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ZAKAT

(THE PRSECRIBED PURIFYING ALMS)

  1. Who Must Pay

  2. The Nisab and Zakat for Different Items of Wealth
  3. Recipients
  4. Sadaqa al-Fitr (The Charity of Fast-Breaking)
  5. Infaq (Spending in God's Way)

The second important duty of servanthood is zakat. God's Messenger, who depicts prayer as Islam's pillar or support, describes zakat as its bridge (Canan, ibid., 6:346), for zakat not only brings the social strata closer to each other and fills in the gaps between them and their members, but also stops such gaps from forming.
Zakat means purity and growing. Since it purifies wealth and people's attachment to it, and causes both it and Muslims to grow in purity and sincerity, the Qur'an calls it zakat (or the prescribed alms):

(O Messenger,) take alms (prescribed or voluntary) out of their wealth so that you may cleanse them thereby and cause them to grow in purity and sincerity, and pray for them. Indeed your prayer is a source of comfort for them. God is All-Hearing, All-Knowing. (9:103)

Taking into account its very nature, zakat constitutes one of Islam's five pillars. It is associated with prayer (salat) in 82 Qur'anic verses. God, the Exalted One, prescribed it in His Book (the Qur'an), His Messenger corroborated it by his sunna, and the Muslim community by consensus upheld it. Ibn 'Abbas reported that when the Prophet sent Mu'adh ibn Jabal to Yemen (as its governor), he said to him:

You are going to a people who are People of the Book. Invite them to accept the shahada: that there is no deity but God and I am His Messenger. If they accept and affirm this, tell them that God, the Glorious One, has enjoined five prayers upon them during the day and night. If they accept that, tell them also that He has enjoined sadaqa (meaning zakat) upon their assets, which will be taken from the rich of the (Muslim) community and distributed to the poor. If they accept that, refrain from laying hands upon the best of their goods and fear the cry of the oppressed, for there is no barrier between God and it. (Bukhari, "Zakat," 1:41; Muslim, "Iman," 31.)

Many verses exhort Muslims to pay zakat and forbid hoarding wealth. For example:

The believers, both men and women, they are guardians, confidants and helpers of one another. They enjoin and promote what is right and good and forbid and try to prevent the evil. They establish the prayer in conformity with its conditions, and pay the zakat (prescribed purifying alms) fully. They always obey God and His Messenger. Those are the distinguished ones whom God shall treat with mercy. Assuredly, God is the All-Honored with irresistible might, All-Wise. (9:71)

and:

Those who hoard gold and silver and do not spend it in God's way (to exalt His cause and help the poor and needy: O Messenger,) give them the glad tidings of a painful chastisement. (9:34)

Who Must Pay
Zakat must be paid by every free Muslim, man or woman, who has a nisab (the required amount of wealth). As for the insane and children who have a nisab, if their wealth is under disposal or in circulation, their guardians pay it on their behalf. If a person dies before paying it, it must be taken from the estate before paying off any debts, if there are any, and the heirs share the inheritance.

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Conditions for Nisab. Nisab is conditioned by the following:

  • Nisab is the amount of wealth remaining after meeting all expenses for such vital necessities as food, clothes, housing, and a mount. Thus, one does not have to pay zakat on what he or she needs to make a living, such as tools or machines related to carpentry, farming, tailoring, or working as a doctor. All debts are subtracted from one's wealth. If one has enough secured credit to pay off the debt, it is added to one's wealth, and if the resultant wealth reaches the nisab, one must pay zakat.
  • For many items subject to zakat (e.g., money, gold, silver, and cattle), a full year of the Islamic calendar should pass, starting from the day of the nisab's possession. If the wealth possessed decreases during the year but is still possessed one year later, zakat must be paid. What matters is the availability of nisab at the beginning and end of the year. However, this condition does not apply to plantations and fruits, for their zakat should be paid, or at least calculated, on the harvest day and include what has been consumed before the harvest.
  • In short, there are two types of zakat: one grows by itself (e.g., crops and fruits), and the other is used for growing and production (e.g., money, merchandise, and cattle). In the former case, zakat should be paid at harvest time; in the later, at the end of the year.
  • The wealth subject to zakat should be actively or potentially increasing, growing, or productive. This condition will be explained below.
  • One must have private, doubtless ownership or possession and the right of disposal of the wealth liable to zakat.

Intention. Since paying zakat is an act of worship, its validity depends upon one's sincere intention to pay it for God's sake. If one pays it without making the intention, one can still intend while the wealth expended as zakat has not yet been consumed.

Paying Zakat at Its Due Time. Zakat must be paid immediately at its due time. Deferring it is prohibited, unless there is a valid reason not to do so.

