Beyond Zakat

In addition to zakat, Muslims are strongly encouraged to give sadaqa, or optional charity, throughout the year.

Yes. The following verses of the Quran serve as a guide for Muslims to understand the breadth and depth of their obligation to give charity:

[O believers!] You shall worship God [alone]. And you shall not associate anything with Him [therein]. And to [your] parents you shall be good, as well as to close relatives and orphans and the indigent; and also to the neighbor who is near, and to the neighbor who is distant; and to the companion by your side, and to the wayfarer; and to those whom your hands rightfully possess. … For what [harm] would come to them were they to believe in God and [in the coming Judgment of] the Last Day and spend [charitably] from all that God has provided them? And ever is God all-knowing about them. Indeed, God wrongs none, [not even] an atom’s weight. Yet if there is a good deed, He multiplies it and gives, moreover, from His own bounty a magnificent reward [in the Hereafter]. (Al-Nisâ’, 4:36-40)

Zakat al-Fitr (also called Sadaqat al-Fitr) is due in Ramadan or before the Eid al-Fitr prayer the first morning after Ramadan.

Also, the Quran and the statements, acts, and sanctions of the Prophet indicate that Muslims must extend material aid to each other whenever there is dire need. So the prosperous (defined as those with means beyond their needs) have an ongoing responsibility to the poor and distressed outside of the zakat-Charity when zakat funds prove insufficient to meet such needs.

Furthermore, certain events, such as a calamity or impending emergency, automatically turn the voluntary individual act of charity into a compulsory obligation upon the whole Muslim community in the behalf of their afflicted brothers and sisters in faith (Fiqh-us-Sunnah, 1: 483-488). And Islam entitles (a) close relatives (beyond the immediate family), (b) neighbors, and (c) orphans to a charity obligation from every prosperous Muslim. The Companion Abu Sa’id Al-Khudarî reported that the Prophet said to them:

Whosoever of you possesses a spare ride [meaning then, a horse, camel, etc], let him bestow it to one without a ride. Whosoever of you has surplus food, let him bestow it to one without food.

Abu Sa’id continued:

The Prophet went on naming various types of wealth until we thought we had no right to anything beyond our basic necessities (Muslim, No. 1728).

To care for our neighbors, near or far, is a commandment of God, as we have seen in the verses of the Quran that open this chapter. The Prophet said:

Gabriel [the Angel of Revelation] enjoined me incessantly with the care of my neighbors, to the extent that I thought that God would grant my neighbors the right to inherit me. (Ibn Mâjah)

The Prophet said, as well:

He is no believer who sleeps full while his neighbor beside him is hungry. (Tabarânî)

“Neighbor,” as the Quran uses it, is an encompassing term, for individuals, peoples, nations and so forth. It does not merely denote the person next door. It has been said that, for the individual, it constitutes “forty houses” (Abu Da’ud), which others have clarified as meaning “forty houses” in every direction. One is to care for one’s neighbors in need, be mindful of their circumstances, do kindness unto them, even if their actions are unkind.

The Prophet œ himself exemplified this when a neighbor boy who rejected him and, on a daily basis, threw garbage before his doorway, one day failed to spread garbage. The Prophet immediately inquired after his condition, and found he was sick. The Prophet œ at once visited the boy and tended to his needs during his sickness.

Yes. This is called kaffarah, or atonement. Its forms are several and its uses are broad. Giving charity, in general, for the sake of Allah’s forgiveness is an inherent part of charity, in and of itself. This means that one may give charity at any time with the intent of expiating sins or wrongdoing, both the wrongs we know we have committed and those we have done unwittingly. Here are three common types of kaffarah:

  1. The Atonement of Oaths: If one swears an oath but is unable to fulfill it, or breaks a promise, God has provided expiation by way of charity. One may feed 10 poor people their meals for a day or clothe them. This atones for one’s unfulfilled vow while helping others in need.

    God will not hold you accountable for unintended vows in your oaths. But He will hold you accountable for what you have [intentionally] bound yourselves to by oaths, the atonement of which is feeding ten indigent people with the average of what you feed your own families; or clothing them; or freeing a human being from bondage. But if one [of you] does not find [such means], then fast three days [instead]. That is the atonement for your oaths, when you swear [and break them]. So guard your oaths. Thus does God make clear to you His [revealed] signs, so that you may give thanks. (Al-Mâ‘idah, 5:89)

  2. The Atonement of Fasting: Those unable to fast Ramadan, either all or part, due to age or condition, may substitute the fasting days missed by giving to the needy for each day.

