An Introduction to Sadaqah and Zakah

by Mohamad K. Yusuff

The Meaning of Sadaqah and its Significance

The Arabic term sadaqah (pl. sadaqat) has been used many times in the Noble Qur'an. This word has its root in sadq or sidq, meaning "to speak the truth" or "to be sincere."

Sadaqah is the generic concept of alms giving; it represents the broadest spectrum of recommended, optional charity to the poor and the needy or to a good cause. This concept embodies the sharing of one's rightful wealth and possessions with those who are less fortunate, without regret or remorse, without ulterior motives, and purely for the pleasure of Allah, the Exalted.

The Qur'an states:

         You who believe! Give in charity (sadaqat) of the good things you have (honorably) earned and of what We have brought forth for you from the earth, and do not choose for charity the bad quality which you will not accept for yourselves except with closed eyes. [Al Baqarah (Cow) / 2:267]

The Meaning of Zakah and its Significance

Zakah is one of the five major religious duties incumbent upon Muslims. The term zakah embodies obligatory sadaqah, that is, mandatory charity. Its primary significance connotes purification or increase.

Zakah is a fixed portion of one's wealth on which it is obligatory to give away a certain percentage annually for the benefit of the poor; the distribution of wealth to the needy is thus regarded as bringing about its purification or increase.

The Noble Qur'an states:

         Take charity (sadaqat) from their property in order to purify and sanctify them. [Al Tawbah (Repentance) / 9:103]

The Prophet, peace be upon him (pbuh), said: "Allah has made zakah obligatory simply to purify your remaining property." Zakah is not a tax levied by a government nor is it a voluntary contribution. It is a mandatory duty (fard), an act of `ibadah (worship), imposed by Allah, subhanahu wa ta`ala (SWT) on Muslims, men and women, who possess the requisite amount of wealth on which payment of zakah becomes obligatory, subject to specific rules as explained later.

The Importance of Zakah

In the Noble Qur'an, reference to zakah (divine tax) frequently follows salah (prayer), usually in same context. The Qur'an states:

Perform ritual prayer, pay the divine tax (zakah) and hold fast to God. He is your Master. [Al Hajj (Pilgrimage) / 22:78]

Lo! Those who believe and do good deeds and establish salah and pay zakah, their reward is with their Lord; and no fear shall come upon them, nor shall they grieve. [Al Baqarah(Cow) / 2:277]

These are verses of the Book full of Wisdom, a guidance and a mercy for the doers of good -- who keep up salah and pay zakah and who are certain of the Hereafter. These are on a guidance from their Lord, and these are the ones who are successful. [Luqman / 31:2-5]

And keep up salah and pay zakah and obey the Messenger, so that you may be shown mercy. [Al Nur (Light) / 24:56]

Summary: Spending one's rightful wealth, selflessly, with good intention, for the pleasure of Allah (SWT) brings the believer closer to his Creator for the attainment of high rewards in this world and in the hereafter.

The Spirit and Benefits of Zakah

The giving of zakah not only purifies one's property, it also purifies the heart and soul of the donor. The prescribed distribution of one's wealth also serves as a test to one's faith and sense of compassion and sympathy with the plight of the poor and needy.

Because we are not all endowed equally with Allah's bounties, zakah serves an economic objective through sharing of resources among Muslims ". . . so that this (wealth) may not circulate solely among the rich from among you." [Al Hashr / 59:7]

There is also a higher spiritual benefit for the giving of zakah. Allah (SWT) says in the Noble Qur'an:

         He has raised some of you in ranks above others, that He may try you by that which He has given you . . [Al An`am / 6:165]

         The parable of those who spend their wealth in the way of Allah is that of a grain of corn: it grows into seven ears; in each ear there are one hundred grains. And Allah gives manifold increases to whom He pleases . . . [Al Baqarah / 2:261]

         Righteousness does not consist in whether you face towards the east or the west. The righteous man is he who believes in Allah and the Last Day, in the angels and the Scriptures and the prophets; who for the love of Allah gives his wealth to his kinsfolk, to the orphans, to the needy, to the wayfarers and to the beggars, and for the redemption of captives; who attends to his prayers and pays the alms-tax; who is true to his promises and steadfast in trial and adversity and in times of war. Such are the true believers; such are the God-fearing. [Al Baqarah / 2:177]