Holdings Subject to Zakat and Their Nisab. Islam enjoined zakat on currencies and similar things, such as shares, bonds and checks, gold and silver, crops, fruit, livestock, merchandise, minerals, and treasure.

The Standard of Richness. Islam does not criticize earning; rather, it encourages working and earning one's livelihood. But it does not approve of earning for luxury and a luxurious life, and urges Muslims to work, earn, and live for the other life as their goal. It encourages mutual helping in society and spending in God's way and for the needy, and has not established a fixed standard of living. It regards having a house, a mount, two suits and other articles of clothing, and one month worth of livelihood (some say that one can keep a year of livelihood at the most) as the necessary commodities or wealth upon which one does not have to pay zakat. Bediüzzaman Said Nursi expresses a standard that can be valid for all times, as follows: While most Muslims are below the average standards of living, a Muslim cannot live a luxurious, comfortable life.

The Sunna has established approximately 90 grams of gold or about 600 grams of silver or 40 sheep or 30 heads of cattle or 5 camels as the standard. If, according to the place or the general standard of living of the people in a particular place, one has banknotes, merchandise, or other kinds of increasing income or capital whose value is equal to any of the standard values given, he or she must pay zakat. However, in establishing the nisab, the minimum amount or value, which favors the poor, is considered.

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The Nisab and Zakat for Different Items of Wealth

The Nisab and Zakat for Gold, Silver, and Other Jewelry. The nisab for gold is 20 dinars (approximately 90 grams) and for silver is 200 dirhams (approximately 600 grams), both being owned for one year. The due on them is one-fortieth of their value. Any additional amount is to be calculated in this manner. Gold and silver are combined. Thus, if one has gold and silver whose value is equal to 200 dirhams of silver, zakat must be paid. Likewise, gold, silver, banknotes and the like, and commercial merchandise are also combined. Things made of gold and silver are treated like gold and silver. In other words, if the weight of gold and silver they contain amounts to the nisab, their zakat is paid.

Although most of the scholars opine that no zakat has to be paid on diamonds, pearls, sapphires, rubies, corals, or other precious stones that women wear as ornaments and unless they are used for trade, it is piety and a measure to be saved from the obligation of zakat, which is both God's and people's right on rich people, to make some payment due to them. One should not buy such precious stones in order to avoid paying zakat.

Banknotes, Checks, and Bonds. As these are documents with guaranteed credits, banknotes, checks, and bonds are subject to zakat, at the rate of one-fortieth of their value, when they are owned for one year and attain the minimum of nisab (being equal in value to 200 silver dirhams). A person may change them into currency immediately. They are combined with currencies, gold and silver, and commercial merchandise.

Commercial Merchandise. Any commercial merchandise that is religiously lawful to use, consume, buy, and sell (e.g., clothes, grain, iron, copper, cattle, sheep, houses, shops, and cars) is subject to zakat. Their due is one-fortieth. Due to gold's stable value, jurists maintain that it should be the basis upon which the nisab of commercial merchandise is determined.

Buildings and Vehicles of Transportation That Are Sources of Income. One who rents out a house, a shop, tools, vehicles, or land, or who has vehicles working in transportation, must pay zakat on the rent and income received. If their annual revenue is equal to nisab, after the money spent on them is deducted, the owner pays their zakat every month. Since they are compared with land and land products, their zakat rate is one-tenth.

Industrial Investments and Means of Production. These items are currently among the greatest sources of income. Although people's private houses, tools, and machines by which they earn their living are not subject to zakat, industrial investments and means of production (e.g., factories) are, for they are growing and sources of revenue. Some jurists compare them to land and land products, and say that their zakat rate is one-tenth. Others compare them to commercial activities and merchandise, and say that their zakat rate is one-fortieth of the value remaining after debts, expenses on necessary material, workmanship, production, marketing, and financing have been subtracted.

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Wages, Salaries, and Independent Businesses. Since wages, salaries, and earnings from independent businesses are steady and continuous and potentially growing, they are subject to zakat if the amount remaining after the yearly average expenditure on livelihood reaches nisab. The rate is one-fortieth. Although there are diverse standards of living, Muslims do not think of living a comfortable life when the majority of Muslims and humanity are living a below-average life. Some jurists say that this type of zakat should be paid after one year; others say that it should be paid monthly.

