22 September 2018 / 12 Muharram 1440
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We are blessed to pay Zakah
- Written by Shafiq Morton
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MOST outsiders to Islam understand Zakah as an alms tax, a poor tax, of a Muslim’s wealth. Of course, superficially, it is – but in terms of its real definition, it is not. For Zakah, say Arabic lexicons, means “cleanliness, growth, blessing and praise”.
All these connotations of the word are understood in the context of Qur’an and Hadith, which extol time and time again how Zakah is an investment of the heart. Indeed, we all understand that Zakah is a pillar of faith – together with the profession of belief (the kalimah shahadah), Salah (prayer), Ramadan (the fast) and Hajj (the major pilgrimage.
Zakah, as we all know, is codified and calculated according to strict criteria laid down by the scholars of Fiqh, those who apply Shari’ah, or Sacred Law. However, as we can see above, once we get beyond the legalities, Zakah opens up wide vistas of social and spiritual benefit.
I always like to say that Zakah is a partnership – it is one between us and our Creator; it is one between us and the beneficiary of our payment; it is one between us and our inner soul. In other words, from the rites of cleansing our halal wealth, comes personal growth, the blessing of the given and the praise of the Angels, who surround good deeds.
Many say that Zakah is a “forgotten pillar”. In one aspect, this is true, but if one considers that in Africa, for instance, over 60% of Muslims live on or below the poverty line, the game changes. It tells us that Zakah is not necessarily the forgotten pillar, but that those who should receive Zakah cannot be served by society.
In South Africa, where our Gini Co-Efficient – our rich-poor divide – is a yawning chasm, we have a lot to think about. We are only 2-4% of the population, so what difference can we make?
I like to think that the difference we can make is by example, by showing others how things can be done, even if we can’t make the physical impact we would like to. The other day, a street person, who writes a column in a local newspaper, praised the Muslim community for its empathy for the homeless of Cape Town.
In a world that is filling with dread, despair, hate, anger and Islamophobia, this is the best example, of an example, I can think of. By showing that we care, we managed to change someone else’s world. Naturally, it is difficult. Some of us are already overwhelmed by the amount of needy knocking daily on our doors.
Yes, some are annoying no-goods, but many have heart-rending stories of displacement, bad luck and misfortune. Very often, for them to ask for help is a desperate and humiliating act, often compounded by our dismissive responses. Part of the grace of giving charity, is the subtle art of knowing who really needs it.
In South Africa, we are fortunate to have NGOs such as SANZAF, who for over 40 years, have been at the coalface of the needy. So if we want to make a difference, it is easy. Not only will someone be able to calculate our Zakah, SANZAF’s workers will be able to place our wealth where it will have the optimum effect.
There are many Muslim minorities around the globe struggling for survival, and when you are living in fear of mobs, guns and cold-blooded killers, Zakah is hardly a thought. But in South Africa we are blessed with the facility of being able to pay Zakah, and surely, that is the biggest barakah of all – our freedom to do so with the approval of the broader society.