I’m sure you’ve heard of Bill Gates. Most likely, you are currently using at least one of the products his company, Microsoft has produced. He is one of the richest men in the world, currently worth $99 billion. Now, just imagine if he gave away 2.5% of his money to the poor people of America. How many people could that help?
Zakat of 2.5% Could Probably Change The World
You can probably imagine how much good would come to the world if the wealthy gave part of their fortune to the poor. This generosity would improve national economies, reduce crime, and bring better opportunities for all.
And that’s the beauty of Zakat. From the example above, you can see that Zakat is more than just a tax. And it’s more than charity. Zakat is a tool that fosters social harmony and justice.
For the wealthy, Zakat purifies their wealth and brings humility and gratitude. For the poor, Zakat brings hope and satisfaction and removes enmity for the rich.
Two Types of Zakat
There are two types of Zakat. The first type, the one most people are familiar with and the example used above is called Zakat al-Mal (wealth). The second one is Zakat al-Fitr.
Zakat al-Mal is paid on accumulated wealth over a year. So it’s not based on earnings like income tax. Instead, the amount to be paid is based on whatever amount of wealth a person has in their possession. This would usually entail savings, gold and silver jewelry, stocks, produce, cash, livestock, etc.
Muslims then must pay 2.5% of this accumulated wealth as Zakat. But not all Muslims are required to pay Zakat. Those people that fall below a certain wealth threshold, called Nisab, are excused.
The other type of Zakat is Zakat al-Fitr. This must be paid by all Muslims with enough food for one day. The amount to be paid for Zakat al-Fitr is much lower than Zakat al-Mal. Zakat al-Fitr is paid by the head of the household on behalf of all family members, both young and old. The amount for Zakat al-Fitr varies, but it most similar to the price of food for one day.
There is profound wisdom in these two types of mandatory charity. Zakat al-Mal is paid by the wealthy to the poor and needy. But Zakat al-Fitr as paid by all, both rich and poor. Because of this, even the poor earn reward for giving in charity, and they also have a chance to help those who are even more in need.
Who Receives The Zakat?
Zakat cannot be paid to just any charitable cause. The recipients of Zakat are made clear in both the Quran and the statements of Prophet Mohammad, peace be upon him.
Zakat can be given to people in the following categories:
- The Poor – Those who are definitely poor and ask for help
- The Needy – Those who are poor, but do not ask for help
- Those employed to administer the Zakat
- Newly converted Muslims
- Those in debt
- Wayfarers – Travelers who are cut off from their own resources
- Those in the path of Allah – Muslims who are fighting or teaching for Allah
Of course, it is permissible to give charity to causes or organizations beyond those listed above. Muslims are encouraged to give voluntary charity, or sadaqah, whenever they can. But only those who fit into the above categories can actually receive the yearly Zakat payments.
Zakat is an Obligation on All Muslims
Finally, I must make it clear that Zakat is an obligation. Those who can pay the Zakat, and deliberately neglect it, are committing a major sin and may fall out of Islam.
In fact, Abu Bakr, may Allah be pleased with him, was the first Caliph of the Muslim world after the death of Prophet Muhammad. However, some of the tribes that were originally aligned with the Muslims refused to pay the Zakat when Abu Bakr became the leader. Abu Bakr gathered his army and went to war with these tribes until they submitted and resumed paying Zakat.
This story should make it clear how important the Zakat is in Islam. How about calculating how much Zakat would have to give to the poor and needy?
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