Cattle, Sheep, and Goats. Cattle, camels, sheep, and goats are subject to zakat. They must be commercial or grazing, and have been in one's possession for a year. The nisab of each is as follows:

  • When one has 5 grazing camels for one year, their due is 1 sheep, which is also the due for 5 to 9 camels. The due for 10 to 14 camels is 2 sheep, for 15 to 19 camels is 3 sheep, and for 20 to 24 camels is 4 sheep. The due for 25 to 35 camels is a 2-year-old she-camel, for 36 to 45 is a 3 year-old she-camel, for 46 to 60 is a 4-year-old she-camel, for 61 to 75 is 5-year-old she-camel, for 76 to 90 is 2 3-year-old she-camels, and for 91 to 120 is 2 5-years-old she-camels.
  • The nisab for cattle is 30. For 30 to 40 heads of cattle, a 2.5-year-old male or female weaned calf; for 40 to 60, a 3-year-old weaned calf; for 60, 2 1-year-old calves. When there are more than 60 heads of cattle, the rate is 1 calf for each 30 heads and 1 weaned calf for each 40 heads.
  • When one has 40 sheep or goats, their due is 1 sheep or goat. For 40 to 120 it is the same, for 120 to 200 it is 2 sheep, for 200 to 399 it is 3 sheep, and for 400 to 500 it is 4 sheep.

Farm Products. The zakat on farm products is paid when they are har-vested. One must calculate them in advance if he or she wants to use or benefit from them. Most scholars maintain than their nisab is about 50 quarters, that is, if one has that amount of farm products, one must pay their zakat. The due for farm products naturally irrigated (with rain) is one-tenth; if they are irrigated by their owner, who must pay the related expenses, the due is one-twentieth.

Minerals, Mines, Buried Treasure, and Sea Products. The zakat on such items is one-fifth. If a buried treasure is found in a land whose owner is unknown or belongs to the state, one-fifth of it is given as zakat and the rest belongs to the finder. If it is found in a land whose owner is known, one-fifth is given to the owner. Scholars have ruled that there is no nisab for such items. However, some maintain that when these items are worth about 600 dirhams of silver or 90 grams of gold, zakat must be paid.

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Recipients

Scholars have divided property into two categories: hidden (kept at home, such as money, gold, and silver) and property kept in the open (e.g., animals and farm products). During the Prophet's lifetime and that of the caliphs, zakat was collected by officials appointed for that purpose. There was even a special zakat fund in the state budget. In later times, the state began to collect zakat on the property in the open and let the owners of hidden properties take care of it by themselves.

Muslims or Muslim communities must find a good, preferable way to collect zakat in the absence of an Islamic authority and distribute it properly, as mentioned in 9:60. They are:

  • Poor people who do not earn enough to keep themselves and their families alive.
  • The destitute who cannot meet their basic needs.
  • Zakat collectors.
  • Those whose hearts, due to their weak Islam, need to be reconciled or strengthened for Islam; whose hearts can be swayed toward Islam; or those whose evil against Islam and the Muslims could be avoided.
  • To free Muslim prisoners-of-war and emancipate slaves.
  • To help those who are overburdened with debt.
  • To support those who exalt God's word, strive for God's cause (mujahidun), and provide for students and pilgrims.
  • Travelers, either at home or abroad.

The recipients of zakat are mentioned in the following verse:

The prescribed alms are meant only for the poor and those in destitution (although, out of self-respect, they do not give the impression that they deserve help); those in charge of collecting and administering them; those whose hearts or friendship and support are to be won over for God's cause, (including those whose hostilities might be prevented thereby); to free those in the bondage of slavery and captivity; to help those overburdened with debt; and in God's way (to exalt God's word, to provide for students and help pilgrims); and for the wayfarer (in need of help). This is an ordinance from God. God has full knowledge of everything, All-Wise. (9:60)

Zakat is distributed among the recipients according to their need and priority, assigned to those in greater need, or according to circumstances. But zakat is not voluntary charity given to please the poor or needy; rather, it is spent to eradicate poverty, provide capital for the needy in order to save them from their need, to fill the gaps between classes, or to prevent such gaps from appearing in society.

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Sadaqa al-Fitr (The Charity of Fast-Breaking)

Sadaqa al-fitr must be paid by every free Muslim whose wealth meets one's basic needs and has extra wealth equal to 600 grams of silver. A Muslim must pay it for himself, his wife, children, and servants at the end of Ramadan to purify those who fast, to protect them from indecent act or speech, and to help the poor and needy. It is given before the 'Iyd prayer on the 'Iyd (Religious Festive) Day. One who forgets to pay it, or cannot pay it at this time due to some valid excuse, must pay it when one remembers it or has no more excuse.

Traditionally, sadaqat al-fitr has been calculated on the basis of, and paid as, wheat, barley, dates, and dried grapes. However, the amount to be paid must be sufficient to meet an average person's daily food intake. It can be paid either in the kind, as mentioned above, or in its monetary equivalence.