         And keep up salah and pay the zakah. And your good works shall be rewarded by Allah. Surely, Allah is Seer of what you do. [Al Baqarah / 2:110]

         The righteous shall dwell amidst gardens and fountains, and shall receive what their Lord will give, for they have done good works, sleeping but little in the night-time, praying at dawn for Allah's pardon, and sharing their goods with the beggars and the destitute. [Al Dhariyat / 51:17-19]

Obligation on Whom:

The obligation of zakah applies only to Muslims. Non-Muslims living in a community governed by the law of Islam are exempt from this duty. The able-bodied amongst them are asked to pay to the State treasury an annual, small tax called jizyah in lieu of zakah. This payment is in return for security and other services rendered to them by the state.

Kinds of Property on which Zakah is Obligatory

The tax of zakah applies to the following six dutiable properties:

1. Money (cash), gold and silver (naqdayn)

2. Merchandise, i.e., items held for the purpose of trade. Items owned for personal use like houses; clothes; motorcars we use for transportation; work tools; books for research; are not subject to zakah.

3. Cattle (livestock); i.e., oxen and cows, camels and sheep.

(Note: Cattle is used here to indicate the three categories of livestock. Hence, the term 'sheep' include goats; and buffaloes are treated as cows and oxen).

4. Minerals mined (dug out) from the ground.

5. Ancient treasure belonging to pre-Islamic age (rikaz) excavated from one's own property or found in an unclaimed land. If it belongs to the Islamic age, it has to be returned to its owner.

6. Crops (agricultural produce and fruits) gathered from tilled fields.

Conditions on Zakah Property

The following basic conditions should be met before goods and property become subject to zakah:

1. The property must be owned by a Muslim (male or female) who has attained the age of majority and who is of sound mind.

(According to the Hanafi School of Islamic Law, zakah does not apply to the property of a minor or a person who is mentally challenged, on the grounds that zakah is a "act of worship" and a Muslim who is a minor or who is of unsound mind is not subject to religious obligation.)

(Other well-known Islamic jurists maintained, however, that the guardians of minors and the mentally challenged are responsible to pay zakat on behalf of their charges.)

2. The amount or value of the property should reach the nisab, i.e., the minimum value (limit) or quantity.

3. The dutiable properties (gold, silver, money, or merchandise) should have remained one full lunar year in the possession of the owner. Other kinds of property have different minimum requirements.

Nisab (Minimum Value or Quantity)

The obligation of zakah applies only when the amount or the value of the property reaches a minimum measure, called Nisab, specified for each type of property.

In the case of money, gold, silver, merchandise, and dug-out mineral or ancient treasure, the nisab is the weight of 90 grams of gold or the value of this amount.

In the case of cattle, the nisab is 30 cows or 40 sheep or 5 camels.

In the case of crops, the nisab is the weight of 1,400 pounds according to the madhhab of Imam Malik. (The Hanifi School of Islamic Law maintains that the duty of zakah applies to whatever is the yield of the harvest).

Time of Paying and Amount of Zakat

Zakah regulations differ both as to the time of payment and the amount of payment for the many dutiable properties described above. The payment formulas on some categories are rather complicated and those discussed here are money (cash), gold and silver, merchandise, and crops. For other types of zakah property, however, rules governing time of payment and amount of payment can be found in any standard text on Islamic jurisprudence.

(1) Money (cash), gold and silver:

The minimum rate for these is "two and one-half percent" (2-1/2%) of the amount which has been in the possession of the owner for one year, whether it is kept at home or in the bank. Zakah should be given only on the net balance after all lawful expenses (for personal necessities, such as, food, clothes, housing, vehicles, work tools, etc.) have been met at the end of the year.

The rate of 2-1/2 percent is a minimum; there is no upper limit. However, one should not deprive oneself and his dependents from meeting their lawful necessities.

(2) Merchandise:

In this category, the rate is also 2-1/2 percent of its value at the end of the year, taking into account the profit accrued which is to be added to the value of the goods and is to be considered in reaching the nisab. This means that if the value of the goods, books, furniture, houses or anything else, is below the nisab but reaches the nisab with the addition of the profit, then the duty of zakah applies.

