Islam is not only a religion but a way of life which acts as the guidance for Muslims, encouraging them to walk on the path of peace, kindness, and forgiveness. Amongst the five pillars of Islam that directs the life of a Muslim, Zakat is extremely important. The word Zakat means ‘to purify’. According to Islamic principle, all the things belong to Allah (SWT) and wealth is held in trust by us. Our possessions are purified when we give a proportion to those who are needy and underprivileged. Allah Almighty mentioned in the Quran:
“Take from their wealth so that you might purify and sanctify them”
The importance of Zakat before Allah can be determined by the fact that it has been mentioned in the Quran in more than 30 verses.
What is Zakat and Why Should Muslims Pay it?
Charity holds an important place in Islam and it is an obligation on Muslims in the form of Zakat. According to our Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) even if a person has nothing he should work hard for his benefit and then give something out of the earnings in charity. If a person is not able to work, the Prophet (PBUH) said, “He should help the poor and needy persons and if he fails to do so he should urge others to do good.” Furthermore, if a person lacks that as well, the Prophet (PBUH) said, “He should check himself from doing evil. That is also a charity.” Therefore, it is quite understood that Zakat or Sadaqah is an obligation to be practised whether we have abundant wealth or not. Muslims have to be charitable in times of abundance and as well as in adversity.
“The alms are only for the Fuqara (the poor), and Al-Masakin (the needy) and those employed to collect (the funds); and to attract the hearts of those who have been inclined (towards Islam); and to free captives; and for those in debt; and for Allah’s cause, and for the wayfarer (a traveler who is cut off from everything); a duty imposed by Allah. And Allah is All-Knower, All-Wise.”
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Purpose and Benefits of Zakat
Poverty has been widespread in the world and remains one of the greatest drawbacks in modern times. Allah (SWT) is all knowing and the Quran takes a closer look at poverty and the plight of the poor and has recommended several ways to reduce the pain and sufferings in the society. Charity is one way to help the needy and underprivileged which can remove the envy of the poor and cultivate a feeling of unity and brotherhood.
Zakat – an obligatory charity, is practiced to help those who are in dire need for financial help. The main objective of Zakat is to create a balance. If one class of society has access to all the money and does not provide to others, the rest would stay in the same state they are in and the society will be divided into many sections. When one section of people who have the resources and are eligible for giving Zakat gives away charity to the underprivileged, it leads to an increase in their spending power resulting in the circulation of money. Therefore, Zakat offers an opportunity for poor to lead a better lifestyle.
Listed below are some of the benefits of giving Zakat:
- It brings a person close to Allah, the Almighty, increasing the faith and belief.
- Paying Zakat results in great reward from Allah (SWT). The Prophet (PBUH) said:
“Whoever gives away charity the size of a date, which is earned lawfully, since Allah only accepts the good lawful things, Allah will indeed take it with His right Hand and cause it to grow for its owner, just as one of you raises up his colt, to the point that the charity will become like the size of a mountain.” [Al-Bukhari]
- The minor sins are removed and forgiven by Allah (SWT) when a person gives charity. The Prophet (PBUH) said:
“Giving charity wipes away sins just as water extinguishes the fire.” [Al-Tirmidhi]
- It helps in the purification of the heart and encourages a person to follow the honourable path.
- It not only purifies the halal money but also helps in reducing the poverty from the society.
- It cleanses one’s character from being a miser making him reach the rank of the perfect believer. The Prophet (PBUH) said:
None of you [truly] believes until he loves for his brother that which he loves for himself [Al-Bukhari – Muslim]
- It is a redemption from the intense heat on the Day of Resurrection. The Prophet (PBUH) said:
“Every man will be in the shade of his charity on the Day of Resurrection.” [Ahmad]
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Difference Between Zakat and Sadaqah
Zakat is compulsory for Muslims where a certain portion is given away from their wealth. The person must own a specific amount of wealth or savings (after cost of living, usual expenses etc). This is referred to as Nisaab. It is obligatory for a person to give away 2.5 % portion of total unused wealth taken out on a yearly basis. This portion of wealth is meant for Muslims who are poor and distressed.
Sadaqah, on the other hand, is the ‘Nafal’ charity which is done to please the Almighty. Allah mentions in Quran that the nobility can only be achieved by giving freely of what you adore, such as the wealth, riches and the luxury in this case. It is the road to spiritual enlightenment which happens only when one grants generously in a variety of ways other than what is obligatory.
The major difference between Zakat and Sadaqah:
- As the fourth pillar of Islam, Zakat is an obligatory act while Sadaqah is an optional and voluntary charity without any time limit or boundation of how much riches could be given away.
- Zakat and Sadaqah are both acts of worship done in the way of Allah (SWT) while the first one is compulsory and the other is deliberate.
- Certain conditions are applied on the payment of Zakat whereas there are no such conditions on Sadaqah.
- Zakat must be distributed to those who fulfil the conditions expressed in the Quran while Sadaqah can be made to anyone who you think deserves.
- If one fails to pay Zakat, he will be punished in the hereafter as it is a fundamental pillar of Islam. Sadaqah is voluntary and not compulsory, so it is not punishable.
- Zakat must be given annually after calculating the unused wealth whereas Sadaqah could be given any time.
- Zakat cleanses ones wealth while Sadaqah prevents from unseen physical, spiritual and financial calamities.
By paying Zakat, we accept that everything we own belongs to Allah (SWT) alone and we are only entrusted with it temporarily in this lifetime. Therefore, we should use it to remember Allah and help those who are not as privileged as us. It is an act of worship which also helps us to learn self-discipline and honesty.