10 Nov Alms and Charity: Virtues of Zakat: Part 18
HOW IS ZAKAT PAID?: Part 3
PAYMENT BEFORE THE DEADLINE
The payment of zakat during Ramadan does not prevent it from being offered before this deadline. Also, there is no harm in offering zakat which is due between two Ramadans during the previous (first of these two) Ramadan. It is well renowned that Abbas, the uncle of the Prophet (upon whom be peace), had asked the Prophet whether it would be appropriate to give zakat before its due date, to which he has given an affirmative response, attested to by personal verification of the Prophet through the chain of Umar: “We received the due zakat of Abbas last year.” Thus, the gist of it all is that a person, without wasting time, must perform his obligations before the cut-off dates. All in all, there is no problem in paying zakat beforehand during the preceding Ramadan, for this is far preferable than being under the debt of zakat.
AVOIDING OVERDUE PAYMENTS
Irrespective of the circumstances, a person compelled with zakat by Islam should immediately fulfill this obligation. As for those with reasonable excuses, such as suffering financial strife, they have been excused in any case.
The Almighty has placed numerous cautions in His Book advising debtors to reimburse their debts without delay or otherwise face dire consequences. For instance,
And spend of that which We have provided you before death befalls any of you and he should say: “Reprieve me, my Lord, a while, that I may give charity and be among the righteous.” (Munafiqun 63:10)
Spend a part of what We have given you before that day arrives when there shall be neither trading, friendship or intercession. (Baqara 2:254)
In fact, the Qur’anic words, “Pay the due thereof upon the harvest day,” have been understood as a command by a considerable number of scholars, whereby palpable benefits derive from giving zakat promptly, as soon as crops and fruits are harvested.
On the other hand, sudden and unexpected death may mean that a person will be commencing the afterlife in debt, as it is impossible for man to predict the place and time of his end. For that reason, it is crucial to constantly be aware of this reality. The Messenger of God refused to perform the funeral salat of a Companion until another Companion had agreed to pay his debt, as discussed earlier. This debt in question only pertained to personal rights, whereas the debt of unpaid zakat is even more serious in that it concerns both personal rights and the ultimate right of God; therefore, the latter burden is indisputably heavier. In emphasizing the importance of this responsibility, and in trying to thwart people from taking it on the lighter side, the Messenger of God instructed in the following way a Companion who wished to ascertain the most valuable charity: “It is the sadaqa you present while you are full of health, greedy towards riches, living with the fear of poverty, and desiring wealth. Don’t you ever postpone this to your last breath, wherein you will say, ‘This is his and that is hers.’ But that would be worthless, as, at any rate, your wealth has already become theirs!” In a similar Qudsi hadith, the Almighty after illustrating the conceited nature of man, reprimands him: “You collect and then withhold, saying you will give at the moment of death. But isn’t that a little too late?”
WHAT ARE THE IMPLICATIONS OF DECEITFUL BEHAVIOR DURING PAYMENT OF ZAKAT?
No matter which action a person pursues, it will never escape the invincible, all-encompassing knowledge of God. In Qur’anic terms, though it may be the weight of a grain of mustard seed hidden in a rock or in the heavens or in the earth, in no way will it be beyond God’s omniscience. Being the Creator of everything, He certainly knows all things committed by a human, concealed or unconcealed. After gaining full comprehension of this reality, it is unthinkable for a believer to even attempt to transgress the limits and instructions regarding the payment of zakat. For the others who are weak at heart, spellbound by the world’s spurious luxuries, and who may resort to cheating their way out of zakat, the Messenger of God (upon whom be peace) addressed a simple but stern warning, as dictated to Abu Bakr and narrated by Anas ibn Malik: “Individual property cannot be separated in order to break free from the duty of zakat.”
For all intents and purposes, then, those fostering the anticipation that they might be able to break free from the duty of zakat are hopelessly trying to flee from an obligation decreed by God, simultaneously displaying a deceitful and swindling demeanor which is totally unacceptable for a Muslim to endorse. Irrespective of what the action may be, everything is being recorded, as we speak, to be exposed on a day when all secrets will be revealed. Fleeing from such a duty, when a true Muslim should actually be searching for ways to donate more than the bare minimum, can only be explained by a weakness of iman (faith in God), and such a feeble iman is bound to cause grave impairments over time.
CAN PROPERTY GIVEN AS ZAKAT BE BOUGHT BACK?
