10 Nov Alms and Charity: Virtues of Zakat: Part 16
HOW IS ZAKAT PAID?: Part 1
CAN ZAKAT BE PAID BY WAY OF ESTIMATION?
Islam permanently constructs its verdicts on robust foundations, thus guessing or estimating the amount of due zakat, a method prevalently resorted to in agriculture, is not desirable, simply because more often than not, the ultimate result does not match one’s expectations. As a general tenet, the Messenger of God has forbidden agricultural trade based on assumptions, that is, before the ripening of crops. It is worth mentioning that the Messenger of God personally made assumptions on some crops before they matured and became manifest; scholars like Abu Hanifa and Sawri, however, contend that this was during a special circumstance concerning and exclusive to the Jews of Khaybar, and for that reason, it is not appropriate for us to conduct trade based on such assumption. Other scholars who permit estimation limit it strictly to grapes and dates, excluding all other types of produce. In view of the adopted course of action after the Prophetic Era, it may be said that although such conduct may be allowable for governments in order that they may attempt to balance the treasury from the perspective of income and expenses, adopting such a method for generally ascertaining zakat will inevitably result in uncertainty and/or error. Therefore, although estimation could be an approach espoused by some governments, it can, in no way, provide a consistent basis for an Islamic judgment pertaining to zakat.
SHOULD ZAKAT BE COLLECTED INTO THE SAME FUND?
Items collected as zakat must not be mixed with other taxes and revenues, as the Qur’an has specifically identified the targets of zakat. In addition, there are those who are ineligible to receive zakat. Therefore, given that the collector is the government, zakat must essentially be collected and distributed in a different fund to avoid such a complication.
The following hadith transmitted by Anas ibn Malik is worth a highlight in terms of displaying the Prophet’s scrupulous sensitivity concerning this issue: “One morning I took Abdullah ibn Talha to the Messenger of God only to see him with a tool in his hand, marking the zakat camels.”
As understood by the hadith, items that have arrived at the treasury as zakat are meticulously demarcated to avoid a possible muddle. This sort of sensitivity, as exemplified by the Prophet himself, is an incumbent duty on all who assume the responsibility for collection and distribution.
CAN ZAKAT BE PAID IN WORTH?
There is no harm in paying the amount of zakat, after it has been established, with a different type of value. In fact, this assertion can be found in the hadiths that identify the items subject to zakat. For instance, the fact a person can give a 4-year-old camel and sheep or its equivalent of 20 dirhams, instead of the one 5-year-old camel he was originally obliged with, upholds the general practice allowing such substitutions. Similarly, the Noble Messenger declared that the zakat on dates could be given with grapes or vice-versa.
Predicating its verdict upon the above and other proofs, the Hanafi school has accepted that zakat can be paid in worth, allowing the donor a choice. If desired, the zakat can be paid in kind; or, its worth can be disbursed in cash; or checks or bonds may be contributed—a practice widely used today.
IS ZAKAT PAID ON WEALTH UNDER SOMEBODY ELSE’S CONTROL?
Islam, as a basic principle, compels a person causing or instigating an action, whether it is good or bad, with some responsibilities. In a hadith encompassing broad meanings, the Prophet of Islam informed his followers that a person breaking new ground, good or evil, will share an equal reward or sin with those who follow in his footsteps. Another hadith, harmonious with this one, states: “A cause of action is like its perpetrator.”
It is renowned that a person who has his duty of zakat fulfilled by somebody else receives, through the cause, an invaluable opportunity of acquiring immense rewards, not to mention the rewards bestowed on the mediator. By informing about the great rewards awaiting the wife, a slave,4 and a guard5 for mediating in such a beneficial practice, the Noble Messenger entirely encouraged this action. Though there are numerous hadiths in relation to this point, we will for the time being only contend with one: “There is an equal reward for a husband whose wife, without squandering, gives from their food supplies; the same goes for a guard. They cannot deduct from each other’s benefits.”6
WOULD INSULT AND SCORN ANNUL ZAKAT?
All wealth is God’s alone and naturally, He can dispose of it as He wills. Thus, individuals “possess” wealth only to serve and only relative to the ultimate ownership of God. He gives unto and trials whom He wills, and withholds from and trials whom He wills. Thus, the wealthy paying zakat must entirely comprehend that what they possess has been bestowed unto them only temporarily and ultimately is not theirs. The real owner of the wealth is He Who has decreed zakat, Who additionally has identified its places of disbursement. Thus, at no point does a payer have the right to boast and brag about zakat, as he is only the agent of distribution, so to speak. A verse in relation to these states, “O you who believe! Spend a part of what We have given you before that day arrives when there shall be neither trading, friendship nor intercession” (Baqara 2:254). This clearly alerts and instructs humankind as to the ideal course of action.
Therefore a person, as a servant of God, in no way holds the privilege of embracing disdain for the intended recipients of zakat. Furthermore, the Qur’an explicitly provides the following warning for those who are not able to infer such a conclusion from other Qur’anic passages:
O you who believe! Render not vain your almsgiving by taunts and injury, like those who spend their wealth only for ostentation, and believe neither in God nor in the Hereafter. Such men are like a rock covered with earth; a shower of rain falls upon it and leaves it hard and bare. They will gain nothing from their works. God does not guide the disbelievers. (Baqara 2:264)
From this perspective, zakat keeps the rich in line with tawhid (belief in the Oneness of God), while at the same time rescuing the poor from financial oppression and effectively constructing a bridge that connects both sides of the community. Thus, today, we describe with pride how our predecessors, having entirely grasped this notion, had a common practice of leaving pouches full of gold written on them in places easily accessible to the poor: “This is halal (permissible) for you to take.” The objective was to prevent the poor feeling even a tiny bit of embarrassment or discomfiture.