Zakah or alms tax can be defined as that portion of a man's wealth which is designated for the poor. The term is derived from the Arabic verbal root meaning "to increase." "to purify," and "to bless." It find its origin in Allah's command to: "Take sadaqah (charity) from their property in order to purify and sanctify them" [at-Taubah 103]. That is why this kind of sadaqah is called zakah, for by paying it, one is aspiring to attain blessing, purification, and the cultivation of good deeds.
Taking into account its very nature, it is no wonder that zakah constitutes one of the five pillars of Islam. It is associated with prayer (salah) in eighty-two Qur'anic verses. Allah, the Exalted One, prescribed it in His Book (The Qur'an), His Messenger corroborated it by his (sunnah), and the community (ummah) by consensus upheld it. Ibn 'Abbas reported that when the Prophet, upon whom be peace, sent Mu'adh ibn Jabal to Yemen (as its governor), he said to him: "You are going to a people who are People of the Scripture. Invite them to accept the shahadah: that there is no god but Allah and I am His Messenger. If they accept and affirm this, tell them that Allah, the Glorious One, has enjoined five prayers upon them during the day and night. If they accept that, tell them also that He has enjoined sadaqah upon their assets which will be taken from the rich of the (Muslim) community and distributed to the poor. If they accept that, refrain from laying hands upon the best of their goods and fear the cry of the oppressed, for there is no barrier between Allah and it."
At-Tabarani relates in al-'Awsat and as-Saghir, on the authority of 'Ali, that the Prophet said: "Allah has enjoined upon rich Muslims a due to be taken from their properties corresponding to the needs of the poor among them. The poor will never suffer from starvation or lack of clothes unless the rich neglect their due. If they do, Allah will surely hold them accountable and punish them severely." According to at-Tabarani: "It was reported only by Thabit ibn Muhammad az-Zahid." Of Thabit's credibility, al-Hafiz in turn says: "Thabit was an honest and trustworthy person. AlBukhari and others related from him, and the rest of the narrators in the chain are considered as accepted authorities."
In the early days of Islam at Makkah, no limit or restriction was placed on the amount to be donated, for that decision was left to the individual Muslim's conscience and generosity. In the second year of hijrah, according to the widely known authorities, both the type and the quantity of zakah revenues were determined, and detailed illustrations were provided.
Judgment on the Zakah Refrainer:
As an obligation upon Muslims, zakah is one of the essential requirements of Islam. If somebody disputed its obligation, he would be outside of Islam, and could legally be killed for his unbelief unless he was a new Muslim and could be excused for his ignorance.
As for the one who refrains from paying it without denying its obligation, he would be guilty of committing a sin. Yet, this act does not place him outside of Islam. It is the ruler's duty to take zakah from the defaulter by force and rebuke him, provided he does not collect more than the stipulated amount. However, in the views of Ahmad and ash-Shaf'i (in his earlier opinion) the ruler could take half of the defaulter's money, in addition to the calculated amount of zakah, as a punishment. This view is based on what Ahmad, anNasa'i, Abu Dawud, al-Hakim, and al-Baihaqi have recorded from Bahz ibn Hakim all the way back to his grandfather who said: "I heard the Messenger of Allah, upon whom be peace, say: 'Whether the camels of the zakah payer are grown or baby camels, it makes no difference in his reward if he gave them willingly. (However,) if someone refrains from paying it, it will be taken from him along with half his property, for it is a right of our Lord, the Blessed and the Exalted, not a right of the house of Muhammad.'"
Asked about its chain, Ahmad ruled it good (hassan). Of Bahz, al-Hakim says: "His traditions are authentic." Ash-Shaf'i, as alBaihaqi says, did not include it for fiqhi consideration because . . . "this hadith is not confirmed by the scholars of hadith."
If some people refrain from paying zakah knowing that it is due and that they can afford to pay, they should be fought until they yield and pay. Al-Bukhari and Muslim report that Ibn 'Umar heard the Prophet say: "I have been ordered to fight people until they say that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah, and that Muhammad is His Messenger, and they uphold the prayers, and pay the zakah. If they do this, their lives and properties will be safe, except for what is due to Islam, and their accounts are with Allah."
