Can I Pay My Zakat Early?

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The Short Answer

Yes, according to the majority of scholars.

You may pay your estimated Zakat in advance of its due date for wealth you hold in the form of money, trade goods, or livestock, as long as you own its minimum threshold amount that makes Zakat due on that type of wealth. This minimum amount is called niṣâb. (See What Is Niṣâb in Islam? and Niṣâb and Zakat Calculation in a Nutshell)

Why is Zakat pre-payment restricted to these forms of wealth?

What these Zakatable wealth-forms hold in common is that their Zakat comes due after one Islamic lunar year, known as a ḥawl. (See When Is the Right Time to Pay Zakat? and Is Ramadan the Best Time to Pay Zakat? and When Is Zakat Due?)

You cannot pre-pay your Zakat on crops, including fruit, because it only becomes assessable at the time of its fruition and harvest, which is when this type of wealth comes immediately due. (See What Requirements Qualify Wealth for Zakat? and How Is Zakat Calculated on Wealth?)

What does it mean to say ‘the majority of scholars’ permit paying Zakat early?

The Ḥanafî, Shâfi‘î, and Ḥanbalî schools (s. madh-hab, pl. madhâhib) of Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh), along with other prominent Muslim jurists, hold this opinion.

The Mâlikî school, in general, does not allow paying Zakat in advance of its due date. Some of its scholars permit a month leeway in Zakat’s pre-payment on money and trade goods, though they hold this practice to be reprehensible (makruh), that is, disliked. They make two exceptions to this ‘disliked’ classification:

  1. When Zakat needs to be transported to recipients in dire need, one may pay in advance to ensure payment reaches its emergency recipients by its actual Zakat due date (ZDD).

  2. When the Zakat collectors of an established Zakat system come to assess and retrieve one’s Zakat a little before its actual due date.

In the case of emergency Zakat need by recipients, some scholars even require that one pay his or her Zakat obligation early to meet that need.

Why do scholars differ about paying Zakat early?

Zakat is the only form of required worship – the Third of the Five Pillars of Islam – that is a hybrid of both obligatory worship (‘ibâdah) and an obligatory financial transaction (mu‘âmalah). These actions make up the two major divisions of Islamic jurisprudence, rites of worship and transactional exchanges or dealings. (See Why Muslims Pay Zakat)

The scholars that disallow Zakat’s pre-payment believe that Zakat is a worship obligation like ritual prayer (ṣalât, Islam’s Second Pillar) and religious fasting (ṣawm) in Ramadan (Islam’s Fourth Pillar). These worship forms cannot be fulfilled before their due time.

The jurists that say a Muslim can pay his or her Zakat early cite a collectively strong group of reports of something the Prophet Muhammad, on him be peace, directly sanctioned regarding a transaction that took place with his uncle ‘Abbâs, Allah be pleased with him.

One report that occurs in multiple reliable sources (and of which there is some technical critique) says that ‘Abbâs asked the Prophet, on him be peace, to permit him to pay his Zakat in advance, and the Prophet, on him be peace, did so.

Another report that supports this narrates that the Prophet, on him be peace, sent his close Companion ‘Umar ibn Al-Khaṭṭâb, Allah be pleased with him, to collect Zakat, and people at the time began to say that ‘Abbâs and two other Companions had refused to pay it. When this reached the Prophet, on him be peace, he stated:

“We [the Muslim community] needed funds and took it in the ṣadaqah of Al-‘Abbâs for two years in advance.” (Nasâ’î, Al-Sunan Al-Kubrâ, similarly reported in other ḥadîth collections)

The Arabic word ‘ṣadaqah’ in this context (and in almost all the contexts of the Quran and the speech of the Prophet, on him be peace) is synonymous with the word ‘Zakat’ (See What Is the Difference Between Zakat and Sadaqah?)

Do the scholars who permit paying Zakat early have other reasons?

Yes. They emphasize Zakat’s obligatory financial transactional nature, a debt owed to the divinely appointed true owners of that portion of one’s wealth, namely, the poor, the indigent, and the other six categories of Zakat eligible recipients (see What Is Zakat?). They analogize it to a debt that one pays off early, before its due date.

They say that niṣâb (the minimum threshold of wealth possession that makes Zakat on that wealth obligatory) is a limiting condition for paying Zakat. One must have it outright before Zakat becomes due, and you cannot fulfill an obligation that is not yet obligated. But when one has the niṣâb for one’s wealth, one comes under a required obligation and can meet it before its due time.

They hold that timing in debts owed is a liberty that one may forgo if one chooses, as with any other debt. Zakat is not purely an act of worship like the Ritual Prayer and Fasting Ramadan, for which timing is of the essence and cannot be rationalized, that is, explained in terms of something other than their specifically revealed reasons or causes.

This is why scholars of the Shâfi‘î and Ḥanbalî schools who allow for early Zakat payment only permit advanced Zakat payment on the capital value of an asset and disallow advanced payment of Zakat on its projected incremental increase or projected return. Such forecasts, they argue, are not yet realized and, therefore, they cannot bring about any obligation of payment for the wealth holders of the principal asset.

Is there a limit on the number of years one can pay Zakat for early?

No, according to the Ḥanafîs, if the payer has that wealth form’s niṣâb. Others limit advanced payment of Zakat to the years permitted by the Prophet, on him be peace, in the previously cited account of his uncle ‘Abbâs. Still others grant only minimal time for Zakat’s advance payment before its due date counted in days or weeks.

Is early payment of Zakat better than payment at its due date?

No. Payment at Zakat’s due date is preferred. When one pays Zakat in advance, one has to go back at its actual due date and reassess its actual amounts and make up for shortcomings or adjust for overpayments, most probably in the form of allowing for the excess to remain as additional voluntary charity. It may not be deducted from a future Zakat year’s payment, and Allah knows best.

Also, there is no dispute among scholars that Zakat comes due on the exact day of its Islamic lunar year maturation or upon a crop’s harvest, while, as we have seen, disagreement runs through all the issues of Zakat’s advance payment.

When it comes to our obligatory worship and obligatory transactions, equitable exactitude, or scrupulous equity (qisṭ) – especially in matters of measure and distribution – always supersedes less-defined windows of compliance or measurements of completion.

In other words, the Muslim must be fair to the poor and eligible by giving them their due right in his or her wealth when it comes due them and also precise in the calculation of Zakat’s payment. We come closer to this standard by assessing and paying Zakat on its due date; and may Allah reward those who can and do respond in advance to the direly in need. (See Can Zakat Payment Be Advanced or Delayed?)