Zakah: the Purifier of a Muslim’s Wealth

Nowadays, people consider obligatory Zakah as being merely a special act associated with Ramadan like Zakat al-Fitr and the fast. Indeed, many Muslims even equate the obligatory Zakah to the Zakat al-Fitr of Ramadan. Thus, they pay it only in this month. However, this is against Islamic teachings and the prophet’s Sunnah. Zakah must be paid as, and when, one’s wealth – in cash or in kind – reaches the threshold of Nisab. Thus, Zakah is an obligatory duty that must be fulfilled well in time like Salah and it is prohibited to delay its payment, writes SYED GHOUSE.

 

The word Zakah in Arabic is more specific than the term Sadaqah, which is voluntary and implies alms-giving in general. The word Zakah means both ‘purification’ and ‘growth’. Our possessions are purified by setting aside a proportion for those in need, and, like the pruning of plants, this cutting back balances and encourages new growth. In Islamic terminology, Zakah is the amount of money that every adult, mentally stable, free, and financially able Muslim, male and female, has to pay to support specific categories of people. This category of people is defined in Surah at-Tauba (9) verse 60:

“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 captives and the debtors, and for the cause of Allah, and (for) the wayfarers; a duty imposed by Allah. Allah is knower, Wise.” (The Qur’an, 9: 60)

The obligatory nature of Zakah is firmly established in the Qur’an, the Sunnah (or ahadith), and the consensus of the companions and the Muslim scholars. Allah states in Surah at-Taubah:

“O ye who believe! There are, indeed, many among the priests and anchorites, who in Falsehood devour the substance of men and hinder (them) from the way of Allah. And there are those who bury gold and silver and spend it not in the way of Allah. Announce unto them a most grievous penalty.”

“On the Day when heat will be produced out of that (wealth) in the fire of Hell, and with it will be branded their foreheads, their flanks, and their backs, their flanks, and their backs. – ‘This is the (treasure) which ye buried for yourselves: taste ye, then, the (treasures) ye buried!’” (The Qur’an, 9: 34-35)

The Prophet (pbuh) said: “Any owner of gold and silver who does not deliver from them their right, on the Day of Qiyamah (Day of Judgment), (the gold and silver) will be shaped as foils of fire. Then it will be heated in the fire of Hell; (and) then with it be will be ironed on his side, his forehead, and his back.” (Narrated by Muslim)

Muslims down the centuries have agreed upon the obligatory nature of paying Zakah for gold and silver, and for other kinds of currency. Zakah is an obligatory duty and is the third of the five pillars of Islam. Zakah becomes mandatory when two conditions are simultaneously satisfied: Nisab and/ or due date.

Nisab is the quantity or limit of money or things in one’s possession above which one needs to give Zakah. Zakah is obligatory when the Nisab has been attained to, or when one’s possessions exceed the Nisab specified. Zakah is not obligatory if the amount owned is less than this Nisab. The Nisab (or minimum amount) of gold and golden currency is 20 mithqal: this is approximately 85 grams of pure gold. One mithqal is approximately 4.25 grams. The Nisab of silver and silver currency is 200 dirhams, which is approximately 595 grams of pure silver. The Nisab of other kinds of money and currency is to be scaled to that of gold, 85 grams of pure gold. This means that the Nisab of money is the price of 85 grams of 999-type (pure) gold, on the day when Zakah is paid.

When is Zakah Due?

1. Passage of One Lunar Year:

Zakah is due after one lunar (Hijri) year starting from either the first day one acquires the amount of Nisab or the arrival of the date when one paid Zakah the previous year. Zakah is obligatory after a time span of one lunar year passes with the money in the control of its owner. Then the owner needs to pay 2.5% (or 1/40) of the money as Zakah. (A lunar year is approximately 355 days).

2. Deduction of Debts:

The owner should deduct any amount of money he or she borrowed from others; then check if the rest reaches the necessary Nisab, and then pays Zakah for it, if Zakah is due from him. If the owner had enough money to satisfy the Nisab at the beginning of the year, after which his wealth further increased (by way of profits, salaries, inheritance, grants…etc.), the owner then needs to add the increase to the Nisab amount owned at the beginning of the year; and then pay Zakah at 2.5% of the total at the end of the lunar year. (There are small differences in the Fiqh schools here). Each Muslim should calculate his, or her, own Zakah individually. For most purposes, this involves the payment each year of two and a half percent of one’s capital.

