1. THE MEANING OF ZAKAT AND ITS IMPORTANCE

        Zakat is the Fourth Pillar of Islam. It is an obligation (Fard), prescribed by God on those Muslim men and women who possess enough means, to distribute a certain percentage of their annual savings or capital in goods or money among the poor and the needy. Zakat is assessed once a  year on both capital and savings from income. 

The literal meaning of the word zakat is 'purity'. The Prophet (peace be on him) has said: "God has made zakat obligatory simply to purify your remaining property ." There is no equivalent practice in other religions. Hence, while terms such as 'charity " poor-tax', 'alms-tax' and 'poor-due' have been coined by various translators, none of these terms actually conveys the true sense of the word zakat. Zakat is not a tax levied by a government, nor is it a voluntary contribution. It is first and foremost a duty enjoined by God and hence a form of worship. In Qur'an the payment of zakat is frequently mentioned in the same sentence or verse as the establishment of salat (prayers).

"Lo! Those who believe and do good deeds and establish salat and pay zakat, their reward is with their Sustainer; and no fear shall come upon them, nor shall they grieve." (2:277)

"These are verses of the Book full of wisdom, a guide and mercy to the doers of good -those who establish salat and pay zakat and have the assurance of the Hereafter. These are on guidance from their Sustainer, and these are the ones who will prosper ." (31 :1-5)

Thus, while salat is an act of worship through words and bodily action, zakat is a devotional act through one's wealth. Without  the spirit of submission to God and love of Him, both acts are without spiritual and moral significance.

     From a practical point of view, it is the duty of an Islamic  state to collect zakat from every Muslim who meets the requirements for paying it. The first Caliph, Abu Bakr Siddiq, declared war on those tribes which refused to pay zakat while still professing Islam and observing daily prayers.. He reasoned that the Divine law (Shari'ah) cannot be divided and that one cannot follow part of the Holy Book and cast aside other parts.

However, in a non-Islamic state it is up to the individual Muslim to be. conscientious enough to voluntarily fulfil this duty to God and to his community, and it is up to his brother Muslims to remind him of this duty.

2. THE SPIRIT OF ZAKAT

In the Holy Qur'an, wealth is referred to as God's bounty (fadl). God, as the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, is also the Owner of all things, including all the things which man possesses and uses.

"Who has created the heavens and the earth and sends down rain for you from the sky? With it We caused to grow orchards full of loveliness; it is not in your power to make trees grow in them." (27:60)

Since God is the true Owner of all things and we are merely His trustees, wealth is to be produced, distributed, acquired and spent in a way which is pleasing to Him. The acquisition of wealth is not an end in itself, nor is wealth to be squandered for meaningless or wasteful purposes, and above all it is not to be used in order to gain power over other people through exploitation or control of the means of livelihood. Qur'an and Hadith make it very clear that any form of gain which results in some injustice or harm to others is an act of disobedience to God. On the other hand, Qur'an tells us that next to purity of faith, the most pleasing thing in the sight of God is kindness and charity, forbearance and forgiveness, and doing good to others.

"Those who spend in charity. whether in prosperity or adversity. , who restrain anger and pardon people; for God loves those who do , good to others." (3: 134)

Thus, God enjoins on us humility before the Creator and His creatures, moderation in the satisfaction of our legitimate needs and desires, control of our appetites, and a spirit of generosity and charity, while He asks us to shun pride in ourselves and contempt for others, self-indulgence and pleasure seeking, and greed for material things and worldly power. We find, therefore, that prayers (salat) are made obligatory to purify our hearts from every kind of pride, fasting (seeyam) controls our appetites, and zakat to overcome our greed. The spirit behind all these acts of worship ought to be the spirit of submission to God, gratitude for all His bounties, and hope for His forgiveness and mercy.

In particular, it is with utmost gratitude and joy that a Muslim who possesses enough means that zakat is obligatory for him should fulfil his obligation gratitude for the bounties which God has showered upon him and joy in being able to help others. Because the payment of zakat is a duty to God, no one should ever think of it as a favour done to the person who receives it. In fact, it is his right to receive it and the obligation of the giver to give it. Like any other act of worship in Islam, in giving zakat it is necessary that the intention of the giver and receiver be pure and honest.

3. THE BENEFITS OF ZAKAT

The moral and material benefits of zakat are obvious Giving zakat purifies the heart of the giver from selfishness and greed for wealth and develops in him sympathy for the poor and needy. And receiving zakat purifies the heart of the recipients from envy and hatred of the rich and prosperous, and fosters in him a sense of good will towards his brother Muslims who although they are better off, have shared their wealth with him for the sake of God.

God says in Qur'an :

"To Him belong the keys of the heavens and the earth; He enlarges or restricts the sustenance to whom He wills, for He knows full well all things." (42:12) .

"He has raised some of you in ranks above others that He may try you in the gifts He has given you." (6: 165)

 Thus, a Muslim, whether prosperous or needy, considers his condition in this world as a test from God. Those who have wealth have the obligation to be generous and charitable and to share the bounties of God with their brothers, while those who are poor have the obligation to be patient, to work to improve their situation, and to be free of envy .Qur'an tells us that it is not a man's wealth or position but his God-consciousness, the quality of his character, and the manner in which he uses whatever is given to him by God which determines his ultimate destiny in the Hereafter. The economic objective of Islam is just and humane. distribution of wealth, as stated in Qur'an: "...so that this (wealth) may not circulate solely among the rich from among you." (59:7) Thus, Islam neither approves of hoarding and unlimited building up of capital, nor of compulsory equal distribution of wealth, as both are unjust. Its teaching encourages the earning of a livelihood and acquisition of wealth by lawful, honest and productive means, and enjoins the just sharing of the acquired wealth among the workers, the investors and the community at large. The community's share in the produced wealth is zakat and sadaqah (charity), the first an obligatory and the second a voluntary contribution from individuals. Zakat , when honestly practiced, results in freeing the society from class distinctions, rivalries, suspicion and corruption. It produces a community of people who love and respect each other, and who have sympathy and concern for each other's welfare. Giving zakat is not a matter of pride. It is a devotional act, like salat, on the completion of which the contributor should be thankful to God for the fulfilment of his obligation and pray for the forgiveness of his sins.

4. KINDS OF PROPERTY ON WHICH ZAKAT IS OBLIGATORY

Zakat is compulsory on cash, cattle and crops .  The regulations differ for each of these categories. As the detailed system of computation in the last two categories is rather complicated, it will not be discussed here. Such information is available in standard books on Islamic jurisprudence.

For cash, the minimum rate is two and half percent (2.5%). Zakat should be given only on the net balance after all lawful expenses have been met at the end of the year. The rate mentioned above is only a lower limit. There is no upper limit, except that one should not deprive himself and his dependents from meeting their lawful necessities. Beyond these obligations, the more one gives, the greater the benefit on both the giver and the recipient.

5. RECIPIENTS OF ZAKAT

Those who are eligible to receive zakat are mentioned in the Holy Qur'an.

"The alms are only for the poor, the needy, those who collect them, those whose hearts are to be reconciled, to free the captives and the debtors, for the cause of God, and for the travellers; a duty imposed by God. God is All-Knowing, AII-Wise." (9:6ql

It should be remembered that these categories of persons who are to be helped by zakat were laid down fourteen hundred years ago. They are equally applicable to our own time.

I. The poor: Those who does not have anything to support themselves .

2. The needy: Those people who have some income or earnings but it is not enough to provide them with basic needs.

3. Zakat collectors: The salaries of these workers may be paid from this fund.

4. Converts: Those people who have embraced Islam and . Attempts should be made to settle them in a normal life.

5. People who are not free: This category would include payment of ransom for freeing Muslim salves from slavery from their owners.

6. Debtors: People who are unable to pay debts incurred due to pressing lawful needs.

7. Wayfarers and travellers: Those people who are rendered helpless out side their city.

8. In the Cause of Allah

In the wider sense, this channel of distribution covers all methods of promoting the Islamic faith, whether through Jihad, propagating the enactment of the Islamic legislation or defending Islam through the intellectual confrontation against its opposing hostile trends.

This channel of distribution includes the following:

a. Financing Jihad activities to spread Islam and repel enemies attacks against Muslim countries.

b. Supporting fruitful individual and collective efforts aiming at spreading Islamic rule, establishing Islamic law, and resisting plans to marginalize Islam and its law.

c. Financing the Islamic centers and mosques established in non-Muslim countries, directed by faithful men with the aim of adopting valid methods to spread Islam in these countries.

d. Financing the serious efforts exerted to support the Muslim minorities under non-Muslim rule.

 

6. SOME REGULATIONS CONCERNING ZAKAT

The legal dependents of the contributor may not receive

zakat from him.

