Charity as One of the Two Principal Duties:
Charity towards man, in its widest sense, is laid down in the Qur’an as the second great pillar on which the structure of Islam stands. This is made plain in the very beginning of the Holy Book: “(Those) who believe in the Unseen and keep up prayer and spend out of what We have given them; and who believe in that which has been revealed to thee and that which was revealed before thee, and of the Hereafter they are sure. These are on a right course from their Lord, and these it is that are successful” (2:3-5). The main principles of Islam, as laid down here, are five: three theoretical and two practical. The three theoretical essentials are belief in God, in Divine revelation and in the Hereafter; and the two practical are keeping up prayer and spending out of what God has given to man. Prayer, is the means of the realisation of the Divine in man, while the second, or spending out of whatever has been given to man, stands for charity in a broad sense, i.e., for all acts of benevolence and doing good to humanity in general. For what God has given to man is not only the wealth which he possesses but all the faculties and powers with which he has been gifted.
The doing of good to man, is one of the two mainstays of religion, is a constant theme of the Qur’an, and one more verse may be quoted. Speaking of the Jewish and Christian claims to salvation, on the basis of certain dogmas, the Holy Book says: “And they say, None shall enter the Garden except he who is a Jew, or the Christians. These are their vain desires. Say, Bring your proof if you are truthful. Nay, whoever submits himself entirely to Allah and he is the doer of good to others, he has his reward from his Lord, and there is no fear for such nor shall they grieve” (2:111, 112). In this verse submission to Allah takes the place of keeping up prayer, and the doing of good to humanity, that of spending out of what has been given to man. Thus, theoretically, Islam means a belief in God, in Divine revelation and in the Hereafter, and practically it means the realisation of the Divine in man by prayer, or entire submission to God, and the service of humanity. The numerous ordinances relating to various aspects of life, whether contained in the Qur’an or in the practice and sayings (Sunnah) of the Prophet, are only offshoots of these two practical essentials of religion.
Prayer is Useless if it does not Lead to Charity:
The relation in which prayer stands to charity is made clear by the order in which the two are mentioned. When prayer and charity are spoken of together, and this combination is of frequent occurrence in the Qur’an, prayer always takes precedence over charity, because prayer prepares a man for the service of humanity. In the verse which speaks of the five basic principles of Islam, mention of belief in the Unseen is immediately followed by an injunction to keep up prayer, and this again by another to do acts of benevolence. This is to show the natural order. Belief in the Unseen is the starting point of man’s spiritual progress. But this would lead to no good if the next step, the seeking of communion with the Unseen through prayer, does not follow. And this again is meaningless if it does not lead to acts of benevolence. Prayer, therefore, is the first step because it leads to the second, that is, charity. This is elsewhere made plain: “Woe to the praying ones, who are unmindful of their prayers! who do (good) to be seen and refrain from acts of kindness” (107:4-7).
Conception of Charity in Islam:
The most frequently recurring words for charity are infaq [The words fi sabil Allah (meaning, in the way of Allah) are sometimes added to the derivatives of infaq in the Qur’an, but the significance is the same, even when the word is used without this addition. Ihsan which means the doing of good, zakat means growth or purification, and sadaqah which is derived from the root sidq, meaning truth, and comes to signify a charitable deed. The very words used to denote charitable deeds are an indication of the broadness of its conception. The Qur’an not only lays stress on such great deeds of charity as the emancipation of slaves (90:13; 2:177), the feeding of the poor (69:34; 90:11-16; 107:1-3), taking care of orphans (17:34; 76:8; 89:17; 90:15; 93:9; 107:2.) and doing good to humanity in general, but gives equal emphasis to smaller acts of benevolence. It is for this reason that the withholding of ma`un (107:7), which specially indicates small acts of kindness and charity, is stated to be against the spirit of prayer. And in a similar strain, the speaking of a kind word to parents is referred to as ihsan (17:23), and generally the use of kind words is recommended as in itself a charitable deed in many places (2:83; 4:8 etc.).
