The Quran defines the concept of the Zakat (Obligatory Charity) and outlines all the guidelines related to its payment. This page presents all related aspects of this religious duty.
1- When was the Zakat first decreed and to whom?
According to the Quran, the Zakat was decreed from as far back as the time of Abraham:
"We made them (Abraham and his sons) imams who guided in accordance with our commandments, and we taught them how to work righteousness, and how to observe the Salat and the Zakat. To us, they were devoted worshipers" 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 to in accordance to God's instructions (see section 6).
The 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 that are of special significance to our inquiry:
"Additionally, they worshiped the calf, after all the miracles they had seen. 'fa afawna aan zalika' (We pardoned all this)" 4:153
"Who give to charity during the good times, as well as the bad times. They are suppressors of anger, and 'al-aafeen aan al-naas' (pardoners of the people). God loves the charitable" 3:134
"O you who believe, do not ask about matters which, if revealed to you prematurely, would hurt you. If you ask about them in light of the Quran, they will become obvious to you. God has 'AAFA ANHA' (deliberately overlooked them).God is Forgiver, Clement" 5:101
" ........... 'aafa Allah aamma salaf' (God has pardoned past offenses). But if anyone returns to such an offense, God will avenge it. God is Almighty, Avenger" 5:95
According to the above verse, we can see that the word "al-affwoo" (and its derivatives) has been used to mean : that which has been pardoned or overlooked.
If we apply this to the word "al-affwoo" which is used in 2:219 and which is related to the payment of Zakat, we can see that God is telling us that we should pay Zakat (charity) 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 define or quantize the exact portion of our incomes which we are able to give to charity and be able to overlook it (not ask for it back). God knows that this will be different for each individual and directly dependant on each's income and circumstances. It is also dependant on each person's desire to do righteousness. Consequently, God left it to each indivual to assess his/her own needs and obligations, and then decide what portion of one's excess income that can be given away and overlooked without incurring any hardship.
3- When should the Zakat be paid?
According to 6:141, Zakat must be given away "on the day of harvest"
"Eat from their fruits, and give the due alms on the day of harvest" 6:141
This Quranic verse makes it necessary that we should pay the Zakat whenever we receive income. The Muslims who follow corrupt 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).
In this Quranic command to pay Zakat whenever there is an income (harvest) lies a very beneficial economic wisdom. One of the factors that contribute to the economic prosperity of any community is the circulation of money. Higher circulation of money is much more productive than slower 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?
This means that for those who receive an income that is only enough to feed and clothe their families, but with nothing to spare, are not required to pay zakat.
“You shall strive for the cause of God as you ought to strive. He has chosen you and has placed no hardship on you in practicing your religion” 22:78
5- Who should the Zakat be paid to?
The Quran outlines the recipients of the Zakat as follows:
"You shall give the relatives, the needy and the homeless their ‘haqahu’ (decreed right), but do not be excessive, extravagant.” 17:26
The use of the word ‘haqahu’ indicates that God is speaking of the obligatory Zakat and not about voluntary charities.
Some scholars have indicated that the Zakat should only be paid 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. Nowehere in the Quran is there any hint of a fixed rate. The 2.5% which is followed by Muslims around the world rate is not found in the Quran. The source of this ritual, as many other non Quranic rituals, can only be found in the 'hadith' collections. 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 another depending on each's income.
As a matter of fact, in 17:26-29 we can see concrete confirmation that God did NOT set a fixed percentage for Zakat:
"You shall give the relatives, the needy and the homeless their ‘haqahu’ (decreed right), but do not be excessive, extravagant. The extravagant are brethren of the devils, and the devil is unappreciative of his Lord. Even if you have to turn away from them, as you pursue the mercy of your Lord, you shall treat them in the nicest manner. You shall not keep your hand stingily tied to your neck, nor shall you foolishly open it up, lest you end up blamed and sorry" 17:26-29
As mentioned above, these words speak of the obligatory Zakat and therefore the following words are very significant:
"You shall not keep your hand stingily tied to your neck, nor shall you foolishly open it up, lest you end up blamed and sorry"
We must meditate on these words for a while and then pose the following question: If God had actually set a fixed percentage (e.g. 2.5%) for the payment of the Zakat (due alms), would He command us not to be stingy nor too extravagant? The words do not be stingy nor too extravagant indicate that the percentage is NOT fixed, but is flexible and that it has been left to each individual's means.
7- The importance of Zakat
Zakat charity is given great importantance in the Quran, the Most Merciful has associated His Mercy to those who pay their zakat.
" ........... My mercy encompasses all things. I will decree it for those who lead a righteous life, give the Zakat, and believe in our revelations ....." 7:156
We also read in the Quran how the payment of zakat by the believers sets a great difference between them and between the idol worshippers:
"Woe to the idol worshipers who do not give the Zakat, and with regard to the Hereafter, they are disbelievers." 41:6-7
8- How many Zakat's are there?
Once again, some scholars who advocate a version of Islam which is based on hadith rather than Quran, have invented all kinds of Zakat like Zakat Eid Al-Fitr (the Zakat at the Eid at the end of Ramadan). They have instituted different Zakat's to be paid at all different feasts and celebrations. Needless to say, all these additional Zakat have no authorisation in the Quran. The only timing given in the Quran when the Zakat is due is when income is earned. The Quranic 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 Sadaqaat?
As we have seen, the words in 6:141 confirm that the act of Zakat is obligatory, but when we come to the Sadaqaat (general charity) we find it is only advocated by God that we should be charitable as much as we can but it is not compulsory.
Some also believe that the recipients in 2:215 are related to Zakat, they support their understanding with the word "they ask you what they should spend". But these words can apply to volunatry spending as well as obligatory spending.
We note from the above that the recipients of Zakat are not identical to the recipients of Sadaqaat.