As the end of the CE calendar year approaches, many of us are thinking about what we have, our prosperity, wealth and possessions and we think about those around us who are needy and how we can help. Giving of our wealth in Islam is called Zakat and it is one of the fundamental pillars of Islam. This is a basic requirement for all Muslims. At a very deep level it is also part of the purification of our very lives. It opens our heart for love and healing for ourselves our family, the world and our fellow human beings.
Allah (SWT) says in Quran Sharif
فَإِن تَابُوا وَأَقَامُوا الصَّلَاةَ وَآتَوُا الزَّكَاةَ فَإِخْوَانُكُمْ فِي الدِّينِ ۗ وَنُفَصِّلُ الْآيَاتِ لِقَوْمٍ يَعْلَمُونَ – 9:11
Fa-in taboo waaqamoo assalatawaatawoo azzakata fa-ikhwanukum feeaddeeni wanufassilu al-ayatiliqawmin ya’lamoon
But if they repent, establish prayer, and give zakah, then they are your brothers in religion; and We make Our revelations clear for people of understanding.
This is part of Surah At-Tauba (repentance) it is talking about the non-believers gathered at the Kabah for their ceremonies and it talks about the need for Zakat, among other things such as repentance.
The goal is purification of the hearts of those who distress. For that three things are mentioned: repentance, establishing regular prayers, and paying Zakat. These three things are interrelated with each other and with the condition of our inner being. At first it may seem a superficial obligation but looking more deeply we understand how our attachments incline us towards forgetfulness, and alienating our heart from our connection to the divine.
The Arabic root of the word Zakat (z-k-t) means “to purify”. Other meanings are to thrive, to grow, to be just, righteous, and fit. So when we look deeply then into the meaning of this third pillar, we see it is much deeper than the simple paying of money. Even though out of generosity it would in itself be cleansing our hearts, but when dedicated to our relationship with our inner self and with Allah (swt) it is one more opportunity for remembrance of Allah (swt), zikr allah, and to make a deep connection with Him and with humanity.
In Bukhari and Muslim, Jaabir ibn Abdillaah, radi Allaahu ‘anhu, said, “I pledged allegiance to the Prophet – sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam – in that I would establish the Salah, undertake the giving of Zakah, and that I would give Naseeha (advice) to every Muslim.”
Allah (swt) made Zakah required on the wealth of a believer as a test of sincerity. But in following this test we are also reaping a great reward. The reward of purifying our hearts and our lives. The believer knows that Zakah is a fundamental pillar of Islam. But he or she also should be aware that the virtue attained by this act directly affects him/herself, and the community around.
Aware of the prosperity that has been given, the believer delivers Zakat with an open heart, thanking and praising Allah (swt) for His bounty. And, the believer continues to thank Allah ta’ala for the very Tawfeeq (blessing to be able to complete) of being able to perform his duty.
Purification comes in many forms and opportunities. Physically we clean our bodies daily through bathing (gusul) and through wuzu (wudhu – ritual washing) Through Zakah we bathe our heart, cleansing and purifying it and making it ready for our love of Allah (swt) to shine through.
As Bastami (ra) has said: “Sweep out the chambers of your heart – make it ready to be the dwelling place of the beloved.”
Have you ever seen someone run out of the Masjid immediately after Salah? Even the Imam may have just barely said salam, and they are already in the incline to take off (you may have seen it at Jumu’ah prayers). When we see someone in such haste, we know that there is some affair that pre-occupied the brother or sister and that it is indeed a weighty matter.
Perhaps we can train our hearts to be as anxious to jump and rush off gladly to offer our Zakat or sadaqah. Knowing how much closer it brings us to the Beloved and increases our connection.
In Saheeh Bukhari, Uqbah – radi Allaahu ‘anhu – narrates,
“I offered the ‘Asr prayer behind the Prophet at Medina. When he had finished the prayer with Taslim, he got up hurriedly and went out by crossing the rows of the people to one of the dwellings of his wives. The people got scared at his speed. The Prophet came back and found the people surprised at his haste and said to them, ‘I remembered a piece of gold lying in my house and I disliked for it to divert my attention from Allah’s worship, so I have ordered it to be distributed (in charity).’”
