Zakat is the financial obligation upon Muslims. An important principle of Islam is that everything belongs to God and that wealth is therefore held by human beings in trust. The word Zakat means both purification and growth. There is also Zakat-al-Mal(زكاة ألمال) or Zakat on wealth.
Zakat is not a charitable contribution (like sadaqah) but is considered to be a tax. Our possessions are purified by setting aside a proportion for those in need and for the society in general. Like the pruning of plants, this cutting back balances and encourages new growth.
Giving charity to those who deserve it is part of Muslim character and one of the Five Pillars of Islamic practice.
Each Muslim calculates his or her own Zakat individually. This involves the annual payment of a fortieth of one’s capital, excluding such items as primary residence, car and professional tools. Zakat is calculated on accumulated wealth of a person. The exact amount is 1/40 of total wealth, which may include property, jewelry, cash and other assets. Zakat is usually payable on assets continuously owned over one lunar year that are in excess of the nisab.
An individual may also give as much as he or she pleases as sadaqah, and does so preferably in secret. Although this word can be translated as “voluntary charity” it has a wider meaning.
The Prophet (pbuh) said, “Even meeting your brother with a cheerful face is an act of charity.” The Prophet (pbuh) also said “Charity is a necessity for every Muslim.” He was asked: “What if a person has nothing?” The Prophet (pbuh) replied: “He should work with his own hands for his benefit and then give something out of such earnings in charity.” The Companions of the Prophet asked: “What if he is not able to work?” The Prophet (pbuh) said: “He should help the poor and needy.” The companions further asked: “What if he cannot do even that?” The Prophet (pbuh) said: “He should urge others to do good.” The companions said: “What if he lacks that also?” The Prophet (pbuh) said: “He should check himself from doing evil. That is also an act of charity.”
Under the caliphates, the collection and expenditure of zakat was a function of the state. In the contemporary Muslim world, it has been left up to the individual, except in some countries in which the state fulfills that role to some degree. Most Muslims in the West disperse zakat through Islamic charities, mosques, or directly giving to the poor. Money is not collected during religious services or via collection plates, but some mosques keep a drop box for those who wish it to distribute zakat on their behalf.
According to the Quran’s Surah Al-Tawba, there are eight categories of people who qualify to benefit from zakat funds.
|Surah 9 Ayah 66|
|The compulsory alms are only for the poor and the needy and the agents employed therein and those whose hearts are to be conciliated and those in bondage and debtors and for expenditure in the way of Allah and for the wayfarer: an ordinance from Allah: and Allah is Knowing, Wise.||إِنَّمَا الصَّدَقَاتُ لِلْفُقَرَاءِ وَالْمَسَاكِينِ وَالْعَامِلِينَ عَلَيْهَا وَالْمُؤَلَّفَةِ قُلُوبُهُمْ وَفِي الرِّقَابِ وَالْغَارِمِينَ وَفِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ وَابْنِ السَّبِيلِ ۖ فَرِيضَةً مِنَ اللَّهِ ۗ وَاللَّهُ عَلِيمٌ حَكِيمٌ|
Note: Zakat should not be given to one’s own parents, grandparents, children, grandchildren, spouses or the descendants of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
Sahih al-Bukhari, Book 24 is dedicated to the topic of Zakat.