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Blog - Zakah in Action

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Why Zakat? Perspectives, purposes and objectives

By Shaykh Hasan al-Banna | Islamic Institute for Development and Research

zakat0IN the Islamic conception, the cosmos as a whole and the earth in particular, have been subjected to human beings and placed at their service in order for them to fulfil their roles as the vicegerents of God (khalifah). Material wealth belongs to God and is given to us as a trust (amanah).

The acquisition and management of material wealth through legitimate means, so that we might put it to use in the doing of good, is thus a fulfilment of one of our missions on earth. The Qur’an states:

”Believe in God and His Messenger, and spend on others out of that of which He has made you vicegerents.” [57:7]

Islam views material wealth as means and not an end, which becomes our sole preoccupation. ‘Amr ibn al-‘As narrated that the Prophet (s) said: “What a blessing wealth is in the possession of a righteous man!” [Bukhari in Adab al-Mufrad].

‘Abdallah ibn Habib, on the authority of his paternal uncle, narrates that the Prophet (s) said: “There is nothing wrong with wealth for those who are conscious of God, Almighty and Majestic is He.” [Bukhari in Adab al-Mufrad].

The preservation of wealth or property is one of the five maqasid [objectives] of the Shari’ah or what the jurists term as ‘hifdh al-mal’. Imam al-Ghazali, Shaykh ‘Izz al-Din ibn ‘Abd al-Salam, Imam al-Shatibi and other legal masters have clearly articulated that the Shari’ah exists to protect life, faith, intellect, progeny and wealth. The basic provisions of food, shelter and clothing falls under the legal category of daruriyat, or necessities, which in Islam are non-negotiable.

However, wealth is a test for us and a source of temptation both with respect to the ways in which we acquire it and spend it. Abu Barazah al-Aslami narrates that the Prophet (s) said: “On the Day of Resurrection, no human being will be released from God’s presence until he has been asked where he obtained his wealth and how he put it to use.” [Tirmidhi].

A’ishah narrates that the Prophet (s) used to pray, saying, “O God, I seek Your protection from the evil of the temptation posed by both wealth and poverty.”

Ka’b ibn ‘Iyad narrates that the Prophet (s) said: “Every nation has its particular trial, and my nation’s trial is that of wealth.” [Tirmidhi].

Islam delineates a framework for individual pursuit and management of wealth embodied in three principles:

Firstly, circulation of wealth and the prohibition of hoarding wealth

MATERIAL wealth from an Islamic perspective has a social function and thus a number of texts forbid us to hoard wealth. The Qur’an describes the consequences of such an action in an emphatic manner:

“But as for all who lay up treasures of gold and silver and do not spend them for the sake of God – give them the tiding of grievous suffering [in the life to come]: on the Day that the hoarded wealth shall be heated in the fire of hell and their foreheads and their sides and their backs branded therewith, [those sinners shall be told]: ‘These are the treasures which you have laid up for yourselves! Taste, then [the evil of] your hoarded treasures.” [9:34-35].

Secondly, spending in terms of priority

ISLAM places primary importance on spending on oneself, giving this higher priority than spending on charity. The Prophet (s) said: “The best charity is that which is spent out of sufficiency. Begin with those for whose material support you are responsible.” [See Fath al-Bari of Imam Hajr al-Asqalani].

This is to protect oneself from falling into a state of impoverishment and becoming dependent on others as a result of giving charity. The need to prepare for one’s children’s future and for old age is part of the prudent management of wealth as envisioned by Islam.

Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqas narrated that the Prophet said to him, “To leave your heirs wealthy is better than to leave them destitute and forced to beg from others.” [Ibn Abi Dunya].

A’ishah narrates a prayer of the Prophet (s): “O Allah, grant me Your abundant sustenance in my later years, when my lifetime is drawing to a close and my end is near.” [Ibn Abi Dunya].