Speaking in terms of trade, although there may be no problem in buying a charity item back, insofar as zakat is concerned, it is rather inappropriate. The most famous narration involving this scenario is that of Umar’s, who had once given charity in the way of God, only to soon see it being up for sale at the market. Carrying the intention to repurchase that item, he went and asked the Prophet (upon whom be peace) whether it would be appropriate or not. The Prophet’s response was, “Do not revert to your sadaqa!” In another version, the Prophet says, “Do not repurchase it, even if it could be sold to you for one dirhem, as reverting to sadaqa is like reverting to something you vomited.” Bearing in mind both the fundamental trade principles of Islam and the above hadith, the scholars have concluded that although such a trade is financially valid, it is ultimately attached to a large degree of inappropriateness and therefore discouraged. It is clear that, in this case, the verdict is influenced more by a socio-psychological incentive than a strictly jurisprudential one.
IS THERE A WORLDLY PUNISHMENT FOR UNSETTLED ZAKAT?
Being a financial obligation and a matter of concern for the entire community, zakat has necessitated the installment of many incentives and deterring precautions against the evasion of payment—and appropriately so. Caliph Abu Bakr’s explicit declaration to wage war against the deniers of zakat, and the scholars’ agreement on the seizure of half the wealth of a withholder of zakat, can be considered as clear examples. As for the repercussions in the afterlife, we can only know what the Qur’an and Sunna permit, and due to our insufficiency in being able to entirely apprehend its nature, we leave the details with the Almighty and His Messenger. Simply put, acts of worship are constructed on faith, for which reason it is unthinkable for a true believer to abscond from duties pertaining to his/her servanthood. Nevertheless Islam, in allowing no vulnerabilities in the matter of zakat, and in preparing for weaknesses of faith, has prescribed certain laws to address the diverse attitudes exhibited by those whose own beliefs have not reached a level sufficient for appropriate self-monitoring on this important matter.
Eluding the duty of servanthood, Islam maintains, is all but equivalent to transgressing the borders of the religion itself. As zakat is an imperative social requirement incumbent on Muslim individuals, neglecting this worship cannot be passed over lightly, and Islam cannot remain indifferent to those who avoid zakat, and quite plausibly, will take firm precautions. To impose a fitting punishment, the scholars have agreed upon seizing half the property of a person resisting zakat out of avarice, as verified by the hadith conveyed by Muadh ibn Jabal, wherein the Messenger of God had announced, “Whoever gives zakat accepting a divine reward will receive just that; and whoever refuses, we will confiscate half his property as penalization. This is one of the definite verdicts of God. As for Muhammad’s family, they have no share (i.e. they are ineligible to receive zakat).”
WHAT IS THE PUNISHMENT FOR UNSETTLED ZAKAT IN THE HEREAFTER?
The mysteries of the Heavens, impossible for a human to know, are only known to the Creator. The afterlife, as far as knowledge attained through human’s endeavors is concerned, is also a mystery. God, however, Who is the Ultimate Knower of all mysteries, has provided us countless information concerning the afterlife, including the destiny of those who resist the payment of zakat. The following verses depict the ominous situations they are destined to face:
Those who hoard up gold and silver and do not spend it in the way of God, give tidings unto them of a painful punishment. (Tawba 9:34)
That which they hoard will be their collar on the Day of Resurrection. (Al Imran 3:180)
Moreover, Sunna, the other half of revelation, contains additional reports in relation to this. The Messenger of God, as reported by Abu Hurayra and Jabir, said, “For those who deny the Right of God, as well as owning camels, cattle or sheep, their stock will return to them in the afterlife, more in numbers and larger than ever. The person will be seated in a straight and wide place wherein the animals, of which none have broken horns or are hornless, will begin to trample him. After the first round comes to an end, it will start again, and this process will continue until the verdict closes on all creatures. Again, if a person financially eligible for zakat refuses, then his wealth, in the Hereafter, will embody the appearance of a snake, bold from excessive poison. The man will flee, only to find that each time the snake is relentlessly breathing down his neck; and it will be exclaimed to him, ‘This is your wealth which you were so stingy over!’ Finally, realizing there is no chance of escaping, the man will helplessly insert his hand into the snake’s mouth, whereby the snake will commence torturing him by gnawing like a camel chewing crop.”
In another hadith, on the account of Abu Hurayra, the Prophet of Islam warned, “Gold and silver of which their rights (zakat) have not been presented will be brought on the Day of Judgment in the form of steel pillars, which will then be scorched and employed to brand their owners.”