La Tahzan Wa La Khauf

Don't Be Sad My Friends

The Role of Zakaah in the Muslim Economy

The hand that gives is better than the hand that receives. This is an age-old adage, and by nature people are bashful to go round asking for help, especially in money matters. But the wheel of life at times doles out distraught circumstances to the unsuspecting, unprepared human being rendering him totally helpless. A road accident can in an instant transform an entire family of happy infants into miserable penniless orphans; a pre-dawn fire can wipe out an entire household but leaving one old woman out in the cold; an epidemic of a deadly plague can render entire villages feeble and unaided. And do not forget the disastrous effects of earthquakes and tsunamis, and worse still man-made wars and organized famines.

The act of charity (sadaqah) cuts across all human religions. It is held in high esteem by all and sundry. In Islam, it is so firmly and deeply emphasised that is surpasses voluntary giving (sadaqah jariyah) to become the mandatory zakaah as specified in the Third Pillar of Islam, after the testament of the Islamic creed and the performance of the five obligatory daily prayers.. This annual tithe is the foundation of the Muslim economy. It is obligatory upon all Muslims in possession of wealth, may it be in the form of gold, silver, cash money, crops such as wheat, corn, barley and rice, fruits such as grapes and dates, livestock such as camels, buffaloes, cows and goats. For each category, the calculation is based upon two determining factors, i.e. the nisab (the minimum amount on which zakaah must be paid) and the hawl (a period of one lunar year that one is in possession of the said ‘taxable’ items).

In a nutshell, zakaah is paid on surplus of wealth that is left over after the passage of one lunar year. It is thus a payment on the accumulated wealth. Leaving aside animals and agricultural yield, zakaah is paid at almost a uniform rate of 2.5%. This rate covers the value of gold, silver, and other modern assets such as bank accounts, stocks, real estate investments and other moneymaking instruments and portfolios for the stipulated period. Of course, the whole exercise of collection and disbursement depends on the sincerity of Muslim individuals and the extent of enforcement imposed by the authorities of the day.

In the Qur’an, ALLAH SWT says: “You will not attain piety until you spend of what you cherish; and whatever you spend Allah knows it well.” [Ale Imran: 92]

The recipients of the zakaah are also spelt out in the Qur’an: "The alms are only for the poor and the needy, and for those employed in connection therewith, and for those whose hearts are to be reconciled, and for the freeing of slaves, and for those in bondage and in debt, and for the cause of Allah, and for the wayfarer. Thus, it is ordained by Allah. And Allah is All-Knowing, Wise."
[At-Taubah: 60]

Prophet Muhammad SAW set a shining example in charitable spending that cannot be matched. He was a generous man, and used to become even more generous in the fasting month of Ramadhan. He encouraged his Companions (r.a.) to give selflessly and advised them not to fear poverty. On one occasion, speaking to the Abyssinian freedman Bilal, he said: “Spend O Bilal and fear no decrease in your wealth from the Lord of the Throne.”

In another hadith, the Prophet SAW said: “Miserliness and faith can never co-exist in the heart of the believer.” [Nasa’i]

One meaning of the word zakaah implies purification. Hence, spending one’s wealth for the sake of ALLAH purifies the heart from the love of material wealth. The man who spends truly offers that as a humble gift before his Lord and thus affirms the truth that nothing is dearer to him in life than the love of ALLAH and that he is fully prepared to sacrifice everything for His sake. There is no burden of obligation on the recipient, but a sense of thankfulness and gratitude on the part of the giver, since he has been afforded the opportunity to discharge his obligation towards ALLAH SWT and mankind.

In the early days of Islam, money collected from sadaqah used to fill the House of Finance (Baitul Mal), and it used to be the main source of funding for the Muslim nation and its needy citizens, whether they be Muslims or otherwise. Unfortunately, the spirit of sadaqah has dwindled so much today that many affluent Muslims have stopped even paying the compulsory zakaah for fear of becoming destitute.

It is incumbent upon fellow Muslims to remind them of the following verses in the Qur’an: “Your wealth and your children are only a trial, whereas Allah with Him is a great reward (Paradise). So keep your duty to Allah and fear Him as much as you can; listen and obey; and spend in charity for that is better for yourselves. And whosoever is saved from his own covetousness, they are the successful ones. If you lend to Allah a goodly loan (i.e. spend in Allah’s Cause), He will double it for you, and will forgive you. And Allah is Most Ready to appreciate and to reward, Most Forbearing.” (At-Taghabun: 15-17]


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