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Infaq (Spending in God's Way)

Islam views wealth realistically - as an essential aspect of life and the main means of individual and group subsistence. God Almighty says: Do not give to those devoid of good judgment and sanity your property, which God has put in your charge as means of support for you (and the needy) (4:5). This amounts to saying that wealth is to be distributed to meet basic needs (e.g., food, clothing, lodging, and other indispensables), and that no one is to be lost, forgotten, or left without support. The best way to distribute wealth so that everyone's basic needs are met is through zakat, for it places no burden upon the wealthy, meets the basic needs of the poor, and relieves them of life's hardships and deprivation's pain.

Zakat is not a favor of the wealthy to the poor; rather, it is a due that God entrusted to the rich so that they might deliver it to the poor and distribute it among the deserving. This establishes the following truth: Wealth is not exclusively for the rich, but for the rich and the poor. This is what is meant by God's saying: so that this (wealth) may not circulate solely among the rich from among you (59:7). Zakat must be paid by those who can pay it, and must be given to the poor and the needy so that they can meet their basic needs, not go hungry, and acquire a sense of security and general well-being. If there is not enough zakat to meet such needs, the rich can be subjected to further taxation. How much should be taken is not specified, for that depends upon the needs of the poor.

The Qur'an urges the wealthy to spend in God's way and for His cause. For example, in praising the believers, it declares:

They spend in God's way (of whatever God has bestowed upon them) both in ease and hardship, restrain their rage (even though they are able to retaliate and avenge), and pardon people their offenses. God loves (such) people devoted to doing good, conscious that God always sees them. (3:134)

They establish the (prescribed) prayer (in awe and veneration of God and in conformity with its conditions), and spend as subsistence out of what-ever We provide for them (of wealth, knowledge, power, and so on to those really in need purely for His good pleasure and without placing others under obligation). (8:3)
The Qur'an tells us to give from what we love and not to place people under obligation because of what we spend in God's way or give to them:

Those who spend their wealth in God's way and then do not follow up what they have spent with placing under obligation and taunting, their reward is with their Lord. There shall be no fear on them (both in this world and the next, for they shall always find My help and support with them), nor shall they grieve. A kind word and forgiving (people's faults) are better than almsgiving followed by taunting. God is All-Wealthy and Self-Sufficient, (absolutely independent of people's charity), All-Clement (Who shows no haste in chastising). (2:262-63)

You will never be able to attain godliness until you spend of what you love (in God's way or as sustenance to the needy). Whatever you spend, God has full knowledge of it. (3:92)

Spend (of whatever you have) in God's way, and do not cast yourselves into destruction with your own hands (by refraining from doing so). Whatever you do, do it, conscious that God sees it, and in the best way possible. God loves those who are devoted to doing good, conscious that God always sees them. (2:195)

God promises great reward to those who spend their wealth in His way, and warns against being miserly and spending only to attract people's attention:

The example of those who spend their wealth in God's way is like that of a grain that sprouts seven ears, and in every ear there are a hundred grains. Thus God multiplies for whomever He wills. God is One Who embraces all (with His mercy), All-Knowing. (2:261)

Those who act miserly (in spending of what God has granted them) and urge others to be miserly, and conceal the things God has granted them out of His bounty (such as wealth and certain truths in their Book), We have prepared for (such) disbelievers a shameful, humiliating chastisement. And (also) those who spend their wealth (in charity or for another good cause) to make a show of it to people and be praised by them, when they believe neither in God nor in the Last Day. Whoever has Satan for a comrade, how evil a comrade he is!! (4:37-38)

Another point to stress here is that generalizing certain matters sometimes has caused great misunderstanding and wrong applications, as in the cases of condemning the world and asceticism. Humanity is God's vicegerent on Earth, meaning that people have the right to interfere with things (i.e., the ecological equilibrium and 'nature's" universal laws) within the bounds established by God, improve Earth, and rule it in God's name and according to His laws. This duty falls first of all upon believers, because denying God in any way severs the link between God and humanity and makes people beings who shed blood and cause unrest upon Earth.

Since maintaining human existence depends upon belief and the existence of a formidable group of believers with the potential to bear the Divine Trust, Earth's Divine bounties belong, first of all, to believers. In return, they are obliged to administer them and distribute them justly among people. Thus, they are to use Earth's bounties in accordance with God's Will, and to thank Him in return. However, they are forbidden to go beyond the lawful limits in benefiting from them and make eating and drinking the goal of their lives.

In addition to engendering competitive clashes over such items, overconsumption also leads to accumulated energy that, if not controlled, causes such destructive sins as adultery and prostitution. So, to avoid such destruction, individuals can adapt, and are even advised to embrace, asceticism. But the Muslim community cannot leave earthly bounties, as well as their administration and distribution, to others in the name of asceticism. As Bediüzzaman Said Nursi puts it, believers must not set their hearts on the world but must work and earn to maintain themselves, uphold God's Word, and spend in His way.

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Last Updated on December 15, 2004

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