One of the most important theme in the Quran, simply because it represents the essence of Islam, is to believe in God and do good deeds. For example :
والذين ءامنوا وعملوا الصلحت اولئك اصحب الجنة هم فيها خلدون
(2:82) And those who believe and do good deeds are those who will be the dwellers of paradise. They will reside therein forever.
God enjoins us to “believe and do good deeds” tens of times throughout the Quran, to make sure that we do not forget that most important message. It is why He instituted the ritual prayer (“believe”) and the zakât (“do good deeds” through charity) as the core rituals of Islam. It is also why, right after sura Al Fatiha, which the Quran describes as the “seven [verses recited] in series of two” in 15:87 (see the article on salât), sura 2 starts in the following manner:
(2:1) Alif, Lam, Mim. (2:2) This is the book for which there is no doubt; a guide for those who fear [God]. (2:3) Those who believe in the invisible realm and perform the ritual prayer (salât), and from what we provide to them, they give in charity (zakât and charity in general).
The other pillars of Islam, despite being very important, are not at the same level of importance, as we will see later.
Just like all other rituals of Islam (the ritual prayer, the fast of Ramadan, the ‘Oumrah and the Hajj), this study will prove once again that the obligatory charity (zakât) as it is described in the Quran has been distorted in Sunni Islam. We will also see that Shia Islam kept the correct amount of zakât, called "Khums", but unfortunately keeps it largely away from its due recipients, that is to say the poor. Sunni Muslims, under the influence of “hadiths other than God and his verses” (45:6), pay a zakât of 2.5%. Despite the fact that the Quran proclaims that it is “fully detailed” (7:52, 10:37, 6:114), they do not hesitate to defy God and Muslims who follow the Quran alone and ask them the following question: “If the Quran is fully detailed as you claim, where do you find the correct percentage of zakât in the Quran, as well as all relevant details regarding its payment?”.
The goal of this article is to rectify the truth, God willing, regarding zakât, and to prove that it is very simply the only percentage of charity ever mentioned in the Quran (20%), which is to be paid not on the gross or net income, but on the "surplus" that we save during every "harvest" cycle. We will explain why the Quranic system of zakât is a just system that does not penalize unfairly the rich nor the poor, and forces believers to do good deeds while living within their means in order to achieve a more balanced society and a better world.
1. Zakât: Definition
The word zakât is derived from the root zakâ (زكى), which means “to grow”, “to purify”, “being clean and pure”, “being righteous”, “prosper”, “succeed”, “improve”. The word “zakât” means “purity”, “Charity”, “obligatory charity”, “excellence”. In the Quranic context which we are going to study in detail, the zakât corresponds to an “obligatory charity” of 20% (8:41) on our savings after taxes that is to be paid “on the day of harvest” (2:219, 6:141).
Any person or household has to be financially responsible in order to be able to set aside a share of what they earned and pay the due share of charity by the end of a revenue cycle to poor people, according to an order of people in need specified in the Quran (8:41).
In other words, the zakât (الزكوة) is an obligatory charity which goal is to purify us and all revenues that God granted to us by His infinite grace, thus contributing to eradicate poverty by forcing us to help our neighbor.
2. Difference between zakât and sadaqat
The root Sadaqa (صدق) means “to be truthful”, “establish or confirm the truth”, but also “verify”, “faithfully respect a promise”. The verb at the form V (tasaddaqa = تصدق) means “to forfeit something that is due as a charity” (2:280, 4:92, 5:45), “spend in charity” (9:75, 63:10), “be charitable” (12:88).
The word “sadaqat” means “charity” in general; the zakât is therefore the obligatory part of the sadaqat (charity), the Quran being very clear that it encourages charity beyond the zakât, which is a minimum.
انما الصدقت للفقراء والمسكين والعملين عليها والمولفة قلوبهم وفى الرقاب والغرمين وفى سبيل الله وابن السبيل فريضة من الله والله عليم حكيم
(9:60) Charities (al sadaqât = plural of sadaqat) are exclusively reserved for the poor and the needy and those who collect them, for those who inclined their hearts (the beggars?), [to free] the necks [of those subject to slavery], for those in debt, for the path of God, for the [stranded] traveler. This is an obligation imposed by God, and God is All Knowing, Wise.
