This page outlines the Quranic definition of the Zakat (Obligatory Charity) and presents all the Quranic guidelines related to its payment.
1- When was the Zakat first decreed and to whom?
According to the Quran, the Zakat was decreed for mankind as far back as the time of Abraham:
We made them leaders who guide by Our command and We inspired them to work good deeds, to observe the Salat and to give the Zakat, they were worshippers of Us. 21:73
2- What is the Quranic definition of the Zakat?
The Zakat is an obligatory payment on all believers who have an income. This payment is to be paid in accordance to God's instructions (see section 6).
A key word in this verse is the word "al-affwoo". To be able to determine what is exactly meant by this word we should look at other Quranic verses that employ the same word. The following are some Quranic verses of significance:
Then they set up the calf, even after the clear proofs had come to them, 'fa afawna aan zalika' (yet We pardoned that). 4:153
Those who give in prosperity and hardship, and the suppressors of rage, and 'al-aafeen aan al-naas' (those who pardon the people). God loves the good-doers. 3:134
O you who believe, do not ask about matters which, if disclosed to you, would hurt you, but if you ask about them when the Quran is being brought down, they will be disclosed to you. God has 'aafa aanha' (pardoned those matters). God is Forgiver, Forbearing. 5:101
'aafa Allah aamma salaf' (God has pardoned what happened in the past), but God will avenge anyone who re-offends. God is Dignified, Avenger. 5:95
According to the above verses, we can see that the word "al-affwoo" (and its derivatives) have been used to mean: that which is pardoned or overlooked.
If we apply this to the word "al-affwoo" which is used in 2:219, which is related to the payment of Zakat, we can see that God is telling us that we should pay Zakat from that part of our income which we can afford to give away without the need to ask for it back, or in other words, what we can afford to overlook and pardon without incurring any hardship.
It is significant that God did not set a fixed percentage of our incomes which we are able to give away. God knows that this percentage will be different for each individual and directly dependant on the person's income and circumstances. It is also dependant on each person's desire to do righteous work. Consequently, God left it to each individual to assess his/her own needs and obligations, and then decide what portion of one's excess income can be given away and overlooked without incurring any hardship.
3- When should the Zakat be paid?
Eat from their fruits when it blossoms, and give its decreed obligation on the day of its harvest. 6:141
According to 6:141, Zakat must be given away on the day of harvest. These words only symbolic of the day we receive income. Thus, we should pay the Zakat whenever we receive income. The Muslims who follow un-Quranic laws have lost this most important commandment; they calculate and give Zakat only once a year on the total annual income, which may have been generated through wages, interest, dividends .... etc).
The Quranic instruction to pay Zakat whenever income (harvest) is received contains a very beneficial economic wisdom. One of the factors that contribute to the economic prosperity of any community is the circulation of money. Frequent circulation of money is much more productive than annual circulation. If Zakat is paid whenever income is generated, the economy will benefit much more than if Zakat is paid only once a year on the year's total earnings.
4- Who should pay the Zakat?
Is the Zakat compulsory on all believers, even if they are poor and cannot afford to give away any of their income? The Zakat is payable only by those who have excess after fulfilling their basic needs (food, clothes, housing, medicine, etc). Therefore if paying a zakat would cause genuine hardship to a person or his/her family, then they are not obliged to pay it:
They ask you what to give, say: ‘al-affwoo’. God thus clarifies the revelations for you so that you may reflect. 2:219
You shall strive for the cause of God in the sincerity the cause deserves. He has chosen you and has placed no hardship on you within the religion. 22:78
5- Who should the Zakat be paid to?
The recipients of the Zakat are outlined in the Quran as follows:
The words in 2:215 give us the categories of people to whom we should give our Zakat and also the correct order. What this means is that if we have a limited amount of Zakat to give away, then if our parents are poor, they would be more worthy of our Zakat then a poor relative and so on.
