Zakah – Its Concept and Purpose in Islam

Category: Faith & Spirituality, Featured Values: Charity, Compassion Views: 2406

The Prophet’s (PBUH) achievements were based not on ephemeral but on the permanent values of the Quran.  He brought about the greatest revolution – even an economic and political miracle – in human history (see Michael Hart, THE 100, pages 3-10).  In a very short time after the prophet migrated to Medina and implemented the system of Zakah, the economic condition of the people changed.

The Prophet (PBUH) said: If a single person were to sleep hungry in a town, then God’s protection is lifted from such a town [Masnad Imam Ahmad]. This hadith emphasizes that no one (Muslim or non-Muslim) under this system should go hungry.  Thus, this Zakah system created the first universal welfare system in human history. It also gradually transformed the existing slave-based economy to a universal welfare-based economy.  By the end of the Prophet’s period, the entire Arabian Peninsula enjoyed economic as well as political security. This system reached its pinnacle during Khalifa ‘Umar’s time (again, see Michael Hart, THE 100, pages 261-265), a time when, history tells us, hardly anyone was in need of charity.

What has occurred then in the intervening years that the Muslim masses are suffering economic deprivation even though they live in areas with plenty of natural resources?

Muslims and non-Muslims alike ask the question: If the system implemented by our Prophet (PBUH) and Sahabaa (R) was so good, why did it not continue? The answer is simple: we changed or abandoned the system implemented by the Prophet (PBUH). While the power hungry Muslim rulers, politicians, and autocrats exploit and plunder the God-given resources, the sermons about Zakah go on in mosques and convention centers around the world. And while the effective control of Muslim land and its vast resources have slowly passed into enemy hands, the sermons exhorting ordinary, working-class Muslims to give Zakah in the name of Islam and the Sunnah of the Prophet (PBUH) continue. While thousands of children die from malnutrition and lack of medicine, religious Muslims spend millions of dollars on food and decorations to celebrate the departures and arrivals of Hajis (pilgrims) in hundreds of cities and towns around the world.  Many religious and rich Muslims firmly believe that performing multiple Haj and ‘Umra is the highway to heaven.

The Arabic word Zakat, with its root Z -K-W means growth and development.  A tree is nourished and grows in the presence of Allah-owned resources such as the soil, the rain, the sun, and the air (56:63-72; 80:24-31).  Any interference in the flow of any of these resources will retard the growth and development of the tree.  Similarly, any individual, group, government, or system which disrupts the natural flow of Allah-owned resources on the planet to all human beings creates an imbalance in society.

In the West, this awareness is dawning in respect to plants, animal and insect species which are becoming extinct due to this imbalance in nature caused by the actions of human beings.

However, the global economic imbalance continues to grow unchecked because human beings have refused, in their greed, to believe in the basic economic principle of Zakat: the unrestricted flow of resources to all human beings (41:10, 50:11, 55:10, 56:73, 79:33, and 80:32).

The Quran emphasizes the importance of economics in human life.  While describing the life of Heaven, the Quran says there will be no hunger and no misery there.

“There is therein (enough provision) for thee not to go hungry nor to go naked.” [Yusuf Ali (20:118)]

Too, the Quran teaches us to work for the good of this life, as well as the hereafter (2:201, 7:156), in contrast to the mindset of those who consider economic prosperity in this life to be an end in itself.  According to the Quran, such people live at the animal level:

“Verily Allah will admit those who believe and do righteous deeds, to Gardens beneath which rivers flow; while those who reject Allah will enjoy (this world) and eat as cattle eat; and the Fire will be their abode.” [Yusuf Ali (47:12)]

Taqwaa (righteous works) includes the use of economic prosperity to achieve a higher and nobler goal (10:63-64, 16:30).  Economic prosperity is a means, not an end; it is a source for life, not the end of life; it is a prerequisite for growth and development in life, not the final goal of life.  Since economic prosperity is so essential to human growth and development, Allah has addressed the issue of Zakat in great depth in the Quran.

To begin with, Allah says He is Rahman and Rahim:

“There is no moving creature on earth but its sustenance dependeth on Allah: He knoweth the time and place of its definite abode and its temporary deposit: All is in a clear Record.”[Yusuf Ali (11:6)]

“How many are the creatures that carry not their own sustenance? It is Allah who feeds (both) them and you: for He hears and knows (all things).” [Yusuf Ali (29:60). Also see verses (6:152) and (17:31)]

Allah, of course, does not personally feed anyone:

And when they are told, “Spend ye of (the bounties) with which God has provided you,” the Unbelievers say to those who believe: “Shall we then feed those whom, if God had so willed, He would have fed, (Himself)?- Ye are in nothing but manifest error.” [Yusuf Ali (36:47)]

Allah fulfills this promise by creating the resources for the nourishment and growth of all moving creatures.  No one, therefore, has the right to own or control the Allah-given natural resources or to restrict their flow to humanity at large (107:7, 17:20).  Otherwise, this is tantamount to belying the Deen of Allah (107:1-6). Any association or partnership with Allah in this respect is Shirk, an unforgivable sin in the sight of Allah.  Allah says:

“Join not anything as equal with Him; be good to your parents; Kill not your children on a plea of Want—We provide sustenance for you and for them.” [Yusuf Ali 6:151]

Secondly, Allah is clearly the real owner of the resources He has created.  The following verses in the Quran leave no doubt about this:

The earth and all its resources belong to Allah. It is such an obvious fact that no one can deny it (6:12, 10:31, 29:61 &63, 31:25, 34:24, 39:10 & 38, 43:9).
Allah is the inheritor of the earth (19:40).
The earth has been created for the benefit of all (55:10).
It has been created to provide nourishment for all (56:73).
To Him belongs all that is in heavens and the earth, “La hu ma fissamawati fil ardh” (2:116, 2:255, 4:171, 5:40, 14:2, 16:52, 20:6, 22:64).
“Lillahi ma fissamawati fil ardh” (2:284, 3:109, 3:129, 4:131-132, 5:40, 10:55, 10:67, 14:2, 16:52, 20:6, 21:19, 34:1, 42:4, 42:53, 53:21).
“Lillahi miraathus samaawaatti wal ardh” (3:180).
As Owner, then, Allah has given us these resources as a trust which we are required to disburse according to His Will (the system of Zakat), which is, to make available to all living creatures according to their needs, without any hindrance or control, the sustenance and provisions of life.

It was the Prophet’s (pbuh) unshakable conviction, his utter commitment, and total obedience to this system of Zakat that led to the establishment of the basic infrastructure of a universal, welfare-based economic system in Medina, and which reached its pinnacle during Khalifa ‘Umar’s (R) time when, it is said, hardly anyone was in need of charity.  The Prophet (pbuh) lived his life true to this principle: he was not an owner of anything, no land, no possessions; he was merely an enforcer of the Will of Allah – he established the system of Zakat.

Whereas Zakat is a permanent feature of Islam, charity is an emergency measure. By making charity a short-term solution, the Quran recognizes that long-term or indefinite dependence of individuals and nations upon others invariably leads to degradation of the human self, to loss of human dignity, and to lack of human freedom and thought – all of which constitute human growth and development.

Alms [Sadaqaat] are for the poor and the needy, and those employed to administer the (funds); for those whose hearts have been (recently) reconciled (to Truth); for those in bondage and in debt; in the cause of God; and for the wayfarer: (thus is it) ordained by God, and God is full of knowledge and wisdom. [Yusuf Ali (9:60)]

The root meaning of Sadaqaa comes from the root S-D-Q, meaning truth and power. Therefore, all the words that are derived from this root will have these two meanings (truth and power) embedded in them. Siddeeq is one who proves his trust and belief by his actions. As-Sadaqatu is anything that is given in the way of Allah voluntarily to prove one’s promise and belief in Him as opposed to Zakat, which is compulsory.

Initially, Allah asks us for Sadaqaa (charity – voluntary giving), which is used to gradually change a wrong, unbalanced economic system (based on capitalist politics of greed) to a balanced one that guarantees equal economic opportunities and protection to all. The rich are asked to give their surplus wealth back for the benefit of the poor and suffering—the ones who really worked hard for creating that wealth in the first place. The instruction about Sadaqaat in verse (9:60) above would gradually change an unjust economic system to one that would ultimately be based on the economics of Zakat.

Quranic Zakat, as implemented by our Prophet (pbuh) and the rightly-guided Khalifas, forms the basis of an economic system which ensures economic security, with dignity, to everyone under its jurisdiction, right here, in this world.


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