Zakat- Purification of wealth in Islam

Javed Ahmad


Zakat - poor due for purity of wealth is one of the five pillars of Islam, it is not an optional charity as many tends to think. There are some set of rules in fulfilling this "individual" obligation.


Before we proceed with our discussion let us briefly review the five pillars of Islam:


  1. Faith (Kalmae): The first requirement to become a Muslim is to declare the faith in the religion of Islam and firmly believe in it. The declaration is done by saying one of the declarations of faith called the “Kalemae Sahadaat” that goes like this, “There is no God by Allah and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.” This is the first and foremost requirements.
  2. Prayers (Salat): Upon declaration of faith, come the practices and rituals. A Muslim demonstrates his belonging to Islam through open practice of Islamic prayers five times daily at prescribed times. This is the second obligation and requirement.
  3. Fasting in the month of Ramadan (Siam): Compulsory fasting for a full lunar month of Ramadan for the sake of pleasing Allah is another practice a Muslim is obligated to do every year. This is the third requirement.
  4. Alms (Zakat): When certain wealth like gold, silver, money, cattle, business and revenue generating properties causes accumulation of idle wealth over a minimum amount (called Nisaab) for over a year, zakat becomes due. Zakat is not to be confused with charity; rather it is compulsory act of worship that purifies the wealth of a rich Muslim.
  5. Pilgrimage (Hajj): A once in a lifetime obligation on a Muslim male and female to pay a visit to Makkah and Medina during the month of Jil-hajj of Islamic lunar calendar, provided they have the physical fitness and the financial means to carry the cost of travel. It is not an obligation for poor Muslims.


Every individual Muslims are bound to the five pillars of Islam, which is often referred to as the foundations of Islam. In after life, all Muslims will be asked about their observance of these five tenets and therefore will be held accountable if ignored.


Offering prayers becomes an obligation to a Muslims as soon as he or she reaches the age of ten and continues till death. One has to ‘earn’ his or her prayers for the amount calculated since his or her becoming a Muslims through ‘establishment’ of regular prayers. There are provisions to ‘make up’ for lost prayers at a later time, but there is no scope for substitution for prayers. One person cannot offer prayers for another. It is an individual obligation and a requirement. Therefore, when a person dies, his or her prayer obligation also stops.


Fasting could be substituted to meet the obligations. For instance, if a Muslim is unable to fast for health complications then there are provisions to feed a poor for the missed fasts. Or, offer the missed fasts at a later time during the year when health permits and capable of fasting. But it cannot be missed totally. Since fasts are done for Allah’s satisfaction, therefore, this obligation does not end even after death. It is allowed for one to fast for a deceased person if he or she is willing to fast on behalf of the dead to help fulfill the missed fasts. Following is the reference to support this idea – Ibn ’Abbas relates that to us:

"A man came to the prophet and told him this story: ‘O apostle of God, my mother died without fulfilling her fasting, can I perform it in her place?’ The apostle of God asked him, ‘In your view, if your mother had a debt, would you pay it for her?’ He said, ‘Yes.’ The prophet told him, ‘The debt of God is more deserving of payment"’ (refer to ibn ’Abbas, by ’Abdul-’Aziz al-Sha nnawi, page 133). 

But in reality we do not see this to happen much as fasting itself is a difficult practice and an individual struggles with his or her own fasting requirements every year. Therefore, one should not count on or expect that someone else would fulfill his or her fasting obligations. The matter should not be ignored or overlooked.

The hajj is a once in a lifetime obligation on a Muslim provided he or she is financially solvent and physically capable of performing the task. Our Prophet (S) performed a complete hajj only once in his lifetime too despite having all the advantages! However, there is no restriction on performing multiple hajj if one is capable.


A person is allowed to perform hajj for another person even if the person for whom the hajj is dedicated is dead. This is called the substitution hajj (Bodli hajj in Bangla). There are different categories of substitution hajj. A hajj could be substituted by another Muslim provided the person who is going to perform the substitution hajj has completed his part of the hajj requirement and the sponsor who is providing for all the hajj expenses is physically ill or unable to perform the hajj himself or herself. It is often seen that the capable children of the diseased parents are performing hajj for their parents at their own expense out of love and affection, not obligation. It is also common to see Muslim husbands sponsoring their wives for performing hajj together if financially capable. Therefore, sponsoring for hajj is a common practice among the Muslims around the world and it is allowed.

