Zakaat – a Means for Financial Purification
‘Truly, to a happy state shall attain the believers, who humble themselves in their prayer, and who turn way from all that is frivolous, and who fulfil their Zakah duty.’ (Quran 23:1-4)
In reference to Zakah and other types of charity, Allah says in the Qur’an: “Take a portion of their wealth as charity, so that you may cleanse and purify them thereby; and pray for them; for your prayers are a source of comfort for them.
“Allah hears all and knows all.” (Quran 9:103). This means that charity, in general, and Zakah, in particular, work in such a way as to purify believing hearts and generate growth and increase, as well as blessings for the Muslim community.
Five major elements constitute the foundation of Islam. These are:
- A declaration of belief that there is no deity other than Allah and that Muhammad is His Messenger;
- attending to prayers,
- payment of Zakah (which is an obligatory charity paid by all Muslims who have more than a specified sum);
- fasting in Ramadhaan and;
- pilgrimage to Makkah, if one can afford it.
Prayer and Zakah, however, have a particularly great importance. Hardly ever is faith mentioned in the Qur’an without it being associated with prayer and Zakah, and the need to fulfil both duties. Abu Bakr, the first ruler of the Muslim state after the Prophet (peace be on him), went to war against groups of Muslims who wanted to abrogate Zakah.
When the Muslim community was given permission by Allah to fight against non-believers, Allah gave them the happy news that they would eventually gain power in the land. He also reminded them of their duties when that prospect came to be a reality. Their first duties were to establish prayers regularly, to pay their Zakah and to fulfil their social duty of helping others to do good and refrain from what is wrong and evil. Describing good believers, Allah says in the Qur’an:
“(They are) those who when We firmly establish them on Earth remain constant in prayer, and give in charity; and enjoin the doing of what is right and forbid the doing of what is wrong. But with Allah rests the final outcome of all events.” (Quran 22:41)
Prayer and Zakah are given precedence over other types of Islamic worship because prayer, which is offered purely for Allah’s sake, has an important role in restraining people from committing sinful and evil deeds, while Zakah has a greatly beneficial effect on both individual and society.
In reference to Zakah and other types of charity, Allah says in the Qur’an: “Take a portion of their wealth as charity, so that you may cleanse and purify them thereby; and pray for them; for your prayers are a source of comfort for them. allah hears all and knows all.” (Quran 9:103). This means that charity, in general, and Zakah, in particular, work in such a way as to purify believing hearts and generate growth and increase, as well as blessings for the Muslim community.
In fact, the very word, Zakah, combines both sets of connotations: purification and growth. But the question is asked: What does nit purify; and how does it bring about growth?
Zakah as Purifier
Zakah and other charity purifies the believer’s hearts of various negative feelings, such as a sense of guilt, envy, grudge, hostility, hatred, worry, isolation, powerlessness, as well as the feeling of being a social outcast or abandoned.
Divine wisdom necessitates that Allah grants people different aspects of His grace in different measures. Thus, some people are rich, while others are poor; some are healthy while others suffer from sickness, and some are physically strong while others are weak. But believers are brought up as Allah-fearing, nurturing a lively conscience and a compassionate attitude.
A believer, who enjoys an abundance of something other people have not been given, will find that his active conscience will not let him enjoy such abundance fully, while others are deprived. He will feel a twinge of conscience every time he enjoys his blessings because others are not sharing that enjoyment, even though it may not be a necessity. Although he knows that he is not responsible for the fact that others do not have what he has been given in abundance, he will continue to feel ill at ease, when he realizes that he has plenty while others have little.
A sense of guilt has been experienced by a person who escapes a massacre or a concentration camp in war times, when others with him are killed. Such sense of guilt is felt by such a person, simply because he manages to escape, while others do not, even though he has no role in their fate. He realises that his escape has not been at their expense, but simply Allah has determined that he would live longer. If the case is so, we can imagine what feelings are experienced by a believer with a refined conscience, when he has much to enjoy while others are deprived.
A believer will undoubtedly experience something of the guilt-consciousness experienced by those who survive massacres and disasters. He will not be satisfied until he shares with those, who are deprived, something of the blessings he enjoys. Does this mean that he should give everything he has in charity so as to join the poor and share with them their deprivation? This is definitely a non-starter, as it is in direct conflict with human nature. Moreover, it remains at variance with Divine wisdom, which has dictated that people differ in the type and amount of the grace their receive from Allah.
We can discern here the wisdom of imposing obligatory Zakaat or charity on a believer, which he pays out of what he has over and above his needs for a full year. We also appreciate the benefit of the precise determination of the amount of Zakaat one pays out.