Allah ta’ala teaches us the virtue of Zakat:
خُذْ مِنْ أَمْوَالِهِمْ صَدَقَةً تُطَهِّرُهُمْ وَتُزَكِّيهِم بِهَا وَصَلِّ عَلَيْهِمْ ۖ إِنَّ صَلَاتَكَ سَكَنٌ لَّهُمْ ۗ وَاللَّهُ سَمِيعٌ عَلِيمٌ – 9:103
Khuth min amwalihim sadaqatantutahhiruhum watuzakkeehim biha wasalli’alayhim inna salataka sakanun lahum wallahusamee’un ‘aleem
Take, [O, Muhammad], from their wealth a charity by which you purify them and cause them increase, and invoke [ Allah ‘s blessings] upon them. Indeed, your invocations are reassurance for them. And Allah is Hearing and Knowing.
Allah (swt) is clearly spelling out that zakat purifies us and causes increase in us.
How does Zakat and charity cleanse someone?
1. It bathes their heart from all sorts of diseases such as the diseases of hypocrisy and doubt. Remember that this was one of the things mentioned as part of the repentance of the non believers. And at the most basic level we are cleansed because we are simply doing what Allah (swt) has commanded us to do. We are being obedient servants of Allah (swt).
2. It increases our love by cleansing the heart from stinginess and increases our love for Allah (swt) and our fellow human being.
3. It purifies the remaining wealth with barakah.
4. It purifies and increases the good character of the one giving and also increases his or her wealth.
As Rasul Allah (saw) said,
“Charity never decreases wealth.”
After the death of Rasul Allah (saw), the small Mulim community in Medina was faced with more adversaries. There were some who claimed prophethood, there were huge tribes awaiting to fight the Muslims, and then, to a lesser degree, there were tribes who still professed to be Muslim, but they just had a ‘problem’ with giving Zakat.
The community needed to take action. The seemingly unanimous opinion of the Sahabah (close companions of Muhammad (saw)) was to just leave the “we-are-Muslim-minus-Zakat” people, and focus on the armies. But Abu Bakr, (ra), disagreed. “I swear by Allah,” said Abu Bakr, “I shall go to war and fight anyone who attempts to separate Salah from Zakat!” Upon hearing this, Umar, (ra), commented, “By Allah, at the moment when I saw that Allah had opened the heart of Abu Bakr to this, I knew that it was the truth.” In these words, we see the depth of the meaning of Zakat to these very very close companions of Rasul Allah (saw). We see that they understood the cleansing of the heart coming from both prayer and Zakat and that these are inextricably linked.
“If I win a million dollars I’ll give half to the Masjid!” Ever heard that before? Allah ta’ala teaches us that the nature of humans is to attach themselves to coins of gold and silver and other worldly things. In fact, they pray day and night for it. In their prayers, they promise that, if they are indeed blessed with the wealth, they will be unselfish with that gift. When the test befalls them, they turn their backs. A familiar saying is “Allah gives and forgives – Man gets and forgets.” But it goes deeper than that. By forgetting we are forgetting Allah (swt) who is the source of all goodness, love and the condition we find ourselves in. We harden our heart against Allah (swt) and open it to the dunya (world) to the exclusion of all else.
