There are some basic reasons why money changes hands around the world. Trade, business, investments, buying and selling, are the primary causes of the switches of ownership of money, assets, wealth, and properties.
Centuries ago, wealth existed mostly in the form of gold and silver coins, pieces of land, gemstones, and animals. Paper and plastic money might be an invention of the modern world, but it has always depended upon the values of gold and silver for its worth.
The ethos, types of employment, cultures, and professions around the world have changed with the advancement of science, technology, medicine, and industrialization. Yet, the basic human mindset and habits regarding wealth, and the survival needs of people have remained the same.
Human beings need wealth in order to survive and thrive. That is the simple truth.
A Pillar of Faith
Islam has five basic pillars, which uphold the foundation of the faith for a believer. They are: belief in monotheism, establishing daily prayers, giving obligatory charity, fasting in Ramadan each year, and performing Hajj (the pilgrimage) once in a lifetime.
Without the practice of these pillars, the faith of a Muslim is at high risk of becoming weak and, eventually, collapsing.
One thing that is noteworthy, is that the only pillar of Islam involving no outward rituals or bodily worship of Allah, but instead entailing only dealings between Muslims, is Zakah.
This pillar of Islam involves giving some obligatory charity on one’s wealth, once every lunar year. That is, it is the intentional transfer of wealth, based on the recipient’s condition or situation, and not for personal benefit, business or trade.
Sounds quite simple, doesn’t it?
Building Bridges & Bonds
A Muslim has to pay Zakah in charity only if their wealth and assets reach a certain threshold value. It also has to be paid just once every lunar year. The percentage of wealth to be paid is just 2.5%, which is way less than most annual taxes and duties that are levied today.
This charity is to be given to needy Muslims, preferably directly into their hands. The only non-Muslims who can receive Zakah are those who are strongly inclined towards converting to Islam.
Like I said at the start, giving money to someone almost always involves the trade of some goods or services. Hardly ever do we give money to someone else without expecting something in return, of some kind.
Many philanthropists might give money in charity in order to feel good about themselves. Others could do it to alleviate guilt, boost PR (public relations) in the media, polish their company’s name and reputation (corporate social responsibility), or to just see the positive effects of their charity in the lives of others.
Giving someone your wealth only for the sake of Allah’s pleasure, though, is a totally different ball game. It is purely a matter of the heart — a kind of spiritual worship — that makes one part with a portion of one’s wealth or money, in utter submission to Allah alone.
No other reason, motive, or logic is involved.
The long-term, positive results of this transfer of wealth cannot be enumerated or calculated in the form of financial reports or documents. The spiritual “profits”, rewards and effects are far-reaching, innumerable, and manifold.
A recipient of Zakah who has his or her distress, worry, illness, suffering, debt, or any other kind of hardship removed because of the wealth that someone gave him, can never, ever forget this act of kindness, as long as they live.
Zakah thus creates indomitable bonds of everlasting brotherhood, goodwill and love between Muslims, the likes of which no other exchange of wealth can even come close to achieving.
Cleansing of Sins
The purpose of giving Zakah is to cleanse a Muslim of their sins. The Arabic word “zakah” implies increase, profit, and growth. It also means the process of cleaning something, or purifying it.
The Zakah system in Islam collects charity from the well-off section of Muslim society, and distributes it among the poorer and needier section. This causes a multi-faceted spiritual cleanse or detoxification on an individual and communal level, for Muslims.
Zakah prevents wealth from being accumulated in one part of society. It ensures that everyone has a meal to eat and clothes to cover their backs. It also ensures that all wealthy people are annually taken to account, which prevents illegal actions such as fraud and extortion, and other financial crimes.
Giving charity expiates for the sins committed by a Muslim, and also appeases the wrath of Allah. E.g. the expiation of many major sins in Islam initially involved the manumission of a slave (before slavery was abolished permanently), or feeding a specific number of meals to needy Muslims.
Conclusion: Zakah is the Lifeblood of the Body of Muslims
A lot of times, people think, “Why does an all-merciful God allow so much poverty, famine, suffering, and illness to exist in this world?”
The answer is that He has created this painful suffering because there would be no charity, no helpfulness, no compassion, and no giving, if these did not exist. Pain and suffering brings out some of the best good deeds among human beings, when they help the underprivileged and unfortunate ones among and around themselves.
This is also why giving Zakah and establishing a system of its annual collection and distribution is a pillar of the Islamic faith.
This equitable system ensures that the wealthy and fortunate ones among the Muslims remain humble, compassionate, and generous, whereas the unfortunate and needy ones have their basic needs of survival met.
It is a win-win situation for all.