What is Zakat and Why do Muslims do it?

What is Zakat and Why do Muslims do it?

The recipe for success is to look forward to paying our Zakat and to be in the first rows of the Masjid just like we look forward to breaking our fasts on a hot day.

As the third of the five pillars of Islam, Zakat is an obligatory form of tax or charity for Muslims. Derived from the meaning purify and increase, Muslims believe that it purifies, cleanses, increases and blesses their wealth.

“And establish prayer and give Zakat, and whatever good you put forward for yourselves – you will find it with Allah.” (2:110, Qur’an)

Through Zakat, a Muslim is able to cleanse their soul from negativity such as stinginess, selfishness, greed and pride, while also developing a higher sense of sympathy towards people in need. Zakat is also a sign of brotherhood in the Islamic religion. “But (even so), if they repent, establish regular prayers, and give their zakat, they are your brethren in Faith.” [Sūrah Al-Taubah 9:11].

When Muslims pay Zakat, they will directly or indirectly help the lives of those in need. Globally, the Zakat system is widely seen as the Islamic contribution to social justice: reducing the gap or divide between the rich and the poor and has successfully redistributed the wealth of the society among the poor.

The timeline and history of Zakat

Zakat was legislated in 2 AH, approximately 18 months after the arrival of the Prophet ﷺ to Madinah. Before that in the Makkan era, giving charity was merely recommended. 

After the hijrah to Madinah, Allah revealed, “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.” [Surah Al-Taubah,103]

The act of giving Zakat revives the practice of the previous Prophets and Messengers of Allah –

just like how salah was obligated for all the nations before us. 

Allah tells us, “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, 83]

Allah says with regards to Prophet Ismail, “Also mentioned in the Book (the story of) Ismail: He was (strictly) true to what he promised, and he was an apostle (and) a prophet. He used to enjoin on his people salah and Zakat, and he was most acceptable in the sight of his Lord.” [Surah Maryam, 54-55]

Allah says with regards to Prophet Isa, “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 salah and Zakat so long as I remain alive.” [Surah Maryam, 30-31]

Why do Muslims need to pay Zakat?

Why do Muslims need to pay Zakat?

“I give a lot of charity throughout the year, then why do I still have to pay Zakat?” Simply because it is a pillar of Islam and it is an obligation for every Muslim that meets the requirements. 

This obligation cannot be offset by the normal charity. A person is rewarded for his generosity, but this obligation needs to be carried out irrespective of the amount of charity that is given provided certain conditions are met. 

The Messenger of Allah ﷺ 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]

After the migration to Madinah, the Prophet sent out messengers to collect Zakat from the wealthy and sent evaluators to the plantations to approximate the value of the potential wealth. This act – of calculating the Zakat due to its owners – signifies the importance and the high station that it holds in Islam. 

Anyone who denies the obligation of Zakat has left the fold of Islam. In fact, the first issue or matter that Abu Bakr as-Siddiq turned his attention to after entering the office of the Khalifa was towards those refusing to pay Zakat. 

Narrated Abu Huraira: When Allah’s Messenger ﷺ died and Abu Bakr became the Khalifa, some Arabs renegade (reverted to disbelief) (Abu Bakr decided to declare war against them), Umar, said to Abu Bakr, “How can you fight with these people although Allah’s Messenger ﷺ said, ‘I have been ordered (by Allah) to fight the people till they say: “None has the right to be worshipped but Allah, and whoever said it then he will save his life and property from me except on trespassing the law (rights and conditions for which he will be punished justly), and his accounts will be with Allah.’”

Abu Bakr said, “By Allah! I will fight those who differentiate between the Prayer and the Zakat as Zakat is the compulsory right to be taken from the property (according to Allah’s orders) By Allah! If they refuse to pay me even a female-animal which they used to pay at the time of Allah’s Messenger ﷺ – I would fight with them for withholding it” Then Umar said, “By Allah, it was nothing, but Allah opened Abu Bakr’s chest towards the decision (to fight) and I came to know that his decision was right.” [Bukhari]

The origins and definition

The origins of the word zakat

To get a better grasp of the principles of Zakah, we must first dissect the word and understand how it is being employed in the context of Shariah. 

From a linguistic perspective and technical perspective, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qardawi writes that Zakat is an infinitive of the verb zakah. “Zakah means to grow and to increase. When it is said about a person, it means to improve, to become better. Consequently zakah is a blessing, growth, cleanliness, and betterment,” he said. 

In Lisan al Arab it is said, “The root of the word zakah in Arabic means cleanliness, growth, blessing, and praise. All these meanings of the word are used in Qur’an and Hadith.”

According to al-Wahidi and others, the root of “zakah” means increase and growth, and can be applied to multiple facets.

With regards to plants, zakah means to grow, while it may also mean to increase. Since plants only grow if they are clean of insects and other detrimental things, then the word “zakah” implies cleanliness and cleansing. 