وَمِنْهُم مَّنْ عَاهَدَ اللَّهَ لَئِنْ آتَانَا مِن فَضْلِهِ لَنَصَّدَّقَنَّ وَلَنَكُونَنَّ مِنَ الصَّالِحِينَ – 9:75
فَلَمَّا آتَاهُم مِّن فَضْلِهِ بَخِلُوا بِهِ وَتَوَلَّوا وَّهُم مُّعْرِضُونَ – 9:76
فَأَعْقَبَهُمْ نِفَاقًا فِي قُلُوبِهِمْ إِلَىٰ يَوْمِ يَلْقَوْنَهُ بِمَا أَخْلَفُوا اللَّهَ مَا وَعَدُوهُ وَبِمَا كَانُوا يَكْذِبُونَ – 9:77
Waminhum man ‘ahada Allahala-in atana min fadlihi lanassaddaqannawalanakoonanna mina assaliheen-9:75 Falamma atahum min fadlihibakhiloo bihi watawallaw wahum mu’ridoon-9:76 Faa’qabahum nifaqan fee quloobihimila yawmi yalqawnahu bima akhlafoo Allaha mawa’adoohu wabima kanoo yakthiboon-9:77
And among them are those who made a covenant with Allah, [saying], “If He should give us from His bounty, we will surely spend in charity, and we will surely be among the righteous.” <75> But when he gave them from His bounty, they were stingy with it and turned away while they refused. <76> So He penalized them with hypocrisy in their hearts until the Day they will meet Him – because they failed Allah in what they promised Him and because they used to lie. <77>
Allah returns the hypocrisy into the hearts of those that promise generosity when they have been given of His bounty and then refuse to be generous because their hearts are hardened by the love of the world. It is exactly the opposite of what happens when we do purify our hearts and our wealth with Zakat.
Yayha ibn Mu’adh, rahimahullaah, commented
“I have always been amazed at someone who has wealth yet is stingy. His Lord, who gave the wealth to him, requests that he loan part of it to Him and the stingy man says, ‘no’.”
Zakat is an necessity connected to wealth that Allah (swt) has provided for us. Indeed, this wealth is afforded to us in part so that we can generously spread it with the generosity that Allah (swt) has shown us. An obligation that should not be delayed.
Rasul Allah (saw), taught us that when a people hoard wealth and do not give the Zakat, they will be afflicted with a famine.
“There was never a people that refused to give Zakah except that Allah afflicted them with famine.”
He, sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam, warned us of stinginess because of the destruction it brings.
“Beware of stinginess for verily those who came before you were destroyed because of it.”
Zakah and Sadaqah not only cleanse our hearts and our deen but also cause increase and purify what is left over after we contribute the Zakat.
Abdullaah ibn Mas’ood, (ra), said,
“Store your wealth where no worms will eat, where it cannot be reached by thieves. Store it in Sadaqah.”
The general principle of Zakah is that it is to be given to the needy of the locality in which it was paid in the first place. As Rasul Allah (saw) instructed Mu’adh when he sent him to Yemen,
“If they obey you in that (in the Shahadah and then the Salah), then let them know Allah has made a requirement upon them Zakat in their wealth to be taken from their rich and to be given to their needy.”
Keyword: ‘their’ needy; the needy of the community in which the wealth was earned.
What it takes from us is to get out there and find out how we can make a difference in our communities. As our communities grow stronger, we will have the strength to assist communities all around the world. When governments have a budget surplus, interest groups fight tooth and nail arguing who gets the money. But with Zakat, Allah ta’ala divided it Himself. No human has a say in giving Zakat money to other then those to whom Allah included.
A word of caution: Zakat money is not to go towards paying off your own vain debts. but, it is an amazingly powerful thing for one’s community members to be out of debt. When they are out of debt, they become active contributors in the community, and everyone benefits. To Allah (swt) belongs all praise.
And remember, those of you with children or those of you who will have children, insha’allah – you worry about them and their deen. You worry about them growing up in this culture, in the midst of the overabundance and the stinginess. They learn most from their parents, they learn by seeing what you do and what you say. They see very clearly when you do one thing and say another. So be of those that keep the pillars for their sake. Show them your actions, your Zakat, explain to them what it is and why you do it and you will be teaching them a great lesson.
qad aflah.a al- mu’minon <1> alladhena hum fe s.alaahte -him khaashi3on <2> wa- ‘alladhena hum ‘an al- laghwe mu3’rid.on <3> wa- ‘alladhena hum li- az- zakaah faa’ilon <4>
successful are the believers <1> Those who are humble in their prayers <2> And those who turn away from vain speech <3> And those who are observant of Zakah <4>
Ameen wa allahu alim.