Tradition is much more explicit. To remove from the road anything which may cause hurt is called a sadaqah or a charitable deed (Bu. 46 : 24). According to another tradition “there is a sadaqah (charity) on every limb with every new sun, and to do justice among people is also a charity” (Bu. 53 : 11). Another report gives yet more detail: “On every limb there is a sadaqah (charity) every day; a man helps another to ride his animal, it is a charity; or he helps him to load his animal, this is also a charity; and so is a good word; and every step, which a man takes in going to pray, is a charity; and to show the way is a charity (Bukhari 56 : 72, 128).” Examples of other charitable deeds are “your salutation to people,” “your enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong (Ah. II, p. 329),” “refraining from doing evil to any one (Ah. IV, p. 395)” and so on. The circle of those towards whom an act of charity may be done is equally wide. To give food to one’s wife or one’s children is called a charitable deed: “The Prophet said, Whatever you feed yourself with is a charity, and whatever you feed your children with is a charity, and whatever you feed your wife with is a charity, and whatever you feed your servant with is a charity (Ah. IV, p. 131).” The doing of good to the dumb creation is also called a charity: “Whoever tills a field and birds and beasts eat of it, it is a charity (Ah. IV, p. 55.).” The Qur’an also speaks of extending charity not only to all men including believers and unbelievers (2:272) but also to the dumb creation (51:19).
Charity, in the sense of giving away one’s wealth, is of two kinds, voluntary and obligatory. Voluntary charity is generally mentioned in the Qur’an as infaq or ihsan or sadaqah, and though the Holy Book is full of injunctions on this subject, and hardly a leaf is turned which does not bring to the mind the grand object of the service of humanity, the goal of man’s life.
“The parable of those who spend their wealth in the way of Allah is as the parable of a grain growing seven years, in every year a hundred grains; and Allah multiplies further for whom He pleases” (2:261).
A charitable deed must be done as a duty which man owes to man, so that it conveys no idea of the superiority of the giver or the inferiority of the receiver:
“Those who spend their wealth in the way of Allah, then follow not up what they have spent with reproach or injury, their reward is with their Lord… A kind word with forgiveness is better than charity followed by injury… O you who believe! make not your charity worthless by reproach and injury” (2:262-264).
Love of God should be the motive in all charitable deeds, so that the very doing of them fosters the feeling that all mankind is but a single family:
“And they give food out of love for Him to the poor and the orphan and the captive“(76 : 8).
“And give away wealth out of love for Him to the near of kin and the orphans and the needy and the wayfarer and to those who ask and to set slaves free” (2:177).
“And the parable of those who spend their wealth to seek Allah’s pleasure and for the strengthening of their souls, is as the parable of a garden on elevated ground” (2:265).
Only good things and well-earned wealth should be given in charity:
“O you who believe! spend of the good things that you earned and of that which We bring forth for you out of the earth, and aim not at the bad to spend thereof” (2:267).
Charitable deeds may be done openly or secretly:
“If you manifest charity, how excellent it is! and if you hide it and give it to the poor, it is good for you” (2:271).
Those who do not beg should be the first to receive charity:
“For the poor who are confined in the way of Allah, they cannot go about in the land, the ignorant man thinks them to be rich on account of their abstaining from begging. (2:273).
Significance of Zakat:
Obligatory charity is generally mentioned under the name zakat.. The word zakat is derived from zaka, which means it (a plant) grew. The other derivatives of this word, as used in the Qur’an, carry the sense of purification from sins. The Prophet is again and again spoken of as purifying those who would follow him (yuzakki-him or yuzakki-kum) (2:129, 151; 3:163; 9:103; 62:2) and the purification of the soul is repeatedly mentioned as being real success in life (91:9; 92:18). The word zakat is also used in the sense of purity from sin. Thus of John it is said: “And We granted him wisdom when a child, and kind-heartedness from Us and purity (zakat)“(19:12, 13). And on another occasion, one child is spoken of as being “better in purity (zakat)” than another (18:81). The idea of purity, and that of the growth of human faculties and success in life, are thus connected together. Zakat is wealth which is taken from the rich and given to the poor, being so called because it makes wealth grow, or because the giving away of wealth is a source of purification. In fact, both these reasons hold true. The giving away of wealth to the poorer members of the community, while, no doubt, a source of blessing to the individual, also increases the wealth of the community as a whole, and at the same time it purifies the giver’s heart of the inordinate love of wealth which brings numerous sins in its train. The Prophet himself has described zakat as wealth “which is taken from the rich and returned to the poor” (Bu. 24 : 1).
