Zakat and Charity in Islam [Archives:2000/01/Culture]

January 3 2000

The religion of Islam, which is a comprehensive and perfect system of teaching and regulations lays stress on the concept of charity as a perfect means for establishing social justice in a prosperous community. The most frequently recurring words for charity are infaq, which means spending benevolently, Ihsan, which means the doing of good, Sadaqa, which signifies a charitable deed, and finally the concept of Zakat which means purification or growth.
Zakat, which is the most important institution of charity built in Islam, technically means a certain fixed proportion of the wealth and of every kind of the property liable to Zakat of a Muslim to be paid yearly for the benefit of the poor in the muslim community. The payment of Zakat is obligatory as it is one of the five pillars of Islam and comes after the concept of Salat (prayers). However, the individual is not at liberty to calculate and spend his Zakat as he likes. It must be calculated by the state and spent by the state or community to establish a society full of prosperity, security and justice.
In Islam, there are two other institutions of charity similar to Zakat in nature but they are more related to “Eid Festivals”. The first one is connected to “Eid Al-Fitr” and known as “Zakat Al-Fitr”. On this occasion, every muslim is required to give away in charity a certain quantity of food. This quantity must be collected by every muslim community, and is then to be distributed among those who deserve it. The second is related to “Eid Al-Adha” on which occasion the poorer members of the community are fed with the meat of the sacrificed animals.
The importance of Zakat is shown through the frequent combination of both Salat (prayers) and Zakat. These two institutions are treated as the basic ordinance of the religion of Islam and the practice in one’s life of these two things is often viewed ed as being sufficient indication that one is a real believer in Islam. In fact Zakat is mentioned in eighty two passages of the Quran in connection with prayers. Here, I quote one of these passages:
And they were commanded not but that they should worship Allah, and worship non but Him alone, and perform As-Salat (prayers) and give Zakat, and that’s the right religion
Zakat is of great significance in Muslims’ lives as it carries the sense of purification of the soul from sins and the sense that the person is a real success in life. The prophet Mohammed (PBUH) is again and again spoken of as purifying those who would follow him “Yuzkki-him” [2:129] meaning purify them. Paying Zakat to the poorer members of the community is no doubt a source of blessing to the individuals, and also it increases the wealth of the community as a whole. Moreover, it purifies the givers’ heart of inordinate love of wealth, which would surely lead to numerous sins.
In conclusion, it must be kept in mind that zakat has to 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. All charitable deeds must be done not to achieve an immediate personal aim or to satiate one’s selfish desire for reputation, but for the good of the recipients. It is mainly love of Allah that should be the motivating factor in any charitable deed, including Zakat. In this way we can definitely foster the feeling that mankind is a single family. In the Noble Quran Allah Says:
Those who spend their wealth (in Allah’s Cause) by night and day, in secret and in public, they shall have their reward with their Lord On them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve
By: Abdullah Saleh Al-Hashedi,
Sana’a university