In the Bukhari (part 2, page 163), it is recorded that a Muslim asked Muhammad if it is possible to make the pilgrimage in lieu of his father. He said to him, "Yes, make the pilgrimage in lieu of your father." In "Legal Opinions" of the Sheikh al-Sha’rawi, page 188, we read:

"A woman asked Muhammad the prophet if she could make the pilgrimage in lieu of her mother who died before she was able to make the pilgrimage. He said to her, ‘Yes, do so.’ He also allowed another man to make the pilgrimage in place of his relative whose name was Bashrama." 

When Sheikh Kishk was asked plaintively (part 3, page 113 of his "Legal Opinions"), "Is it admissible for (a man) to make the pilgrimage in lieu of either a dead or a living person?" He answered, "Yes, it is admissible." Therefore, the pilgrimage is not a personal worship, but an ordinance which a Muslim has to perform, or (in some cases) have performed for him.

Zakat, which is also known as ‘poor due’ is compulsory on all Muslim male and female who holds total wealth beyond the minimum amount (i.e., the nisab amount). It is not payable if the total wealth is below the nisab amount. Zakat too cannot be substituted if due. It remains due until death. The requirement of zakat payment stops upon death of an individual.


Since Islam gave women the right to hold on to their own wealth and possessions independently separate from the family wealth controlled by their husbands, it is a crucial matter to judge if payment of zakat for the wealth of wife where the husband has no share or control will be acceptable or not. It is 'nice' of the husband to take care of the zakat for his wife's wealth, but the question is, will it acceptable by Allah or will the obligation be met? Ideally, she should pay her own zakat whether she earns or not. But since wives are normally dependent on their husbands a husband could pay off their zakat obligations. The understanding behind it is, wives normally gets a pocket money from their husbands that they could spend freely, which is a mutually agreed reasonable amount depending on husbands income. It would be best if she could save from that amount to pay off her zakat obligations. If not, then husbands can pay it as a gesture of support of her future well being and security. Husbands being a degree higher in command are responsible for ensuring that his spouse practices Islam accordingly.

“…And women shall have rights similar to the rights against them, according to what is equitable; but men have a degree (of advantage) over them. And God is Exalted in Power, Wise.” (Qur’an 2:228).

A similar situation is faced when a husband pay for hajj of his wife. According to the definition, hajj is obligatory on a Muslim (male or female) only when he or she has the financial and physical ability to perform a hajj. If the wife has the means then fine, she can go for hajj; but what if she doesn't have the means? Will hajj become obligatory on her if her husband have the ability to sponsor her hajj? Will there be any obligation? Technically, in this situation, hajj would not be an obligation on her if she does not fulfill the requirements; but if her husband is willing to pay for her hajj and she performs it on that basis then it will be accepted.

Regarding zakat or alms the Qur’an declares –


“Alms are for the poor and the needy, and those employed to administer the (funds); for those whose hearts have been (recently) reconciled (to Truth); for those in bondage and in debt; in the cause of God; and for the wayfarer: (thus is it) ordained by God, and God is full of knowledge and wisdom.” (9:60).


Allah has clearly identified the criteria of the recipients of zakat in the verse above. If we are to break it down for clarity then they are:


  1. Poor (i.e., destitute, beggars).
  2. Needy (those who have needs but embarrassed to beg from people).
  3. People employed to administer the zakat funds.
  4. People who have reverted to Islam and in financial difficulty.
  5. Enslaved people seeking freedom (could also mean Muslim war prisoners and captives).
  6. People in debt (to help a person in debt to come out of it).
  7. Muslims who are fighting in Allah’s cause (i.e., Mujahideens).
  8. Wayfarer (a traveler who is in need to complete his or her travel).


Priority on recipients should be given as per the items listed above as Allah Himself has presented the matter in that manner. The basic idea of zakat is to transfer wealth from rich to the poor. Therefore, maintaining this order would meet that objective better.


