed. After all, Islam does not like any form of concentration of wealth or income in a few hands and considers their redistribution by means acceptable in Shari’ah one of the major objectives of the Islamic economic system.

 ‘Abd Allah ibn `Abbas (RA) narrates that when the Prophet (peace be upon him) sent Mu`adh ibn Jabal (RA) to Yemen he told him, “You are going to a people who have a Scripture, so call them to testify that there is no deity but Allah, and that I am the Messenger of Allah. If they respond to this, then teach them that Allah has imposed five Salaah upon them every day. If they respond to this, then teach them that Allah has imposed upon them a charity to be taken from the wealthy amongst them and given to their poor. If they respond to this, then beware of taking any more of their wealth!”

Zakat was understood to be a transfer of a certain portion of wealth from the haves to the have-nots as a duty to Allah.

The Lisan Al-Arab dictionary says: “The root of the word Zakat in Arabic means cleanliness, growth, blessing and praise.” All these meanings of the word are used in the Qur’an and Hadith.

Warning Against the Rejection of Zakat

Several Hadith mention the warning the Prophet (peace be upon him) gave to those who reject the payment of Zakat. His warning of severe punishment in the Hereafter was aimed at awakening dormant hearts and shaking miserly souls to give, both by positive encouragement and fear of punishment. If they do not perform this duty with awakened consciences, the power and authority of the state was used to collect Zakat.

Abu Hurairah (RA) reported:

 The Messenger of Allah said: “He who is given wealth by Allah but he does not pay its Zakat, that wealth is made for him, on the Day of Judgment, into the form of a huge bald serpent with two horns, encircling that person and squeezing him all day, then holding him by lips telling him, ‘I am your wealth, your treasure that you hoarded.”

Then the Prophet (peace be upon him) quoted [Surah Al-Imran 3:180],

 “And let not those who covetously withhold the gift that Allah has given them of His grace think that it is good for them. Nay, it will be worse for them. Soon shall the things which they covetously withheld be tied to their necks like a collar on the Day of Judgment.” (Bukhari)

Not only did the Prophet (peace be upon him) issue a stern warning with regard to the punishment in the Hereafter, but he went on to warn of a punishment in this life as well, both from Allah and from the State.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said:

 “Zakat is never intermingled with any amount of wealth without destroying and rotting it.” (Bukhari). This saying has two meanings according to Al Mundhiri. Firstly, that whenever due Zakat is not paid it will be a cause for ruining that wealth. “Whenever any amount of wealth is destroyed in the land or in the sea it could be because its Zakat was not paid.” (Al-Tabarani). Secondly, if a person who takes Zakat as recipient without deserving that Zakat and mixes it with his wealth, it will be a reason for rotting all his wealth. (Ahmad)

History of Zakat

 Zakat Before the Advent of Islam

The history of Zakat is the same as that of Salaah. It is evident from the Qur’an that like Salaah its directive always existed in the Shari’ah of the previous Prophets. When the Almighty asked the Muslims to pay it, it was not something unknown to them. All the followers of the religion of Ibraham (AS) were fully aware of it. For this very reason:

 Surah Al-Ma’arij (70:25) describes it as “A specified right.”

Thus it was a pre-existing Sunnah which the Prophet (peace be upon him), with necessary reformations, upheld at the behest of the Almighty.

The Qur’an gives examples in several verses telling us how Zakat was imposed on the previous Prophets. For example:

Zakat of Prophet Isma’il (AS):

 “Also mention in the Book (the story of) Isma’il: He was (strictly) true to what he promised, and he was an apostle (and) a prophet. He used to enjoin on his people Salaah and Zakat, and he was most acceptable in the sight of his Lord.”
 [Surah Mariam 19:54-55]

Zakat of the Jews:

 “And (remember) when We made a covenant with the Children of Israel, (saying): Worship none save Allah (only) and be good to parents and to kindred and to orphans and the needy and speak kindly to mankind; and establish Salaah and pay Zakat.” [Surah Al-Baqarah 2:83]

Zakat to the progeny of Prophet Ishaaq (AS) and Prophet Yacob (AS):

 “And We sent them inspiration to do good deeds and to be diligent in the Salaah and pay Zakat.” [Surah Al-Anbiyaa 21:73]

Zakat of Prophet Isa (AS):

 “He said: Lo! I am the slave of Allah. He has given me the Scripture and has appointed me a Prophet. And has made me blessed wheresoever I may be and has enjoined upon me Salaah and Zakat so long as I remain alive.” [Surah Maryam 19:30-31]

 Zakat at the Time of the Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him)

Going back to the first application of Zakat at the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him) is like studying Zakat at its source in order to discover its significance, mode of application and effects, whether social, spiritual or economic.

In Makkah the verses on Zakat were in the general form of voluntary payments and it was left to the faith and the brotherly feelings of individuals to decide what and how much to give in Zakat.

 Surah Al-Ma’arij (70:24-25) advises: “And in whose wealth there is a right acknowledged. For the beggar and the destitute.”

It was only in the second year of Hijrah, some eighteen months after the arrival of the Prophet (peace be upon him) to Madina that Zakat became a Fard or an obligation on Muslims. Madinan verses gave clear directives, ordering the payment of Zakat and since that time the Prophet (peace be upon him) used to send out Zakat workers to collect and distribute the due Zakat.

The Qur’an does not give the definition of Zakatable wealth, except in a few cases, only the general principles are given without the details, e.g:

  • Gold and Silver:

    “And there are those who hoard gold and silver and spend it not in the way of Allah. Announce unto them a most grievous penalty.” (Surah Al-Taubah 9:34)

  • Crops and Fruits:

    “Eat of their fruit in their season, but render the dues that are proper on the day that the harvest is gathered.”(Surah al-An’aam 6:141)

  • Earnings of Trade:

    “O ye who believe, give of the good things which ye have earned.” (Surah Al-Baqarah 2:267)

  • Wealth from beneath the earth:

    “And of that which we have produced for you from the earth.” (Surah Al-Baqarah 2:267)

Furthermore, the Qur’an mentions Zakat in general and the word amwal (i.e. property or wealth or earning) is used as in the verse,

 “Out of their wealth take sadaqah thereby purifying and sanctifying them.” (Surah Al-Taubah 9:103)

and

“In their wealth and properties is the right of the poor, the beggar and he who is in deprivation.” (Surah Al-Dhareyat 51:19)

It is the Sunnah of the Prophet (peace be upon him) that gives us, by example and by directives, details of the general Qur’anic command and converts the theoretical axioms of the Qur’an into a living reality.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) is the one who knows most about what Allah ordained and as such the Sunnah gives us detailed specifications of the kinds of Zakatable wealth, the minimum exempt of each of them and the applicable rates. The Sunnah also gives the details of the categories of people that should receive Zakat.