Alms-Tax (Zakat)

Unlike many socialistic or capitalistic economies, Islamic economy is the one in which all kinds of people have their own right to financially benefit from their society. Therefore, a typical feature of this kind of economy is essentially social justice in which poor people are not neglected or excluded from the beneficiary circle of the society. Accordingly, Islam, the religion that even cares about animals and plants let alone human beings [i], has established some rules with regard to people who are suffering from deprivation; one of the most important of which is called “Zakat”.

Alms-tax (Zakat) is an obligatory rule, which is considered as one of the foundations of Islam [ii]. In a literal sense, Zakat means growth and purification while technically it is defined as “paying an exact amount of money that has become obligatory through the rules of Sharia in order to be used in favor of the people in need or for certain beneficial deeds in society” [4] in order to purify and cleanse one’s money or his incomes. Its significance becomes evident through many verses in the holy Quran, which sometimes consider it along with prayer (Salat) as a sign of true believers [5].

Alms-tax, Zakat, charity, money, Islam

Alms-tax (Zakat) before Islam

Despite the fact that the concept of Zakat had never existed in the full form that Islam offers, it is not the first religion which introduces Zakat as a kind of task that should be done for the benefit of the individual as well as the society. According to the text of holy Quran, Jesus Christ and Moses as well as Ishmael are among the prophets who recommended their followers to carry out this advantageous task [8]. In Bible, Christians are advised to help the poor financially: “Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you” (Matthew 5:42) and “But rather give alms of such things as ye have; and, behold, all things are clean unto you” (Luk 11:41). Moreover, the act of “Tzedakah” in Judaism, is a religious obligation which includes almsgiving as one of its manifestations [9]. However, in Islam Zakat is a compulsory rule while in others it is just a recommendation [3].

Rules and Regulations

The performance of this vital task is accompanied by many definite and specific criteria:

1. Who Is Capable of Giving Zakat?  

A person will be obliged to pay Zakat if he is grown-up, of sound mind and in possession of something.

2. Who Is the Perfect Candidate for Taking It?

A person is considered a good recipient of Zakat if he is living in poverty, in debt and cannot pay for it. Also, it can be used for public jobs such as building schools, hospitals, etc.

3. To What Products is Zakat Ascribed?

The amount of money that should be paid depends on the kind of the material through which Zakat has become obligatory; these are two kinds of metal- gold, and silver-, four grains- barely, wheat, date, and raisin- as well as three kinds of animal - cow, sheep, and camel. Each of the aforementioned products has its particular amount and time of payment which have been specified in details in the sharia of Islam [6]. Nevertheless, under certain circumstances and based on the needs of people at every time, other things – whether an object or a concept (e.g. Knowledge) – may be included to which Zakat is ascribed.

4. In What Manner It Should Be Given?

There are certain manners that should be carefully observed when giving someone Zakat; for instance, it should be given with complete contentedness, respecting the person who is receiving it, and also should be from the best materials at hand [3].

zakat, Islam, charity, alms

Why Do We Pay Zakat?

Aside from its financial benefits - purifying one’s money, preventing economy to be manipulated by a certain group of society and enabling neglected people who are taken care of to act as advantageous agents of society and have a job- , it will also purify and elevate one’s soul. This happens through collaborating and helping other members of the society which spread the spirit of kindness and affection, cause people to feel more attached to one another, form an unbreakable bond together and finally direct one’s attention to others’ needs rather than his own. Also it would relieve him from greediness and eventually make him a better person.

It is noteworthy that Zakat has been ascribed to those products that are provided for human beings through nature; most of the work has been done by nature for free and with the least effort of human beings. Of course his mental and practical effort is involved, but the main part is accomplished by nature. So in order to make up for this generosity, we would give away a very small amount of money to the ones in need.

Notes:

[i]. It is known through a hadith said by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) that watering a thirsty tree is like quenching thirsty Muslim with water [1].

[ii]. There are many hadiths that consider the skeleton of Islam to be founded on five practices: prayer (Salat), holy pilgrimage (Hajj), fasting (Sawm), alms-tax (Zakat) and guardianship (Velayat) [2].

References:

[1]. Sheikh Al-Hur Al-Aamili. Wasail Al-Shia. Vol. 7.

[2]. Muhammad ibn Yaqub  Al-Kulayni. Al-Kafi (The Sufficient Book). Vol. II. Tehran: Masjed Publication.

[3]. Mohsen Qaraati. Khums and Zakat. Ahl al-beit's Maaref reasarch and publication institute.

[4]. http://wikifeqh.ir/

[5]. 2:177,277- 4:162- 9:71

[6]. http://wikifeqh.ir/%D8%B2%DA%A9%D8%A7%D8%AA#

[7]. Morteza Avini website

[8]. 19:31, 55 – 2:43

[9]. http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/1295-alms