Zakah (The Alms, Charity)

Zakah (The Alms, Charity)

Zakah (The Alms, Charity)Another exceptionally
remarkable institution and major pillar of Islam is the Zakah.
To the Qur’anic word Zakah and the meaning it conveys, there is
no equivalent in any other language as far as we know. It is not
just a form of charity or alms-giving or tax or tithe. Nor is it
simply an expression of kindness; it is all of these combined
and much more. It is not merely a deduction of a certain
percentage from one’s property, but an abundant enrichment and
spiritual investment. It is not simply a voluntary contribution
to someone or some cause, nor a government tax that a shrewd
clever person can get away with. Rather, it is a duty enjoined
by God and undertaken by Muslims in the interest of society as a
whole. The Qur’anic word Zakah not only includes charity, alms,
tithe, kindness, official tax, voluntary contributions, etc.,
but it also combines with all these God-mindedness and spiritual
as well as moral motives. That is why there can be no equivalent
to the word Zakah because of the supreme originality of the
Qur’an, the Divine Book of God.

The literal and simple
meaning of Zakah is purity. The technical meaning of the word
designates the annual amount in kind or coin which a Muslim with
means must distribute among the rightful beneficiaries. But the
religious and spiritual significance of Zakah is much deeper and
more lively. So is its humanitarian and sociopolitical value.
Here is an explanation of the far-reaching effects of Zakah:

  1. Zakah purifies the
    property of the people with means and clears it from the
    shares which do not belong to it anymore, the shares which
    must be distributed among the due beneficiaries. When Zakah
    is payable, a certain percentage of the wealth should be
    distributed immediately in the right manner, because the
    owner no longer has moral or legal possession of that
    percentage. If he fails to do so, he is obviously retaining
    something which does not belong to him. This is corruption
    and plain usurpation from every point of view, moral and
    spiritual, legal and commercial. It means that the
    unlawfully retained percentage makes the whole lot impure
    and endangered. But, on the other hand, if the poor’s
    dividends are assorted and distributed among due
    beneficiaries, the remaining portions of the lot will be
    pure and decent. Pure capital and decent possessions are the
    first requisites of permanent prosperity and honest
  2. Zakah does not only
    purify the property of the contributor but also purifies his
    heart from selfishness and greed for wealth. In return, it
    purifies the heart of the recipient from envy and jealousy,
    from hatred and uneasiness; and it fosters in his heart,
    instead, good will and warm wishes for the contributor. As a
    result, the society at large; will purify and free itself
    from class warfare and suspicion, from ill feelings and
    distrust, from corruption and disintegration, and from all
    such evils.
  3. Zakah mitigates to a
    minimum the sufferings of the needy and poor members of
    society. It is a most comforting consolation to the less
    fortunate people, yet it is a loud appeal to everybody to
    roll up his sleeves and improve his lot. To the needy it
    means that it is by nature an emergency measure and that he
    should not depend on it completely but must do something for
    himself as well as for others. To the contributor it is a
    warm invitation to earn more so that he can benefit more. To
    all parties concerned, it is, directly as well as
    indirectly, an open treasure for spiritual investment that
    compensates abundantly.
  4. Zakah is a healthy form
    of internal security against selfish greed and social
    dissension, against the intrusion and penetration of
    subversive ideologies. It is an effective instrument in
    cultivating the spirit of social responsibility on the part
    of the contributor, and the feeling of security and
    belonging on the part of the recipient.
  5. Zakah is a vivid
    manifestation of the spiritual and humanitarian spirit of
    responsive interactions between the individual and society.
    It is a sound illustration of the fact that though Islam
    does not hinder private enterprise or condemn private
    possessions, yet it does not tolerate selfish and greedy
    Capitalism. It is an expression of the general philosophy of
    Islam which adopts a moderate and middle but positive and
    effective course between the Individual and the Society,
    between the Citizen and the State, between Capitalism and
    Socialism, between Materialism and Spirituality.


