A Muslim who gives zakat is, above all else, fulfilling a pillar of faith. In the spiritual sense, that also means using the wealth God has trusted someone with to support another person who does not have comparable wealth. It makes it easier for a person to avoid hoarding wealth, as zakat is an annual obligation on those eligible to pay it. This has immense spiritual benefit. It requires givers to remember that giving isn’t a one-time fee.
Additionally, on the spiritual side, a person is encouraged to make more than just zakat donations. Muslims are guided to give sadaqah, which is voluntary charity, in addition to giving zakat. Coupling these two types of giving — obligatory and voluntary — breaks down the greed in one’s soul that manifests and lingers from succumbing to the worldly desire that is money.
In our daily lives, making a zakat donation also benefits us in that it reminds us how we can help people. We can pay our zakat with cash, online, with food, and in other forms as scholars have deemed acceptable (see: The Zakat Handbook).
Paying our zakat requires us to know who or what our wealth is going to. Islam guides us in Surat Al-Tawbah (9:60) to give our zakat to eight specific types of eligible receivers:
Those who work to administer it
Those whose hearts are to be reconciled
To free those in bondage
In God’s cause
“Indeed, [prescribed] charitable offerings are only [to be given] to the poor and the indigent, and to those who work on [administering] it, and to those whose hearts are to be reconciled, and to [free] those in bondage, and to the debt-ridden, and for the cause of God, and to the wayfarer. [This is] an obligation from God. And God is all-knowing, all-wise.” — Surat At-Tawbah, 9:60
In fulfilling the spiritual aspect of this obligation, we learn about the conditions afflicting our societal peers that make them eligible to receive zakat. Those can be calamitous conditions like natural or man-made disasters, slavery and trafficking in their different forms. They could also be the effects of racist or sexist laws and policies that have pushed people — individuals and groups alike — down to the point that they can no longer financially sustain themselves.
To be a Muslim mindfully making a zakat donation is to understand inequity and inequality in the world and proactively respond to it. We live in a society where an individual can have a net worth larger than an entire country or several countries, while others can have little more than an unsafe place to sleep, unreliable access to food and water, and minimal access to hygiene and sanitation supplies.
Although all of us have a moral obligation to uplift the downtrodden when we can, it is specifically a Muslim obligation to give zakat. Doing so will purify one’s wealth in this life, benefiting them in the next.