Abu Hurairah is reported to have said: "When Allah's Messenger, upon whom be peace, died and Abu Bakr succeeded him as caliph, some Arabs apostasized, causing Abu Bakr to declare war upon them. 'Umar said to him: 'Why must you fight these men?', especially when there is a ruling of the Prophet, upon whom be peace: 'I have been called to fight men until they say that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah, and whoever said it has saved his life and property from me except when a right is due in them, and his account will be with Allah.' Abu Bakr replied: 'By Allah! I will fight those who differentiate between salah and zakah because zakah is the due on property. By Allah! If they withheld even a young she-goat ( 'anaq) that they used to pay at the time of Allah's Messenger, upon whom be peace, I would fight them.' Then 'Umar said: 'By Allah! It was He who gave Abu Bakr the true knowledge to fight, and later I came to know that he was right.' "
The same hadith narrated by Muslim, Abu Dawud, and atTirmidhi has the following variant: "If they witheld the 'iqal, the rope of the camel," instead of "'anaq, young she-goat."
Who is Obliged to Pay Zakah:
Zakah must be paid by every Muslim who has a nisab, which is the minimum of one's holdings liable to zakah. The nisab is conditioned by the following:
1. Zakah should be paid on any amount of money remaining after meeting the expenses for such necessities as food, clothes, housing, vehicles and craft machines.
2. A complete year of Islamic calendar should pass, starting from the very day of the nisab's possession, without any decrease during the year. In case of its decrease (being less than nisab), the year count (hawl;) starts from the day of the nisab completion.
Commenting on the issue, an-Nawawi said: "In our view and the views of Malik, Ahmad, and the majority of scholars, the amount of property liable for payment of zakah, such as gold, silver, or cattle, is tied to the completion of nisab through the turn of a whole year. If the nisab decreases in any time of the year, [the counting of] the year discontinues. Later, if the nisab is completed, the year count is resumed from the time of its completion."
On the same subject, Abu Hanifah holds: "What matters isthe availability of nisab at the beginning and end of the year. Its decrease at any time in between does not matter, even though the zakah payer had two hundred dirhams and he lost all but one dirham during the year, or if he had forty sheep, all of which died except for one during the year. If, at the end of the year, he had two hundred dirhams, or forty sheep, then he must pay zakah on all of that. This condition is not applicable to the zakah of plantations and fruits, for their zakah should be paid on the harvest day. Allah, the Exalted One, says: 'And pay the due thereof upon the harvest day' [alA'raf 142]."
Al-'Abdari elaborated that: "The holdings subject to zakah are of two kinds. The first kind grows by itself: crops and fruits. The second kind is used for growing and production: money, merchandise, and cattle. In the former case, zakah should be paid at the time of harvest. In the latter case, it should be paid at the end of the haul. This was the opinion of all jurists as reported in anNawawi's al-Majrnu'."
Zakah on the Holdings of Infants and Mentally Retarded People:
The guardian of a child or of a mentally retarded person must pay zakah on his behalf from his property if it constitutes a nisab.
'Amr ibn Shu'aib reported from his father backed up by a chain of sources going back to 'Abdullah ibn 'Amr that the Messenger of Allah, upon whom be peace, said: "One who becomes the guardian of an orphan with property must trade on his behalf and not leave it passive in order to avoid depletion of the property by sadaqah."
However, this hadith has a weak link. Still, al-Hafiz affirms that: "There is a similar hadith of the mursal type in the compilation of ash-Shaf'i, who confirmed that it is considered a sound one. 'Aishah used to set aside zakah for the orphans who were under her protection."
At-Tirmidhi concludes that: "Jurists differ on this issue. More than one companion of the Prophet, upon whom be peace, said that zakah may be taken from an orphan's property. Among these are: 'Umar, 'Ali, 'Aishah, and Ibn 'Umar. This view is also supported by Malik, ash-Shaf'i, Ahmad, and Ishaq. Another group, including Sufyan and Ibn al-Mubarak, hold that: 'Zakah should not be taken out of an orphan's property.' "
The Insolvent Debtor:
Whoever has property must pay its proper zakah. If the property is indebted, he may first pay off his debt, then in case the remainder is enough to constitute a nisab, he must pay zakah. If he does not hold the nisab, he does not have to pay it since he is poor. The Messenger of Allah, upon whom be peace, said: "Only the wealthy are required to give charity." This hadith is related by Ahmad and al-Bukhari. The latter records it in mu'allaq form. The Prophet also said: "Zakah is levied on the rich and paid to the poor." It is all the same, whether he is indebted to Allah or to man, because one hadith states: "Allah's debt is more deserving of fulfillment."
Zakah Owed by a Deceased Person:
If a person dies before he pays zakah, then it must be taken from his estate. According to ash-Shaf'i, Ahmad, Ishaq, and Abu Thaur, it is obligatory that zakah be paid from the property of the deceased, and this payment receives preference over debt, legacy, and inheritance for Allah says: "... after payment of legacies and debts is what you leave ..." [an-Nisa' 12]. Zakah is a debt payable to Allah.