It should be mentioned here that there are wide variety of debate and arguments on who would qualify for zakat and how it should be disbursed, but we would not get into that length here. One may read other materials from other sources or consult a scholar to learn more. Our intention is to keep and maintain a simplistic approach in understanding our duties and obligations regarding the topic of discussion in the light of Qur’an and Sunnah only. For instance, many scholar interprets the words “in the cause of God” beyond references to the “Mujahideens” (meaning Muslims engaged in combat to uphold Islam and justice) and tries to bring in other factors or ‘causes’ like spending in Islamic education and literature, scholarships, etc.


Zakat can also be termed as the ‘wealth tax’ payable to Allah in His cause. It is similar to ‘income tax’ we pay to our governments. But there is a big difference in practice. Zakat is payable over a nisab amount at a fixed rate of 2.5% – that equals to one fortieth (or a quarter of a tenth) of the amount (i.e., 100/40 = 10/4 = 2.5%). In case of government taxes, we normally pay anywhere from 10 to 30% of our income as taxes depending on income level and then again 15% on our expenditures in VAT on the same amount of money that has already been taxed once, which equates to a total of 25 -50% in taxes!


How do we know if we owe zakat? How to calculate zakat? In our following discussion I would not bring the discussion on zakat of cattle as it does not apply to most of us today, but there are references in the hadiths on how to handle them if anyone is interested in learning about them. However, for the sake of understanding of the matter we will cover it partly.


“Narrated Abu Sa`id: Allah's Apostle (S) said, "No Zakat is due on property mounting to less than five Uqiyas (of silver), and no Zakat is due on less than five camels, and there is no Zakat on less than five Wasqs." (A Wasqs equals 60 Sa's) & (1 Sa=3 K gms App.).” [Bukhari 2.487].


"Narrated Abu Sa`id Al−Khudri : Allah's Apostle said, "There is no Zakat on less than five camels and also there is no Zakat on less than five Awaq (of silver). (5 Awaq = 22 Fransa Riyals of Yemen or 200 Dirhams.) And there is no Zakat on less than five Awsuq. (A special measure of food−grains, and one Wasq equals 60 Sa's.) (For gold 20, Dinars i.e. equal to 12 Guinea English. No Zakat for less than 12 Guinea (English) of gold or

for silver less than 22 Fransa Riyals of Yemen.)" [Bukhari 2.526].


"Narrated Anas: When Abu Bakr; sent me to (collect the Zakat from) Bahrain, he wrote to me the following:−− (In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful). These are the orders for compulsory charity (Zakat) which Allah's Apostle had made obligatory for every Muslim, and which Allah had ordered His Apostle to observe: Whoever amongst the Muslims is asked to pay Zakat accordingly, he should pay it (to the Zakat collector) and whoever is asked more than that (what is specified in this script) he should not pay it; for twenty−four camels or less, sheep are to be paid as Zakat; for every five camels one sheep is to be paid, and if there are between twenty−five to thirty−five camels, one Bint Makhad is to be paid; and if they are between thirty−six to forty−five (camels), one Bint Labun is to be paid; and if they are between forty−six to sixty (camels), one Hiqqa is to be paid; and if the number is between sixty−one to seventy−five (camels), one Jadha is to be paid; and if the number is between seventy−six to ninety (camels), two Bint Labuns are to be paid; and if they are from ninety−one to one−hundred−and twenty (camels), two Hiqqas are to be paid; and if they are over one−hundred and−twenty (camels), for every forty (over one−hundred−and−twenty) one Bint Labun is to be paid, and for every fifty camels (over one−hundred−and−twenty) one Hiqqa is to be paid; and who ever has got only four camels, has to pay nothing as Zakat, but if the owner of these four camels wants to give something, he can. If the number of camels increases to five, the owner has to pay one sheep as Zakat. As regards the Zakat for the (flock) of sheep; if they are between forty and one−hundred−and−twenty sheep, one sheep is to be paid; and if they are between one−hundred−and−twenty to two hundred (sheep), two sheep are to be paid; and if they are between two−hundred to three−hundred (sheep), three sheep are to be paid; and for over three−hundred sheep, for every extra hundred sheep, one sheep is to be paid as Zakat. And if somebody has got less than forty sheep, no Zakat is required, but if he wants to give, he can. For silver the Zakat is one−fortieth of the lot (i.e. 2.5%), and if its value is less than two−hundred Dirhams, Zakat is not required, but if the owner wants to pay he can.'" [Bukhari 2.534].


