Essence of Zakāh
Zakāh is the third pillar of Islam after Imān and Salāh. Zakāh follows Salāh immediately in the Qur’an wherever the attributes of a worthy believer are described. The word Zakāh in Arabic means ‘purity’ and ‘cleansing.’ It is the act of apportioning a certain amount of money from one’s personal assets to purify one’s purse as well as cleansing one’s self.
The Qur’an mentions that it is mandatory for all followers of the Prophets of God to observe Prayer and perform Zakāh. The Islamic Shari’ah has made the two pillars the dominant symbols of the Islamic code of conduct. Those who do not observe them are neither on the path of Guidance nor will they ever achieve prosperity in this world or the Hereafter.
Zakāh and Social Life
The Qur’an frequently uses the term Infaq Fi-Sabīlillah (spending in the way of ALLAH TAA’LA) for Zakāh and Sadaqāt (mandatory and normal charities). Whatever one spends in the Way of ALLAH TAA’LA is Al-Qard al-Hasan or a benign loan, which ALLAH TAA’LA has made incumbent upon Himself to repay.
Whatever we invest for our fellow human beings will eventually benefit us and will be repaid by ALLAH TAA’LA. Yet, man has inherent weaknesses and is always in a hurry to reap personal benefits. He spends for personal gains and is hardly bothered to help those in need. This kind of mentality leads to wealth accumulating in a few hands, while society succumbs to moral and material degeneration.
The universal truth is that the happiness of an individual depends on the happiness of society. One who withholds his wealth and does not contribute to societal welfare saves it or allows it to grow on interest. The capitalist world deals in ribā (interest) and despite the stockpiles of wealth, societal problems are ever-increasing. Interest diminishes wealth while zakāh multiplies it. A successful resolution of man’s socioeconomic problem lies in faith in ALLAH TAA’LA and in the Last Day.
The Divine Command concerning Zakāh
There are three separate injunctions about Zakāh in the Qur’an. ALLAH TAA’LA reminds us in Surah AlAn’am that it is He Who has brought into being gardens and all kinds of crops and fruit-bearing trees. We are therefore ordered to, “Eat of their fruits when they come to fruition and pay His due on the day of harvesting” [Al-An’am, 6:141]. The verses relate to producing from land. According to the Hanafi jurists, Zakāh is leviable on everything reaped from the land but excluding self-grown products such as wood, grass, bamboo, etc. Based on prophetic tradition, a tenth of the produce is deducted as Zakāh from rain-fed land and a twentieth from land irrigated by streams, rivers, and man-made sources. Specified shares of the products become mandatory once the crop is harvested.
The real objective of alms is “Take alms out of their riches and thereby cleanse them and bring about their growth in righteousness…” [al-Tawbah, 9:103]. The wealth gathered without paying Zakāh remains impure. It is purified by taking from it what is due and giving it to those deserving it. The Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) warned those amassing gold and silver of severe punishment in the Hereafter.
Various Categories of Zakāh Distribution
The Qur’an [al-Tawbah, 9:60] specifies eight categories of those eligible for Zakāh funds. The eight categories may be briefly explained as follows:
According to the Shari’ah, a person dependent on others for his subsistence is a Faqīr. This includes everyone in need of help, whether they are permanently disabled or are temporarily in need of assistance, such as orphaned children, widows, and the unemployed.
A Miskīn is one who is suffering from Maskanah or distress more than the ordinary poor. Their self-esteem prevents them from begging despite a lack of resources to sustain themselves and their families.
These are people employed to collect and distribute Zakāh and Sadaqāt and maintain accounts. Hence government Zakāh administrators, though not poor and needy, will be paid from the Zakāh funds.
Mu’allafat’l-Qulūb or ‘those whose hearts are to be reconciled‘
Zakāh funds may be used to win the hearts of those engaged in hostile activities against Islam or to win over the support of those who are in the hostile camp of unbelievers. This category includes converts to Islam who are feared could revert to unbelief or become tools in the hands of antiIslamic forces.
Fi’l-Riqāb or ‘to free those in bondage’
Zakāh funds can also be used for the freedom and emancipation of slaves, and to redeem and help the prisoners of war and their beleaguered families.
Al-Ghārimīn or ‘those burdened with debt’
This category includes those who find themselves unable to repay a loan with their available means. They can be helped to restore their economic freedom and dignity.
Fi Sabīlillāh or ‘in the Way of ALLAH TAA’LA’
This includes those who are engaged in a concerted struggle for the sake of ALLAH TAA’LA’s cause. The term is comprehensive enough to include every organized struggle, genuine movement or Jihād waged for the supremacy of the Word of God and to establish the writ of religion as a way of life.
Ibn al-Sabīl or ‘the Wayfarer’
A traveler in need, even if he is rich, is entitled to receive help from Zakāh funds during his journey. What are the conditions of Zakāh eligibility for the eight categories above under the law? Nobody can pay Zakāh to his own father or son. Similarly, a husband cannot give Zakāh to his wife and vice versa. Some jurists are of the view that one cannot give Zakāh to close relatives to his legal heirs. However, distant deserving relatives have a better claim over Zakāh. Zakāh is payable only to the deserving Muslims. Needy non-Muslims can be paid from funds of normal charity (Sadaqāt). Zakāh can be distributed individually if there is no organized system or government mechanism for its collection and distribution, but efforts should be made to have a proper organizational structure for this purpose.