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Zakat is not just any form of voluntary charity, alms giving, tax or tithe. Nor is it simply an expression of kindness or generosity. Zakat is all of these combined and much more, for it also includes Allah-consciousness as well as spiritual, moral and social objectives.
Zakat is a Divine injunction and an ordinance from Allah Himself. It is not a personal matter or a voluntary contribution; rather, it is an obligation for which one will be called to account before Almighty Allah.
Zakat is indispensable as it helps achieve reform, both financially and spiritually. It eliminates misery and greed from hearts and consolidates the Islamic economy, leading to its stability and prosperity. The Qur'an describes Zakat as:
1) The means by which to attain Allah's mercy: "My Mercy extends to all things. That (Mercy) I shall ordain for those who have God-consciousness and give their Zakat and those who believe in Our Signs." (Surah Al-A`raf 7:156).
2) A precondition to obtain Allah’s help: "Allah will certainly aid those who aid His (cause); for verily Allah is Full of Strength, Exalted in Might, (able to enforce His Will). (They are) those who, if We establish them in the land, establish regular prayer and give their Zakat, enjoin the right and forbid wrong: with Allah rests the outcome of all affairs." (Surah Al-Hajj 22:40-41).
3) A sign of brotherhood in religion: "But (even so), if they repent, establish regular prayers, and give their Zakat, they are your brethren in Faith." (Surah Al-Taubah 9:11).
4) A distinctive feature of the faithful community: "The Believers, men and women, are protectors one of another: they enjoin what is just and forbid what is evil: they observe regular prayers, pay their Zakat and obey Allah and His Messenger. On them will Allah pour His Mercy: for Allah is Exalted in power, Wise." (Surah Al-Taubah 9:71).
5) A distinctive quality of the believers who go to and maintain mosques: "The mosques of Allah shall be visited and maintained by such as believe in Allah and the Last Day, establish regular prayers, and pay their Zakat and fear none (at all) except Allah." (Surah Al-Taubah 9:18).
6) A distinctive quality of the true believers: "Who are active in paying Zakat." (Surah Al-Mu'minun 23:4).
Zakat: The Third Pillar Of Islam
‘Abd Allah ibn 'Umar reports that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Islam is based on five (principles): To testify that none has the right to be worshiped but Allah and Muhammad is Allah's Apostle, to offer the prayers dutifully and perfectly, to pay Zakat, to perform Hajj and to observe fast during the month of Ramadan.” (Bukhari)
As the third pillar of Islam, Zakat is first of all an Ibadah (worship) whose spiritual impact on purification and sanctification is its most important function. In fact, the Qur’an describes the objective of taking Zakat out of their amwal (wealth) as Tathir (purification) and Tazkiyah (sanctification). Tazkiyah also means material and/or spiritual growth.
The fact that a critical objective of Zakat is the attainment of socio-economic justice is not disputed. After all, Islam does not like any form of concentration of wealth or income in a few hands and considers their redistribution by means acceptable in Shari'ah one of the major objectives of the Islamic economic system. ‘Abd Allah ibn `Abbas (RA) narrates that when the Prophet (peace be upon him) sent Mu`adh ibn Jabal (RA) to Yemen he told him, "You are going to a people who have a Scripture, so call them to testify that there is no deity but Allah, and that I am the Messenger of Allah. If they respond to this, then teach them that Allah has imposed five Salaah upon them every day. If they respond to this, then teach them that Allah has imposed upon them a charity to be taken from the wealthy amongst them and given to their poor. If they respond to this, then beware of taking any more of their wealth!" Zakat was understood to be a transfer of a certain portion of wealth from the haves to the have-nots as a duty to Allah.
The Lisan Al-Arab dictionary says: “The root of the word Zakat in Arabic means cleanliness, growth, blessing and praise.” All these meanings of the word are used in the Qur'an and Hadith.
The word Zakat is the infinite form of the verb zaka, meaning to grow, to increase and to purify. When said about a person, it means to improve or to become better. Consequently Zakat means, blessing, growth, cleanliness and betterment.
In the Shari'ah, the word Zakat refers to the determined share of wealth prescribed by Allah to be distributed among the deserving categories of those entitled to receive it.
Zakat is a Divinely ordained institution and is regarded both as a right of Allah as well as the right of the poor. In fact, an Islamic government can forcibly take Zakat from the rich if the rich withhold it.
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