Money exceeding the recipient's requirements is not to be given, nor may the recipient accept more than enough to meet his requirements.

Taxes which are paid to the government are not included in the category of zakat .

The contributor should not indulge in pride nor seek fame by carrying out this duty, but if the mention of his name is likely to encourage others to pay zakat, it is permissible to give his name.

It is not necessary to tell the recipient that he is receiving , zakat money. If there are deserving persons who will not accept . the money if they know it is zakat, it can be given without specifying its source. The contributor, however, still gives it  as his zakat payment.

Zakat may be distributed directly to the individuals or organizations mentioned above. The contributor should use his best possible judgment to find the most deserving beneficiaries." In the past, when there were legally constituted Islamic governments, zakat was collected through official channels and its distribution was the function of a special department of the government. In the present day, however, especially in non- Muslim countries, giving zakat is an obligation for which each Muslim adult must take responsibility each year himself. In this country , Muslims may give their zakat directly to some deserving needy person, of whom there are many in every community, or he may give it for use as zakat to some Islamic organization. 

7. SADAOAH (CHARITY)

Zakat is an obligation on Muslim men and women who are better off financially. Sadaqah (charity) refers to any other act of charity.

1. Charity -an essential part of righteousness: To give to help others from one's possessions, no matter whether they are many or few, is a necessary part of a Muslim's sense of submission to God and his concern for his fellow human beings. God says in Qur'an :

"You shall not attain righteousness unless you spend on others of that which you love, and whatever you spend, verily God has knowledge of it." (3:92)

The Holy Prophet (peace be on him) has said: "Son of , Adam! To give away what is beyond your needs is better for you and to withhold it is worse for you, but you are not blamed , for having sufficiency. Give first to those who are dependent on you."

2. What to spend in charity: God says in Qur'an:

"They ask thee what to spend ( in charity) .Say: What is beyond your needs." (2:219)

"0 you who believe! Spend of the good things which you have earned, and of that which We bring forth from the earth for you, and do not seek to give the bad things (in charity) , when you would not take them for yourselves except with disdain." (2:267)

The Prophet (peace be on him) exhorted: "Spend; do not calculate and so have God calculating against you; do not hoard and so have God hoarding from you; but give such small amounts as you can."

4. How to give charity: The best charity is that which is given in secret, in order to respect the dignity of the recipient and to keep the motives of the giver free of pride or desire for praise.

 Qur'an says:

"0 you who believe! Do not cancel your charity by reminders of your generosity or by injury, like those who spend their substance . to be seen men but do not believe either in God or in the Last Day." (2:264)

( "Kind words and the covering of faults are better than charity followed by injury. God is free of all wants, and He is most forbearing." (2:263)

The Prophet (peace be on him) has said: "The best charity is that which the right hand gives and the left hand does not know of it."

5. Recipients of charity: Charity starts with one's own family and dependents and extends to relatives, to the poor and the needy of the community, to widows and orphans, debtors, travellers, those who strive or who migrate in the cause of God, and finally to any others in need.

Qur'an says:

"They ask thee what they should spend ( in charity) .Say: What ever of your wealth you spend shall be for the parents and for the near of kin and the orphans and the needy and the traveller; and whatever good you do, verily, God has full knowledge of it." (2:215; also 9:60)

"(Charity is) for those in need, who, in God's cause are restricted . (from travel) and cannot move about in the land, seeking (for trade or work) .The ignorant man thinks, because of their dignity, that they are free from want. You shall know them by their mark: they do not beg from people at all . And whatever of good you give, be assured that God knows it well." (2:273)

Finally, in a broader sense, it is important to stress that the meaning of charity is not confined to money or things given to help someone in need. It includes everything we do or say to help others -our time, our energy, our concern, our sympathy, our attitude of support, our words of kindness, our  prayers. To care for the needs of a neighbour, to minister to the wants of a child, to visit the sick, to go the funeral of an acquaintance, to console the bereaved all these are acts of charity. There are many hadiths (saying of the Prophet) which emphasize clearly how broad the meaning of charity is, among which are the following: "When you smile in your brother's face, or enjoin what is reputable, or forbid what is objectionable or direct someone who has lost his way, or help a man who has bad eyesight, or remove stones, thorns and bones from the road, or pour water from your bucket into your brother's, it counts to you as charity ," and "Every act of kindness is charity ." May God Most High guide each of us to do our utmost, in the true Islamic spirit of brotherhood, in charity.