Importance of Zakat in Islam:
The two commandments, to keep up prayer and to give zakat, often go together, and this combination of the two is met with in the earliest chapters of the Qur’an, as well as in those which were revealed towards the end of the Prophet’s life. Thus in ch. 73, (the very earliest revelations), we have: “And keep up prayer and pay the zakat and offer to Allah a goodly gift” (73:20). And in the ninth chapter ( latest in revelation), “Only he can maintain the mosques of Allah who believes in Allah and the Last Day and keeps up prayer and pays the zakat and fears none but Allah’‘ (9:18). Not only are prayer (salat) and zakat mentioned together in a large number of passages, they are treated as being the basic ordinances of the religion of Islam, and their carrying into practice is often mentioned as being sufficient indication that one is a believer in the religion of Islam. The two verses quoted above point to the same conclusion. A few more are:
“And they are enjoined naught but to serve Allah, being sincere to Him in obedience, upright, and to keep up prayer and pay the zakat, and that is the right religion” (98:5). “These are verses of the Book of wisdom, a guidance and a mercy for the doers of good, who keep up prayer and pay the zakat and who are certain of the Hereafter” (31:2-4). “But if they repent and keep up prayer and pay the zakat, they are your brethren-in-faith”(9:11).
Zakat as the Basic Principle of every Religion:
Salat and zakat are also spoken of together as the basic ordinances of the religion of every prophet. Thus of Abraham and his posterity, it is said: “And We made them leaders who guided people by Our command, and We revealed to them the doing of good and the keeping up of prayer and the giving of zakat” (21:73). “And Allah said: Surely I am with you. If you keep up prayer and pay the zakat and believe in My messengers and assist them and offer to Allah a goodly gift, I will certainly cover your evil deeds, and cause you to enter gardens in which rivers flow” (5:12). Ishmael is also spoken of as giving the same commandment to his followers: “And he enjoined on his people prayer and zakat, and he was one in whom his Lord was well-pleased” (19 : 55). Even Jesus is said to have received a similar Divine commandment: “And He has enjoined on me prayer and zakat so long as I live” (19:31).
This view of religion shows that, according to the Qur’an, the service of humanity and the improvement of the condition of the poor have always been among the principal aims and objects of religion. The institution of zakat, like every other principle of religion, has been brought to perfection, along with the perfection of religion, in Islam.
Problem of the Distribution of Wealth:
One of the greatest problems facing humanity is undoubtedly the problem of the distribution of wealth, with which is also bound up the question of political power. The system of capitalism which is the foundation-stone, so to say, of the materialistic civilisation of modern Europe, has led to the concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands. Political power has followed in the wake of wealth. The insatiable thirst for wealth on the part of the capitalists, who are the real controllers of political power, has reduced many nations of the world to a state of slavery, poverty etc.
Islam’s Solution of Wealth Problem:
To Islam is due the credit of not only solving the wealth problem but, at the same time, developing the higher sentiments and building up character, on which alone can be laid the foundations of a lasting civilisation for the human race. Islam’s concept of state institution of charity, which goes under the name of zakat or poor-rate, appears to be the only solution. Every possessor of wealth in the Islamic commonwealth is required to contribute annually one-fortieth of his wealth to a common fund, which is managed by the state, or by the Muslim community where there is no Muslim state, and this fund is utilised by the state or community for the removal or improvement of the condition of the poor. Zakat, therefore, acts not only as a levelling influence but, also a means of developing higher sentiments of man, the sentiments of love and sympathy towards his fellow-man; while the rigid system of state ownership and equality of distribution helps to kill man’s higher instincts. By this means, too, wealth is made to circulate in the body-politic of Islam, just as blood circulates in a living organism, a fixed portion of the wealth of the richer members being drawn to the centre, whence it is sent forth to those parts of the body-politic which need it most. The institution of zakat thus becomes not only a levelling influence but also one of the means for the uplift of the nation as a whole.