Some scholars claim that the Zakat should be given only to Muslim recipients, however this restriction has no Quranic reference. The recipients of the Zakat (outlined in 17:26) could be of any faith or creed.
6- Does the Quran authorise a fixed rate of Zakat?
The straightforward answer is no. Nowhere in the Quran is there any hint of a fixed rate. The 2.5% rate, which is followed by Muslims around the world, is not found in the Quran. The source of this ritual, as many other non Quranic rituals, can only be found in the hadith. We have seen that the Quran defines the Zakat payment from 'Al-AFW', which is what a person is able to give away without incurring any great hardship. Obviously this amount will differ from person to person depending on their income.
We are given in 17:26-29 clear confirmation that God did not set a fixed percentage for Zakat:
You shall give the relative 'haqahu' (his due), as well as the needy and the homeless and do not squander wastefully. The squanderers are brothers to the devils and the devil is a rejecter of his Lord. If you have to turn away from them, seeking the mercy from your Lord which you desire, still speak to them nicely. Do not keep your hand tied to your neck, nor shall you fully extend it, lest you end up blaming yourself and feeling remorseful. 17:26-29
In these words which speak about the Zakat, it is necessary to focus on the following words:
Do not keep your hand tied to your neck, nor shall you fully extend it, lest you end up blaming yourself and feeling remorseful. 17:29
After reflecting on the above words, the following question becomes significant:
If the traditional 2.5% rate for Zakat was truly from God, would God command us "Do not keep your hand tied to your neck" nor "fully extend it"? These words can only mean that the percentage is not fixed, but is flexible and that it has been left to each individual's means. In other words, if every person was paying a fixed 2.5%, there would be no chance of anyone keeping their hand too tied, nor fully extended!
7- The importance of Zakat
The Zakat is given great importance in the Quran. The Most Merciful has associated His Mercy to those who pay their zakat.
My mercy encompasses all things, and so I shall decree it for those who are reverent, give the Zakat and those who believe in Our revelations. 7:156
8- How many Zakats are to be paid?
Once again, some scholars who do not subscribe to the Quran being the only source of law (6:114), have invented all kinds of Zakat, such as, Zakat Eid Al-Fitr (the Zakat at the Eid at the end of Ramadan). They have instituted different Zakat to be paid at all different feasts and celebrations. Needless to say, none of these additional Zakat have authorisation in the Quran. The only timing given in the Quran for the payment of the Zakat is when income is received. The Zakat authorised by God is not connected to any specific days in the calendar nor to any feasts or special occasions.
9- What is the difference between Zakat and Sadaqat?
As we have seen, the use of the word "Haqq" in 6:141 and 17:26 confirms that the act of Zakat is obligatory, but when we come to the Sadaqat (general charity) we find that it is not compulsory but only advised for extra righteousness, provided it is within our means.
The words in 2:215 give a more detailed description of the recipients mentioned in 17:26.
We note from the above that the recipients of Zakat are not identical to the recipients of Sadaqat.
10- Why are the recipients of the Zakat and Sadaqat not exactly the same?
So in principle we must give the zakat to the recipients in 17:26, but our Sadaqat can go to anyone we like. We may wish to give a Sadaqat to someone who is not outlined in 9:60, and that is well within our rights. If we do not have any particular recipient in mind and we wish to give to charity in general, then we are advised to follow the guide lines in 9:60.
We note that the recipients of the Sadaqat in 9:60 do not include the parents or relatives. God, the Most Wise, knows that the parents and relatives will be already looked after through our zakat, but since there are many more needy people in the world than all our relatives put together, then any additional Sadaqat we are able to give can go to any needy people, the homeless and so on.
f- Finally, the distribution of the Sadaqaat detailed in 9:60 becomes law in the case of the Sadaqat being collected, but as we have seen, it is not compulsory for the Sadaqat to be collected, rather, any believer can give a Sadaqat (charity) to any recipient, at any time and without it being collected by a Masjid or Organistaion first.