Zakah: Understanding Divine Mercy
By Sheikh Yusuf Islahi
Zakah is a well-known financial obligation in an Islamic society. It is obligatory on every mentally sound and financially strong adult who has money saved for one year. This extraordinary obligation is so important that it comes after the obligation of Salah (prayer). Without this, a person cannot be considered faithful.
The Holy Quran explains that those who repented from disbelief and became faithful, establish Salah, and start paying Zakah are brothers in faith and considered part of Muslim society. “But if they repent and establish Salah and pay the Zakah, then they are your brothers in religion” (Al-Quran, 9:11).
In reality, these two obligations (Salah and Zakah) are two very important pillars of the religion. Establishment of Salah indicates that the person is serious about his obligation towards Allah (swt), and his relationship with Allah (swt) is trustworthy. Zakah is an obligation from Allah (swt) towards His creation. The establishment of Zakah indicates that the person is fully aware of his obligations towards the rights of the servants of Allah (swt); he is serious about his obligation and his relationship with others and is trustworthy. The recognition of these two rights, obligations towards Allah (swt) and obligations towards servants of Allah and fulfilling its rights, is Islam. The one whose relationship with the servants of Allah is on truth, his relationship with Allah (swt) will also be reliable because humans are the best creation of Allah (swt).
However, those individuals who separate Salah and Zakah are considered untrustworthy in their deen according to the fuqaha. Abdullah ibn Masood (r) has stated, “The one who does not pay Zakah, his Salah is unacceptable” (At Tabarani). The historical statements of Abu Bakr As Siddiq (r) are evident of this correlation between Salah and Zakah. According to the Quran, the obligation of Salah and Zakah are an open declaration of one’s following the religion of Islam; similarly, not paying Zakah is a declaration and practice of kufr and shirk. Allah says in the Quran in Surah Sajdah verses 9 and 10, “Woe to the idolaters who do not pay the Zakah and deny the Hereafter.”
Here, the Zakah is not obligatory due to the nature of the verse being revealed in Makkah, two years prior to the obligation of it. However, it was a notable practice to spend in the way of Allah (swt) during the times of the prophets, which is why not accepting this is an act of kufr and shirk.
During the time period of Abu Bakr as Siddiq (r), some Muslims had denied their obligation of Zakah. Abu Bakr had therefore considered this an act of division and dissension. This illustrates his keen insight into the seriousness of the matter, though some of the Sahabah failed to understand his reaction. Even Umar ibn Al Khattab (r) questioned, “How can you go against these people who believe in the oneness of Allah when it is evident from the sayings of the Prophet, ‘I have been directed to fight against people till they testify that there is no god but Allah. Whoever professes it is granted full protection of his property and life except for a right cause and his (other) affairs rest with Allah?’” His immediate response to such a refutation was the warning that those who paid Zakah in the life of the Prophet (pbuh) and now were refraining from even giving a baby goat, he would wage jihad on them. Umar ibn Al Khattab and the rest of the companions were then appeased by this decision. The decision taken by these believers was acknowledged by Allah in the Quran where He recognized them as true believers. Allah (swt) says in the Quran Surah Anfal, verses 3 and 4, “Who establish regular prayers and spend (freely) out of the gifts We have given them for sustenance. Such in truth are the believers: they have grades of dignity with their Lord, and forgiveness, and generous sustenance.”
Zakah in Shari’ah of the Past
The importance of Zakah in the rulings of Shari’ah and those of ibadah (worship) are illustrated in the lifetimes of the previous prophets. In Surah Anbiya, Prophet Ibrahim (a) and his son Prophet Ishaq (a) as well as grandson Prophet Yaqub (a) were referred to when Allah said in verse 73, “And We made them leaders, guiding (men) by Our Command, and We sent them inspiration to do good deeds, to establish regular prayers, and to practice regular charity; and they constantly served Us (and Us only).”
