10 Nov Alms and Charity: Virtues of Zakat: Part 3
ZAKAT (THE PRESCRIBED PURIFYING ALMS)
The second important duty of servanthood is zakat. God’s Messenger, who depicts prayer as Islam’s pillar or support, describes zakat as its bridge for zakat not only brings the social strata closer to each other and fills in the gaps between them and their members but also stops such gaps from forming.
Zakat means purity and growing. Since it purifies wealth and people’s attachment to it and causes both it and Muslims to grow in purity and sincerity, the Qur’an calls it zakat (or the prescribed alms):
(O Messenger,) take alms (prescribed or voluntary) out of their wealth so that you may cleanse them thereby and cause them to grow in purity and sincerity, and pray for them. Indeed your prayer is a source of comfort for them. God is All-Hearing, All-Knowing. (9:103)
Taking into account its very nature, zakat constitutes one of Islam’s five pillars. It is associated with prayer (salat) in 82 Qur’anic verses. God, the Exalted One, prescribed it in His Book (the Qur’an), His Messenger corroborated it by his sunnah, and the Muslim community by consensus upheld it. Ibn ‘Abbas reported that when the Prophet sent Mu’adh ibn Jabal to Yemen (as its governor), he said to him:
You are going to people who are People of the Book. Invite them to accept the shahada: that there is no deity but God and I am His Messenger. If they accept and affirm this, tell them that God, the Glorious One, has enjoined five prayers upon them during the day and night. If they accept that, tell them also that He has enjoined sadaqa (meaning zakat) upon their assets, which will be taken from the rich of the (Muslim) community and distributed to the poor. If they accept that, refrain from laying hands upon the best of their goods and fear the cry of the oppressed, for there is no barrier between God and it. (Bukhari, “Zakat,” 1:41; Muslim, “Iman,” 31.)
Many verses exhort Muslims to pay zakat and forbid hoarding wealth. For example:
The believers, both men, and women, they are guardians, confidants and helpers of one another. They enjoin and promote what is right and good and forbid and try to prevent evil. They establish the prayer in conformity with its conditions and pay the zakat (prescribed purifying alms) fully. They always obey God and His Messenger. Those are the distinguished ones whom God shall treat with mercy. Assuredly, God is the All-Honored with irresistible might, All-Wise. (9:71)
Those who hoard gold and silver and do not spend it in God’s way (to exalt His cause and help the poor and needy: O Messenger,) give them the glad tidings of a painful chastisement. (9:34)
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF ZAKAT FOR ITS RECIPIENT?
In addition to rescuing society from falling victim to poverty, zakat eliminates socially detrimental crimes like theft and robbery, as the common factor usually underlying these crimes is poverty in one way or another. Once the lack of faith, which deters from crime, is added to poverty, not much reason remains to prevent the perpetration of such crimes.
Through the promulgation of zakat, Islam seeks to extirpate, from the onset, social diseases like theft, by destroying their very foundation and preventing their establishment. By utilizing the privilege of performing zakat, the wealthy not only offer a righteous act of worship, but they also soothe the poor, providing them with financial relief and thus preventing them from taking up theft as a means of sustenance. In an interesting wise, the poor receive needed recognition in the community as people sought after by the rich to allow them to complete their obligations. This, in no way, should be conceived as freeloading, as this is something unthinkable for a healthy Muslim. Rather, zakat is financial help during a rainy day, in a sense, encouraging the recipient to take brand new steps. Condescending to freeloading off others, for a Muslim who possesses the power to make his own ends meet, is totally unacceptable in Islam, which praises work by holding it equal with worship. For a healthy Muslim, unemployment is only temporary, and zakat provides the much-needed spirit and catalyst during that transitional period until the recipient becomes a giver himself.
The Noble Prophet enumerates poverty that “makes one forget the Lord”39 among the seven things that must be avoided before their arrival. A person suffering in the throes of extreme poverty, along with many things, is bound to forget the purpose of creation. Such a ruinous thought must be avoided as it will only add to the person’s sufferings by causing additional anguish in the hereafter.
ZAKAT HELPS ACHIEVE WORKING POWER
Zakat is a source of power for the needy. In addition to providing the financially stricken poor with desperately needed capital, zakat also injects in them dynamic energy, instilling in them the confidence to provide for their own.
By hindering stockpiling, zakat bestows an intense vitality on the economy as well as ultimately providing matchless opportunities for the unemployed, winning them back to the community. Islam incessantly encourages individuals to be effervescently active, conversely condemning laziness and time-wasting.
Consequently, it is not difficult to imagine the enormity of the contributions to the overall economy brought by the person who is given such a great opportunity, as a result of the application of invaluable teaching.
The prevalently unfortunate state of young people in secular societies, who squander their time and precious potential in such places as pubs and casinos, reinforces the importance of zakat. A country whose non-contributing masses have been revivified through such a process whereby wealth is continuously cycled for the benefit of all will inevitably experience an economic revitalization.
ZAKAT PROMOTES EMPLOYMENT
Contrary to popular belief, zakat does not give rise to indolence; on the contrary, it encourages individuals to work. The Prophet of God strongly advised against being a “receiver,” underlining the immense value of giving: “The higher hand is better than the lower.” The lower hand is always receiver’s, regardless of who the giver is, even it be the government. However, if the government is acting as an intermediary in handing the poor what is acquired from the rich, this may be classified as an exemption from the reprimand of the above hadith. Islam strictly criticizes incessantly asking of others and fervently promotes self-acquired earnings by endowing it with multitudes of rewards, depending on the intentions of the person. The hadith additionally alludes to the vast rewards of the afterlife awaiting the almsgiver, and as expected, places him on a higher level in comparison with the receiver. It does not entirely condemn the receiver, of course, acknowledging the necessity of receiving alms when these are genuinely needed.
The Noble Messenger, for all intents and purposes, offers us the following advice, “Always be dignified. Evade the disgrace of begging either on the individual level or the national level through sincerely trying your best not to fall in such a state, and maintain your status of grace as a benefactor. Keep in mind that dependence on others is the life of anxiety.” This hadith also provides us a credo in international relations, giving us, individually or entirely, the crucial task of embracing a diligent attitude, hence delivering the Islamic world what it rightfully expects. Honor, dignity, and superiority always belong to God, His Messengers, and the believers. Therefore believers should not come under the control or authority of unbelievers, for this undermines their dignity and superiority.41 It has thus become evident that zakat vehemently encourages a self-liberation from dependence on others through the embracement of working as pre-eminent attitude.
ZAKAT AUGMENTS SELF-ESTEEM
The Qur’an, as stated, has unambiguously expounded the recipients of zakat, and in the process of searching and finding them, has strictly commanded the benefactor, individuals or the intermediary governments, to scrupulously avoid imparting any scorn. This renders the poor as an esteemed and sought-after part of society, as mentioned above.
It is imperative to locate and deliver zakat to those who are genuinely poor. The obligation of zakat is not one of the specified categories. In a case where a person misplaces zakat, wrongly assuming the recipient to fall under one of the categories, he is exempt from having to give again “correctly,” because of his sincere intention. However, the best must be done to avoid such a scenario. The Companions of the Noble Prophet had first criticized a person who had given his zakat first to a thief, then to an adulterer and then to a rich person; they later modified their opinions knowing/hoping that any zakat, earnestly given with good intention, without an aim for error, would act as a cure to their problems. This accentuates the importance of conducting proper research in locating those genuinely eligible for zakat to facilitate the correct utilization.
Zakat saves the poor from being thrown into total oblivion, turning them into revered people who are sought after. Ultimately, as zakat pervasively functions throughout the community, the magnificent days of Umar ibn Abdulaziz, where finding an eligible recipient of zakat was in itself a difficult task, will inevitably return. In this environment, the poor will not search for the rich; instead, the rich will desperately hunt for the poor to remove an enormous weight off their shoulders, thus fostering perennial gratitude towards the poor, who are essential to removing that load.
No doubt, the rich, immersed in a luxurious lifestyle, can otherwise quite easily become an object of grave envy for the poor as they battle daily for sustenance, overwhelmingly intensifying their feelings of abhorrence. When added to the disdainful demeanor of the rich, the abyss between rich and poor becomes insurmountably grave and culminates in an inveterate hatred for wealth, an attitude pervasive throughout many societies. The only way to overcome the abhorrence of the poor towards the rich lies in the performance of zakat; rich people’s conceiving of the poor as friends in need will alter the poor’s resentment changing negativity into gratitude over what has been granted to them by God through the donor and their appreciation
of the rich for administering their rescue. The rich, concurrently, will feel compassion towards those whom they have helped so that mutual feelings of brotherhood will swiftly spread throughout the entire community, purging every remnant of conflict and turmoil.
Human nurtures immense gratitude in the face of kindness. The Arabic proverb, “al-insan abid al-ihsan,” which can be translated into English as “Man is a slave of kindness,” is an expression of this profound truth. By giving zakat, the rich extinguish the flames of hate and envy burning in the heart of the poor, simultaneously cultivating the seeds of love and compassion—a scene that is impossible to witness wherever the rich refrain from assisting the poor. Zakat, in this aspect, prevents civil unrest and discord, for what perpetually lies at the root of much of today’s most critical socio-economic problems is material dissatisfaction, a hegemony wherein a certain few and their chronic desire for financial domination are pitted against the frustrations of many. In that way, zakat performs the inimitable role of “equalizer,” providing inherent stability and satisfaction for all sectors of society, thereby engendering a more peaceful coexistence than would otherwise be possible.