A Real Story
Mr. Sharif is a man who owns acres and acres of arable lands in his village. Every year, he gives out his lands on lease to farmers, and he makes a lot of money in this way.
He never pays zakah because he thinks it’s a waste of his money. It’s his money; he works hard to earn it. Why should he be forced to give away any of it?
Mr. Sharif is always at odds with his neighbors, those whose lands are adjacent to his own. He is always at loggerheads with them about where his boundary ends and theirs begin. He thinks that all of his neighbors are cheaters, and interestingly enough, his neighbors give him the same compliment.
One day, Mr. Sharif dies. Many of the neighbors refuse to attend his funeral. His children, instead of grieving about their father’s death or making dua for him, begin an ugly, lifelong argument regarding division of the inheritance. (Adapted from a real incident)
A Test of True Faith
The status of zakah is right after salah. They are mentioned as a pair many times in the Quran. These two acts of worship together testify to one’s Islam.
It’s easy to say that one believes, but it’s difficult to find time every day to pray to Allah. Maybe a hypocrite will pretend to pray some of the five daily prayers, but he will never give away his money in zakah unless there exists true faith in his heart.
That’s why, when Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) died, one of the first problems that the newly appointed caliph, Abu Bakr faced was about zakah. Many of the Arab tribes who had only recently accepted Islam refused to pay zakah. And Abu Bakr waged war against them.
Literally, zakah means purification, and there’s very good reason why Allah gave this name to the obligatory charity that is one of the five pillars of Islam. Zakah does purification in two ways: it purifies one’s remaining wealth, and it purifies the giver’s heart. Allah says in in the Quran that it is those who purify (zakka) their souls who will succeed. (91:9)
Zakah Makes Your Wealth Grow
For a plant to grow properly, you need to first remove the weeds and protect it from pests. Zakah purifies one’s wealth, so that it can grow and thrive.
When you give charity, Allah protects your wealth and blesses it in ways you can’t imagine. The Prophet (peace be upon him) told the story of a farmer who used to give one third of his garden’s produce to the poor. Allah would send a cloud especially to go and rain near the man’s farm so the water would reach it.
Protection from Unhappiness
Love for money is something deeply embedded in human nature. It’s a sign of our humanness to love money, but problem happens when this love goes to excess. Imagine if a person’s happiness depends on how much money he has. What would happen to him if he loses some of it? What if he suddenly becomes bankrupt? He won’t be able to bear it. He’ll probably become severely depressed and ill, and might even try to end his life.
Zakah protects us from excessive love of wealth, from becoming dependent on wealth for our happiness.
Protection from Miserliness
Zakah protects us from greediness. When people love money too much, they become inclined to hoard. Many such people don’t even spend on themselves, nor their families. Often they become stingy and argumentative, like Mr. Sharif. They view others in a mercenary way, as if everyone was out to get money from them. In short, it ruins their personality, turning them into a scrooge whom no one can love or respect.
Every day two special angels come down from heaven. One of them prays for those who spend for the sake of Allah. The other prays:
O Allah! Destroy every miser. (Al-Bukhari 1442)
No matter how hard we work, we can’t earn money unless Allah allows us to have it. Hard work is never a measure of how much one earns. Nor is it intelligence or level of education.
Allah favors some people with more wealth than others; it’s as much a test as a blessing. What you do with that excess wealth determines your success in this world and the hereafter.
When you give zakah to the needy, you realize that your money isn’t your own. Allah has given you more money than you need, and He has also given the poor and needy people a right on that surplus money.
A person who forms the habit of giving will be protected from miserliness. The very act of giving develops his character and makes him a better person every time he gives.
Giving away something you love is a sacrifice, and any sacrifice for the sake of Allah acts as a purification from sins. The Prophet (peace be upon him) compared the way charity removes sins with how water extinguishes fire. (Ibn Majah 3973)
Zakah wipes out the habit of hoarding. No one likes to see their wealth decrease by 2.5 % every year. They will prefer to invest it in business rather than let it sit and keep diminishing. In this way, zakah increases the financial productivity of the community.