3. It is preferable in Islam to donate charities anonymously
(2:271) If you divulge [your] charities (sadaqât), they are legitimate, but if you remain anonymous and give them to the poor, it is better for you, and He will absolve your sins. God is fully conscious of what you do.
4. Zakât is absolutely obligatory for anyone who wishes to belong to the Muslim faith
Salvation of a Muslim in the hereafter depends on his faith in God, his behavior, paying the zakât, and believe in God’s verses:
واكتب لنا فى هذه الدنيا حسنة وفى الءاخرة انا هدنا اليك قال عذابى اصيب به من اشاء ورحمتى وسعت كل شىء فساكتبها للذين يتقون ويوتون الزكوة والذين هم بايتنا يومنون
(7:156) “And decree for us goodness in this world, as well as in the hereafter. In truth, we have vowed ourselves to you.” He replied: “I afflict with My retribution to whomever I wish, but My mercy encompasses everything. Thus, I will manifest it for those who are righteous, fulfill their obligation of zakât, and to those who believe in Our verses”.
Just like the ritual prayer, paying the zakât is absolutely mandatory in the Muslim faith. These two rituals are placed higher than the fast of Ramadan, the ‘Umrah and the Hajj, which can in some cases be replaced by feeding the poor (instead of the fast of Ramadan) or ordering a sacrifice if someone is not in the position to perform the Hajj (please see related articles for complete details).
Believing in God and actively participating in eradicating poverty and promoting the well being of your neighbor is the essence of Islam. It is so crucial that a Muslim is not even allowed to go to a mosque if he or she does not perform the ritual prayer and does not pay the zakât, which means that someone who refuses to fulfill these two rituals is not even a Muslim in the eyes of God:
انما يعمر مسجد الله من ءامن بالله واليوم الءاخر واقام الصلوة وءاتى الزكوة ولم يخش الا الله فعسى اولئك ان يكونوا من المهتدين
(9:18) Only (انما, particle of restriction = “Only”, “exclusively”) one who believes in God and the afterlife, observe the salât and fulfill the obligation of Zakât, and fear no other than God, may be granted (the privilege of maintaining and accessing) God’s mosques. Only then may such (people) be among the (truly) guided ones.
For the same reason, a person who embraces Islam or claims to be part of the Muslim faith is not really part of the Muslim community until he or she performs the salât and fulfills the obligation of zakât.
The following verses are another example of the proven fact that performing the ritual prayer and paying the zakât are the two main proofs that allow us to judge if a person is Muslim or not:
فاذا انسلخ الاشهر الحرم فاقتلوا المشركين حيث وجدتموهم وخذوهم واحصروهم واقعدوا لهم كل مرصد فان تابوا واقاموا الصلوة وءاتوا الزكوة فخلوا سبيلهم ان الله غفور رحيم
(9:5) So once the [four consecutive] sacred months are over, then kill the idol worshipers wherever you may encounter them, seize them, besiege them, and wait for them everywhere you can ambush them. But if they repent, observe the ritual prayer and fulfill the obligation of zakât, then do not stand in their way; Indeed, God is Oft Forgiving, Most Merciful.
فان تابوا واقاموا الصلوة وءاتوا الزكوة فاخونكم فى الدين ونفصل الءايت لقوم يعلمون
(9:11) But if they repent and perform the ritual prayer, and fulfill the obligation of zakât, then they are your brothers in religion. And We explain verses in detail for people who know.
In passing, verse 9:5 is typically quoted out of context by the opponents of Islam and terrorists for wrongly think they are part of the Muslim faith and are ready to kill anyone whom they think is not Muslim unless they force them to embrace their creed. The context of the sura is simply an all out war against polytheists who actually wanted to commit a genocide against Muslims and destroy the pure monotheism preached by our holy prophet. The Quran decrees clearly a message of peace and respect towards other religions:
لا اكراه فى الدين قد تبين الرشد من الغى فمن يكفر بالطغوت ويومن بالله فقد استمسك بالعروة الوثقى لا انفصام لها والله سميع عليم
(2:256) There shall be no compulsion in religion: the right way is now distinct from the wrong way. Anyone who denounces the devil and believes in GOD has grasped the strongest bond; one that never breaks. GOD is Hearer, Omniscient.