Thirdly, moderation in spending

THE Qur’an warns of two extremes in spending and management of wealth, that of miserliness and excessiveness. It calls for a path of moderation. The Qur’an speaks in praise of those “who, whenever they spend on others, are neither wasteful nor misers but [remember that] there is always a just mean …” [25:6-7].

It warns us: “And neither allow your hand to remain shackled to your neck, nor stretch it forth to the utmost limit, lest you may find yourself blamed (by your dependents), or even destitute.”

Zakat is thus to be seen in the light of the above premises. It is one of the five pillars of Islam and an obligation on all Muslims who meet the criteria and a right of the eight beneficiaries as outlined in the Qur’an. The term Zakat has been mentioned 58 times in the Qur’an. It has been mentioned 32 times in isolation and 26 times together with Salah (prayers). The commandment to establish Zakat often in conjunction with Salah testifies how Islam equally emphasises both the development of the world and the Hereafter.

Apart from Salah, Zakat as an act of worship is a symbol of Islamic economic justice that ensures equal and trustworthy distribution of wealth. Proper and transparent distribution of Zakat will have a direct impact on the equitable distribution of wealth to the society. This reflects duly on the meaning of Zakat which is to “increase”, to “grow”, to “purify” and to offer peace.

So why Zakat?

I WOULD contend that in addition to fulfilling the commandment of God (which in itself is the macro maqsad or legal intent of the Shari’ah) the institution of Zakat exists for four objectives, or maqasid, which can be outlined as follows:

Dual Purification

WHEN introducing the obligation of Zakat, the Qur’an states:

“Take alms out of their property, you would cleanse them and purify them thereby...” [9:103].

This signifies the spiritual significance of Zakat. The action is connected intrinsically to its linguistic meaning of purification and growth. It purifies us from attachment to material wealth, miserliness, greed and love of this world - and in doing so - we grow and develop the human soul. This purification also has another side, that of material purification. It is as though we are getting rid of impure elements, which we consciously or sub-consciously acquired, in the pursuit of seeking a livelihood.

This is the wisdom behind the prohibition of the Prophet and his family being beneficiaries of Zakat. The Prophet (s) is reported have said: “Zakat is the awsakh (dross) of the people, it is neither lawful for Muhammad or the family of Muhammad.” [Abu Ubayd in Kitab al-Amwal]. The Prophet’s family’s avoidance of Zakat, according to al-Nawawi, “is to preserve their honour and to keep them clean from [worldly] impurity.”

Eradication of Poverty

ZAKAT is a pivotal component of Islam’s vision to eradicate poverty from society. The Prophet Muhammad (s) considered poverty as a serious matter. His stand on poverty could be seen when he reminded his Companions that Zakat must be disbursed to assist the poor.

Imam Abu Hanifah declared that the wealth of Zakat must be used to protect the welfare of the poor. Every category of people who deserves to be given zakat must receive their duly rights. If there are among the beneficiaries who do not need the offerings of Zakat, then Zakat must first be distributed among the poor and needy. Zakat is an instrument to eradicate poverty in Muslim society. To obtain this objective, Zakat must be utilised to develop the economy so that the wealth of Zakat could be regarded as a productive asset to achieve this means. Prophet Muhammad (s) has expressed that the minimum objective of Zakat distribution is to ensure that the poor and needy will lead a comfortable life with the proceeds of Zakat.

Therefore, Zakat distribution aims to alter the lives of the poverty-stricken. Imam al-Kasani, a great Hanafi jurist, is of the opinion that the distribution of Zakat must serve to cater for the needs of its recipient. For this purpose, Zakat does not necessarily need be given to all its beneficiaries if there are those who need more Zakat. According to al-Kasani, the ruler’s discretion could be used in identifying ways to distribute Zakat so it is aligned with its objectives.

