The linguistic meaning of the word “Zakah” in the Arabic language is “Purity” and it is known that taking Zakah purifies excess wealth. However, it also means “Increase, thrive or grow” as a result of the Blessings of Allah. The Islamic meaning of Zakah is a certain percentage of excess wealth to be taken from the rich Muslims and given to the poor Muslims. It bridges the gap between rich and poor Muslims, and fosters brotherly love among them.
Zakah is one of the five pillars of Islam. Allah says: “…and establish prayer and give zakah” – Qur’an 73:20. Zakah is mentioned together with Salah over and over again in the Qur’an.
The Prophet Muhammad, Sallah Allahu Alaihi wa Salaam, said: “Islam is based on five: The testimony of Faith, the performance of Salah, the payment of Zakah, the performance of Hajj, and the fasting of Ramadhan.” – Buhkari & Muslim
Zakah is obligatory
Whoever denies that Zakah is a pillar of Islam has left Islam and has become an apostate. The importance of Zakah in Islam is undeniable and should not be underestimated.
It is incumbent upon every Muslim who owns the nisab (minimum amount) of any property or wealth to pay it’s Zakah. The nisab and the percentage of Zakah to be taken from different types of excess wealth is clearly defined in the Qur’an and Sunnah. For example, when a quantity of 85 grams or more of gold is held in possession for one year, a Zakah of 2½ percent becomes due upon it. The percentage of Zakah for cash and silver is also 2½ percent, once the nisab has been reached. It is not the purpose of this pamphlet to explain all of the different amounts of nisab and rates of Zakah to be taken from cash, produce, livestock, commercial goods kept for sale, commercial real-estate, etc. It should be kept in mind that Zakah is usually not paid on things that we normally use in our lives, like the car we drive each day, the home we live in, the tools we use to do our job, etc. If you are in doubt, do as Allah ta’ala ordered us in the Qur’an: “ask those who know” (ask a reputable scholar).
Zakah is not income tax
Do not confuse Zakah with annual income tax. Zakah is only due on excess wealth that has been in your possession for twelve (12) lunar months. For example: You had $1,000 savings at the beginning of the year. During the year you earned $100,000. But you spent all the money on taking care of your family and such. At the end of one year you still had only $1,000 savings. The Zakah is due only on the $1,000 which you possessed for one full year, not on the amount you earned during the year. Allah has not made it forbidden to be wealthy and save excess money. However, if we save excess wealth, we must purify it annually by paying the Zakah which is due on it. It should be noted that your Zakah can be paid at any time of year, as long as it is done annually.
Who should receive Zakah?
The eligible recipients of Zakah are clearly defined in the Qur’an: “The Zakah is only for the poor, and the needy, and for those employed for collecting it , and those whose hearts are made to incline towards Islam, and for freeing slaves, and for those in debt, and in the cause of Allah, and for the wayfarer as a duty imposed by Allah, and Allah is All-Knowing, Wise.” – Qur’an 9:60
The Zakah differs from charity in several ways: The Zakah is obligatory, charity is voluntary. The Zakah must be at least a certain percentage of certain types of wealth, charity is open to give as you like. The Zakah can only be given to certain recipients, and it should be noted that these recipients should not be under your care, like your wife, children, etc. Charity can be given to anyone in need, including close family members. Zakah must be given once each year, preferably at the same time each year. Charity can be given any time of the year, as you like.
Paying Zakah can lead one to Heaven
A man said to the Prophet Muhammad, Sallah Allahu Alaihi wa Salaam; “Tell me about a deed which admits me to Jannah (Heaven).” He said: “Worship Allah ascribing no partner to Him, perform the Salah, pay the Zakah and maintain good relation with your kinfolk.” – At Tabarani
Warning against withholding Zakah
Allah says: “And let not those, who withhold out of niggardliness what Allah has given them from His bounty, think that it is good for them; nay, it is evil for them. They shall have what they withhold out of niggardliness made to cleave to their necks on the Day of Resurrection.” – Qur’an 3:180
The Prophet Muhammad, Sallah Allahu Alaihi wa Salaam said: “Anyone who hoards wealth and does not pay it’s Zakah, his wealth will turn into sheets heated in Hell-fire with which his sides and forehead will be continuously branded until Allah judges between His slaves in a Day which is 50,000 years long. After that he will either end up in Jannah (Heaven) or Jahannam (Hell).” – Bukhari and Muslim
This is a special kind of Zakah that is due at the end of the month of Ramadan. Allah the Exalted has instituted Zakatul-Fitr as a means of purification from nonsensical talk that one may have uttered during this month, as well as a food gift to the needy to save them the embarrassment of asking for it on the Day of Eid, thus the poor may celebrate the joy of Eid along with the rich.
It is incumbent on every Muslim who owns an excess of food over his family’s needs. It must be given by the sunset of the last day of Ramadan, or better yet, just before the Eid prayer. The recipients of Zakatul-Fitr are the same as the recipients of the obligatory Zakah. It is permissible, however, to give it out a day or two before the Eid day.
The quantity of Zakatul-Fitr must be given out in foodstuff (NOT IN CASH), i.e., wheat, barley, dates, raisins, rice, maize, dried curd and the like. The best of which is what benefits the poor most. It’s quantity is approx. 2.4 kilograms per family member. For example, a Muslim man with one wife and three children would give at least 12 kilograms of Zakatul-Fitr.
May Allah the Most High make us of those who fulfill our obligations to Him and guide us to what pleases Him always, Amin