Zakāt (زكاة) is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. It is a fard (obligatory) tax required of Muslims, amounting to about 2.5% of one’s wealth over the course of a year. Slaves and horses owned by Muslims are exempt from this taxation.
It is obligatory to distribute zakat among eight different categories of recipients, and there is scholarly consensus (ijma`) that non-Muslims are not among those who are to benefit. This has led to mainstream Islamic charities, like Islamic Relief, almost exclusively focusing their humanitarian work in Muslim majority nations or areas in non-Muslim countries which are heavily populated by Muslim minorities. In the aftermath of the 2010 Pakistan floods, many Christian survivors were denied aid supplied by Muslim charities for this very reason.
On the other hand, it is permissible to give sadaqah (regular, voluntary charity, not the obligatory zakat) to poor non-Muslims, on the preconditions that they “have not carried out any hostile actions against the Muslims” and that the charity is provided only “to soften their hearts towards Islam”.
One of the most important of the eight categories to distribute zakat among is “those fighting for Allah, meaning people engaged in Islamic military operations for whom no salary has been allotted in the army roster (but who are volunteers for jihad without remuneration).” This has led to numerous Islamic charities all over the world funding terrorism.
An example of modern-day conflicts where those who are participating are considered in Islam to be fighting in “the Way of Allah” and where “zakat must be spent”, include, “Palestine, Kashmir, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Chad, Somalia, Cyprus, Samarqand, Bukhara, Tashkent, Uzbekistan, Albania and several other occupied countries.”
Islamic terms are often not completely analogous to the commonly-accepted/non-Islamic concepts they are mostly associated with. In Islamic terms, zakat is both a tax and a charity, and no problem is seen with discussing it as both, along with actual voluntary Islamic charity (i.e. the sadaqah). But by its commonly-accepted definition, it is strictly a tax.
Donation and Taxation
When considering compulsory taxation in most non-Islamic nations, it is charged on certain goods and is taken by the state from individual yearly earnings and then in part distributed to those within the state who are unemployed, or other public services, such as the state’s military services. In essence, this tax functions exactly as zakat does, however those who pay taxes do not consider it charity, nor are they viewed as charitable. They are simply paying what they have to pay in order to live in the society they live in.
Like taxes, zakat is a fard (obligatory) requirement from Muslims, amounting to about 2.5% of one’s wealth over the course of a year. It is levied on five categories of property—food grains; fruit; camels, cattle, sheep, and goats; gold and silver; and movable goods—and is payable each year after one year’s possession.
The collection and expenditure of this zakat throughout Islam’s history has been a function of the state. The compulsory payment was collected and distributed by the state under the Prophet Muhammad, the Rightly-Guided Caliphs, the later Caliphate, and is even collected and distributed by the state in some theocracies today (for example, Saudi Arabia).Likewise, the beneficiaries of the zakat are generally the less wealthy members of the Muslim Ummah and those who are participating in military conflicts (Jihad).
Thus a proper understanding of zakat makes it, in all but name, a tax, not a form of charity. And although there no longer remains a global caliphate to enforce this tax on every Muslim, it does not change what it is, for what purpose it was created, or how it should be viewed, inside and outside of Islam.
- Zakat – A hub page that leads to other articles related to Zakat
- Accidents and Natural Disasters in the Muslim World
- Islamic Relief and the Myth of Non-Discriminating Muslim Charity
- Biggest Islamic Relief revenues are from “secular” government agencies
- Aid Flotillas: Save Haiti from a cholera outbreak, not Hamas from itself
- Haiti: Islamic ‘Charity’ Means More Mosques
- “zakat (Islamic tax)”, Encyclopedia Britannica, accessed November 16, 2013 (archived).
- “Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah’s Apostle said, “There is no Zakat either on a horse or a slave belonging to a Muslim”” – Sahih Bukhari 2:24:542
- “Narrated Abu Huraira :- The Prophet said,”There is no Zakat either on a slave or on a horse belonging to a Muslim.” – Sahih Bukhari 2:24:543
- Shaykh Faraz Rabbani, “Zakat Cannot Be Given To Non-Muslims”, SunniPath Q&A, July 3, 2005
- Muhammed Zakariyya Desai, “Imam of our Masjid has given Fatwa that Zakat can be given to non muslims”, Ask Imam, Fatwa No. 15407, July 22, 2007
- Haytham bin Jawwad al-Haddad, “The way of giving Zakat al-Fitr in non-Islamic Lands”, IslamicAwakening, Article ID: 984, November 20, 2002 (archived).
- Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri, Nuh Ha Mim Keller (Ed., Trans.), “Reliance of the Traveller: A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law”, sections; h8.7, h8.14, h8.24.
- For an in-depth discussion of this issue, refer to “Islamic Relief and the Myth of Non-Discriminating Muslim Charity“
- Pakistan: some Christians denied aid unless they convert to Islam – Catholic Culture, September 6, 2010
- Sheikh Muhammed Salih Al-Munajjid, “Giving zakaah to kaafirs”, Islam Q&A, Fatwa No. 21384
- Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri, Nuh Ha Mim Keller (Ed., Trans.), “Reliance of the Traveller: A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law”, sections; h8.7, h8.17.
- Imam’s Corner, “Zakat-ul-mal (Zakat)”, The Islamic Association of Raleigh, December 30, 2004
- One example is the World Assembly of Muslim Youth which was stripped of its charitable status after a Canada Revenue Agency investigation linked it to a Saudi-based group that financed Islamic terror campaigns by al-Qaeda, but there are literally dozens of other examples easily found via a Google search.
- Yusuf al-Qaradawi, Fiqh az-Zakat: A Comparative Study
- “Spending Zakah Money on Jihad”, IslamOnline, March 9, 2011