    But one among you who is sick or is on a journey [shall fast] the same number of other days. Yet for those who are [hardly] able to endure it, [and do not fast,] the redemption [for each day] is feeding an indigent person [instead]. And if one volunteers a good offering [over and above this], it is better for him, [still]. However, if you fast [despite difficulty], it is best for you, if only you were to know. (Al-Baqarah, 2:184)

  3. The Hajj Sacrifice (Al-Hadi): The hadi refers to the sacrifice of a lawful animal during the proper time in Hajj season, as we have discussed above. It can also be seen as atonement, but a mandatory one that is part of the Pilgrimage ritual.

Other kinds of atonement, kaffarah, also as set forth above, can be offered at any time in seeking the forgiveness of God. But it is also a specific solution to violations of one’s proper worship or transgressions identified in the Quran or by the Prophet. In general, this involves either sacrificing a lawful animal and distributing its meat to the poor or giving other charity to specified numbers of people.

Yes. The proper term is waqf, which means charitable endowment. The virtue of the charitable waqf is that it is a form of wealth that yields charity while maintaining its original integrity and form. Thus, one places something of value, like land, a building, or some other asset in waqf so that all its benefits go to the poor or others in need, while the land or asset remains as is.

The Prophet œ himself laid the foundation for waqf in the following authentic hadîth statement: ‘Umar ibn Al-Khattab’s son reported:

My father obtained a parcel of land in Khaybar and said: ‘O Messenger of Allah! I have property in Khaybar that is the best of my possessions. What do you command me to do with it?’ The Prophet said: ‘You may desire to give it in charity (sadaqa), while maintaining it for its original use.’ So ‘Umar gave the land as charity on the condition that it could not be sold, given away, or inherited by anyone. Rather, he instructed that the land was to be used and invested for the benefit of the poor, the weak, the wayfarers, and to free slaves. (Bukhârî and Muslim)

Charitable Endowments have four primary purposes:

  1. Social: To serve designated sectors of needy or distressed individuals with all proceeds, such as orphans, widows, those with disabilities, the elderly, the blind or deaf, divorced women, the unemployed, and so on. There are no limits to the beneficiaries that a charitable endowment may serve, except lawfulness.
  2. Religious: To establish foundations for mosques, or the building of new mosques, schools, stipends for imams, teachers or students studying Islam.
  3. Educational: To underwrite the operations or special programs of schools, private libraries, and media centers; pay the salaries of teachers, program directors, or administrators; award scholarships to students based on merit or need; or to fund specialized presses for text books or public dissemination of knowledge.
  4. Environmental: To provide water works, such as eco-friendly land irrigation, water tunnels, and public wells and bathrooms; to plant new forests or manage existing ones; to manage waste disposal, to build guest houses or other public service facilities.

Zubaydah, the wife of the celebrated Caliph Harun Al-Rashid, established the well-known waqf, Zubadydah’s Waterway, a channel engineered to provide free potable water to Makkah to ensure that pilgrims had access to clean water to drink and perform ablutions during Hajj.

Farms may be designated as waqfs, with harvest proceeds earmarked for the benefit of the poor. Money can be set aside as a waqf for a mosque, a school, or other establishment, the capital invested under the authority of an investment manager and preserved, the profits only going to the institution. Financial endowments are highly restricted, however, to reduce risk, conflict of interest, or loss of the original endowment.

Literally, sadaqa means “to speak the truth.” It is applied technically to “voluntary charitable giving” because when one gives of one’s wealth freely and of one’s own accord to others, such an act “speaks the truth” about one’s sincere faith, the word ‘sincere’ being another connotation of ‘sadaqah.’ In the sense of voluntary charitable giving the specialized phrase zakât al-tatawu’ah, or optional alms, is synonymous with sadaqah.

Yes. Donor restrictions are of the essence of all waqf endowments, just as with all charitable giving in Islam. Neither government, nor foundation, nor trustees have the power to alter an endower’s intentions and restrictions once the waqf is legally established, in accordance with Sacred Law.

The only exception, according to Muslim scholars, is the disappearance of the cause for which the waqf was originally established. If, for instance, a waqf endowed a public health research facility dedicated solely to the eradication of a disease, and the designated disease was successfully wiped out, then, through proper legal means, the waqf could modify its mission toward a similar end, under the auspices of qualified Islamic juristic opinion setting forth the limits of change.

