Zakat – the Lost Pillar

What is Zakat?

  1. Third Pillar. Zakat is an essential part of the system of Islam. In the five pillars of Islam, it is number three. It comes immediately after belief and prayer and before both fasting Ramadhan and pilgrimage to Makka. It is a pure act of worship and obedience to Allah.
  2. Financial Worship. At the same time, it involves actions which are financial, legal, social and interpersonal. The concept of worship in Islam is quite broad.
  3. Administered. It is administered and enforced if necessary by the ruler.
  4. Wealth Redistribution. If anyone asks you if Islam advocates government-mandated and managed redistribution of wealth (a hot-button political issue in the west), the answer is, “Yes! It does.” Zakat is a huge part of that.
  5. Ownership and Rights. It is a right against the property of those required to pay it, meaning those having more than about $1000 continuously for the whole year, for example in the case of zakat on money. They have no ownership rights to the portion of their wealth which is due as zakat. It rightfully belongs to the deserving parties according to the Law. If it is not taken and put in its proper place, that would constitute a mis-allocation of wealth and a violation of rights and should be treated just as seriously as highway robbers taking the wealth of travelers or employees embezzling the wealth of businesses or government.
  6. Local First. Zakat must first be used to cover the local needs where it is collected. Then, if there is excess, it is to be transferred to the capital of the nation and from there taken to where there is ongoing need or kept in reserve.
  7. Modern Boundaries Void. Zakat is a nationwide (i.e., “Ummah-wide” if you will) obligation and system over all the Muslims in the world. So, the previous item (collection, needs assessment and distribution) needs to be executed on that level. At present, we are fragmented in small nation-states. This division is not as matters should be and it has no standing in the Law. Therefore the above procedures for redistribution according to need must happen across the Muslim world without regard for these national boundaries.
  8. Not an Individual Act. One of the many aspects of this glorious deen becoming degraded into a “religion” is that in the absence of Muslim rulers – or Muslim rulers properly implementing this third pillar of Islam, we have transformed zakat into an individual act and a voluntary charity. Even if it is still regarded as “mandatory”, without administration and enforcement the effect isn’t much different. It also doesn’t and can’t work effectively. People giving zakat individually have only limited ability to know where their funds are put to best use. This is a disaster.
  9. Current Reality not Correct. Continuing to give zakat as individuals in the absence of its correct implementation is of course correct and we must in this way make the best of a BAD situation and attempt to keep ourselves innocent before Allah as Muslim individuals. However, this must not be confused with correctly implementing the zakat which Allah ordained and his Messenger illustrated for us, which must continue to be our objective.

What is a Pillar in Islamic Terminology?

Islam is built on five pillars or fundamental supports. These are essential to Islam. They include spiritual, physical and financial action. They include acts which are individual, collective and social (interpersonal). The Prophet (sas) mentioned them in this hadith:

Islam is constructed on a foundation of five: 1) witnessing that there is no deity but Allah and that Muhammad is His Messenger, 2) maintaining the prayer, 3) rendering the zakat, 4) pilgrimage and 5) fasting Ramadhan بُنِيَ الإِسْلاَمُ عَلَى خَمْسٍ: شَهَادَةِ أَنْ لاَ إِلَهَ إِلَّا الله وَأَنَّ مُحَمَّدًا رَسُولُ الله ، وَإِقَامِ الصَّلاَةِ، وَإِيتَاءِ الزَّكَاةِ، وَالحَجِّ، وَصَوْمِ رَمَضَانَ

The precise definition of “pillar” or rukn in Islamic terminology is: something which is an essential part of something else such that its absence negates the existence of that of which it is a part.

Thus, standing at Arafat is a “pillar” of the pilgrimage. Whoever omitted this part has not made the pilgrimage. Similarly, Islam is not complete if any of its essential parts – pillars – are missing.

The Prophet (sas) is the Example

The next thing we must know is that exactly how we fulfill our obligations in Islam is according to the teachings and example of Allah’s Messenger. This is as he (sas) said about the prayer: “Pray in the manner in which you see me pray.”

When there is discordance between the reality we find ourselves in and Allah’s rulings, what is upon us is to strive our utmost to rectify that reality, not attempt the change Allah’s ruling or invent exceptions and special cases to match it instead. The practice of individual Muslims looking for recipients for their zakat and distributing it themselves is not anything brought to us by the Prophet Muhammad (sas). It may be the best we can do at a particular time, but it must not be mistaken for the zakat with which Allah and His Messenger commanded us.

