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What is the Zakah?

Islām enjoins two types of obligations on man: obligations due to Allāh, and obligations due to his fellow men. The Salāh (the prescribed prayer) prepares man to fulfill his obligations to Allāh, and Zakāh instills in him a deep consciousness and urge to fulfill his obligations to his fellow men.

What is the Zakah?

The Arabic word, Zakāh, literally means to purify, to develop and cause to grow, but according to the Sharī`ah, it is a prescribed form of charity. Every Muslim who possesses property equal to or exceeding a stipulated minimum must offer a requisite portion of it to the deserving poor and needy Muslims.

The payment of the Zakāh purifies and cleanses one's wealth. It is blessed by Allāh in this world, and the giver will be rewarded abundantly in the Hereafter, insha' Allāh.

The Merit and Significance of the Zakah

The Zakāh is the third important pillar of Islām, next only to Īmān (affirmation of Faith) and the Salāh in merit. The Qur'ān mentions them in this sequence, and the ahadīth confirm this order of importance.

According to 'Abdullāh ibn 'Abbās (R), when the Rasūlullāh S deputed Mu'adh ibn Jabal (R) to Yemen as governor, he instructed him thus:

"You are going to the people who were given a Divine Book. You should first invite them to the creed of Islām: There is no god but Allāh, and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allāh. When they have affirmed this, tell them that Allāh has enjoined on them to offer Salawāt five times a day; when they have affirmed this too, tell them that Allāh has prescribed for them charity (the Zakāh, which will be collected from their rich and distributed among their needy and indigent, and when they have affirmed this too, make it a point not to extract from them their most precious things in the Zakāh; and guard yourself against the curse of the oppressed, for there is no barrier between the oppressed and his God.

(Sahīh Muslim).

The Nature of the Zakah

When a Muslim willingly gives away a portion of his wealth seeking the pleasure of Allāh, it purifies his heart, cleansing it of worldly greed and replenishing it with the freshness, grace and purity of Divine love. Giving Zakāh is not a mere service to humanity; it affirms ones faith and love for Allāh. Therefore, it is an integral part of spiritual growth for the sincere believer, and the inherent satisfaction that comes with it is its own reward. Although the Sharī`ah has prescribed a minimum exemption limit for Zakāh, there is no upper limit. In fact, the Sharī`ah encourages charitable donations and actions above and beyond what is required. The practice of Rasūlullāh S and his Sahjābah (R) confirms this.

According to Anas (R) a man came to Rasūlullāh (S) begging for assistance. At the time, Rasūlullāh (S) owned a flock of goats so large that it filled a whole valley. He gave away the entire flock to this beggar. When the man returned to his tribe, he reported:

"O People, Embrace Islām, for Muhammad gives away everything he has, without the least fear of becoming penniless himself."

(Kashf al-Mahjūb)

Another time, a needy person came to the door of Imām Husain (R) and said:

"O son of the Prophet (S)! I need 400 dirhams."

The Imām promptly went home and brought back 400 dirhams and gave the money to the needy person. To everyone's surprise, the Imām had tears in his eyes. When asked why he was crying, he replied: "I weep because I should have given him the amount before he had to beg for it. I should not have given him the trouble to come to me and beg for it."
(Kashf al-Mahjūb)

According to an account by 'Ā'ishah R,

"Once, a goat was slaughtered in our home. When Rasūlullāh (S) came, he asked: 'Is any of the meat left in the house?' I said, 'Nothing except a foreleg!' Rasūlullāh (S) remarked: 'Nay! All except the foreleg (because that alone will be of some worth in the Hereafter!).'"

(Sahīh at-Tirmidhī)

'Asmā' (R), daughter of Abū Bakr (R), said that Rasūlullāh (S) advised her:

"Spend freely and generously in the way of Allāh and do not count and calculate what you have to give away. If you do that, Allāh will give you likewise; do not withhold your wealth unnecessarily, otherwise Allāh will treat you likewise and will not bestow on you without measure."

(Sahīh al-Bukhārī, Sahīh Muslim)

Abū Hurairah (R) reports that Rasūlullāh (S) said :

"Allāh SWT speaks to every human being to the effect; 'Son of Adam! Spend freely in My way: I shall bestow freely on you (from My infinite treasures!)."

(Sahīh al-Bukhārī and Sahīh Muslim)

Abū Dharr (R) reported:

"One day, I went to Rasūlullāh (S) at a time when he as resting in the shade of the Ka'bah. Upon seeing me, he said: 'By the Lord of the Ka'bah! Those people are certainly in serious loss!' I asked, 'May my father and mother be sacrificed for you, who are those in serious loss?' He replied, 'The well-to-do people, but not those who expend their wealth in front of them and behind them, to the right of them and to the left of them, in the way of Allāh, though such people are indeed very few."

(Sahīh al-Bukhārī, Sahīh Muslim)

The Importance and Excellence of the ZakĀh

The importance of the Zakāh is mentioned thirty-two times in the Qur'ān. It is cited as among the foremost duties of Muslims, second only to Īmān and Salāh. These three obligations serve to complement and support each other in developing individual faith and spirituality. That is why the Qur'ān presents Islām as a combination of the 'alāh, the Zakāh, and a testimony of faith in the oneness of God. A person who submits his body and soul in complete obedience to Allāh in prayer is not likely to ignore the commandments of Allāh outside the mosque. Similarly, a person who experiences satisfaction in the benevolent act of charity in the way of Allāh cannot be expected to disregard and violate the rights of his fellow human beings in any context.

In Sūrah at-Tawbah, despite His displeasure with the idolators, Allāh tells the Muslims that if the sinners give up their idolatrous ways and establish the Salāh and pay the Zakāh, they should be regarded as brethren in faith and should be accorded the same status in the society as the other Muslims enjoy:

"...if they repent even now, and establish the Salāh and pay the Zakāh dues, then they shall be your brethren in faith."

(At-Tawbah 9:11)

Thus, according to this verse, the 'alāh and the Zakāh are the distinguishing features of a true Muslim. Conversely, refusing to pay the Zakāh is a characteristic of unbelievers, those who do not believe in the Hereafter and who lack true faith.

During the Khilāfah of Abū Bakr (R), certain tribes refused to pay the Zakāh. He regarded their resistance an act of apostasy and declared: "If these people withhold even a kid from the Zakāh dues that they used to pay in the time of Rasūlullāh (S), I shall wage war against them."

'Umar (R) differed with the Khalīfah, arguing: "How can you wage war against them while they profess faith in the Kalimah (creedal statement of Islām)? Has not Rasūlullāh (S) specified: 'The life and property of the one who pronounces Lā ilāha illa (A)llāh stands secure?" To this, the Sahābī retorted firmly:

"By God! I shall certainly wage war against the people who discriminate between the Salāh and Zakāh."
(Sahīh al-Bukhārī, Sahīh Muslim)

Thus, the 'alāh and Zakāh are two inseparable pillars of Islāmic faith. Disregarding them or discriminating between them amounts to rejecting faith. Anyone who does must be considered an adversary of Islām. 'Abdullāh ibn Mas'ūd (R) said: "We have been commanded to observe Salāh and pay the Zakāh. The Salāh of a person who does not pay the Zakāh, has no value whatsoever.
(Transmitted by at-Tabarānī)

According to the Qur'ān, those who are negligent of their duty to pay Zakāh are deprived of Divine guidance:

"(The Qur'ān) is a guidance to God-fearing people, who believe in the unseen, establish 'alāh and expend (in Our way) out of what We have

bestowed upon them."

(Sūrah Al-Baqarah 2:2-3)

The true Muslims are those who pay their Zakāh dues regularly.

"(True believers are) only those...who establish Salāh and spend in Our way out of what we have given them."

(Al-Anfāl 8: 3-4)

Rasūlullāh (S) has said:

"The generous one is close to God, close to Paradise, and close to the people and away from Hell whereas the miserly one is away from God, away from Paradise, and away from the people but certainly close to Hell. The fact is that an ignorant but generous person is better liked by Allāh than a devout but miserly person."
(Sahīh at-Tirmidhī )

The Aim of the Institution of Zakah

The institution of Zakāh aims to vanquish tendencies toward greed and give perspective to the virtual worth of material wealth as opposed to the actual value of faith and spirituality.

When an individual becomes engrossed in material gains, it becomes very easy to lose sight of right and wrong, often leading to compromised morals and virtue. When greed takes over, one can only think about what is best for him and what he needs. However, such an existence is an incomplete, and ultimately, a dissatisfying one, because every human being has a soul and a need to fulfill the needs of his spiritual self. Without meeting these spiritual needs, feelings of love and sympathy for others cannot be possible, nor can one be sensitive and generous enough to recognize the rights of Allāh and fulfill them faithfully.

A true believer understands that all his possessions actually belong to Allāh; they are a trust which must be shared with his fellow beings in order to fully serve their true and divine purpose. Therefore, in addition to being an obligation, Zakāh nourishes the soul by providing an opportunity for self-actualization in a most practical and pragmatic way.

The basic principle behind the Zakāh is to make each Muslim aware of his/her moral responsibility to take care of all members of society, especially the needy and deserving. The institution of Zakāh serves to cleanse the 'Ummah of miserliness, malice, jealousy, and exploitation, and promotes harmony and brotherhood. This is precisely why the Zakāh had been enjoined as an imperative duty on the community of every Prophet (S), although its rate and legal injunctions have been different for different communities.