Zakat (The Purifying Dues) – Part 1

Zakat - The Purifying Dues

Zakat is the Third Pillar of Islam

Zakat is one of the five pillars of Islam. Some people wrongly think that the place of Zakat comes after siyaam (fasting), or even Hajj (the pilgrimage). Zakat is actually the third pillar of Islam that comes immediately after salah. Among the pillars of Islam, Zakat ranks very close to salah. They are often mentioned together in the Quran, as in the following verses:

“Establish regular prayer and give Zakat”

(Quran, 73: 20)

“And establish prayer and give zakah and obey Allah and His Messenger”

(Quran, 33: 33)

“And establish prayer and give zakah and bow with those who bow [in worship and obedience].”

(Quran, 2: 43)

The Term ‘Zakat ‘

Zakat is an Arabic term. Lexically, the term denotes purification, blessing and growth. Another term used in the Quran and Inadeetln for Zakat is sadaqaat (Quran, 9:60). The term is derived from sadaqaat (the truth). Both these terms are highly meaningful. The spending of wealth for the sake of Allah purifies the heart of man of the love of material wealth. Hence, the translation of the term Zakat as Purifying dues seems appropriate. The person who offers that as a humble gift before the Lord thus affirms the truth that nothing is dearer to him in life than the love of Allah, and this action of his clearly shows that he is fully prepared to sacrifice everything for His sake.

The payment of Zakat purifies the believer, his wealth and his soul by cleansing him of the diseases of miserliness. It also purifies his wealth by removing any evil effect on it. Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) once said, “Whoever pays the Zakat on his wealth will have its evil removed from him.” (Ibn Khuzaymah and at-Tabaraanee)

If someone does not give to the poor and the needy what is their due, his wealth remains impure. Indeed, this person’s inner self, too, is impure. His heart is too narrow and filled with thanklessness. He is too selfish and almost worships wealth. While Allah has been kind and generous to give him wealth in excess of his needs, it pains him to give what is His due. How can we expect such a person ever to do some good with the sole aim of pleasing Allah, or make any sacrifice for the sake of Islam, and his faith?

Zakat in Islam

Zakat ‘s technical meaning is in reference to a specific portion of one’s different type of wealth that one must give yearly to a specific group of recipients mentioned in the Quran. (Quran, 9: 60)

The Importance of Zakat

Social justice and compassion to fellow humans is one of the central themes of Islam, Zakat , like salah and siyaam, had been enjoined on the people of messengers gone by.

Zakat is obligatory on anyone who has wealth that reaches or exceeds a certain level called the nisaab, or scale – an mount on which Zakat becomes obligatory, unlike tax, which is levied by governments, Zakat is an act of worship for which one receives reward from Allah. Ignoring to pay the Zakat , on the other hand, is a major sin. According to the scholars, anyone who does not pay Zakat by denying its obligation is considered a disbeliever.

Zakat Is the Right of the Poor

Zakat is not a favour that is given to the poor by the rich. Rather, it is their right. It is the right of the poor on the wealth of the rich. Allah says, “…And those in whose wealth is a known right for the [needy] who asks and him who is deprived.” (Quran, 70: 24-25)

Zakat , therefore, is unlike charity (called sadaqaln) that is given to the needy voluntarily. To withhold Zakat is to deprive the poor of their rightful share. Thus the person who pays Zakat actually purifies his wealth by separating from it the portion that belongs to the poor.

The Fate of those who Refuse to Pay Zakat

The Quranic verses and the hadteeth use the sternest terms to warn those who refuse to pay the Zakat. The Quran says ” And those who hoard gold and silver and spend it not in the way of Allah – give them tidings of a painful punishment. The Day when it will be heated in the fire of Hell and seared therewith will be their foreheads, their flanks, and their backs, [it will be said], “This is what you hoarded for yourselves, so taste what you used to hoard.” (Quran, 9: 34-35)