When it comes to people, zakah means betterment and righteousness. You may say a man is “zaki,” or that he has good character. You may also say that he is the judge “zakat” to the witnesses to indicate or show that there is a higher level in their testimony.

As per the Shariah, Zakat is defined as: 

حَقٌّ واجِبٌ فِي مَالٍ خَاصْ لِطائِفةٍ مَخْصُوصَة ، فِي وَقتٍ مَخْصُوص

Zakat is an obligatory action of giving a specific portion of one’s wealth to eligible recipients every lunar year. 

Sheikh Yusuf further writes, “In Shariah, the word Zakat refers to the determined share of wealth prescribed by Allah to be distributed among deserving categories. It is also used to mean the action of payment of this share. According to al-Nawawi’s report from al-Wahidi, this share of wealth is called Zakat because it increases the funds from which it is taken and protects them from being lost or destroyed. 

The benefits of Zakat

The benefits of Zakat

When Muslims pay their Zakah, they enhance their inner souls and cleanse their wealth, according to Sheikhul Islam Ibn Taimiyyah. 

This growth and cleanliness are not only experienced by Zakatable assets themselves, but also the individual who pays it as well, in accordance to the verse “out of their wealth take Zakat so that thou mightest purify and sanctify them.”

Al-Azhari says: it makes the poor grow too, meaning that zakah creates psychological and material growth for the rich in his soul and wealth.

“It should be realized that zakah is an Arabic word known before Islam. It is well known that it has been used in poetry”, said Imam al-Nawawi, the author of al-Hawi. 

Related: Importance of Zakat in Islam

Would you like to pay Zakat? Check our platform to explore Zakat eligible campaigns.

What are the types of Zakat you can pay in Islam?

It’s necessary for all Muslims to learn and perform the Zakat correctly. In doing so, it requires a Muslim to be able to assess the Zakat upon their own type of wealth, in order to understand its distribution and due times, the specific beneficiaries involved, and how one reaches their Nisab threshold.

But to get to that understanding, one will need to know the different types of Zakat involved. Generally, there are two types that Muslims must pay: Zakat Al-Mal, also known as Zakat on wealth, and Zakat Al-Fitr, typically conducted upon the completion of the fasting month of Ramadan. 

To know more about the types of Zakat you can pay in Islam, check out our blogs here: Part 1 & Part 2.

How to calculate Zakah?

Admittedly, formulating how much you need to pay for your Zakat can be confusing. Hence, you can check out our mini guide to help you navigate the different facets of paying your Zakat. This guide covers everything from what are the conditions of Zakat, who can give and receive it, when to pay your Zakat, what is the nisab amount, how you can calculate it, and much more. Read our mini-guide on how to calculate Zakat

Can you give items instead of cash as Zakat? 

As per the Shariah, it is required that a person gives Zakat on one’s wealth in the form of money. It is not permissible to be given in the form of various items etc. When a person gives Zakat to the eligible beneficiaries, their involvement with the money is complete. They have transferred the trust in their care to its rightful owner. Now, the person has absolutely no right to dictate to the beneficiary how the money is to be utilised. 

Sheikh Ibn al-Uthaymeen said, “Zakat on money must be given in cash; it cannot be given in the form of other items, unless the poor person made a request of you and said: If you receive money for me, then buy me such and such with it. In that case, there is nothing wrong with it.” [Majmu’ Fataawa wa Rasaa’il Ibn Uthaymeen]

This is the general rule. But if it is known for sure that the money will not be utilised in the proper manner or the person is incapable of using the money in the proper manner, then we can explore the permissibility of giving items instead of money as Zakat. 

Sheikh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah said: “Giving items of equivalent value when there is no need and no obvious interest to be served is not allowed… Because if it were made permissible to give items of equivalent value, then the giver may give bad quality items or the evaluation may not be correct.

Zakat is intended to help the poor, and the Zakat is connected to the amount of wealth one owns and its type. However, with regard to giving items of equivalent value when there is a need for that or an interest to be served thereby, or to achieve fairness, there is nothing wrong with that.” [Majmu‘ al-Fataawa]

In such a scenario, it is good to bring the beneficiary along with you when buying for them or buy on their behalf that which they need. Many charity bodies need to remember that this is the exception to the rule and not the rule itself. To know more, check out our article on giving items instead of cash as Zakat.

The impact in Muslim society

The system of Zakat ensures proper distribution of wealth and has a wide impact on the entire set-up of an ideal Muslim society. If it is established as an institution, it will create a collective social security scheme for mutual help/sympathy and the resources of the rich can be further utilised for the benefit of the poor and subsequent social development of the entire society. 

Being obligatory for those who qualify as donors, Zakah is practically a system of social equity that ensures that the gap between the rich and the poor is lessened in society. It predetermines the donors and the recipients in order to ensure a fair redistribution of wealth. 

While all of this sounds nice, the current reality is a stark contrast from this ideal scenario. Instead, the real potential of Zakat is stunted. To know more about the real impact of Zakat on the ground, check out our article that delves into its impact on Muslim society. 

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