By Bint Abid (4th Year ʿĀlimah Student, DarusSalam Seminary)
In Islām, there are five pillars that are the fundamental to the religion. They provide stability and a firm foundation on which to build and thrive. The Prophet Muḥammad (upon him be peace) informed us that Islām is built on five. He said:
“Islām is built on five: (1) testifying that there is no god except for Allāh and that Muḥammad is His Messenger, (2) establishing the prayer, (3) paying the zakāh, (4) performing pilgrimage to the House, and (5) fasting in Ramaḍān.”
When these are implemented mankind will thrive through Islām and the believers will be successful. One of these foundational pillars, which is greatly emphasized in many places in the Qurʾān and the Sunnah, is the zakāh.
The great significance of the zakāh can be seen in the verse:
“Establish prayer, pay the zakāh, and obey the Messenger so that you may receive mercy.”
As seen in the verse, the zakāh is a means to receiving the Creator’s mercy. Both prayer and zakāh are mentioned because they are pillars; one of them consists of physical worship while the other is pecuniary. Establishing prayer and zakāh at an individual and collective level results in other righteous deeds becoming common in society. The prayer is the foundation of the religion, whilst zakāh is a bond between believers through which everyone thrives. Both are intertwined and thus mentioned together in the Qurʾān and the Sunnah.
In Arabic, the word zakāh means purification, growth, and development. Zakāh has minimum amount thresholds that must be reached before it is due, which are termed “niṣāb.” And there are set rates for the various asset classes. Zakāh is obligatory after one reaches puberty and owns a zakāt-able niṣāb.
The niṣāb for gold and silver (ar. nuqūd) is 87.48 grams of gold and 612.36 grams of silver. It becomes obligatory when one has had their niṣāb for a lunar year. Thereafter, it is incumbent on him to pay 2.5% of his plenary wealth. Zakāh will then be payable each year so long as one possesses the niṣāb.
Zakāh is paid on the profitable assets that one possesses. These assets are gold, silver, cash, treasure, debts owed, tradable commodities, agricultural produce, and livestock. Zakāh is not due on one’s personal assets, precious gems, and items consisting of less than fifty percent gold or silver.
Shāh Walī Allāh mentioned that the benefits of zakāh go to the one giving it and to society at large. He said:
“Zakāh has two types of benefit. There is a benefit in it that tames the soul. One’s soul may be greedy, which is the most blameworthy of traits. One who is greedy may die with his heart attached to his wealth. And he will be punished on account of this. Therefore, whoever tames himself with zakāh and eradicates greed from his soul, it will benefit him. The second pertains to society, as it encompasses the weak and the indigent. Many suffer in these situations and circumstances; and if there was no sympathy for the needy, they would perish. Not only that, it implements order in society, as wealth is required to support civil servants, leaders, and officials.”
As seen in this statement, the devotion in giving zakāh is established and further strengthened by recognizing its obligation and the wisdom behind it. Additionally, its payment instills humility in the one giving it as it cultivates a bond with those who receive it. This leads to stability and unity in the community. Our devotion to God is strengthened by the distribution of zakāh from a societal perspective.
Those who are eligible to receive it are divided into eight categories. They are (1) the poor, (2) the needy, (3) its collectors, (4) those whose hearts need support, (5) those in bondage, (6) the debt-ridden, (7) those who are out striving for God’s cause, and (8) the wayfarer.
The great commentator on the Qurʾān, Ibn Jarīr al-Ṭabarī, said:
“The correct opinion, according to me, is that Allāh has given zakāh two core functions. The first is fulfilling the needs of the Muslims and the other is strengthening Islām. When strengthening Islām is found present, then it may be given to one who is wealthy or one who is needy. This is because they are not being given zakāh for their needs; rather, it is to assist Islām. This is like one who is given zakāh to strive in the path of Allāh. Such a person can be given regardless of his financial state. Likewise, in the category of winning over people’s hearts, they are given it even if they are wealthy. This is a means to improve, strengthen, and assist Islām.”
Distributing Zakat to the poor and needy is a crucial act of worship that provides the believers with the essential resources that they require. Additionally, it cultivates a feeling of belonging in society and the ability to maintain an unwavering state of subservience. Poverty may lead one to disbelief, as can be seen in the narration of Abū Saʿīd al-Khudrī in which he states:
“Allāh’s Messenger used to say: ‘Oh Allāh, I seek refuge with You from disbelief and poverty.’ A man said: ‘Are they equal?’ He said: ‘Yes.’”
Imām al-Kāsānī stated:
“One reason for zakāh is that it strengthens the weak, empowers the unable, and uplifts them to establish Allāh’s oneness and the worship that He ordained.”
To conclude, there is great emphasis on giving charity. Zakāh is such a crucial component in Islām and it is its third pillar. Through it, those in need find an ease in their burdens, while those who are wealthy are granted an opportunity to aid those in need, connect with their community, and maintain humility. Zakāh establishes the rights of those in need and releases those who are held captive as slaves or through debt. As can be seen, it has the power to change and make societies prosperous. Hence, it is one of the five pillars in Islām.
– al-Dihlawī, Shāh Walī Allāh. Ḥujjat Allāh al-Bālighah. India: Kutub Khānah Raḥīmīyah, 1965.
– al-Kāsānī, Abū Bakr b. Masʿūd. Badāʾiʿ al-Ṣanāʾiʿ. Beirut: Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmīyah, 1986.
– Muslim, Muslim b. al-Ḥajjāj. Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim. Beirut: Dār Ibn Ḥazm, 2012.
– al-Nasāʾī, Aḥmad b. ʿAlī. Sunan al-Nasāʾī. Beirut: Dār al-Maʿrifah, 1991.
– Ṣadr al-Sharīʿah al-Bukhārī, Maḥmūd b. Aḥmad. al-Muḥīṭ al-Burhānī. Beirut: Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmīyah, 2004.
– al-Ṭabarī, Muḥammad b. Jarīr. Tafsīr al-Ṭabarī. Beirut: Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmīyah, 1999.
 Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, 1:21.
 Q, 24:56.
 al-Muḥīṭ al-Burhānī, 2:240.
 Ḥujjat Allāh al-Bālighah, 2:60.
 Tafsīr al-Ṭabarī, 14:316.
 Sunan al-Nasāʾī, 50:58.
 Badāʾiʿ al-Ṣanāʾiʿ, 2:3.