Islam seeks to put people in touch with and strengthen the admirable qualities of the human soul. Sadaqah invokes our greatest virtue: Mercy. For mercy calls forth from deep within us a sense of common identity with others. We see ourselves in them, and learn to want for others what we desire for ourselves.

That is the highest state of man in society. In this way we grow in compassion, until we freely choose to share our wealth with the less fortunate.

Islam emphasizes the human side of mortal responsibility in the religious-social outlook, which it does by encouraging people to remember benevolence between themselves and responsibility toward humanity. So sadaqa, voluntary charitable giving, becomes the way that Islam recalls us to our humanity.

These ideas are at the core of many of the Quran’s verses, which stress both the good virtues and the great rewards in this life and the hereafter for people who selflessly give to others even though they themselves are in need.

The Quran sometimes uses the word sadaqa interchangeably with zakat. But in its general technical usage, the word sadaqa denotes not a mandatory alms on wealth but a person’s voluntary offering of some form of benefit to another.

God has imposed zakat on Muslim wealth in behalf of the poor and needful, so as not to leave the weak at the mercy of the strong, but to grant them a divine right in God’s wealth, entrusted to humanity as a blessing and as a test. Yet the Giver of all things is very clear in the Quran that nobility can be attained by men and women only by giving freely of that which they love, in this case wealth and luxury. So God provides divine encouragement and an avenue of spiritual enlightenment to men and women through exhortation to give sadaqa within general guidelines and not as specified obligations.

Thus sadaqa benefits both the giver and the receiver, both spiritually and materially. For God reimburses the giver’s wealth and multiplies it, and also elevates him or her in piety; and He causes the poor to be enriched by a real asset, and this, in turn, raises the receiver’s spirit of gratitude to both God and people.

They are countless. The Prophet said:

There is a charity to be given for every joint of the human body each day upon which the sun rises. To judge justly between two is a charity. To help one mount one’s beast, or by lifting one’s bags on to it, is a charity. To speak a good word is a charity. Every step to the Salât-Prayer is a charity. To remove an impediment from the road is a charity. (Bukhârî, 3:870)

The Prophet said also:

A Muslim plants or sows nothing from which a person, an animal, or anything else eats, save that it is a charity for him (Bukhari, 3:513).

The Prophet is teaching us that an act of charity need not come in the form of monetary value. God has commanded Muslims to enjoin good and forbid evil so as to uphold human society. The simplest deeds that help people are the practical fulfillment of this commandment. Thus the Prophet said:

Charity has been enjoined upon each child of Adam in every day the sun rises.

He said, moreover, to those who asked him, “From what shall we give daily?”

The doors of goodness are many….Enjoining good. Forbidding evil. Removing harm from the road. Listening to the deaf. Leading the blind. Guiding one to the object of one’s need. Rushing by the power of one’s own legs to one in sorrow who asks for help. Supporting the feeble with the strength of one’s own arms. All of these are charity enjoined upon you. (Ibn Hibbân)

One of the most effective and very best kinds of giving is sadaqa jariyah, literally, “running charity,” so called because it “runs on” in life and after death like a flowing stream. Islam lays emphasis on this type of charitable giving because its gift bestows both the giver and the beneficiary with blessings that continue to reward recipients and the gift-maker even long after the giver has died.

The efficacy of sadaqa jariyah is that it has long-term benefits. If one builds a house of worship, for instance, its advantage “runs on” for its attendants and its contributor so long as worshipers pray in it—even for centuries. Whoever helped establish it will continue to receive ongoing divine rewards from God for that single sadaqa.

Sadaqa jariyah is not limited to the building of mosques or schools, of course. Nor is it exclusively charity toward people. It encompasses innumerable things that have perpetual benefit to all the living. A Sadaqah Jariyah that is especially emphasized is one that produces a source of beneficial knowledge, like writing a book that benefits people in any worthy aspect of their lives. In this case, even after a writer dies, as long as the book is read and helping people, he or she will continue to receive reward for it in the grave. The Prophet said:

When one dies, all his good deeds cease save three:

  • Sadaqa jariyah (ongoing charity)
  • Beneficial knowledge (that one has passed on) [a form of sadaqa jâriyah the Prophet is highlighting]
  • And a righteous child who prays for one. (Muslim)

Yes. The Prophet said:

Your smile to your brother is a charity (Bukhari, Tirmidhi, and Ibn Hibbân).