Zakat and Charity
By Haider Zaman

The Qur’an exhorts the believers to spend in the way of Allah from whatever He has given them. It emphasizes two kinds of spending. One is specifically termed as zakat the payment of which, at the specified rate, is obligatory on those who can afford it. The other refers to spending out of whatever wealth or substance one has got, which is not obligatory. This is evident from the Qur’anic verse (2:177) which speaks of both.

Zakat is payable once a year on gold, silver, cash, cattle and goods used for trading purposes. Its rate in the case of cash amount is 2.5 per cent of the total amount in hand at the time of payment. In the case of gold and silver, the rate is also 2.5 per cent of the total current value of the gold and silver in excess of a certain quantity in hand. There is yet another kind levied on the produce of land at a different rate called ushr.

Zakat may be paid directly to the deserving persons or may be spent on such persons through an institution set up for the purpose. The fact that the Qur’an provides for the payment of salaries of the persons responsible for collection and administration of the zakat fund, indicates that the system can be institutionalized where possible.

It was, in fact, institutionalized after the establishment of a Muslim state in Madinah when its rate was fixed. Persons were appointed for its collection, and its payment was made obligatory on those who were in a position to afford it, and arrangements were made for spending the amount in the manner prescribed in the Qur’an.

The Qur’an specifies the persons and purposes on whom and on which the amount of zakat should be spent. They are the needy, the poor, the salaries of persons who collect and administer the zakat fund, those whose hearts have to be reconciled, i.e. those who have just embraced Islam, the liberation of slaves, payment of debts and fines on behalf of those who are unable to do so, sponsoring those who have dedicated themselves to serving and defending the faith and wayfarers (9:60).

As regards spending otherwise, rather than by way of zakat and ushr, neither the Qur’an nor the Sunnah prescribe a rate or mode - whether payment should be in cash or kind. But the Qur’an clearly indicates that only that much of one’s wealth or substance should be spent which is over and above one’s needs (2:219). Likewise, it specifically emphasizes exercise of moderation in spending, whether by way of charity or otherwise, when it says “do not tie your hands to your neck nor stretch them without restraint lest you should become blameworthy and left destitute” (17:29).

The Qur’an specifies the persons and purposes on whom or for which such wealth or substance shall be spent. They include parents, relatives, orphans, the poor, those who ask for it, wayfarers and the liberation of slaves (2:177 and 2:215). It means that the main object of spending in the way of Allah, whether by way of zakat or otherwise, as enjoined by the Qur’an, could be to meet the essential physiological, economic or social needs of those who are unable to meet such needs for genuine reasons.

For the acceptability of spending, whether by way of zakat or otherwise, the Qur’an lays down certain conditions. It says, “Those people who expend their wealth in the way of Allah, and they do not follow their charity with reminders of their generosity nor injure the feelings of the recipient, shall get their reward from their Lord: they will have no fear and no grief of any kind” (2:262). In fact, spending in the way of Allah means that whatever one spends should be spent on the persons and for the purposes in the manner specified or prescribed by the Qur’an or Sunnah.

There is yet another condition for the acceptability of such spending and it is that anything that one may like to give as charity should be such that if it were offered to him, he would have gladly accepted it. In this connection the Qur’an says, “O believers, expend in the way of Allah the best portion of the wealth you have earned and of that we have produced for you from the earth, and do not pick up for charity those worthless things which you yourselves will only accept in disdain by connivance, if they were offered to you” (2:267).

A question that strikes one in this connection is that why should have Allah placed the obligation of meeting some of the basic needs of those who are unable to meet them for some reason on others when He Himself is the Creator, Nourisher and Provider of everything? It is true that Allah is the Creator and Provider of everything but the object of spending in the way of Allah, whether through zakat or otherwise, is not simply to meet some of the basic needs of those who are unable to meet them. The Qur’an repeatedly says that Allah is trying human beings in whatever He has given them (2:155).

Wealth is one of those few things that people love most. As the Qur’an says, “Man is blind in the love of wealth” (100:8). Besides, wealth is generally earned through putting in great efforts and hard labor. If, in spite of that, a person parts with a portion of his wealth and spends it in the way of Allah, it could be only reflective of firm faith in the Omnipresence, Mercy and Graciousness of Allah.

He believes that whatever he has got could be given only by Allah and that whatever he spends is in response to the command of Allah. That’s why the Qur’an says, “You can never attain piety unless you spend (in the way of Allah) of that you love” (3:92) which could be wealth.

Spending in the way of Allah could also be of great help in discouraging hoarding and encouraging equitable distribution of wealth in society. The Qur’an condemns the hoarding of wealth. It may also remove hatred and envy from the hearts of the have-nots towards those who possess wealth, and foster in its stead, a sense of goodwill among the recipients towards the givers. Besides, it is also likely to curb the tendency towards the commission of crimes in society as the root causes of most crimes committed are poverty and hunger.

That is why the Qur’an promises rewards, both in this world and in the hereafter, for whatever is spent in the way of Allah. It says, “The charity of those who spend their wealth in the way of Allah may be likened to a grain of corn, which produces seven ears and each year yields hundred grains” (2:261).

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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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