Zakat is a State Institution:
It should be borne in mind that zakat is not simply obligatory charity. It is a state institution or, where there is no Muslim state, a national institution. The individual is not at liberty to calculate and spend his zakat as he likes. It must be collected by the state on a national basis, and spent by the state or community. Where the Qur’an describes the main heads of the expenditure of zakat, it mentions an item of expenditure on officials appointed to collect and distribute the same, which shows clearly that, by the institution of zakat, it contemplated either a department of the state or at least a public fund managed entirely by a public body. The donor is required to contribute all of it to a fund which must be used for the uplift of the community. It was in this sense that the Prophet understood it, and when he assumed control of the government, he made zakat a state institution, appointing officials to collect it and directing his governors to do the same in distant provinces [As in the case of Mu`adh who was appointed Governor of Yemen (Bu. 24 : 1).]. Abu Bakr, the first caliph, followed in the footsteps of the Prophet when he declared war against some of the tribes which had refused to send their zakat to the state treasury, adding: “Zakat is the right (of the state or community) in the wealth (acquired by an individual), and by Allah, if they refuse to make over even one lamb which they used to make over to the Prophet, I will fight against them” (Bu. 14 : 1).
Property on which Zakat is Payable:
Though injunctions relating to zakat are met with in very early revelations, the details were given only after Islam was established at Madinah. Silver and gold are the two commodities which man has always loved to hoard, and beside this these are the two precious metals which are the basis of the currencies of the world. These two, therefore find special mention as being articles on which zakat must be paid. Ornaments made of silver or gold were treated as silver or gold. And cash, whether in the form of coins or notes or bank deposits, would follow the same rule. The verse of the Qur’an: “O you who believe! give in charity of the good things that you earn and of what We have brought forth for you out of the earth“(2 : 267) refers to voluntary gifts. There is no mention of immovable property, such as agricultural lands and house property, among the things on which zakat was levied, but the produce of land, whether cereals or fruits, was subject to a tax called `ushr, literally, the tenth part. It has been treated as zakat; actually, however, it falls within the category of land revenue. Since zakat is a tax on property, therefore it is realisable though the property may belong to a minor. According to a tradition, the Prophet is reported to have said: “Whoever is the guardian of an orphan, he should do trading by his property, and should not allow it to lie idle so that it may come to an end by the payment of zakat” (Tr. 7 15).
Zakat was an annual charge on property which remained in the possession of a person for a whole year, when its value reached a certain limit, called nisab. Nisab differed with different kinds of property, the most important being 200 dirhams or 52 1/2 tolas (nearly 21 oz.) in the case of silver, and twenty mithals or 7 1/2 tolas (nearly 3 oz.) in the case of gold. The nisab of cash was the same as that of silver or gold, according as the cash was held in silver or gold.
Rate at which Zakat must be Paid:
With the exception of animals, zakat was levied at almost a uniform rate, being 2 1/2 per cent of the accumulated wealth.
Zakat under Modern Conditions:
It will thus be seen that zakat proper is only a charge on accumulated wealth, and is intended to do away with the inequalities of Capitalism. Wealth has a tendency to accumulate, and zakat aims at its partial redistribution in such a manner that the community, as a whole, may derive advantage from it. A part of the amassed wealth or capital of every individual is taken away annually and distributed among the poor and the needy. Zakat would therefore be payable on all cash hoardings, or hoardings in gold or silver, as well as on any form of capital, whether in the shape of cash or kind. Precious stones are excepted, because the payment of zakat on them would necessitate their sale. Machinery employed in industry must follow the same rule. It should, in fact, be regarded in the same light as the implements of an artisan, and its earnings become taxable when the necessary conditions as to the assessment of zakat are fulfilled. Stock-in-trade should be treated in a similar manner; that is to say, only the yearly profit should be taxable, not the stock itself. In the case of all things on which zakat is payable, whether cereals, live-stock or other articles of merchandise, their value should be determined, and zakat levied at the universal rate of 2 1/2 per cent. Where the Muslims live under non-Muslim governments, and the collection and disbursement of zakat cannot be undertaken by these governments, the duty devolves on the Muslim community as a whole, and the institution of zakat must take the shape of a national Muslim institution in every country where there is a Muslim population.