ادع الى سبيل ربك بالحكمة والموعظة الحسنة وجدلهم بالتى هى احسن ان ربك هو اعلم بمن ضل عن سبيله وهو اعلم بالمهتدين
(16:125) You shall invite to the path of your Lord with wisdom and kind enlightenment and debate with them in the best possible manner. Your Lord knows best who has strayed from His path, and He knows best who are the guided ones.
5. The zakât is based upon a percentage of our revenues
والذين فى امولهم حق معلوم
(70:24) And those whose wealth is subject to a known portion [of zakât].
وفى امولهم حق للسائل والمحروم
(51:19) And from their wealth, a portion/share/percentage [of zakât] is destined to the beggars and the deprived.
The word “Haq” (حق) has several meanings. We find for instance in the Arabic-English dictionary by Omar that it means “The Truth; One of the excellent names of Allah; Due share; Justice; Right claim; What ought to be; Duty; Incumbent.” (end quote).
This is why most mainstream translations translate 70:24 like:
(70:24) And those who set aside part of their wealth. (The Monotheist group)
(70:24) Those who give a due share of their wealth. (Wahiduddin Khan)
(70:24) And those in whose wealth there is a fixed portion (Shakir)
6. What is the “known rate” of zakât mentioned in the Quran?
God proclaims that His book is fully detailed (7:52, 10:37, 6:114), it is therefore strictly impossible that the percentage of zakât may be the one mentioned in hadiths (2.5%), simply because it is not in the Quran. All we need to do is find the only charity rate (haq = حق) ever mentioned in the Quran, and which indicates the rate of zakât applied to spoils of war:
واعلموا انما غنمتم من شىء فان لله خمسه وللرسول ولذى القربى واليتمى والمسكين وابن السبيل ان كنتم ءامنتم بالله وما انزلنا على عبدنا يوم الفرقان يوم التقى الجمعان والله على كل شىء قدير
(8:41) And [you shall] know that from whatever spoils of war you may get, a fifth (20%) belongs to God, as well as the messenger, the close relatives, the orphans, the needy, and the [stranded] wayfarer, if only you believe in God and in what was sent down to Our servant on the day of decision, the day when the two parties clashed; God has complete power over everything.
Like all revenues in Islam, revenues derived from spoils of war are naturally subject to the payment of zakât, that is to say that they are subject to the payment of the “known rate” (70:24), or rate of zakât. We cannot but witness the fact that 8:41 is the only “rate” found in the entire Quran that is related with the payment of a rate of zakât, therefore, it is THE one and only rate of zakât. There is no objective or Quranic reason why the rate of zakât on spoils of war should be different from the one on any other revenue, simply because the Quran is fully detailed and that God would have otherwise specified it in His book. The Quranic rate of zakât has by the way been preserved in Shia Islam, where the “khums” (literally “fifth”) is calculated on profits generated on the income, that is to say the surplus, and is payable by the end of the financial year. The problem is that instead of being distributed solely to “the close relatives, the orphans, the needy, and the [stranded] wayfarer” as pointed out in 8:41, it has been turned into an income tax, and is therefore a distortion of the message of the Quran.
7. The zakât is calculated on profits
The only difference between the zakât on spoils of war and ordinary revenues is that the zakât on ordinary income is calculated on the profits:
ئ يسلونك عن الخمر والميسر قل فيهما اثم كبير ومنفع للناس واثمهما اكبر من نفعهما ويسلونك ماذا ينفقون قل العفو كذلك يبين الله لكم الءايت لعلكم تتفكرون
(2:219) They ask you [O prophet] regarding what alters the mind and the game of chance. Proclaim: “There is a sin in both of them, as well as benefits for the people, but the sin embedded in them exceeds their benefits”. And they ask you [O prophet] what they should spend in charity. Proclaim: “The surplus”. Thus, God clarifies to you (plural) the verses that you may reflect.
The verb “anfaqa” (form IV: = ينفقون = what they should spend [in charity]) refers here clearly to spending in charities, just like for instance verse 2:3 quoted earlier where we find exactly the same verb at the same form (form IV).