The Rate of Zakah


Every Muslim, male or
female, who, at the end of the year, is in possession of
approximately fifteen dollars or more, in cash or articles of
trade, must give Zakah at the minimum rate of two and one-half
percent. In the case of having the amount in cash the matter is
easy. But when a person has wealth in business stocks or trade
articles, he must evaluate his wealth at the end of every year
according to the current value and give Zakah at the same rate
of two and one-half percent of the total value of the wealth. If
his investment is in immovable property like revenue buildings
and industries, the rate of Zakah should go by the total net of
the income, and not of the total value of the whole property.
But if he puts up buildings and houses for trade or selling,
Zakah rate should go by the total value of the entire property.
Also if someone is a creditor and the indebted person is
reliable one should pay Zakah for the amount he has lent because
it is still a portion of his guaranteed wealth.

In all cases it should be
remembered that one pays only for his net balance. His personal
expenses, his family allowances, his necessary expenditures, his
due credits-all are, paid first, and Zakah is for the net

It should also be remembered
that the rate of 2.5% is only a minimum. In times of emergency
or arising needs there is no rate limit; the more one gives, the
better it is for all concerned. The distribution of Zakah serves
all purposes for which numerous fundraising campaigns are
launched. The Zakah fund substitutes for all the other funds. It
is authentically reported that there were times in the history
of the Islamic administration when there was no person eligible
to receive Zakah; every subject-Muslim, Christian, and Jew- of
the vast Islamic empire had enough to satisfy his needs, and the
rulers had to deposit the Zakah collections in the Public
Treasury. This shows that when the Zakah law is enacted properly
it minimizes the needs of the citizens and enriches the Public
Treasury to such an extent that there may be no needy or poor,
and that enormous amounts of surplus are available.

The unfailing power of this
effective measure of public interest stems from the fact that it
is a Divine injunction, an ordinance from God Himself. It is not
a personal matter or a voluntary contribution; rather, it is an
obligation, for the fulfillment of which one will be responsible
to God directly. Because Zakah is the legislation of God Himself
to be enforced in the common interest, no Muslim is allowed to
neglect it. When it is not observed properly, the rightful
authorities of the State must interfere on behalf of the public
to establish the institution and see to it that it is enforced.


The Due Recipients of Zakah


The Holy Qur’an classifies
the due recipients of Zakah as follows:

1. The poor Muslims, to
relieve their distress;

  1. The needy Muslims to
    supply them with means whereby they can cam their
  2. The new Muslim
    converts, to enable them to settle down and meet their
    unusual needs;
  1. The Muslim prisoners of
    war, to liberate them by payment of ransom money;

5. The Muslims in debt; to
free them from their liabilities incurred under

pressing necessities;

  1. The Muslim employees
    appointed by a Muslim governor for the collection of Zakah
    to pay their wages;
  2. The Muslims in service
    of the cause of God by means of research or study or
    propagation of Islam. This share is to cover their expenses
    and help them to continue their services;
  3. The Muslim wayfarers
    who are stranded in a foreign land and in need of help.

The due recipient of Zakah
is one who has nothing to meet his necessities or has little
(less than $15.00) at the end of the year. If one has
approximately $15.00 or more he must be a contributor, not a
recipient of Zakah. If a recipient receives his share and finds
that it is sufficient for his immediate needs with a balance of
about $15.00, he should not accept any more. He should return
whatever he may receive to other eligible recipients.

Zakah may be distributed
directly to individuals of one or more of the said classes, or
to welfare organizations which look after them. It may also be
distributed in the form of scholarships to bright and promising
MUSLIM students and researchers, or in the form of grants to
welfare organizations and public service institutions which
patronize such causes.

A disabled or invalid poor
Muslim is preferable to one who is able and capable of making
some earnings. The contributor should use his best judgment in
finding the most deserving beneficiaries.

The taxes we pay to
governments nowadays do not substitute for this religious duty;
it must be earmarked as a special obligation and paid
separately, aside from the government taxes. However, the
Muslims of North America may take advantage of the tax laws that
allow certain deductions for charity. They should pay their
Zakah to the deserving beneficiaries and then claim the sums
paid as proper legal deductions.

The contributor should not
seek pride or fame by carrying out this duty. He should make it
as covert as possible so that he may not be victimized by
hypocrisy or passion for vanity which nullifies all good deeds.
However, if the disclosure of his name or the announcement of
his contribution is likely to encourage others and stimulate
them, it is all right to do so.

Zakah is also obligatory on
cattle and agricultural products. The shares payable in this
regard vary from case to case, and need a detailed discussion.
So the reader may be advised to consult the elaborate sources of
Law and religion.

From: Islam in Focus
by Hammudah Abdalati (American Trust Publications). Get the book



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