How Zakat should be Spent:
The items of the expenditure of zakat are thus expressly stated in the Qur’an: “Alms (sadaqat) are only for the poor (fuqara), and the needy (masakin), and the officials appointed over them, and those whose hearts are made to incline to truth (al-mu’allafati qulubu-hum), and captives, and those in debt, and in the way of Allah, and the wayfarer: an ordinance (faridzah) from Allah, and Allah is Knowing, Wise” (9:60). As already noted, zakat is sometimes mentioned under the name of sadaqah. That this is the significance of sadaqat here is made clear by the concluding words of the verse, where it is called a faridzah, or an obligatory duty, which word is applicable to zakat only. The eight heads of expenditure spoken of here may be divided into three classes. The first relates to those who stand in need of help, including the poor, the needy, those whose hearts are made to incline to truth, captives, debtors and wayfarers. Secondly, there are the officials appointed for collection and disbursement of the fund. And, thirdly, a part of the zakat is required to be spent in the way of Allah. A few words of explanation may be added as regards each class.
It will be seen that six kinds of people fall under the first head. The first are fuqara‘ (pl. of faqir), derived from faqr which means the breaking of the vertebrae of the back, and faqir therefore means literally a man who has the vertebrae of his back broken or one afflicted by a calamity (LL.). Apparently it refers to disabled people, who, on account of some defect, are unable to earn their living. The second are masakin (pl. of miskin), which is derived from sakana meaning it became still or motionless. Miskin therefore signifies one caused by poverty to have little power of motion (LL.). There exists a good deal of difference as to the real distinction between the two words faqir and miskin; but, keeping the literal significance in view, the real distinction appears to be that faqir is one who is disabled from earning on account of some physical disability, while miskin is one who, though fit to earn sufficient, is unable to do so on account of poverty or lack of resources. The miskin is the needy man who if given a little help can earn livelihood for himself. The unemployed would fall in this category.
These are the two chief classes for whose benefit the institution of zakat is maintained, and hence they are separated from others by a mention of the establishment. The other groups falling in this class are also of persons who stand in need of help for some sufficient reason. There are al-mu’allafa-ti qulabu-hum, those whose hearts are made to incline to truth, that is, people who are in search of truth but unable to find means to have access to it on account of poverty. In this category would also fall new converts to Islam who are deprived of the means of their subsistence because of their conversion. Then there are the captives, or those who have been deprived of their liberty, and are unable to regain it by their own exertion. The freeing of slaves falls in this category. Then there are the debtors who are unable to pay off their own debts, and, lastly, there are the travellers who are stranded in a foreign country or in a distant place, and are unable to reach their homes.
There are two other heads of expenditure of zakat, the first of which is the maintenance of an establishment and office for the collection of zakat. This shows that zakat was meant to be collected at some central place, and then distributed, and the maintenance of people who did this work was a charge under this head. The Qur’an, therefore, does not allow the giving away or spending of zakat according to the individual’s choice [There is a tradition which states that the Prophet allowed one-third of the zakat to be spent by an individual for those whom he thought fit to receive the zakat. He is reported to have said: “When you estimate, leave one-third; if you do not leave one-third, then leave one-fourth” (AD. 9 : 14). Explaining this tradition, Imam Shafi’i says that the one-third or one-fourth was to be left, so that the person from whom the zakat was taken should spend the portion left on his relatives or neighbours as he desired (AM-AD. 9 : 15).]. The collection of zakat, in spite of the remuneration paid for it, is regarded as an act of merit and according to one tradition, the collector of zakat is equal in merit to one who takes part in jihad or in a war to defend religion [AD. 19 : 6; Tr. 7 : 18.].