The group that makes up the largest population on earth is the group of followers of Prophet Isa (a), Christians. In their religion, Salah and Zakah are an obligation due to the fact that without Zakah their rulings of worship would be incomplete. When Prophet Isa’s mother Maryam (a) was accused during the questioning of Baby Isa, she merely pointed to the baby, who responded in Surah Maryam, verses 30 and 31: “He said: “I am indeed a servant of Allah: He has given me revelation and made me a prophet. And He has made me blessed wherever I am, and has enjoined on me Prayer and Charity as long as I live.” The importance of Zakah is to such an extent that without it no act of worship is accepted.
Consequences of Those who Refuse to Pay Zakah
The extreme desire for worldly possessions and love of wealth, miserliness, and tightfistedness are the signs of the worst form of spiritual disease. The negative effects of these signs destroy the human character. Succor from this negative cycle is Zakah and charity. Allah (swt) when speaking to the Prophet guides him by saying, “Of their goods, take alms, so you might purify and sanctify them; and pray on their behalf. Verily your prayers are a source of security for them: And Allah is One Who hears and knows” (Al-Quran, 9:103).
However, the unfortunate who does not heed this warning and does not pay Zakah, Allah (swt) has revealed a severe punishment and torment as another warning in the Quran. “O you who believe! There are indeed many among the priests and anchorites, who in Falsehood devour the substance of men and hinder (them) from the way of Allah. And there are those who bury gold and silver and spend it not in the way of Allah: announce unto them a most grievous penalty. On the Day when heat will be produced out of that (wealth) in the fire of Hell, and with it will be branded their foreheads, their flanks, and their backs—”This is the (treasure) which you buried for yourselves: taste you, then, the (treasures) you buried!” (Al-Quran, 9:34, 35).
Abdullah ibn Umar (r) was asked what the word “kanz” meant in this verse to which he replied that it is wealth on which Zakah had not been paid. After paying Zakah, the wealth that is left is good, albeit jewelry, cash, or other forms of wealth. Taking advantage of this is a favor from Allah (swt), whereas the money on which Zakah is not paid brings punishment upon punishment.
Abu Huraira (r) narrated that the Prophet (pbuh) said, “Whoever is given wealth by God and does not pay the Zakah due thereupon shall find that on the Day of Arising it is made to appear to him as a hairless snake with two black specks, which chains him, and then seizes him by his jaw and says, ‘I am your wealth! I am your treasure!’” Then he recited the verse, “Let not those who are miserly with what God has given them of His bounty think that this is good for them. Rather, it is bad for them. That which they withhold shall be hung around their necks on the Day of Arising” (Al-Quran, 3:180).
These clear warnings require that our Muslim society become generous, open hearted, look after the poor, facilitate aid to those in need, and be sensitive to their needs. We must ourselves be open to fulfilling the needs of our fellow human beings and encourage others to do the same. Biographers of Abu Huraira have noted that he would mention the obligation of Zakah upon seeing a group of people gathered together. You will find that many people sincerely pay close attention to their Salah, dhikr, reciting Quran, and offering of extra deeds, which is a very important factor of their lives. However, there seems be a lack of focus on their Zakah and charity, which is required by Allah (swt) and the Prophet (pbuh).
Blessings in One’s Wealth from Zakah
From the favors of Allah (swt), He has blessed us with wealth and, therefore, Zakah has become obligatory on us. He says if we spend in His way from what He gave us, there will be an increase in our blessings and wealth. We must simply trust wholeheartedly in Allah (swt) and with this trust we should spend in His SWT way. When Allah SWT is promising us such an increase, then what is there that will prevent us from giving Zakah? Allah SWT says in Surah Baqarah verse 276, “Allah will deprive usury of all blessing, but will give increase for deeds of charity: For He loves not creatures ungrateful and wicked.” With regards to this verse, that Prophet (pbuh) stated, “Giving in the way of Allah does not decrease one’s wealth, and forgiving someone does not decrease one’s status; rather, Allah raises his status. Those who are humble in the way of their Lord, He increases them in rank” (Muslim).
