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All You Need to Know About Zakah (Alms Giving)

The blessings of Zakah can be seen through its literal meaning as far as the obligations of Islam are concerned. Zakah means growth, a concept that denotes great blessings.

To understand why there are blessings behind alms giving, one has to understand that it is a form of purification. The Quran reads:

Truly he succeeds that purifies it. (91: 7)

Because Islam involves using the wide lens when talking about enjoining good and forbidding evil, all Muslims have to cohesively work together to create a strong sense of unity.

Through alms giving, blessings are shared within the nation. Because God has ordained for people who have wealth to channel a portion of wealth to those who are in need.

As Muslims, temptation through worldly materialism becomes the foremost worry as the world’s offerings are only temporary in nature but the consequences of obsessing over materialistic wealth can be terrifyingly permanent.

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Zakah curbs materialistic whims by reminding able-earning Muslims of the less fortunate by removing excessive wealth that could lead to extravagant lifestyles.

The concept of Zakah also reminds able-earning Muslims that the blessings they receive come from God and need to be distributed amongst all Muslims so none are left in the poverty lurch.

Zakah is such a serious commandment from God that the caliph and staunch companion of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) Abu Bakr said that:

By the name of Allah, I will fight who differentiate between prayer and zakah for zakah is the right of money. (Al-Bukhari)

This may sound intimidating for those who are learning about alms giving. But there is wisdom behind such distribution of wealth, and it can be seen through the “nisab of Zakah, which is the known minimum of which alms is obligated upon. Nisab is actually a very low figure and only applies to certain forms of income so not every single cent is taxed.

The Quran also lists out the recipient of alms to ensure fairness and by understanding who these recipients are, not fulfilling the obligation of alms can be seen as a very wrongful misdemeanor.

The Recipients of Zakah

To ensure fairness in the distribution of Zakah, God specifies:

Alms are for the poor and the needy; and those employed to administer (the funds); for those whose hearts have been (recently) reconciled (to truth); for those in bondage and in debt; in the cause of Allah; and for the wayfarer: (thus is it) ordained by Allah, and Allah is full of knowledge and wisdom (9: 60)

The poor in this verse of the Quran are those with no wealth at all and is unable to sustain themselves through a halal (permissible) occupation. This person perhaps has only sufficient wealth to sustain less than half of his or her needs (food, housing and clothing).

A needy person on the other hand is faring better than a poor person but is still unable to make ends meet due to loans or a deferred payment and can receive alms until he or she has been removed from such a financial need.

The administrators of Zakah receive a salary from the Zakah funds to compensate them for their work.

Those whose hearts are to be reconciled can be broken down into two groups: new reverts who are still learning about Islam.

Next, those in debt are also recipients of alms. Also those who volunteer to fight for the cause of Allah (through the funds of a Muslim state). Lastly, travelers who are stranded and need to return to their homeland are also rightful recipients of alms.

What is Zakatable?

Generally speaking, income (personal and business income), property and savings are taxable in today’s context. But alms giving are obligated upon livestock, staple grain and fruit, money (gold and silver) and trade goods.

The nisab upon each of these categories differ, so it is best to look up the exact amount with a scholar who is well versed in calculating the value of Zakah for the person who wishes to make such a payment.

More importantly is knowing who needs to pay alms. Every sane Muslim who is an owner or recipient of any of the above is required to make a alms payment.

Alms payments were traditionally collected on a daily basis. But scholars have mentioned that they may be paid annually, much like taxes.

Believing in the Wisdom behind Zakah

Like any other form of worship, making a Zakah payment becomes a pleasure for a believing Muslim. The intention to pay it and to reap the blessings in doing so surpass the importance of materialistic wealth to survive the challenges of the world.

Zakah cleanses the heart, purifies the mind and soul and reaches out to much needing Muslims.

All this is done with the conviction that God’s direction on alms holds strong and is an obligation upon every able Muslim as it is the third pillar of Islam.

(This article is from Reading Islam’s archive and was originally published at an earlier date.)