The verb “anfaqa” (“to spend in charities”) points at the payment of zakât as well as sadaqât (charities) in general, and shows that the payment of the zakât is calculated on the “surplus” (عفو = ‘afwa = surplus), that is to say on the net profits after all expenses and taxes, every time there is a “harvest” or revenue, as we are going to see later that the Quran wants us to pay the “known rate” of zakât of 20% on the day of harvest.
The term “’afwa” (surplus) occurs only one other time in the Quran:
خذ العفو وامر بالعرف واعرض عن الجهلين
(7:199) hold/Set aside the surplus and enjoin goodness, and turn away from the ignorant.
The word “‘afwa” in 7:199 is often translated as “forgiveness” in some translations, but should in my opinion logically be in line with its meaning in 2:219. We therefore see in the verse the extreme importance “to set aside a surplus” (a profit in addition to expenses and taxes), which allows to both save money to build the future, pay the known Quranic rate of zakât of 20% on the overall surplus, and participate in other additional charities.
Such a system is just because a household with seven children and a single person will both pay 20% of their savings, and not their gross or net incomes. Paying 2.5% of your revenues in charity as it is practiced in Sunni Islam is unjust because it penalizes people in need, that is to say people who can barely make it by the end of the month. Paying 20% of your savings after taxes is on the contrary fair because someone who has almost no savings after a pay period will pay very little in zakât, but at the same time will force that person to still pay something because it is absolutely mandatory, forcing that person to be financially responsible and not spend more than what he or she makes. On the other hand, someone who is very wealthy will pay a substantial amount (20%) on all the money he or she will have accumulated during the financial year.
The zakât system not only forces Muslims to do good deeds and save money, but forces people to live within their means. Since zakât is beyond mandatory, nobody should even consider buying anything he or she cannot afford, or he or she would be in grave danger not to be able to pay his or her mandatory zakât, which would mean you are not considered Muslim anymore. It is a system that, if well understood, guarantees financial stability on a large scale. It shields society against poverty and eradicates it at the same time. The absolute bottom line is simple: Not only should you NEVER spend more than you make, but you actually MUST save money to build the future of your family and pay your fair share of zakât and do good deeds in the society. For instance, if you can’t buy a new car cash, don’t buy it; get a very inexpensive one you can afford instead. If you can’t afford to go on vacation, don’t go. Do not fall into the traps of modern societies where people live beyond their means, borrow money at usury rates and are unable to build financial security for their old days.
The educational systems around the world usually blatantly lack the most important knowledge we should pass down to our children: We should include what I would call mandatory “financial responsibility classes” to educate people and children since childhood. We should teach children how to become financially responsible, successful, save money, create and manage a business, establish realistic goals, invest, and be generous to promote a Muslim society that would thrive and truly eradicate poverty everywhere in the world.
When you pay your zakât of 20% on your savings after taxes, you are basically thanking God for providing to you. And God says:
واذ تاذن ربكم لىن شكرتم لازيدنكم ولىن كفرتم ان عذابى لشديد
(14:7) And [remember] when your Lord proclaimed: “The more you are thankful, the more I provide for you, but if you are ungrateful, indeed, My retribution is severe.
The more you give in charity (as long as you can realistically afford it), the more God will provide for you. This is God’s system to reward generous people as He opens the doors of success for generous and righteous believers.
The system of zakât should also draw our attention on the fact that we do not own the money that we make, and God and His angels watch how we use the wealth that God provides to us.
8. God indicates an order of preference to fulfill the obligation of zakât:
Just like for the zakât regarding spoils of war, charities (that include zakât of course) derived from any revenues should follow the following order or priority:
يسلونك ماذا ينفقون قل ما انفقتم من خير فللولدين والاقربين واليتمى والمسكين وابن السبيل وما تفعلوا من خير فان الله به عليم
(2:215) They ask you what they should give in charity: Proclaim [O Mohammed]: All charitable donations should go to both of your parents (mother and father), your close relatives, the orphans, the needy, and the [stranded] wayfarer. And whatever good you may do, God is fully aware of it.
The above order is the same as the one observed in 8:41:
1. The close relatives
2. The orphans,
3. The needy,
4. The [stranded] wayfarer,
The order in 2:215 applies to all charities (sadaqât), whether it be the zakât or other forms of voluntary sadaqat.