The essence of this Hadith is that the result of our actions, its impact, and blessings are all in the hands of Allah (swt). Out of His wisdom and authority, He reveals the truth and brings forth the consequences and impact of one’s actions. One may see an increase in wealth due to usury, but the reality is that it is devoid of blessings. On the other hand, those who spend in the way of their Lord and feel their wealth is decreasing, in reality, it is full of blessings and Allah (swt) will increase it. The second part of this Hadith addresses the man who seeks revenge for injustice done to him solely for instilling fear in the hearts of others; however, he chooses to forgive rather than seek his revenge. Allah prefers those who forgive and also raises their status and respect.
Allah (swt) explains this point further with an example that humans experience regularly in their lives and, as a result, their hearts find peace. Allah (swt) says in Surah Baqarah, verse 261, “The parable of those who spend their substance in the way of Allah is that of a grain of corn: it grows seven ears, and each ear has a hundred grains. Allah gives manifold increase to who He pleases: And Allah cares for all and He knows all things.” A farmer sows his seeds in the ground apparently wasting them; however, he does so with complete trust as he prays to Allah for the blessings from it. Allah (swt) upon seeing the hard work of His servant blesses this man with 700 grains from the single seed planted.
The humble servant is the one who gives Zakah with the purest intention seeking Allah’s pleasure and the reward of the Hereafter. He spends happily with an open heart, does not remind others of his favor upon them, and remembers the favors of Allah on him. Allah (swt) says in Surah Rum, verse 39, “That which you lay out for increase through the property of (other) people will have no increase with Allah: but that which you lay out for charity, seeking the Countenance of Allah, (will increase): it is these who will get a recompense multiplied.”
Those who seek the pleasure of Allah (swt) by giving Zakah and spending in His way will be the ones who receive these blessings and increases. Abu Huraira (r) narrates that the Prophet (pbuh) said, “If one gives in charity what equals one date-fruit of the honestly-earned money—and Allah accepts only the honestly earned money—Allah takes it in His right (hand) then enlarges its reward for that person (who has given it), as anyone of you brings up his baby horse, so much so that it becomes as big as a mountain” (Bukhari).
Zakah: A Means of Purification and Closeness
The purpose of Zakah is to balance the economic system of society. Wealth should not circulate merely amongst the rich; instead, it should fulfill the needs of those who are disabled, poor, in hardship, and who live in poverty. The needy should receive their share of this wealth with the utmost respect and ease. Those who pay Zakah should avoid the arrogant thought that it is because of their money that these recipients are happy. If Allah (swt) had willed, He could have given the poor this wealth directly; rather, He put you in a position to bestow this favor upon them from your wealth as a blessing to you, and in it lies your test. If you pass this test, then in the eyes of Allah, you will receive a great reward; however, if you show miserliness, then instead of blessings, you will receive punishment.
There is no doubt that one’s Zakah fulfills the need of helping the poor; however, one should pay this annual due on one’s wealth with the intention to please Allah and come closer to Him. One’s heart should be clean of the love for wealth and this life. Instead, one’s heart should be content with the love of Allah. A sincere believer is one who realizes that whatever he has is from Allah and if he is able to give from this in the way of Allah, this is a blessing and mercy. One proves his/her servitude to Allah (swt) through this trust and belief in spending in His way.
Linguistically, Zakah means “cleanliness, abundance, multiplication, and fine praise.” When the servant of Allah shows zeal in paying Zakah, his heart is purified from the love of this world and wealth, which is the cause of many spiritual diseases. In return, his/her heart increases with love of Allah, which has a positive effect on their character and personality. Allah (swt) says in Surah Tawbah, verse 99, “But some of the desert Arabs believe in Allah and the Last Day and look on their payments as pious gifts bringing them nearer to Allah and obtaining the prayers of the Messenger. Aye, indeed they bring them nearer (to Him): soon will Allah admit them to His Mercy: for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.” Allah (swt) promises a closeness to Him and says in verse 103, “Of their goods, take alms, so that it might purify and sanctify them; and pray on their behalf. Verily your prayers are a source of security for them: And Allah is One Who hears and knows.”