(3) Cattle:

The zakah on cattle (oxen and cows, camels and sheep) varies according to the size (number of animals) in each category. A standard text on Islamic jurisprudence will show the schedule based on the size of each classification of livestock.

(4 & 5) Minerals and Ancient Treasures:

The zakah on minerals and ancient treasure is due when (at the time) the mineral or the treasure has been excavated. The zakah on excavated minerals is 2-1/2 percent of the pure extracted amount; zakah on ancient treasure is 20 percent.

No zakat is due upon precious stones--rubies, pearls, sapphires, diamonds, corals, chrysolites, and any other kinds, unless they are held for resale.

(6) Crops (Agricultural produce and fruits)

The zakah on crops is to paid at the time of its harvest. The Noble Qur'an states:

Eat of their fruit and crops in their season; and give out what is due in them on the day that the harvest is gathered. [Al An`am (Cattle) / 6:141]

The zakah on crops is 10% of the harvest if irrigation of the field did not involve special efforts or cost. Otherwise, it is only 5%.

Recipients of Zakah

Those who are eligible to receive zakah are specifically mentioned in the Holy Qur'an as follows:

Zakah is (to be given) to the poor, the needy, the collectors appointed for its collection, those whose hearts are to be reconciled (towards the truth), those in bondage, those in debt, (those engaged) in the way of Allah, and the wayfarer. [Al Tawba / Repentence/9:60]

This injunction states that zakah is to be paid to the following eight categories of recipients:

1. The Poor (faqirs): Those whose income is too small to meet any of their needs.

2. The Needy (miskins): Those who have some income, but it is not sufficient to cover all their needs.

3. Zakah Collectors: The wages of those employed in the service of collecting zakah can be paid with zakah funds.

(Note: In the Islamic era, zakah used to be collected and administered by the State. Today, it left to the conscience of the individual).

4. Converts: Those who are to be reconciled in favor of Islam; and also fresh converts if they should need help.

5. People who are not free: Payment of ransom to secure the freedom of Muslim hostages and prisoners of war.

6. Debtors: Those who are unable to pay debts incurred due to pressing lawful needs.

7. In the Way of Allah (fi sabilillah): Those who are engaged in the cause of Allah and in defense or propagation of Islam.

8. Wayfarers and Travelers: Those rendered helpless in a foreign country due to lawful reason such as propagating Islam or pursuing education, or lawful business.

Zakat-ul-Fitr (Sadaqat-ul-Fitr):

In addition to the divine tax explained above, another type of mandatory zakah has to be paid by Muslims at the end of the Fasting Month, Ramadan. This is called Zakat-ul-Fitr or (Sadaqat-ul-Fitr) which is the cost of one day's food for one person. It has to be paid by all Muslims of all ages, rich or poor, if they have provisions for one day and can spare the amount. A person has to pay this zakah on his own behalf and on behalf of all his dependents. Therefore, a father has to pay Zakat-ul-Fitr on behalf of his spouse and all his dependents. This duty is also payable on a Muslim child born before sunset on the last day of Ramadan.

The significance of Zakat-ul-Fitr is to expiate our errors and indiscretions committed during the month of Ramadan and also to share with the poor the festivities of `Id-'ul-Fitr. It is recommended to pay zakatu l-Fitr on the eve or on the morning of `Id-'ul-Fitr, although it can be advanced any time during the month of Ramadan.

Sadaqah (Charity):

Besides the duty of zakah, a Muslim is strongly recommended to extend sadaqah (charity) to those who need it, as mentioned before. To repeat a point: Zakah is an obligatory duty, while sadaqah represents any voluntary act of charity. The giving of charity is frequently and emphatically stressed in the Holy Qur'an as noted in the following verses:

You shall not attain righteousness unless you spend on others of that which you love, and whatever you spend, verily Allah has knowledge of it. [Al `Imran / 3:92]

. . .And they ask thee what they should spend (in charity). Say: What is beyond your needs . . . . [Al Baqarah / 2:219]

You who believe! Spend of the good things which you have earned, and of that which We bring forth from the earth for you, and do not seek to give the bad things (in charity), when you would not take them for yourselves except with disdain . . . . [Al Baqarah / 2:267]

Recipients of Charity:

The giving of charity starts with one's own family and dependents and extends to relatives, to the poor and the needy of the community, to widows and orphans, travelers, those who strive in the cause of Allah (SWT), and any others in need, as stated in the Holy Qur'an:

They ask thee what they should spend (in charity). Say: What ever of your wealth you spend shall be for the parents and for the near of kin and the orphans and the needy and wayfarer; and whatever good you do, verily, Allah has full knowledge of it. [Al Baqarah / 2:215]

How to Give Charity:

While payment of zakah may be paid publicly, it is better to pay sadaqah privately. Payment to the poor should also be made cheerfully and courteously and with a sense of dignity and compassion. Allah (SWT) states in the Noble Qur'an:

If you give your charity openly, it is also well, but if you hide it and give it to the poor, it will be better for you, and will atone for some of your ill-deeds. [Al Baqarah / 2:271]

You who believe! Render not vain your charity by asserting your favor and causing injury like him who spends his wealth only to be seen of men and believes not in Allah and the Last Day. The example of his spending is that of a rock whereon is dust of earth; a rainstorm smites it, leaving it smooth and bare . . . . [Al Baqarah / 2:264]

Abu Hurairah (RTA) said that Allah's Messenger (PBUH) said: "There is a man who gives a charity and he conceals it so much so that his left hand does not know what his right hand spends." [Bukhari 24:13]

Begging is Discouraged:

It should also be emphasized that Muslims are discouraged from accepting charity unless they have to. Begging is forbidden except when one is forced to do so. Everyone is urged to earn his living honorably.

The Prophet (PBUH) said: "The hand which gives is better (with Allah) than the hand that takes."

Charity in General:

In the broadest sense, charity is not confined to money or material things. It can be kind words or a pleasant disposition or removal of an obstacle. There are many sayings of the Holy Prophet on this aspect of charity two of which are:

Abu Hurairah (RTA) reported that the Holy Prophet (PBUH) said: "Removal from the way of that which is harmful is charity." [Bukhari 46:24]

Abu Hurairah (RTA) reported that Allah's Messenger (PBUH) said: "Every good deed is charity, and it is a good deed that you meet your brother with a cheerful countenance and that you pour water from your bucket into the vessel of your brother." [Mishkat 6:6]

Hoarding

Hoarding of wealth is seriously discouraged in Islam. Grievous punishment is prescribed in the hereafter for those of us who hoard. Remember the common saying "we can't take it with us;" it has a potent meaning. For, Allah (SWT) reminds us in the Sacred Qur'an:

Those who hoard up gold and silver and spend it not in the cause of Allah, announce to them a painful doom. On the day when it will be heated in the Fire of hell, and their foreheads and their flanks and their backs will be branded therewith (it will be said to them): Here is that which you hoarded for yourselves. Now taste of what you used to hoard. [Al Tawbah / 9:34-35]

And they should not think - they who avariciously cling to all that Allah granted them out of His bounty - that this is good for them. No, it is bad for them, for that which they hoard will be hung about their necks on the Day of Judgment. [Al-`Imran / 3:180]

Selected Bibliography

Abdul Rauf, Muhammad, Islam: Creed and Worship. The Islamic Center, Washington, DC, 1974.

`Ali, Maulana Muhammad, A Manual of Hadith. The Ahmadiyyah Anjuman Ishaat Islam, 2nd Ed. Lahore, n.d.

Ali, Muhammad, The Religion of Islam. Mirza Mohammad Sadiq and Sons, 5th Ed. Lahore, 1983.

Glasse, Cyril, The Concise Encyclopedia of Islam. Harper & Row, San Francisco, 1989.

Hamidullah, Muhammad, Introduction to Islam. Centre Culturel Islamique, Paris, 1969.

Hughes, Thomas Patrick, A Dictionary of Islam. Sh. Muhammad Khalil, Lahore, Reprinted 1986.

MSA of the USA & Canada, Zakat: Poor-Due. Pamphlet, Unit 5B Islamic Correspondence Course. Brentwood, Maryland, 1974.

Quasem, Abul Muhammad, Salvation of the Soul and Islamic Devotions. Dr. M.A. Quasem, Malaysia, 1981.

Sabiq, As-Sayyid, Fiqh us-Sunnah: Alms tax and Fasting. American Trust Publications, Indianapolis, 1989.

Posted March 7, 2004