Zakat: Meaning, ruling and benefits
May 06 2021 10:33 PM

The literal meaning of “Zakat” is purity. Its Islamic technical meaning designates the annual amount of wealth, food, property, etc. which a Muslim with the adequate means must distribute among the rightful beneficiaries.
Zakat is a remarkable institution and a major pillar of Islam. Allah, Almighty, Says (what means): “And establish the Prayer, and pay Zakat (the poor due)...” [Qur’an, 2:43]
Moreover, Zakat is an obligatory act because it is one of the pillars of Islam: The Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam (may Allah exalt his mention), said: “Islam was built upon five (pillars): ‘The testimony that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah; the establishment of the prayer; paying the obligatory charity (Zakat); pilgrimage to the House (Haj to the Ka’bah in Makkah) and fasting (the month of) Ramadan.”’ [Al-Bukhari and Muslim]
Zakat is a small portion of the Muslim’s wealth that must be given to the poor or to other specified beneficiaries. Whoever claims that Zakat is not obligatory and refuses to pay it, is not a Muslim, but a Muslim who refuses to pay Zakat due to stinginess, while affirming its obligation, has committed a great sin for which one will be severely punished.
Allah, Almighty, Says (what means): “...and as for those who hoard treasures of gold and silver, and do not spend them for the sake of Allah, announce unto them a painful torment. On the Day when that [hoarded wealth] shall be heated in the Fire of Hell and with it will be branded their foreheads, their flanks, and their backs, (and it will be said unto them): ‘This is the treasure which you hoarded for yourselves. Now taste of what you used to hoard.’” [Qur’an 9: 34-35]
He, Almighty, also Says (what means): “And let not those who covetously withhold of that which Allah has bestowed on them of His bounty (wealth) think that it is good for them (and so they do not pay Zakat). No, it will be worse for them; the things which they covetously withheld will be tied to their necks like a collar on the Day of Resurrection...” [Qur’an 3:180]
There is no equivalent in any other language to the word “Zakat” and the meaning it conveys. It is not just a form of charity, or alms-giving or tax or tithe. Nor, is it simply an expression of kindness; it is all of these combined and much more. It is a duty enjoined by Allah and a source of purification for the individual and society as a whole.
He, Almighty, Says (what means): “Take from their wealth ‘sadaqah’ (Zakat) in order to purify them and sanctify them with it.” [Qur’an 9: 103]
Zakat benefits the society in many ways. Here is an explanation of the far-reaching effects of it:
1. Zakat purifies the individual and his wealth. The status of his wealth is increased with Allah and in turn, he will be rewarded. When a person becomes liable for paying Zakat, a certain percentage of his wealth should be distributed immediately in the correct manner, because at that point, the wealth which is to be distributed does not belong to him. If this wealth is retained, it spoils the status of all of his wealth.
2. Zakat does not only purify the property of the one who gives it, it also purifies his heart from selfishness and greed. In return, it purifies the heart of the recipient from envy and jealousy, and it fosters in his heart good will and warm wishes toward the contributor. As a result, the rich and poor of society are bound together as a unit, working together and helping one another.
3. Zakat decreases the sufferings of the needy and poor members of society, however, those in need should not depend on it completely.
4. Zakat is an effective means of developing the spirit of social responsibility on the part of the well-to-do, and the feeling of security and belonging on the part of the underprivileged.
5. Zakat is a clear manifestation of the spiritual and humanitarian interactions between the individual and society. It is a sound illustration of the fact that though Islam does not hinder private enterprise or condemn private possessions, it does not tolerate selfish and greedy control of wealth and property. It is an expression of the general philosophy of Islam which adopts a moderate and effective course between the individual and society.
In conclusion, we mention a calling by Allah, Almighty (what means): “O You who believe! Shall I lead you to a bargain that will save you from grievous suffering [in this world and in the life to come)? You are to believe in Allah and His Messenger and strive hard in Allah’s cause with your possessions and your lives: this is for your own good – if you had known it.” [Qur’an, 61: 10-11]
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The eligible recipients of Zakat
Allah Almighty classifies the eligible recipients of Zakat under eight categories. He, Almighty Says (what means): “Zakat expenditures are only for the poor and for the needy and for those employed to collect [Zakat] and for bringing hearts together [for Islam] and for freeing captives [or slaves] and for those in debt and for the cause of Allah and for the [stranded] traveller – an obligation [imposed] by Allah. And Allah is Knowing and Wise.” [Qur’an 9: 60]
The following is the list of the eight categories of eligible people with a brief definition of each one:
1. The Poor:
The poor is a person who does not have sufficient wealth to fulfil his needs and the needs of his dependents, such as food, drink, clothing and housing. He may be considered poor (according to his situation) even though he may possess the minimum amount required for payment of Zakat (i.e. Nisab).
2. The Needy:
The needy (Miskeen) may be someone whose level of poverty is more than the poor or less than him. However, their ruling is the same in all matters. These poor and needy can have decent houses and clothes and yet be considered poor and needy if they do not possess their basic essential needs. The Messenger of Allah, sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam (may  Allah exalt his mention), defined the Miskeen in some narrations as: “The Miskeen is not the one who goes around among the people (begging) maybe receiving a morsel or two, and a date or two. Rather, the Miskeen is the one who does not have enough wealth to suffice him, however he does not let others know about it in order to be given charity and he does not stand and beg people.” [Al-Bukhari]
3. The Zakat employees (or those who are involved with its work):
Those are the Muslims who are employed to collect Zakat, either through persuasion or force – from those who are not willing to give it. They are given their salaries from the Zakat collection.
4. Reconciliation of hearts (Al-Mu’allafati Quloobuhom):
They are those new Muslims whose faith is weak and may sometimes have a strong influence among their people. Thus, they are given from Zakat in order to appease their hearts, strengthen their faith and make them attach wholeheartedly to Islam. This is in the hope that comprehensive benefit may be gained from them or their evil be restrained.
Zakat may also be given to non-Muslims in the hope that they may accept Islam or that their people may become Muslims. Thus, such people are given from Zakat in order to encourage them to accept Islam and endear it to them.
5. The slaves:
The intent of this category is that the Muslim who is a slave be purchased from Zakat (funds) and freed (solely for the sake of pleasing Allah). It also applies to the Muslim who is an indentured servant (i.e. he has a contract with his owner to be freed upon paying a sum of money). Such a person may be given from Zakat that which will help him fulfil the contract and thus become a freeman after that.
6. The indebted:
He is a person who owes a debt that he did not acquire through disobedience to Allah and His Messenger, sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, and it has become impossible for him to pay it off. Such a person is given the amount which will allow him to pay off his debt from Zakat. This is due to the statement of the Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam: “Begging is not permissible, except for three: For the person who is extremely poor, or the person who has severe debt, or the person who owes a (debt of) blood (money).” [At-Tirmithi and Abu Dawood] If one decides to pay Zakat due on him in the form of repaying debts for someone, he should inform him. Otherwise, it will not be considered as Zakat. Rather will count as charity, and he would still have to pay out the Zakat due on him. 
7. In the way of Allah:
This is paid for Jihad (fighting) in order to elevate the Word of Allah, the Most High, or anything that assists in it in any form. Hence, the one who goes out to fight in the way of Allah is given (from Zakat), even if he is wealthy. According to the opinion of Imam Ahmad, may Allah  have  mercy  upon  him this also applies to assisting a person who is too poor to perform Haj.
8. The wayfarer:
He is the traveller who spent all his money outside his hometown or city during his travel. Therefore, he is given from Zakat that which will fulfil his needs as a stranger, even if he is a wealthy man in his homeland. This is due to the poverty he is experiencing in his journey and being cut off from his resources. This is the case when there is no one who can give him a loan that will be of assistance to him in fulfilling his needs.
If there is someone who can give him a loan, then he is obligated to take the loan and he is not given Zakat as long as he is considered a wealthy man in his own land (this is according to the Maliki school of jurisprudence). This only applies if his travel is for a permissible cause (i.e. did not travel to commit a sin).
General guidelines:
1. If a Muslim pays Zakat of his wealth to any one of the eight categories of (eligible) recipients, then that is sufficient. However, he should give precedence to those recipients who are most important and have a greater need.
2. Zakat is not paid to those whom it is obligatory upon the Muslim to spend on, like the parents, the children, and the wife, because it is obligatory upon him to spend on them whenever they are in need.
3. Zakat is not acceptable except with its intention. If a person pays it without having the intention of paying the obligatory Zakat, it will not be considered Zakat. This is due to the Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, informing us that deeds are judged by their intentions, and that every person will get what he intended. [Al-Bukhari] 
Therefore, the one who pays it must do so with the intention of paying his due Zakat that is obligatory upon him to pay. He should also make his intention to pay it solely for the sake of Allah, as sincere intention is a condition for the acceptance of every act or worship.
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Morals and Zakat
Hardly ever is prayer mentioned in the Noble Qur’an without being associated with Zakat. Zakat is the inseparable twin of prayer in the Book of Allah The Almighty and the Sunnah of His messenger, sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, as well.
Zakat is like prayer in terms of its relation to morals. The payer of Zakat offers it out of obedience to his Lord, abiding by His commands, warding off devils, relieving oneself from being questioned about the obligation of Zakat on the Day of Judgment.
Zakat increases one’s wealth, allows him to help the poor and needy, protects him from meanness and curbs his sinful desires. It helps spread an atmosphere of love, intimacy and affection among Muslims and creates a close bond between the rich and poor within the Muslim community.
The payer of Zakat relishes the pleasure and satisfaction of the heart as he obeys the commands of Allah The Exalted. Thus, he is keen not to delay paying the due Zakat and is diligent in giving it to its eligible recipients. Allah The Exalted Says (what means): {Take, [O, Muhammad], from their wealth a charity by which you purify them …} [Qur’an 9:103]
When Muslims fully grasp this, they find themselves willing not only to pay the due Zakat, but also to spend in charity according to their abilities even if this was not obligatory upon them. This renders them eager to give in charity and help others in all possible ways and it indicates the purity of their hearts andthe spiritual elevation of their souls.
The Messenger of Allah, sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, said: “Smiling in the face of your brother is charity, enjoining good and forbidding evil is charity, guiding a lost man in a foreign land is charity, guiding the blind is charity, removing harmful things, thorns and bones from a road is regarded as charity and pouring what is left from your vessel into that of your brother is charity.”
Hence, the close bond between Zakat and morals in Islam becomes clear.
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