While paying Zakah, its essence should be remembered because from this the heart is cleansed of the love of wealth, and this brings forth good character as well as personality. In Surah Layl, Allah (swt) says of those who are saved from the fire, “But those most devoted to Allah shall be removed far from it, those who spend their wealth for increase in self-purification.” One should give Zakah so that his or her personality is clean before Allah (swt), which leads to protection from the fire.
Other Types of Charity
One must not believe that he/she has satisfied the responsibility towards Allah (swt) by paying the annual Zakah; this is a required act of worship upon Muslims. In the Quran, Allah (swt) has emphasized charity and spending in His way above sacrificing oneself in His way. Several verses in the Quran illustrate the preference of monetary sacrifice over self sacrifice. The concept of charity and spending in the way of Allah comes after Zakah and reveals one’s actual desire to spend with an open heart. The Prophet (pbuh) has clearly stated, “Allah has a right over one’s wealth besides Zakah.” He then recited Surah Baqarah verse 177, “It is not righteousness that you turn your faces towards east or west; but it is righteousness to believe in Allah and the Last Day, and the Angels, and the Books, and the Messengers; to spend of your substance, out of love for Him, for your kin, for orphans, for the needy, for the wayfarer, for those who ask, and for the ransom of slaves; to be steadfast in prayer, and practice regular charity; to fulfill the contracts which you have made; and to be firm and patient, in pain (or suffering) and adversity, and throughout all periods of panic. Such are the people of truth, the Allah-fearing.”
Zakah is the minimum due on a Muslim’s wealth, and annually paying this proves that one is a believer and part of the Muslim society. The emphasis in the Quran and Hadith is on other forms of charity as well. The companions have stated that the Prophet (pbuh) was swifter than the wind in giving charity, especially in the days of Ramadan. The companion Anas bin Malik (r) narrates that once a man came to the Prophet (pbuh) and asked for help. The Prophet (pbuh) had she-goats that could fill the whole valley, and he gave all of them away to this man. This man went back to his tribe and called upon everyone, “Bring Islam and become Muslim. Muhammad gives in such a way that he does not fear poverty.” In another Hadith, Bint Abi Bakr narrates that the Prophet (pbuh) said, “Spend in the way of Allah (swt) with an open heart and don’t count the amount. If you count, then spend in His way, then He too will count when given to you. Do not hoard your wealth for Allah (swt) will do the same with you. Therefore, wherever you can, spend in the way of your Lord” (Bukhari, Muslim).
Abu Dharr Ghaffar narrates, “I once came to the Prophet (pbuh) when he was resting in the shade of the Kaba. Upon seeing me, he said, ‘I swear by the Lord of the Kaba those people are in great loss!’ I asked “May my parents sacrifice for you; who are these people in great loss?” He replied, “Those who have money and are wealthy. Yes, only those are protected who spend to their left, right, front, and back with an open heart in the way of Allah, but these people are few” (Bukhari).
Shaykh Yusuf Islahi is a world renowned scholar of Islam from India. He was educated in Islamic Studies initially from Mazaherul Oloom, Saharanpur District and Higher studies and Fazeelat from Madarsatul-Islah, Sarai Mir. After high school he went to Madrasa Mazahirul Uloom, Saharanpur. Later he joined Madarsatul Islah, Sarai Mir, Azamgarh. He spent four years under the guidance of Maulana Akhtar Ahsan Islahi and received Sanad Fazilat with distinction. He has been editing the popular magazine Zikra Jadeed for the last 35 years. He has authored and published more than 60 books on various aspects of Islam including the popular Etiquettes of Life in Islam and Everyday Fiqh. He became a member of Jamaat-e-Islami Hind at the age of 25 years and has been entrusted with various key posts. He is a member of Central Advisory Committee for the last five terms. He also serves many educational and welfare institutions in advisory capacity. Article published on July 30th, 2013.