Abu Dharr said, “Once I went to the Prophet (pbuh) while he was sitting in the shade of the Ka’bah. When he saw me, he said, ‘They are indeed the losers, by the Lord of the Ka’bah!’ I came and sat down but could not rest and I soon stood up, saying, O Allah’s Messenger, may I sacrifice my father and mother to save you! Who are they?’ He replied, ‘Those who have the largest wealth, except whoever does this, this, this and this [pointing in front of him and to his back and left]. Indeed, few who do this. Whoever has camels or cows or sheep and does not pay the Zakat on them, these animals will be brought on the Day of Resurrection far bigger and fatter than before. They will tread on him with their hooves, butt him with their horns and encircle him. When the last does its turn, the first will start again, and his punishment will go on until Allah has finished the judgment among the people.” (al-Bukhaare and Muslim)

The Prophet (pbuh) also said, “Whoever is made wealthy by Allah and does not pay the Zakat on his wealth, then on the Day of Resurrection his wealth will be made [into the shape] like a bald-headed, poisonous snake with two black spots over the eyes. It will encircle his neck and bite his cheeks and say, ‘I am your wealth, I am your treasure.” (al-Bukhaaree)

Ruling concerning those who Do not Pay Zakat

Zakat is one of the five pillars of Islam, and if a person denies the obligation of Zakat or says that it is not a part of Islam, then he is definitely a disbeliever, according to the agreement of scholars. The question once again is: What is the status of a person who accepts Zakat as an obligation but due to laziness, miserliness or carelessness, he does not give Zakat ! Does he remain a Muslim? For the majority of scholars, this person is still a Muslim, but a severe punishment awaits him.

The Worldly Punishment for not Paying Zakat

A person who does not pay Zakat will receive painful punishment in the afterlife for depriving the poor of their rights and for rejecting Allah’s command to do so. In addition, he may also incur loss in his wealth and property or face some other forms of calamities in this world. The Prophet (pbuh) said, “Whenever an amount of wealth is destroyed in the land or the sea, it could be because its Zakat was not given.” (at-Tabaraanee)

The Prophet (pbuh) also said, Zakat is never mixed with any amount of wealth without destroying or rotting it.” (al-Bukhaaree)

Zakat and Abu Bakr as-Siddeeq

After the demise of the Prophet (pbuh) some of the tribes refused to pay Zakat . Abu Bakr, the first caliph, fought them. He had no hesitation in taking up arms against Muslims who believed in Allah and His Messenger and performed salah, but refused to pay Zakat . Some of the Prophet’s companions initially had some confusion whether they could wage war against them, but not Abu Bakr. He clearly announced, “By Allah! If these people withhold the Zakat they used to pay during the time of the Prophet (pbuh), even  if it be a piece of rope by which a camel is tied, I shall raise my sword against them.” His arguments convinced the companions. (Abu Daawood)

Abu Bakr is also reported to have said, ‘By Allah! I will fight anyone who distinguishes between prayer and Zakat. Zakat is the obligatory right to be taken from the property. By Allah! If they refuse to give me even a young nanny goat, which they used to give at the time of the Prophet (pbuh), I will fight them for withholding it.

The Nisaab – or Scale on which Zakat becomes Obligatory

Zakat is not imposed unless the zakatable wealth reaches a minimum level, which is called the nisaab, or scale. For example, if one has thirty-nine goats then there is no Zakat on his goats. However, if he has forty goats, then Zakat is certainly due on them. The Nisaab on goats, therefore, is forty goats.

Different types of properties have different nisaabs. For example, the nisaab on money is 85 grams of gold, the nisaab on silver is 595 grams, the nisaab on camels is five camels, and the nisaab on grains is 653 kilograms. Zakat on each type of wealth is calculated separately.

The nisaab must be in excess of the basic needs of the owner. Things used for satisfying the basic necessities are not considered zakatable. Basic needs are food, shelter, clothes, household goods, utensils, furniture, money to pay back debts, basic transport, books of knowledge, etc. To clarify this, let us suppose that the nisaab on money is $1200 and a family of four needs $20,000 per year to fulfil its basic needs in a particular place. If the head of that family earns $21,000 in the Zakat year and he does not have any other wealth or money, then from the viewpoint of Zakat , he has only $1000. This is short of $1200 nisaab on money and consequently, there is no Zakat on that money. However, if, in addition to his income, he also has cash savings of $500 from the previous year, then his wealth from the viewpoint of Zakat is $1500 ($1000 + $500). This is at or above nisaab on money. Zakat , therefore, will be due on $1500.

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