"Narrated Abu Sa`id Al−Khudri : Allah's Apostle said, "No Zakat is imposed on less than five Awsuq of dates; no Zakat is imposed on less than five Awaq of silver, and no Zakat is imposed on less than five camels." [Bukhari 2.538].


"Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah's Apostle said, "There is no Zakat either on a horse or a slave belonging to a Muslim."[Bukhari 2.542].


"Narrated Salim bin `Abdullah from his father: The Prophet said, "On a land irrigated by rain water or by natural water channels or if the land is wet due to a near by water channel Ushr (i.e. one−tenth) is compulsory (as Zakat); and on the land irrigated by the well, half of an Ushr (i.e. one−twentieth) is compulsory (as Zakat on the yield of the land)."[Bukhari 2.560].


The amount of wealth which makes one liable for Zakăt is called Nisăb. Nisăb of gold is 87.48g or 20 dinars or 71 Tolas or 3 ounces or its cash equivalent as per current market value; and silver 612.36g or 200 dirhams or 521 Tolas or 21 ounces. Nisab for cash is same as that of gold and silver. Therefore, to calculate nisab to determine eligibility of zakat payment and calculation of the amount one has to do a self assessment on his or her wealth position. Normally, 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. A complete year of Islamic calendar should pass, starting from the very day of the nisab's possession, without any decrease during the year. Ideally, zakat becomes due as soon as the wealth reaches the nisab amount anytime during the year time, even if the amount of wealth is reduced at a later time during the year. The concept is like hajj where performing hajj becomes an obligation as soon as the wealth becomes sufficient to perform and undertake a journey. This obligation does not go away if and when the financial condition decorates later. Therefore, it is best to get over with all obligations as soon as they become due and valid. Procrastinations may turn out to be in loss of opportunities.


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 returned 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.'"


Zakat can be paid in advance. In support of his view, AshShaf'i relates a hadith from 'Ali that the Prophet (S) asked for al-'Abbas' sadaqah before its due date. 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.


We often tend to mix-up zakat with fitra (also known as Zakaah al-Fitr); where in reality they are entirely a different matter. Fitra purifies our souls whereas zakat purifies our wealth. Fitra is an obligatory compensation charity on behalf of each individual living in a house hold, which is due after the end of Ramadan before the prayer of Eid-ul-Fitr.


Ibn Abbaas reported, "The Prophet (S) made Zakaah al-Fitr compulsory so that those who fasted may be purified of their idle deeds and shameful talk (committed during Ramadan) and so that the poor may be fed. Whoever gives it before Salaah will have it accepted as Zakaah, while he who gives it after the Salaah has given Sadaqah." [Collected by Abu Dawood - Eng. transl. vol. 2, p. 421, no. 1605 - rated Saheeh by Shaikh Naser Al-Albanee].


Normally, it is best to distribute fitra on the day of Eid-ul-Fitr before the Eid prayer. Ibn `Umar reported that the Prophet (sallallaahu 'alaihi wa sallam) order that it (Zakaah al-Fitr) be given before people go to make the Salaah (al-'Eed). Naafi' transmitted that Ibn Umar used to pay fitr a day or two before the Eed prayer [Bukhaaree Vol. 2, p.339, no. 579 & Muslim, Abu Daawood]


There is a difference of opinion on how this fitra should be distributed. Some interpretation allows it to be paid in monies of equivalent value of the items that were normally used for fitra distribution. Where as, some maintain that it should be disbursed the way it was done by the Prophet (S) during his time with the food items and not with money or anything. In the following hadith we see that substitution of food items was in practice to pay for fitra -


