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Poor-Due (Zakat)

It is not righteousness that you turn your faces toward the East or the west, but righteousness is that one believe in God and the Last Day and the angels and the Book and the prophets; and (that he) give his wealth, out of love for it, for kinsmen, orphans, the needy, the traveler, those who ask, and to ransom captives; and (that he) establish salat and give zakat. And those who keep their commitments when they make them and are patient in tribulation and adversity and in the struggle: they are the truthful and they are the God-conscious. (2:177)

The Arabic word zakat, which literally means "purification," has no actual and precise English equivalent; the term nearest to it in meaning is poor-due. Zakat, the fourth of the acts of worship in Islam, is thus the Muslim's worship of God by means of his wealth through an obligatory form of giving to those in need.

Islam proclaims that the true Owner of everything is not man but God, Who bestows wealth on people out of His beneficence as He sees fit. Hence those to whom He has given more have an obligation to spend from His bounty for their brothers or sisters who need help. In concrete terms, zakat consists of an amount, which is assessed on the essential property of the Muslim, to be distributed among,

The poor and the needy, and those who work on it (collecting zakat), and those whose hearts are to be reconciled, 1 and (to free) Captives and (help) debtors, and in the cause of God, and for travelers.(9:60)

In addition to helping individuals who are in need or distress, zakat funds may also be spent (as mentioned above) "in the cause of God," i.e., for the construction of mosques, religious schools and hospitals, and for the salaries of those involved in the propagation or study of Islam whose work keeps them from having time to earn a livelihood.

Zakat is not to be paid on property which is for personal use (for example, clothing and household furniture, a house in which one lives, a car one drives, crops planted for domestic consumption) but is assessed at approximately 2-1/2 per cent per year on cash or capital which is beyond one's immediate needs, as, for example, cash savings or investments, the inventory of a business, cattle, lands and crops which are a source of profit, and so on. Zakat is to be paid once a year and is assessed on property only after a full year has passed since its acquisition and after any debts or other legitimate obligations have been met. Each Muslim's zakat is calculated individually, depending on the amount of "zakat- able" wealth or property he possesses and varying from year to year.

But why should this prescribed poor-due be called a "purification"? This is so because, since all wealth-in fact belongs to God Who gives it in trust to people as He sees fit, a part of what one possesses is to be returned back to God in this form. The Qur'an speaks of the obligation of zakat in very moving words:

Verily, the God-conscious will be in the midst of gardens and springs (in the next Life), taking that which their Lord gives to them. Indeed, before that they were doers of good. They would sleep but little at night and in the early dawn they would pray for forgiveness, and in their wealth

(was remembered)

the right of him who asked and him who was prevented

(from asking, although needy).(5I: 15-19)

Hence the payment of zakat, which is the share of God and the Muslim community in the Muslim's wealth, purifies his remaining possessions and makes his ownership of them legal and permissible. It also purifies his heart from greed and selfishness, and from regarding what God in His bounty has bestowed on him as solely his by right. In turn zakat purifies the heart of the one who receives it from envy and hatred of others who are better off. Rather than being his enemies or exploiters, the affluent are his brothers-in-faith who acknowledge his right on what God has given them and, from His bounty, extend their help to him. The obligation of zakat has been mentioned repeatedly in the Quran in the same sentence as the obligation of salat to underscore its being a fundamental duty of a Muslim, a prescribed act of worship. In fact, the first caliph of Islam, Abu Bakr Siddiq, sent an Armed force against a group of people who refused to meet the obligation of zakat while observing salat and professing to be Muslim.

When practiced as prescribed zakat is thus in effect a form social security in the Muslim society In prescribing this obligation, Almighty God assuredly did not intend to make people lazy and expectant of receiving handouts; indeed, it is preferable to give zakat to one who does not ask, and it is to be given only in the amount that meets the most basic needs, not for purchasing non-essentials. But in any society there will always be people in distress and want for one reason or another: due to some calamity, war, a disabling condition, the inability to find work, or orphans, widows and the aged who are unable to work and who have no one to provide for them. Obviously there must be some permanent, workable provision for these which is also compatible with human dignity and which simultaneously eliminates bitterness and envy between the rich and poor. Zakat is thus an institutionalized, obligatory kind of sharing and caring which equalizes the wealth in the community without, at the same time, banning private ownership of property or stipulating that all people must possess an equal amount of wealth, which is contrary to human nature and to dynamism and development within a society. It is to be remembered that zakat was instituted fourteen hundred years ago. In spite of all the modern advances in economic systems, methods of distribution of wealth, and concern for the rights of human beings to have their basic needs met, no ideology or economic system has been able to develop any institution comparable to zakat for dealing with the problem of poverty while at the same time offering a solution to class rivalries and hatreds.

Besides the payment of the obligatory zakat, Islam also urges Muslims to give voluntary charity, to the extent they can afford, to those in need. Indeed, charitableness is among the most stressed qualifies in Islam. A Muslim is supposed to be always responsive to human need and distress, and to regard his wealth as a trust from God which is to be used not only for himself and his family but for other human beings in need as well.

You will not attain righteousness until you spend out of that which you love. And whatever you spend from (your) possessions, indeed God is aware of it. (3:92)

They ask thee (Muhammad) what they should spend. Say: `Whatever you spend that is good is for parents, the near of kin, orphans, the needy and the traveler, and whatever good you do, surely God knows it . . . , They ask thee what they should spend. Say: `What is beyond your needs. (2:215, 219)

 
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