Zakat may be Spent in Defence and Propagation of Islam:
The establishment charge being a corollary of the nationalisation of the institution of zakat, the only item of expenditure besides the help of those in need, for one reason or another, is, what is called fi sabili-llah, or in the way of Allah, which is accepted generally as meaning warriors defending the faith. While such warriors are undoubtedly the most important national need of a community, it is equally true that they are an exception and not the rule, and hence the significance of the words fi sabili-llah cannot be limited to them. But there is another paramount need of the Muslim community which is called jihad kabir, or the great jihad, in the Qur’an: “And if We had pleased, We would have raised a warner in every town. So do not follow the unbelievers, and strive against them a mighty striving (jihad-an kabir-an) with it” (25:51-52). The personal pronoun it, as the context clearly shows, refers to the Qur’an, and therefore striving with the Qur’an, or taking the message of the Qur’an to distant corners of the world, is the greatest jihad of Islam. And the item of expenditure fi sabili-llah therefore refers to both these paramount needs of national existence, that is, wars to defend religion and the propagation of Islam, the latter being the greatest need of this age. Hence it will be seen that the institution of zakat, while chiefly aiming at the removal or improvement of the condition of the poor, has also in view the defence and advancement of the Muslim community as a whole.
Other National Charitable Institutions:
Zakat, though the most important, is not, however, the only national institution of charity set up by Islam. There are two others of a similar nature, both connected with the Id festivals, whereby into every Muslim heart is instilled the idea that even when in his happiest mood, he must never forget the distress of his poorer brethren. The first of these institutions is the sadaqat al-Fitr or zakat al-Fitr, i.e., charity connected with the `Id al-Fitr. Every Muslim on that occasion is required to give away in charity a certain measure of food, or its equivalent in money. This sum must be collected by every Muslim community and then distributed among those who deserve it [It has already been shown, in the chapter on `Id prayers, that the Fitr charity was collected and then distributed; and here too the choice was not with the individual but with the community.]. The second institution is connected with the `Id al-Adzha, on which occasion not only are the poor members of the community fed with the meat of the sacrificed animals, but the skins of those animals (and also dried or preserved meat, in case the supply is greater than the demand) are sold, and the sum thus realised spent on some charitable object of national value, such as the propagation of Islam.
With regard to the differences between zakaah and sadaqah, they are as follows:
1 – Zakaah is enjoined in Islam on specific things, which are: cash, gold, silver, etc.
With regard to sadaqah, it is not obligatory on any kind of wealth, rather it is what a person can give, without any specific limits or guidelines.
2 – Zakaah is subject to the conditions that one year have passed since acquiring the wealth, and that the wealth meet the minimum threshold (nisaab), and it is a specific portion of wealth, 2.5%
Sadaqah is not subject to any conditions, and it may be given at any time, in any amount.
3 – Allah has given who gets Zakat. [al-Tawbah 9:60]
With regard to sadaqah, it may be given to anyone at the sole discretion of the giver.
4 – Whoever dies and owes zakaah, his heirs must pay it from his wealth, and that takes precedence over the will (wasiyah) and inheritance.
As for sadaqah, there are no such obligations with regard to it.
5 – The one who withholds zakaah is to be punished, as it says in the hadeeth narrated by Muslim in hisSaheeh (987) from Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him) who said: The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said: “There is no owner of treasure who does not pay his zakaah, but it will be heated in the Fire of Hell and made into plates with which his sides and forehead will be branded until Allah passes judgement between His slaves on a Day the length of which will be like fifty thousand years, then he see shown his path then he will see his path and whether it leads to Paradise or to Hell…”
With regard to sadaqah, the one who does not pay it will not be punished.
6 – According to the four schools of law, it is not permissible to give zakaah to one’s ascendants or descendents. Ascendants include one’s mother, father, grandfathers and grandmothers; descendents include one’s children and their children.
Sadaqah may be given to one’s ascendants and descendants.
7 – It is not permissible for a Muslim to give zakaah to his wife. Ibn al-Mundhir narrated that there was scholarly consensus on this point.
But sadaqah may be given to one’s wife.