Herein lies the importance of the action of Sayyidina Abu Bakr in waging war against some Bedouin Muslims during his Caliphate when they refused to pay the Zakat. They were undermining a pillar of Islam, which extended beyond a mere act of personal piety to an integral component of Islam’s socio-economic vision in eradicating poverty.

Economic Empowerment

THE institution of Zakat is an integral part of an Islamic paradigm for economic empowerment. The objective of the Shari’ah in preserving wealth and property is not limited to the individual dimension only, for collective economic standing also features as a key objective of the Shari’ah. Economic empowerment of deprived communities is an objective of Zakat.

The second Caliph, Umar Ibn al-Khattab, drive to achieve this vision was such that he eventually could not identify recipients for Zakat, creating a surplus of Zakat in the Bait al-Mal, or national treasury. In essence, his public policy was to lift people out of the poverty zone. Zakat was thus an institution of public finance and economic empowerment.

The definition of a ‘good quality of life’ provided by the scholars of Maqasid entails that it caters for the necessities of life [daruriyat] and needs of life [hajiyat].

Socio-Economic Justice

ZAKAT provides the basis for socio-economic justice and equality. Wealth, as stated earlier, is a trust from God, to be acquired by lawful means and to be spent on oneself and society to preserve the quality of life intended for us by God. Rights and obligations are balanced. Zakat is not a voluntary act of piety to help the poor, but rather a religious obligation on some and a right for others. In offering Zakat, we are merely fulfilling a right that certain sections of society have on us.

Hence, effective Zakat management would meet the goals of Zakat in contributing to socio-economic justice and equality. It will alleviate economic hardship by making an effort to find resources to improve lives, which will gradually bridge the gap between the rich and poor in terms of their income level and economic opportunities.

Zakat teaches us the responsibilities we have to one another as fellow Muslims and human beings, beyond mere legal obligations. Jurists divide Zakat into amwal Zakat [manifest wealth] and amwal batinah [hidden wealth]. Public policy relating to the enforcement of Zakat only covers the former. The latter refers to forms of wealth which can easily be concealed by the owner.

Contrary to the manifest wealth, which is in the domain of the political characteristic of Zakat, hidden wealth falls under the domain of the religious characteristic of Zakat, and thus remains between God and His servant. Hence, we see that Sayyidina Abu Bakr did not fight those who avoided paying Zakat on currency [as it was considered hidden wealth].

Al-Mawardi states in al-Ahkam al-Sultaniyyah:

“The wealth subjected to Zakat is of two kinds: the manifest [zahirah] and the hidden [batinah]. The manifest wealth is that which cannot be concealed such as plantations, fruit, and livestock. The hidden wealth is that which can be concealed such as gold, silver and gain from trade. The administrator of Zakat [the wali al-sadaqah] must not scrutinise the Zakat of hidden wealth, for the owner of this wealth has more authority than the administrator to pay it out.”

However, given the emergence of the modern nation state [armed with unprecedented technological potential] and its totalitarian intrusion into the personal life of its citizens, the line between manifest and hidden wealth is blurred. Nothing is hidden and all spheres of life are subject to public scrutiny.

It is not only a question of legal obligation, but Zakat deeply remains an ethical choice. It is the test of our love and solidarity for our fellow human beings and a real barometer to ascertain whether we really consider wealth a trust from Allah.

The author, SHAYKH SM HASAN AL-BANNA, is the founding director of the Islamic Institute for Development & Research (IIDR) and an Advisory Board Member of the Research Centre for Islamic Legislation and Ethics (Faculty of Islamic Studies, Hamad Bin Khalifa University, Qatar Foundation).

In addition to pursuing his postgraduate research at Al-Azhar University in Islamic Jurisprudence, he is a successful entrepreneur and CEO of a global publishing and media company. Shaykh Hasan al-Banna has authored and translated over ten works on Islamic history, law, thought and spirituality. 

Slightly edited by SANZAF. Courtesy the IIDR: https://iidr.org/opinions/24-why-Zakat/

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