Zakat in the time of the Messenger of Allah and during the righteous successors was centrally administered. There were administrators, custodians and collectors. In fact, these very workers constitute the third of the eight avenues in which Allah declared zakat funds are to be spent, meaning on their salaries. See Qur’an, At-Tauba: Verse 60.

The Prophet (sas) sent collectors locally and to outlying areas to determine what was owed by people and collect it from them. These workers have various names in the hadith such as:

jubaah (جباة): collectors
su’aah (سعاة):  agents
musaddiqeen (مصدقين):  receivers of sadaqa (charity, here referring to zakat)

We see clearly from this that zakat is to be collected, administered and distributed by those in authority in the land.

Zakat is a Right of the Recipients

Zakat is not a “charity” and it is not voluntary.  It is not left to the individual to do it, rather, the zakat of the Prophet (sas) and his righteous successors was a centrally administered system for redistribution of wealth for the good of society at large.

Furthermore, it is a RIGHT of those who need and deserve it. Allah said, speaking about the believers:

And those in whose property there is a defined right. (24) For the needy – those who ask and those who don’t.   وَالَّذِينَ فِي أَمْوَالِهِمْ حَقٌّ مَعْلُومٌ (24) لِلسَّائِلِ وَالْمَحْرُومِ

Allah mentioned the great sin of those who hoard away money, referring to that hoarded money as “kanz“.

 … And [as for] those who hoard gold and silver and don’t spend it in Allah’s way, then inform them of a painful punishment.  (وَالَّذِينَ يَكْنِزُونَ الذَّهَبَ وَالْفِضَّةَ وَلَا يُنْفِقُونَهَا فِي سَبِيلِ الله فَبَشِّرْهُمْ بِعَذَابٍ أَلِيمٍ (34

(The verb for “hoard” in the above verse is derived from the same root as “kanz“.)

So, the Companions became very concerned about having any saved wealth for fear that it may fall under this threat. This was cleared up soon thereafter by the Prophet (sas) who informed them that any wealth no matter large or small, the zakat of which has been paid, is never considered “kanz“.

We understand from these two taken together that anyone who saves wealth and fails to render its zakat falls under the threat in this verse, even if the amount of wealth is not that large – as long as it is large enough to make zakat obligatory. The prophet told them:

 Once you have paid the zakat of your wealth, you have fulfilled what is upon you regarding it. And if anyone gains wealth in an illicit manner and then gives sadaqa from it, he will not have any reward in that and the sin remains. “إِذَا أَدَّيْتَ زَكَاةَ مَالِكَ، فَقَدْ قَضَيْتَ مَا عَلَيْكَ فِيهِ، وَمَنْ جَمَعَ مَالًا حَرَامًا، ثُمَّ تَصَدَّقَ بِهِ، لَمْ يَكُنْ لَهُ فِيهِ أَجْرٌ، وَكَانَ إِصْرُهُ عليه”

This hadith is hassan (valid) and was reported by Ibn Hibban who titled the chapter: Anything the zakat of which has been paid is not kanz. This same statement is found in many other narrations attributed to the Prophet (sas).

Although we now use sadaqa to mean voluntary giving exclusively in order to distinguish it from zakat, this is not so in the Qur’an and the Sunnah. Sadaqa can in fact mean either one and is frequently used to mean the obligatory zakat.

… to be continued


4 thoughts on “Zakat – the Lost Pillar”

  1. Just looked over the blog, really liked the zakat explanation and info on how we should give locally first and not feel it’s a voluntary charity.. It is a pillar of Islam and it is required from us.. Love it! Alhamdulilah for Islam

  2. If this voluntary zakat is given throughout the year, is it counted or taken into account when the obligatory zakat is due?


    1. @Anthony
      As mentioned, in its original form zakat would be collected by the ruler or his appointee. Lacking that, we need to take over this function ourselves and make sure the amounts due are taken from our property and hopefully delivered to some of those qualified to receive it.

      In this situation, the money must be given with the intention of being from your annual zakat. If you just gave voluntary sadaqa (charity) through the year than it is just that and can’t be counted toward your zakat for the year. However – and again in this “non-standard” situation in which we find ourselves – I can’t see any reason why one couldn’t pay “toward” his zakat before it is due and then just complete what remains, if anything, at the end of the year. But each such act of giving would have to be with the intention of zakat specifically.

      And Allah most high knows best.

      1. What is said here is very true. I have met few parents who think, whatever they do is only in concern with their child’s wellbeing but in actuality they have not been connecting to the child’s feelings and aspirations. Freedom and love is possible when there is a conversation and not in a monologue, which most often is lacking in our resoaitnshipl. Wishing our young children a beautiful life.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *