10 Nov Alms and Charity: Virtues of Zakat: Part 9
DID ZAKAT EXIST IN RELIGIONS PRIOR TO ISLAM?
Past prophets have also been under obligation to take humankind by the hand and show all the roads leading to physical and spiritual ascension; thus, they too have shown the precious path of zakat as part of a primordial effort to diminish class differences in societies and to provide a judicious and blissful lifestyle remote from detrimental excessiveness. By virtue of providing examples of previous Prophetic applications, the Qur’an does much to put the accent on this mission. Following a brief reference in the Qur’an to the prophets Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob comes the following declaration:
And We made them leaders to guide people in accordance with Our command: We inspired in them acts of virtue, the establishment of salat and payment of zakat. They were worshippers of Us. (Anbiya 21:73)
In reference to Prophet Ishmael, the matchless significance of salat and zakat as the primordial existence of alms as an essential component of worship is underlined from early on: “He used to enjoin his people salat and zakat, and was acceptable in the sight of his Lord” (Maryam 19:55).
Salat and Zakat, in actual fact, are the common denominators of all monotheistic religions, where salat and zakat, after belief in the Oneness of God, form the very core of worship. In fact, salat and zakat are, or at least were, essential characteristics of all of the great religions of the world, those guided by a long line of prophets sent by God since the dawn of humankind, despite the fact that current forms of worship in some faith communities may vary in outward appearance. In support of this, the Qur’an, adamantly states:
They were ordered no more than to worship God with sincere devotion, to honestly establish salat and give zakat. And that is the Standard Religion.” (Bayyina 98:5)
The following verse, which provides insight into how the people of Midian first received teachings of Prophet Jethro (Shuayb) teachings about obligatory zakat, bears testimony to its practice in preceding times:
In sarcasm, they said, “O Jethro! Does your salat command you that we should abandon what our forefathers worshipped or that we should cease doing what we like with our property? Conversely, you are pleasant and right-minded.” (Hud 11:87)
The Midians’ apprehension at being compelled to cease doing what they liked with their properties denotes, almost certainly, a remonstration against zakat. The people of the Midian, who evidently had a complete appreciation for the altruistic Jethro, still could not get themselves to accept or follow Jethro’s brave attempts to encourage them to perform proper salat or give zakat; branding him instead as an instigator, and a rebel. As is the usual case with similar public dissensions, the people of Midian had a ready scapegoat for giving full vent to their frustrations about the obligation of zakat which was, as can be seen, salat itself.
Even though the Qur’an does not explain, literally, whether or not each prophet carried the duty of imposing zakat, it is highly possible to argue for its primordial existence through the ideal notion of peace, the humane spirit of assistance and support represented and accentuated by each Messenger, beginning with the Prophet Adam, and the Qur’anic references discussed above.
In addition, despite having their initial contents altered, the Torah and the Bible still include many passages which support the proposition that zakat actually predates Islam. As no revelations prior to Muhammad %(upon whom be peace) have survived to this day in their original forms, a fact supported even among Jewish and Christian scholars, the sole, authoritative point of reference in this argument remains the Qur’an itself. Additionally, it is worth noting that the Qur’an stresses zakat was enjoined as a duty on Jews and Christians, as well, not just on Muslims, as the textual references to the Qur’an which are included below will clearly demonstrate. Likewise, an analysis of the Torah and the Bible provides fascinating similarities and conformities with Islam’s all-embracing concept of zakat.
ZAKAT IN JUDAISM
The Qur’an generally tends to speak of the Jews as somewhat “skaters on thin ice,” underlining their preponderantly neglectful attitude concerning their religious responsibilities and periodically provides us a detailed account of what exactly those responsibilities were:
And (remember) when We made a covenant with the Children of Israel, We said; “Serve none but God, show kindness to your parents and to your relatives, to the orphans and the needy; speak kindly to humankind, establish the prayer and pay the zakat. But with the exception of a few, you turned away and paid no heed. (Baqara 2:83)
Zakat along with salat is sternly recommended as a requirement for divine acquittal for their transgressions:
God made a covenant of old with the Children of Israel, and We raised among them twelve chieftains, and God said: “I am with you. If you establish salat and pay the zakat, and believe in My Messengers and support them, and lend to God a goodly loan, surely I shall remit your sins, and surely I shall admit you into gardens beneath which rivers flow. Whosoever among you disbelieves after this has gone astray from a straight path.” (Maida 5:12)
And in spite of undergoing multiple amendments, the current text of the Torah still grants us glimpses of the spirit of zakat, grounded on the relations between the rich and the poor:
Jehovah has not despised or been disgusted with the plight of the oppressed one. He has not hidden His face from that person. Jehovah heard when that oppressed person cried out to Him for help. (Psalms 22:24)
When you help the poor (needy) (lowly) (depressed) you lend to Jehovah. He will pay you back. (Proverbs 19:17)
He who oppresses the poor reproaches his Maker. He who has mercy for the poor honors his Maker. (Proverbs 14:31)
This is what you must do whenever there are poor Israelites in one of your cities in the land that Jehovah your God is giving you. Be generous to these poor people. Freely lend them as much as they need. Never be hardhearted and stingy with them. When the seventh year, the year when payments on debts are canceled, is near, you might be stingy toward poor Israelites and give them nothing. Be careful not to think these worthless thoughts. The poor will complain to Jehovah about you, and you will be condemned for your sin. Give the poor what they need, because then Jehovah will make you successful in everything you do. (Deuteronomy 15:7-12)
He who gives to the poor will not lack. But he who hides his eyes will have many curses. (Proverbs 28:27)
And if you give yourself to the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in the darkness and your gloom will be like midday. (Isaiah 58:10)
He who gets ahead by oppressing the poor and giving to the rich will certainly suffer loss. (Proverbs 22:16)
It is certainly easy, by and large, to draw a connection between the above verses and many Qur’anic passages, not to mention the conspicuously striking similarities between some. It is these considerable parallels that lead us to the conclusion that the ideas and instructions all stem from the same source, God, and that the essential issues concerning humankind have, quite surprisingly, undergone very little change despite human’s apparent weakness as a transmitter over time.
One further point deserves mention. The above quotations gathered from the Torah, as well as the upcoming Biblical passages, are from current versions of the texts which have, as is widely accepted and as noted above, been partially or predominantly altered, though the exact extent and manner in which such changes have been brought to these ancient scriptures is a matter for debate. A tentative and prudent approach to the current versions is thus the correct attitude, as recommended wisely by the Prophet Muhammad (upon whom be peace) himself:
When the People of the Book utter a narration, do not agree nor disagree with them, but say, “We only believe in God and His Messengers.” This way, concurrence is avoided if they speak lies, and denial is avoided provided that they speak the truth.
ZAKAT IN CHRISTIANITY
The situation in Christianity is no different, for the Prophet Jesus, while still in the cradle, utters the duties obliged onto him by God in the following manner:
(Whereupon) he (the baby) spoke out: “I am indeed a servant of God. He has given me the Scripture and has appointed me a prophet. And He has made me blessed wherever I may be and has commanded me to pray and to give alms to the poor as long as I live. And (He) has made me dutiful to my mother and has not made me oppressive, wicked. So peace be upon me the day I was born and the day that I die and the day that I shall be raised up to life (again).” (Maryam 19:30-33)
Considering the fact that the Bible predominantly focuses on ethical issues, a jurisprudential adherence to the Torah, so to speak, was a social necessity. Nonetheless, there are copious Biblical verses which themselves allude to zakat and sadaqa. The following passages may throw light on this discussion; of course, the possible alterations to these passages must be kept in mind:
Be careful! Do not display your righteousness (good works) before men to be noticed by them. If you do, you will have no reward with your heavenly Father. Do not loudly announce it when you give to the poor. The hypocrites do this in the houses of worship and on the streets. They do this to be praised by men. Believe me, they have already been paid in full. When you give charity, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. (Matthew 6:1-3)
He looked at him and was afraid. “What is it, Lord?” he replied. The angel said: “God hears your prayers and sees your gifts of mercy. (Acts 10:4)
He said: Cornelius, your prayer is heard and your gifts of mercy are noticed in the sight of God. (Acts 10:31)
Jesus then replied: “If you wish to be complete, go sell your possessions and give the money to the poor. You will have wealth in heaven. Then follow me!” But hearing these words, the young man went away grieving, for he was very wealthy. Jesus said to his disciples: “Truly I tell you, it is hard for a man with much money to go into the kingdom of heaven. Again I say, it is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye, than for a man with much money to go into the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:21-24)
Sell your possessions and give to charity. Make yourselves purses that do not get old, a treasure in heaven where moth and rust cannot corrupt and thieves cannot steal. (Luke 12:33)
And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, I gain nothing. (Corinthians 13:3)
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You tithe mint and dill and cumin and have left undone the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy, and faith. You should do both and leave nothing undone. (Matthew 23:23)
It is thus quite possible to, again, draw connections between the Qur’an and Hadith, on the one hand, and many Biblical passages. The level of conspicuous similarities between the above texts accentuates their unity of origin. Adopting this approach in scrutinizing the Torah and the Bible will, undeniably, offer us much more evidence culminating in the very same conclusion.