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Zakat, commonly translated as “almsgiving” or “alms tax” is the third pillar of Islam. Namaz and Zakat are frequently mentioned in Quran as the two principle obligations in Islam.

Zakat is not meant to be a solitary act, given in some void from on believer to another; it was always seen as the concrete expression of faith (iman) to help the poor and the needy. And to contribute the social justice in Muslim community.

The word zakat appears 32 times in Quran, often placed immediately after ritual prayer (Namaz) in term of the believer’ duty.

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Allah (S.W.T) says in Quran:

Righteousness is not that to turn your face towards the East or the West; but the righteousness is [in] one who believes in Allah, the last day, the Angels, the Book, the Prophets and gives wealth, in spite of love for it, the relatives, orphans, the needy, the traveler, those who ask [for help] and for freeing slaves; [and who] establishes Prayer and gives Zakat; [those who] fulfill their promise when they promise; and those [who are] patient in poverty and hardship and during battle. Those are ones who have been truthful and God fearing.
Al- Quran [2:117]

Giving to the poor and the traveler is a repeated Quranic command. While the Quran commands the Muslims to spend some of their wealth on the needy.

The precise details concerning donations and payments were worked out over a period of time by legal schools.

This includes discussion about who collected Zakat, which crops, animals or goods are liable for zakat and other political and social realities.

A common understanding is that zakat should be paid 2.5 percent on wealth, such as gold, silver and merchandise held after one year.

Purifying your wealth

While giving to various categories of people is a repeated theme in the Quran, the work remain silent on the details of poverty and need, and also in the question as to who, exactly, the poor are, the dominant command is simply to give.

Zakat is not a charity; it is like a debt one owes to those who deserve it. The Islamic imperative to give the poor the needy in various ways, is based on the idea that, while wealth divides humankind into rich and poor, it is only through consideration of the poor and the needy that the rich ‘purify’ their wealth.

Wealth accumulation is not in itself a sin, for wealth is simply matter, and matter should be seen as morally neutral.

In the same way, Poverty is not a virtue. However, wealth can be enslaving and simply having material fortune contributes to a morally inherit life.

Thus, the notion of purity is contained in the word zakat- by giving from one’s wealth to the poor and needy or for the general welfare of society, one’s remaining wealth is purified and lawful for use.

Charity and Ostentation

The ethics of purifying the wealth one has through just distribution is a major theme in Islamic thought. While Zakat is seen as obligatory, the word sadaqa implies voluntary giving and is often translated as charity.

Despite this distinction, the words are frequently used interchangeably. What they share is the imperative to give and to do well.

Charity and generosity are applauded and encouraged, but ostentation is to be avoided, for ostentation- however little- annual good deeds. Nor should generosity ever become wastefulness. The excess of lavishness is also seen as a moral defect.

The believer is encouraged to spend in the way of Allah, but this spending must be kept in balance.

There is, in Islamic thought, a constant reminder that wealth is to be shared but this sharing must exist alongside prudence.

Yet, as a genera theme, there is quite clearly a preference for spending one’s wealth, on oneself but especially on others.

There is an account from the life of the Prophet, who, it is said, gave so generously- even to those who were rude – that one recipient of his generosity urged his countrymen to become Muslims, ‘for Muhammad (S.A.W) gives like one who has no fear of poverty’.

It should be noted that, while giving to the poor and the traveler is a repeated Quranic command, so a Muslim’s duties to look after relatives. In fact relatives, especially if they are poor, must be a priority when giving away wealth.

As Allah’s Apostle said:

“If someone has poor relatives and instead of spending on them he gives charity to others, his charity will not be accepted by Allah, and Allah will not look at him on the Day of Resurrection. However, if he himself is poor, he should keep ties with them by visiting them and keep informed of their situation”.

Conscience and a Just Society

Over the years, the collection of Zakat has become difficult and the payment of zakat is now usually a matter of the individual’s conscience.

In some Muslim countries, government bureaucracy assumes responsibility for collection form the individual. But many Muslims donate to various organizations as a way of making their contribution to society.

Zakat remains an obligation, the purpose of which is to create a more charitable and socially just society. But zakat is not simply about material wealth, it is also an attitude to others. It serves as a moral compass in the inner life of the Muslim.

It is said that the first deed that should accompany faith is charity. If one does not have anything material to give, or is too weak to help someone else, the very least a person can do as a charitable act is restrain himself from harming others.

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