WHILST the niyyah, or intention, underlies every action – good or bad – every action is accompanied by adab, which in turn is accompanied by akhlaq, the practice of virtue, morality and manners. Failing that, it becomes something that is qabih – or ugly in nature – and will have little social value.
Zakat, a pillar of Islam, involves the active process of giving off wealth by the person obeying the edict of faith. However, without the process described above, the act of Zakat can be demeaning to the recipient and a merely narcissistic act on behalf of the giver.
If that is the case the barakah, or blessings, of Zakat are hugely diminished because in Islam the less privileged do enjoy certain rights over the privileged. One of these important rights is dignity.
So to impart dignity one has to show noble behaviour, something epitomised by the Prophet [SAW] who was enjoined by Allah in the Qur’an to be soft and gentle to others because compassion – and not anger – brought people together:
"O Messenger of Allah! It is a great Mercy of God that you are gentle and kind …for, had you been harsh and hard-hearted, they would all have broken away from you" [Qur’an 3:159].
The Prophet [SAW] achieved greatness because he didn’t neglect anyone in his realm, rich or poor, though he did prefer the latter – whom, he said, would pass the gates of Heaven before the wealthy. Once he said to A’ishah: "O, A’ishah! Never turn away any needy man from your door empty-handed. “
There is much implied meaning in the phrase “empty handed”, because it did not mean that a person should give the poor simply anything, like rotten food or broken clothes. In that case, said a Shaykh to me once, the poor will still leave your threshold “empty handed.”
Or as a humanitarian worker once said: “Don’t use the poor as a rubbish bin. They have the same needs as you; the same need for quality clothes as you, the same need for nourishment as you, the same need for the necessities of life as you. Don’t insult yourself by insulting the dignity of the poor. If you are not going to eat it or wear it, why give it?”
In Islam wealth is seen as a means, and not as an end. Even the maqasid, or objectives of the Shari’ah as espoused by people like Imam al-Shatibi, note that wealth and property are basic human rights.
But via instruments such as Zakat, wealth becomes a social mechanism for re-distribution and poverty eradication – big political questions – with the minimum of fuss and inconvenience. Legally, the amounts liable to be given and those liable to receive are clearly set out. Spiritually, Zakat is regarded as purification, but on so many other levels it is a collective benefit to society as it begets socio-economic justice by halal means.
Under a system of Zakat, the giver and the given both enjoy rights – not before a human – but before God. It is for this reason that the Prophet [SAW] once said that wealth is a blessing in the hands of a righteous person.