What Is the Role of Zakat In Islam?

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Creating a more equitable world starts with uplifting those who lack basic human rights and privileges. It takes social awareness and is almost always connected to the size of the wealth gap, which is constantly growing.

The wealth gap is nothing new, nor is the first step in its solution: giving to the needy. Zakat, Islam’s third pillar, is a key to creating a more equitable society and, eventually, world.

Zakat is an obligation on all Muslims whose wealth passes a threshold (called nisab in Arabic) that indicates they have enough — or more than enough — to spare. It is typically due at a rate of 2.5%, although it varies depending on the type of wealth. Zakat in Islam is different from some charity-giving methods and requirements in other religions. For example, the practice of tithing in Christian denominations has followers give one-tenth of their annual income to the church.

This alone is enough to differentiate the rate at which Muslims are guided to give in charity. Zakat in Islam is also different in that it does not need to be paid to a specific mosque or leader. Instead, it is meant to go directly to those who are eligible to receive it. Humanitarian organizations like Zakat Foundation of America make it easy to calculate and pay zakat.

There are eight groups of people indicated in the Quran who are eligible to receive zakat:

“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” (Quran 9:60). 

Broken down, that includes:

  1. The poor

  2. The indigent (needy)

  3. Those who administer Zakat payments

  4. Those whose hearts are to be reconciled

  5. To free those in bondage

  6. The debt-ridden

  7. For the cause of God

  8. The wayfarer 

“Those who spend their wealth in charity day and night, secretly and openly — their reward is with their Lord, and there will be no fear for them, nor will they grieve” (Quran 2:274).

The Quran specifically indicates that God gives the true rewards for charitable giving. And a famous hadith also connects to this concept: 

Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of God, on him be peace, said, “Charity does not decrease wealth, no one forgives another but that Allah increases his honor, and no one humbles himself for the sake of Allah but that Allah raises his status.”

From the Quran and Hadith, we learn that Zakat’s role in Islam is to:

  • Remind man that all wealth is from God

  • Remind man that wealth is to be redistributed, not hoarded

  • Build a habit of giving charity, annually and throughout the year

  • Protect and uplift the poverty-stricken

It is through the charity that people’s hearts soften and detach from the instinct to hoard wealth. Giving zakat and sadaqah are good deeds that help both in this life and in the next. Zakat in Islam is key to countering income inequality, but it is not enough on its own. Muslims are also to give sadaqah, or voluntary charity.

Zakat is to be given at certain times in the Islamic year, and at specific rates depending on the type of wealth. Sadaqah, though, can be given whenever and in any amount. Sadaqah is not even limited to financial giving. It can be paying someone a compliment, or even just smiling at someone to make them feel more comfortable or welcome. 

Although only certain categories of people are eligible for zakat, anyone is eligible to receive sadaqah.

Give your zakat or sadaqah here

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