"Narrated Nafi`: Ibn `Umar said, "The Prophet made incumbent on every male or female, free man or slave, the payment of one Sa' of dates or barley as Sadaqat−ul−Fitr (or said Sadaqa−Ramadan)." The people then substituted half Sa' of wheat for that. Ibn `Umar used to give dates (as Sadaqat−ul−Fitr). Once there was scarcity of dates in Medina and Ibn `Umar gave barley. 'And Ibn `Umar used to give Sadaqat−ul−Fitr for every young and old person. He even used to give on behalf of my children. Ibn `Umar used to give Sadaqat−ul−Fitr to those who had been officially appointed for its collection. People used to give Sadaqat−ul−Fitr (even) a day or two before the `Id." [Bukhari 2.587].


Back in those days, there was no monetary system as we have today dealing with cash or money. In those days, transactions were mostly on the basis of barter or exchange of goods and commodities as well as gold (i.e., Dinar) and silver (i.e., Dirhams). Therefore, they did not have the convenience of dealing with a liquid cash concept called the money that allows instant conversion of value agreed upon mutually. This flexibility and liquidity of cash allows the user to demand any product and service as long as the asking price is met; thus giving greater power to the user of their use. Thinking logically and rationally, if we could give zakat using our present day monetary mechanism then there should not be any problem paying fitra the same way. Back in those days, zakat was paid gold for gold, silver for silver and cattle for cattle, which is not done anymore today. In earlier days, two handfuls (called a Saa) of food grains, dry food, dates and dry fruits were standards of measurement for fitra for each person in the family. But today, the equivalent value of the Saa is calculated as fitra that varies every year considering inflation and cost of living adjustments. This calculation is based on Ibn `Umar's report that the Prophet (S) made Zakaah al-Fitr compulsory and payable by a Saa` of dried dates or a Saa` of barley. However, it is a Sunnah to pay the Zakat-ul-Fitr in Saa’s instead of a monetary conversion. Maybe one day when we would have an Islamic State again where gold and silver would be used as money and have a centralized Zakat system administered by the government, then the practice of paying Fitr will also become with staple commodities. Therefore, it is important for the Muslims to live in an Islamic environment and system where Sunnah could be practised with full potential.


The Sahaabee, Abu Sa`eed al-Khudree said, "In the Prophet's time, we used to give it (Zakaah al-Fitr) as a Saa` of food, dried dates, barley, raisins or dried cheese". [Collected by al-Bukhaaree - Arabic/English vol. 2, p. 340, no. 582].


Fitra recipients should be poor Muslims who qualify for zakat. One should pay off their due zakat on time. Not paying zakat carries punishment –


“And let not those who covetously withhold of the gifts which God Hath given them of His Grace, think that it is good for them: Nay, it will be the worse for them: soon shall the things which they covetously withheld be tied to their necks Like a twisted collar, on the Day of Judgment. To God belongs the heritage of the heavens and the earth; and God is well-acquainted with all that ye do.” (Qur’an 3:180).


Prophet (S) used to send the zakat collectors to collect zakat from his followers. The same tradition was also maintained by the caliphs after him.


"Narrated Abu Humaid Al−Sa`idi: Allah's Apostle (S) appointed a man called Ibn Al−Lutbiya, from the tribe of Al−Asd to collect Zakat from Bani Sulaim. When he returned, (after collecting the Zakat) the Prophet checked the account with him." [Bukhari 2.576].


In an Islamic state, the Muslims did not pay any taxes other than zakat to the state, and the state took the responsibility to distribute the zakat among the poor Muslims. Non-Muslims however used to pay a tax called ‘jizya’ to the Muslim government for their submission and protection and their tax rate was similar to that of zakat.


Bangladesh is a secular (non-religious) state; but the majority of its citizens are Muslims. As a result, the government does have a zakat distribution program managed and controlled by the Islamic Foundation of Bangladesh under the Ministry of Religious Affairs. One may pay their zakat to that fund for distribution, or distribute their own or through other private organization that operates zakat related programs. Online zakat calculators are now available on the Internet for free use; once such link is given below on the reference part for your convenience.




Some Ordinances and Laws of the Qur’an and Islam:






Zakaat in a Nutshell:


Online Zakaat Calculator: