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Zakat & Charity in light of the Quran

Zakat (obligatory charity) and charity have been mentioned many times in the Quran. Both Zakat and charity are what we spend for others from the provisions given to us. God has ordered us to spend a definite portion of our income as Zakat and as much as we can afford from our savings as charity in the cause of God. Here are details on Zakat and charity in light of the Quran:

What is Zakat

Zakat, an obligatory charity, is one of the four major duties required by God from all of His Submitters. It follows the pattern of all rituals of submission (Islam in Arabic) as given to prophet Abraham that handed down to us and existed when the Quran was revealed to prophet Muhammad.
[21:73] We made them imams who guided in accordance with our commandments, and we taught them how to work righteousness, and how to observe the Contact Prayers (Salat) and the obligatory charity (Zakat). To us, they were devoted worshipers.
[19:55] He (Ismael) used to enjoin his family to observe the Contact Prayers (Salat) and the obligatory charity (Zakat); he was acceptable to his Lord.
[19:31] “He made me (Jesus) blessed wherever I go, and enjoined me to observe the Contact Prayers (Salat) and the obligatory charity (Zakat) for as long as I live.

Importance of Zakat

The vital importance of Zakat is reflected in verse 7:156 “….My mercy encompasses all things, but I will specify it for the righteous who give the obligatory charity (Zakat) …” and also in verse 41:7 “Who do not give the obligatory charity (Zakat), and with regard to the Hereafter, they are disbelievers.”

Who has to pay Zakat

In verse 6:141 “… eat from their fruits when they ripen and give the due alms” has confirmed that anyone who has income must pay the Zakat. Verse 3:134 says “who give to charity during good times, as well as bad times……….God loves the good-doers” which indicates that our obligations are to be fulfilled at any circumstances irrespective of high or low income. In addition, the people who may not have any income at some point in their life, but they may have income in the other form such as Zakat from which he is also obligated to give away to another needy people as his/her part of Zakat. In fact, there is not a single verse in the Quran that gives any concession to any person to NOT pay the Zakat if he or she has a low income.

When Zakat is to be paid

In verse 6:141, God has commanded us “….give the due alms (Zakat) on the day of harvest, and do not waste anything. He does not love wasters.” The wisdom behind Quranic law that Zakat has to be paid as soon as the money is earned which is in total agreement with modern economic and monetary theory, which states that the circulation of money is a vital factor for the prosperity of any economy when it is paid immediately and put in circulation, than stacking away and paying at the end of the year. Per verse 70:24 we can also calculate our Zakat money based on known duty and set aside to pay it later if the recipients are not available immediately.

Amount of Zakat to be paid

Zakat must be calculated based on known duty and given away on a regular basis whenever we receive any income. In verse 70:24 it is mentioned “Part of their money set aside” (It is also translated as “And those in whose wealth there is a recognized right”. The Arabic word “Ma’luum” means known. This is the only known amount mentioned in the Quran. When God has said known which means it was known to the believers during the revelation of the Quran. Thus, the existing rate of 2.5% was passed down to us, generation after generation, like Salat, from the time of Abraham to our time. In other words Zakat percentage was known at the time of prophet Muhammad, and did not necessitate any correction by God in the Quran. We, therefore, must set aside and give it to the specified recipients.

Who are the recipients

As per verse 2:215, Zakat is to be distributed to the parents, the relatives, the orphans, the poor, and the travelling alien. We should follow the order of preferences as mentioned in this verse.

What is Charity

While God set the obligatory percentage for Zakat on any income we receive, and He also left the door open for more charitable works, to give the righteous a chance to earn even more credits by paying more to charity. Verse 2:261 states “The example of those who spend their monies in the cause of God is that of a grain that produces seven spikes, with a hundred grains in each spike. God multiplies this manifold for whomever He wills. God is Bounteous, Knower”. The recipients of charity are clearly mentioned in 9:60, 2:177 and 2:273. They are the poor, the needy, the workers who collect them, the new converts, to free the slaves, those who are burdened by sudden expenses, in the cause of God, and the travelling alien, the poor who are suffering in the cause of God and cannot emigrate, relatives, the orphans, the beggars.

As per verse 2:219, charity is to be given if you have an excess amount “….They also ask you what to give to charity: say, “The excess” and anyone who forbids charity is a disbeliever (107:7) which indicates that God has encouraged us to give to charity.

Summary on Zakat vs. Charity

Element Zakat Charity
Payment Obligatory Optional
Who has to pay Who receives any income (Quran 3:134) Who has savings (Quran 2:219)
Source From income From savings
When to pay Due on the day of income (Quran 6:141) or set aside (Quran 70:24) Anytime anyone wishes, i.e., year round
How much A known duty which is 2.5% As much as one can afford
Recipents The parents, the relatives, the orphans, the poor and the traveling alien (Quran 2:215) The poor, the needy, the workers who collect them, the new converts, to free slaves, those who are burdened by sudden expenses, in the cause of God, the traveling alien, who are suffering in cause of God and unable to emigrate, the relatives, the orphans, the beggars (Quran 9:60, 2:177 and 2:273)
Purpose To help the recipients when they are in great need to fulfill our obligations The charity is given to earn extra credits with God

God has decreed Zakat for us to pay from the provisions as given to us as well as to be more charitable as we can without being excessive. To help overcome our natural stinginess, He decreed Zakat (obligatory charity), 2.5 percent of net income. This is to be given as soon as we receive income or set aside if the recipients are not immediately available, and it’s to be given to those who are in need starting with our own family. If the world followed this system, with everyone helping out his or her relatives, there would be no property. In addition to Zakat, we are encouraged to help others as much as we can from our savings without being extravagant.

Tafazzal