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Piping-hot Nihari at Suhr, crispy Pakoras at Iftar, touching recitation of the Quran during Taraweeh prayers and the excitement surrounding the preparations for Eid are some of the sights and sounds associated with Ramadan. In-between the prayers, fasting and recitation of the Quran, we must also remember an obligatory duty that we have to perform – paying Zakah (obligatory charity). Contrary to popular perception, Zakah can be paid throughout the year. However, most people wait until Ramadan to dispense with this duty, so as to gain the blessings of the month.
Different Forms of Charity
We can gain the blessings of Allah (swt) by giving other forms of charity as well. In the Quran, there are five words used for charity:
- Zakah (or Zakat-ul-mal): obligatory charity paid on wealth that exceeds the prescribed limit. The amount differs according to the type of property – on gold and silver, for instance, one has to pay at the rate of 2.5%;
- Sadaqah: voluntary charity;
- Khairat: good deeds;
- Ihsan: kindness and consideration;
- Infaq Fi Sabil Allah: spending for the sake of Allah (swt).
In addition to the above, there is what we refer to as Zakat-ul-fitr or Sadaqat-ul-fitr, which is paid onlyin Ramadan or before the Eid-ul Fitr prayer. On the other hand, Sadaqah (translated as voluntary charity) does not have to be restricted to certain people, as is the case with Zakah. Moreover, the word ‘Sadaqah’ also has also a wider meaning. The Prophet (sa) said: “Even meeting your brother with a cheerful face is charity.” (At-Tirmdhi)
Imposition of Zakah
The word ‘Zakah’ means both ‘purification’ and ‘growth.’ The Quran points out the due recipients of Zakah. It is stated in Bukhari that during the lifetime of the Prophet (sa), some greedy people expected him to give them a share of the alms. However, the Prophet (sa) ignored them, so they defamed him. Upon that Allah (swt) revealed:
“And of them are some who accuse you (O Muhammad (sa)) in the matter of (the distribution of) the alms. If they are given part thereof, they are pleased, but if they are not given thereof, behold! They are enraged!
“Would that they were content with what Allah and His Messenger (sa) gave them and had said: ‘Allah is Sufficient for us. Allah will give us of His bounty, and so will His Messenger (sa) (from alms). We implore Allah (to enrich us).’
“As-Sadaqat (here it means Zakat) are only for the Fuqara (poor) and Al-Masakin (the poor) and those employed to collect (the funds); and to attract the hearts of those who have been inclined (towards Islam); and to free the captives; and for those in debt; and for Allah’s Cause (i.e. for Mujahidun – those fighting in a holy battle), and for the wayfarer (a traveler who is cut off from everything); a duty imposed by Allah. And Allah is All-Knower, All-Wise.” (At-Taubah 9:58-60)
The revelation of the above verses clearly pointed out the recipients of Zakah, thereby putting an end to all unlawful claims on this type of charity.
Recipients of Zakah
According to the above verse, eight categories of people are entitled to receive Zakah:
- The poor (Faqeer): the person who does not have anything.
- The needy (Miskeen): a person who has something, but it is not enough for meeting his needs.
Dr. Monzer Kahf, a scholar in Islamic economics, suggests that we may resort to the following four criteria to help select between the poor and the needy:
a. The degree of need: a starving person must be given priority.
b. The person’s relation to the payer of Zakah: a relative is preferred over a non-relative. The Prophet (sa) is reported to have said: “Charity given to the poor is charity, and charity given to a relative is charity and maintaining of family ties.” (Ahmad, An-Nasai)
c. The degree of religiosity of the receiver: this is within the spirit of the advice of the Prophet (sa): “And let your food not be eaten except by a pious person.” (At-Tirmdhi as narrated by Abi Saeed)
d. Availability of other sources for a specific poor/needy person.
Moreover, according to general scholarly consensus, one cannot give Zakah to one’s dependents (parents, wives and children). A wife can, however, pay Zakah to her husband, if he is in genuine need, as we learn from a Hadeeth narrated by Zaynab (rta), wife of Abdullah, and reported by Bukhari and Muslim.
- The collectors of funds: those, who are appointed by the Imam (leader) to collect the Zakah. They are to be given an amount that matches their efforts, even if they are rich.
- Attracting the hearts of those, who have been inclined (towards Islam): this refers to those, whose hearts the Prophet (sa) wanted to soften, so that they would become Muslims, or so that he could ward off their evil, or those, whose resolve he wanted to strengthen and help them to be steadfast in Islam. These are the three types of people, whose hearts were to be softened.
According to Sheikh Atiyyah Saqr, former head of Al-Azhar Fatwa Committee: “The majority of scholars are of the view that non-Muslims should not be given from the money of Zakah, except those, whose hearts are inclined to Islam, though there is a difference over whether such stipulation is still relevant or not and the permissibility of giving them of the Zakah money is haunted with controversy.”
- The captives: this refers to slaves, who had drawn up a written contract with their masters to purchase their freedom; or the amount needed to purchase their freedom, without a prior contract.
- The debtors: it refers to the debtors, who are unable to pay off their loans.
- For Allah’s (swt) cause: it refers to the soldiers, who are devoted to waging war for the sake of Allah (swt) and making the word of Islam prevail.
A number of modern jurists, such as Sheikh Muhammad Abduh, Rashid Rida, Maulana Mawdudi, Amin Ahsan Islahi, Yusuf Al-Qaradawi and some Fatwah organizations in Kuwait and Egypt, are of the opinion that the phrase, “in the cause of Allah” covers a broad category, and it should not be restricted to Jihad only; rather, it should be applied to all those situations, where there is a need to serve Islam and Muslims. They say that the expression, “for the poor and needy” can also mean “for the benefit of the poor and needy.” Such scholars consider it permissible to use Zakah money to finance Dawah and public welfare programmes, such as building mosques and schools, Dawah institutes, activities concerning Dawah objectives, etc.
- The Wayfarer: this means a travelling stranger, who is cut off from his wealth; he may be given whatever he needs, even if he is rich in his own land.
Ultimate Purpose: Allah’s (swt) Pleasure
Any believer would wish to see that his hard-earned money reaches the deserving, light up a sad face or fulfill a need. No matter how hard we all try to do just that, we must remember that our intention should be to gain Allah’s (swt) pleasure and reward. Therefore, we must pray to Allah (swt) with great sincerity that He may accept our efforts and clarify our intentions. After all, it is not Allah (swt), Who needs our wealth; rather, we need Him.