9. When shall we fullfill the obligation of zakât ?
We saw earlier in 70:24 and 51:19 that our revenues are taxable according to a “known rate” (Haq). The word “haq” (حق = percentage) is also employed in verse 6:141, which defines when the believer must fulfill the obligation of zakât.
وهو الذى انشا جنت معروشت وغير معروشت والنخل والزرع مختلفا اكله والزيتون والرمان متشبها وغير متشبه كلوا من ثمره اذا اثمر وءاتوا حقه يوم حصاده ولا تسرفوا انه لا يحب المسرفين
(6:141) He is the one who created gardens with or without trellises, date palms, crops diverse in taste, olives, pomegranates, [some] similar and [some] dissimilar. Consume its fruit when it yields and donate its [due] share [of zakât] on the day of harvest. And do not be extravagant. Indeed, He does not like those who are extravagant.
If we study the expression “and donate its [due] share” (Waâtu haqqahu = وءاتوا حقه), it is immediately clear that it is the very same verb (ata = ات, form IV = to give, or in the context of zakât, to pay) that is used all over the Quran numerous times to describe the payment of zakât, for instance:
(7:156) …and they fulfill the obligation of zakât…
(9:5)… and fulfill the obligation of zakât…
(9:11) … and fulfill the obligation of zakât…
The word “zakât” occurs 33 times in the Quran, referring 31 times payment the ritual of zakât of 20%. The exact expression at the imperative form “and fulfill the obligation of zakât (Waâtu zzakât = وءاتوا الزكوة) occurs 12 times. The same verb (âtâ = اتى, form IV = to give, to donate in charity) is associated with the word zakât 27 times in the Quran in different ways out of the 30 times the word refers to the obligatory charity.
This little precision is for the all the ones who deny that zakât is indeed the payment of a specific share or percentage, as mentioned clearly in 6:141, and as confirmed with a 20% zakât rate on spoils of war (8:41).
Therefore, when God commands to “donate its [due] share (of the yield) on the day of harvest”, we should pay the only “known share” (70:24) that is mentioned in the Quran and relates to paying the zakât, that is to say 20% (8:41). This is the one and only true rate of zakât for people who really wish to follow the Quran alone.
According to 6:141, the due share of Zakât needs to be paid “on the day of harvest”. This can be once a year (according to the concept of solar year, and not lunar because the harvest follows the solar cycle) if a farmer only has one type of crop, or every time he has a harvest on his land. In other words, a believers needs to pay his zakât every time he has revenues, whether they are monthly, weekly, yearly, etc…
In modern societies, and given the fact that taxes are often very high and complicated to calculate, it is very difficult to know exactly what your real harvest is, and I would personally propose that zakât would be paid yearly according to the concept of solar year. A Muslim society could arrange the day to pay taxes shortly before the time of the main harvest (wheat, corn, etc..) in a given country, state or region, so that people would know exactly how much they really made during the year after taxes, and be able to exactly know how much to pay in zakât on the day of harvest.
Given the fact that 2:219 indicates that we should donate in charity based on the “surplus”, the zakât should be in my opinion calculated on what remains of the preceding harvest on the day of the new harvest, and not on the one that is being harvested because a harvest is often harvested on several days and rarely sold the same day. In other words, we should pay 20% of “the surplus” (the real harvest for everyone) after taxes and all expenses incurred during the year, making sure we set aside a surplus (7:199) because it is beyond mandatory for every Muslim to pay the zakât. Paying the zakât on the day of the main harvest once a year would also have the advantage for Muslims to be in a position to give much more in one time, rather than fragmented amounts that would not make a substantial difference for people they try to help.
The Zakât is to be paid:
- On the surplus (2:219),
- A surplus needs to be carefully set aside (7:199),
- The Zakât is a specific rate (70:24, 51:19, 6:141),
- It is a rate of 20%,
- It has to be paid on the day of harvest (6:141),
- The believers need to pay the zakât bearing in mind that God recommends an order of preference:
1. Both parents,
2. The close relatives,
3. The orphans,
4. The needy,
5. Stranded travelers, or travelers in financial difficulty.
- In case of war and if spoils of war are seized, the 20% rate of zakât is deducted from the overall amount seized (8:41), which is an exception, because all other charities are otherwise donated from “the surplus” (2:219), that is to say what people can really afford.
Praise be to God, Lord of the universe.