The Arabic word zakah has various meanings including ‘purity’, ‘honour’, ‘growth’ and ‘blessings’. In Islamic terminology, it is the amount required from Muslims to pay to those who deserve it, when their wealth reaches a certain amount called the nisaab, and which satisfies the required conditions.
The zakah is meant to purify a person’s wealth and his income from that taint of selfishness, hence the expression ‘purifying dues’.
Zakah is the Third Pillar of Islam
Zakah is the third pillar of Islam that comes immediately after salah. Indeed, it is a form of worship. Paying it is an obligation on every Muslim who owns the least amount (called nisaab) that requires its payment and that satisfies the rest of its conditions. Allah commands the believers to pay it:
“Establish regular prayer and give zakah”
Refusal to Pay Zakah
Those who refuse to pay zakah, believing that it is not obligatory, are considered disbelievers. Abu Bakr as-Siddeeq, the first caliph, had no hesitation in taking up arms against Muslims who believed in Allah and the Messenger (pbuh) and performed salah but refused to pay zakah. He said, “By Allah! If they refuse to give away a female goat that they used to give to Allah’s Messenger (pbuh), I will surely fight them for that.” (Bukhaaree and Muslim)
Allah warns those who do not pay zakah thus:
“Those who hoard gold and silver and do not spend them for the sake of Allah – warn them of a painful punishment. On that Day when [the hoarded wealth] will be heated in the Fire of Hell and with it will be branded their foreheads and their sides and their backs, and it will be said to them,]This is the treasure which you have hoarded for yourselves. Now taste of what you used to hoard.”
(Quran, 19:34 – 35)
The Prophet (pbuh) also said. Every owner of gold or silver who does not pay its zakah, when the Day of Judgement comes, plates of fire would be beaten out for him; these would then be heated in the fire of Hell and his side, his forehead and his back would be cauterized with them. Whenever these cool down, [the process is] repeated during a day the length of which would be fifty thousand years, until judgement is pronounced among [Allah’s] creatures, and then he would see whether his destination would be either Paradise or the Fire.” (Muslim) The Prophet (pbuh) went on to mention all types of property on which zakah is due and how those who own it but do not pay zakah due on it will be punished. This includes camels, cows and sheep.