Zakat is how Muslims pay it forward

zakat islam, mosque charity

Zakat is a form of alms-giving treated in Islam as a religious obligation or tax, which, by Quranic ranking, is next after prayer in importance. As one of the Five Pillars of Islam, zakat is a religious duty for all Muslims who meet the necessary criteria of wealth. During early Muslim states, zakat was a state affair, while in modern times, it’s left to an individual to decide whether or not they will donate money to the needy.

Zakat represents the old social safety net that alleviates economic problems of vulnerable communities within a Muslim society. The word zakat means “to clear, to purify” when extra wealth that is believed to be acquired with the help of divine power is shared with less fortunate members of the community. There are charities that provide a zakat calculator

In a materialistic world we live in, zakat is an attempt, a mechanism of dealing with enormous social and wealth gaps. Various Muslim organizations distribute food, water, money and clothing to needy in the predominantly Muslims societies and outside of them, in Europe, Americas, Southeast Asia and Australia. And religious Muslims estimate what they owe, this year by Ramadan 2020.

Zakat is mentioned multiple times in Koran and is one of five pillars of Islam with the profession of faith (Shahada), daily prayers (Salat), fasting during Ramadan (Saum) and pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj).

The zakat is levied on five categories of property—food grains; fruit; camels, sheep and goats; gold and silver; and movable goods—and is payable each year after one year’s possession.

Emanuel Shaeublin

Emanuel Shaeublin

According to Emanuel Shaeublin, a Swiss anthropologist from University of Zurich, zakat is considered in Islamic tradition as a contribution or “a tax serving purpose”.

Shaeublin argues that the practice of zakat is central to the Islamic tradition of applying Islamic scriptures to regulate the social life.

“As such, zakat practice takes on different forms according to changing contexts,” he tells Green Prophet.

“In the nineteenth and early twentieth century zakat practice in Palestine was closely tied to mosques, which constituted spaces of teaching, hosting travelers, healing and collecting and distributing charitable funds.

“In the twentieth century, zakat practices in Palestine began to be institutionalized under the hierarchical administrative structures of various modern governments,” Shaeublin explained to us. 

What can be given as zakat?

What types of wealth are included in Zakat? Assets that are included in the Zakat calculation are cash, shares, pensions, gold and silver, business goods and income from investment property. See how this Saudi man started giving away food with an open fridge concept.

Personal items such as home, furniture, cars, food and clothing (unless used for business purposes) are not included.

In the last decades, the notion of zakat has inspired the rise of a heterogeneous Islamic charity sector connecting Muslim communities worldwide, Shaeublin continued, adding that certain types of zakat practice have taken shape as institutions registered by the administrative apparatuses of modern states.

Other types of zakat practice, however, have continued to operate on an informal, personal level.

Historically speaking, during early Muslim states, zakat was a state affair, while in modern times, it’s left to an individual to decide whether or not they will donate money to the needy.

The Muslim countries where zakat is law

More recently, in 6 out of 47 predominantly Muslim countries zakat is mandatory and they are Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Yemen, Pakistan, Malaysia and Libya, though at least two of them are engulfed with the sectarian and tribal conflicts.

Koran and Hadith (sayings and practices of the Prophet Mohamed) underlined voluntary almsgiving, while in Shiite Islam it is required a payment of an additional one-fifth of the tax to the Hidden Imam and his deputies.

Eid Al-Adha: Getting close to your meat

The nineteenth century Dutch Orientalist scholar Snouck Hurgronje (1857-1936) interprets zakat within the context of the Islamic teaching and the changing political context leading to its institutionalization in the first Islamic polity in Medina. The move to Medina came to be known as the Hijra (migration), and marks the beginning of the Islamic calendar.

Hurgronje’s analysis of zakat rests on the distinction between revelations occurring in Mecca and those occurring in Medina, elaborates Shaeublin, adding that his argument is that “zakat was slowly transformed from a virtuous gift into a justification used by the nascent Islamic polity led by the Prophet to extract public contributions from Muslims”.

Looking at the Quranic verses on zakat revealed in Mecca, Hurgronje, who later converted to Islam, observes “an intimate link between zakat and virtues such as justice and piety”. He draws the parallel between zakat of the Aramaic work zakut, which means merit, justice and was used by both Jews and Christians of the area.

How much do we give in zakat?

Zakat is based on income and the value of all of one’s possessions. It is customarily 2.5% (or 1/40) of a Muslim’s total savings and wealth above a minimum amount known as nisab, but Islamic scholars differ on how much nisab is and other aspects of zakat.

In addition, the late Suliman Bashear( 1947-1991), who was the author of books Studies in Early Islamic Tradition and Arabs and Others in Early Islam argued that during the time of the Prophet Mohamed zakat wasn’t yet an obligation to pious Muslims regulated by religion and that it was instituted after his death.

Zakat, sadaqa and waqf? What is the difference?

The two are different in their own respects. Zakat means growth, purification and blessing in Arabic. Sadaqa or sadaqah means sign of sincerity of faith. While Zakat is obligatory, Sadaqah is voluntary.

Besides zakat, there is also sadaqa (sounds like tzedakah – the Jewish charitable giving) that is additional, voluntarily donation and it’s not specified in terms of assets.

Sadaqah encompasses any act of charitable giving done out of compassion, love, friendship or generosity. 

Sadaqa includes the notion of waqf (endowment of property), and it is a social cement that connects human, physical and financial elements. Waqf endowments were behind mosque building, establishment of hospitals, public buildings, fountains, waystations on the pilgrimage roads and bridges.

We hope more will be made in the name of the environment and improving social conditions between people of all faiths. 

Muslims Should Waqf for Water Because It’s Good for the Environment

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