A pious person may also give as much as he or she pleases as Sadaqah, and does so preferably in secret. Although this word can be translated as ‘voluntary charity’ it has a wider meaning. The Prophet said ‘even meeting your brother with a cheerful face is charity (Sadaqah).’

The Prophet also said: ‘Charity is incumbent upon every Muslim.’ He was asked: ‘What if a person has nothing?’ The Prophet replied: ‘He should work with his own hands for his benefit and then give something out of such earnings in charity.’ The Companions asked: ‘What if he is not able to work?’ The Prophet said: ‘He should help the poor and the needy persons.’ The Companions further asked: ‘What if he cannot do even that?’ The Prophet said, ‘He should urge others to do good.’ The Companions said, ‘What if he lacks that also?’ The Prophet said ‘He should check himself from doing evil. That is also charity.’

Prescribed originally as a voluntary act of love and considered almost identical with piety, Zakah evolved into an obligatory tax on property, including money, cattle, corn, fruit and merchandise. In the Qurán it is often associated with the Salah. The young Islamic state collected Zakah through regular officials and administered it from a central treasury to support the poor among the community, to build mosques and to defray government expenses.

Zakat al-Fitr

Zakat al-Fitr is different from the obligatory Zakat. It is due at the end of the month of Ramadan. It must be paid by every Muslim, according to what Abdullah b. Umar, a noted companion of the Prophet, who said: “The messenger of Allah imposed Zakat al-Fitr of Ramadan as a Saa’ of dates or a Saa’ of barley, on every Muslim, slave and free, male or female, young or old.” (Bukhari & Muslim)

Zakat al-Fitr was made obligatory in the second year of the Hijrah. It is understood that Allah, the Exalted, has instituted Zakat al-Fitr to purify one’s fast from the negative consequences of vain talk and of vain actions which one might have made during the fasting month of Ramadan. It was also institutionalized with the objective of helping the poor and the needy and to, thus, save them the embarrassment of asking for assistance on the Day of Eid. The poor may, thus, celebrate the joy of Eid along with the rich.

Zakat al-Fitr is due on every Muslim who is in possession of food over and above his family’s needs for one day and night. Every free Muslim must pay Zakat al-Fitr for himself, his wife, children and servants. It must be given before the Eid prayer. It is permissible, however, to give it out a day or two before the Eid day. If a person delays it until after the day of Eid for no valid reason, it would be considered as Sadaqah and not as Zakat al-Fitr.

The recipients of Zakat al-Fitr are the same as the recipients of the obligatory Zakat. The quantity of Zakat al-Fitr must be given out in kind, i.e., wheat, barley, dates, raisins, rice, maize and the like, the best of which is what benefits the poor most. Its quantity is approx 2.4 kg.

Nowadays, people consider obligatory Zakah as being merely a special act associated with Ramadan like Zakat al-Fitr and the fast. Indeed, many Muslims even equate the obligatory Zakah to the Zakat al-Fitr of Ramadan. Thus, they pay it only in this month. However, this is against Islamic teachings and the Prophet’s Sunnah.

Zakah must be paid as, and when, one’s wealth – in cash or in kind – reaches the threshold of Nisab. Thus, Zakah is an obligatory duty that must be fulfilled well in time like Salah and it is prohibited to delay its payment. Many Muslims of this age are unconscious of this obligation and most of them refrain from paying Zakah in time even while knowing its importance and position in Islam. According to Islam, such people should be fought against until they yield and pay. The Prophet said:

“I have been ordered to fight people until they say that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah, and that Muhammad is His Messenger, and they uphold the prayers, and pay the Zakah. If they do this, their lives and properties will be safe, except for what is due to Islam, and their accounts are with Allah.”

Indeed, the first civil, internal strife within the nascent Muslim community had occurred on account of the refusal of some tribes – who had newly embraced Islam – to pay the Zakah to the seat of the Caliphate under Abu Bakr, the first successor of Muhammad (pbuh), in Madinah. Called the War of Apostasy, this internal struggle underlined the great importance that the Prophet attached to the cause of the economically poorer sections of the society through the message that he had brought into the world.