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 Zakat (Alms-Giving)  
The principle of giving out the zakat tithe in Islam is based on the premise that all things belong to Allah, and we humans are only trustees even of our 'own' wealth.

In order to purify these possessions, we are taught to set aside a proportion for those in need. Like the pruning or trimming of plants, this act of sharing with the less fortunate balances and encourages new growth.

The zakat received, whether in cash or kind, will be put in the Baitulmaal, literally House of Wealth, from where it will be distributed to the poor and needy. The act of alms giving or paying the zakat represents the unbreakable bond between members of the community.

As much as it purifies the 'haves' from the twin evils of greed and selfishness, zakat also cleanses the hearts of the 'have-nots' from feelings of jealousy and hatred. Hence this noble act of giving and receiving fosters, instead, good will and warm wishes between giver and recepient.

Zakat is not randomly distributed. Islam has set specific guidelines on the groups of people who are qualified to receive the zakat, among them:

  1. the hardcore poor
  2. the needy who need help to supplement their income
  3. converts to Islam
  4. travellers
  5. those striving in the way of Allah
  6. debtors (on the edge of financial disaster)
  7. slaves who desire to buy their freedom, and
  8. the zakat collector.

As the fourth pillar of Islam, Zakat, is mandatory upon Muslims who own wealth on which zakat is payable. This act of giving out part of one's wealth will indeed bring blessing (barakah) on the whole. The person who pays zakat gains the interest of goodness while for the recepient it will lighten his burden, financial or otherwise.

Zakat on wealth comprises several sub-categories, namely zakat on savings, zakat on business, zakat on crops, zakat on livestock and zakat on buried treasure. Another type of zakat, known as Zakat al-Fitr is paid at the close of Ramazan when Muslims celebrate Eid-ul- Fitr.

The Qur'anic injunction which made Zakat compulsory in contained in the following verse:

"Take from their wealth charity (alms) to purify them and to cleanse them thereby, and pray for them." [At-Taubah: 103]

It specifically equates the giving of zakat or alms as purifying and cleansing oneself.

Other Qur'anic verses which refer to zakat are:

"Never shall you attain piety unless you spend (in the way of Allah) out of what you love." [Ale-Imraan: 92]

"And who is saved from the avarice of his inner self, it is they who are successful." [Al-Hashr: 9]

From the hadeeth, we have the following reports:

Abu Hurairah (r.a.) narrated that the Prophet SAW said:

"Whoever is made wealthy by Almighty Allah and does not pay the zakat of his wealth, then on the Day of Resurrection his wealth will be made like a bald-headed poisonous male snake with two black spots over the eyes. The snake will encircle his neck and bite his cheeks and say, 'I am your wealth, I am your treasure'. " [Bukhari]

During the reign of the first Muslim Caliph Abu Bakr As-Siddiq (r.a.), there was an incident where those who were qualified to pay zakat refused to do so. Upon this matter, he said:

"By Allah (SWT), if they refuse to pay me (even) a bridle which they used to pay the Messenger of Allah (pbuh), then I will fight them because of their refusal." [Muslim]

Far from being optional charity or philanthropy, the Islamic form of Zakat is the right of the poor in the wealth of the rich. In general terms, wealth which is liable for Zakat means whatever remains over and above the meeting of needs and expenses, and has been stored for the full span of one year.

Hence, it is obvious that Zakat implies a deep humanitarian and social-political value. For one thing, it frees society from class warfare, ill feelings, distrust and corruption. There is no place in Islam for selfish and greedy capitalism.

However, that does not mean that Islam hinders private enterprise or condemns private possession. In fact, Islam adopts a moderate, positive and effective course between the individual and society, between the citizen and the state, between capitalism and socialism, and between materialism and spiritualism.
Copyright © 2007 Islam Vision
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