A man came to the Messenger of Allah, upon whom be peace, and said: "My mother died while she still had to make up one month of fasting. Shall I make it up for her?" The Prophet replied: "If there was any debt upon your mother, would you pay it off for her?" The man answered: "Yes." The Prophet then observed: "A debt to Allah is more deserving to be paid off." This is related by alBukhari and Muslim.
The Niyyah (Intention):
Since the payment of zakah is an act of worship, its validity depends upon the expression of one's intention. That is, the zakah payer should pay it for the sake of Allah; he should make up his mind, with all of his heart, that zakah is an obligation to be discharged. Allah says: "And they are commanded no more than this: to worship Allah, sincere in their faith in Him alone" [al-Bayyinah 5].
It is related in al-Bukhari and Muslim that the Prophet, upon whom be peace, said: "The value of [one's] deeds is determined by [one's] intentions; and thus for each shall be according to his intentions." Malik and ash-Shaf'i say that the intention is to be made at the time of rendering zakah. Abu Hanifah holds that the intention must be present at the time of payment or when zakah is being set aside from one's assets. Ahmad's view is that it is permissible to express the niyyah a little earlier before payment.
Payment of Zakah in Due Time:
Zakah must be paid immediately at its due time. Deferring payment of zakah is prohibited, unless the payer for some valid reason cannot pay it on time. In such a case, he may wait until he is able to pay it. It is related by Ahmad and al-Bukhari that 'Uqbah ibn al-Harith said: "Once I performed the 'asr prayer with the Prophet, upon whom be peace. When he concluded the prayer, he hurriedly went to his house and retumed immediately. Noticing the amazed faces, he said: 'I left at home a piece of gold which was meant for sadaqah, and I did not want to let it remain a night in my house, so I ordered it to be distributed.'"
Ash-Shaf'i and al-Bukhari (the latter in his Tarikh) relate from 'Aishah that the Prophet, upon whom be peace, said: "Whenever sadaqah which is payable is mixed with a property, it will destroy that property." The same hadith is related by al-Humaydi with this addition: "If you have to pay sadaqah which is payable, then it must be set aside, or the unlawful [property] will destroy the lawful one."
Paying Zakah in Advance:
It is permissible for zakah to be paid for even two years in advance. Al-Zuhri did not see any problem in paying his zakah before the hawl. Al-Hasan was once asked if a man who had paid his zakah for three years in advance fulfilled his obligation. Al-Hasan answered in the affirmative. Of this view, ash-Shaukani said: "This was the view of ash-Shaf'i, Ahmad, and Abu Hanifah. It was supported by al-Hadi and al-Qasim." Al-Mu'ayyad-billah also subscribes to this opinion as being better, but he says that Malik, Rabi'ah, Sufyan ath-Thauri, Dawud, Abu 'Ubayd ibn al-Harith, and an-Nasir (who comes from the Prophet's family) held that one's obligation is not discharged if the zakah is paid before the expiration of the year. They formulated their stance on the Prophet's hadith, already mentioned, which makes the zakah mandatory for the payer only when he has his possessions for a year. However, this does not invalidate the view of those who maintain that paying zakah in advance is lawful, for undeniably the obligation of zakah is associated with the expiry of one full year. The difference is only on the point of whether one's obligation is discharged if the zakah is paid before the year has expired." Ibn Rushd sums up the subject: "The controversy arises from the question whether it is an act of worship or an obligation owed to the poor. The group which considers it an act of worship, like salah (prayers), does not agree that it should be paid before its time. On the other hand, the group which views it as similar to the case of deferred obligatory dues approves its voluntary payment in advance." In support of his view, ashShaf'i relates a hadith from 'Ali that the Prophet, upon whom be peace, asked for al-'Abbas' sadaqah before its due date.
Invoking Blessing for the Zakah Payer:
It is desirable that the recipient invoke blessing for the zakah payer at the time of its payment, for Allah says: "Take alms of their property that you may purify and sanctify them and pray for them. Verily, your prayers are a comfort for them" [at-Taubah 103]. It is related from 'Abdullah ibn Abu Awfa that the Messenger of Allah, upon whom be peace, on receiving sadaqah would say: "O Allah, bless the family of Abu Aufa." This is related by Ahmad and others.
Wa'il ibn Hajr reported that the Prophet, upon whom be peace, prayed for a man who had offered a fine she-camel in his zakah payment: "May Allah bless him and make his camels beneficial to him." This is related by an-Nasa'i.
Ash-Shaf'i says: "According to this hadith, the leader may pray for the almsgiver upon receiving his payment by saying: 'May Allah reward you in turn of what you have offered, and may Allah bless what you still possess.' "
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