The second important duty of servanthood is zakat. God's Messenger, who depicts prayer as Islam's pillar or support, describes zakat as its bridge (Canan, ibid., 6:346), for zakat not only brings the social strata closer to each other and fills in the gaps between them and their members, but also stops such gaps from forming.
Zakat means purity and growing. Since it purifies wealth and people's attachment to it, and causes both it and Muslims to grow in purity and sincerity, the Qur'an calls it zakat (or the prescribed alms):
(O Messenger,) take alms (prescribed or voluntary) out of their wealth so that you may cleanse them thereby and cause them to grow in purity and sincerity, and pray for them. Indeed your prayer is a source of comfort for them. God is All-Hearing, All-Knowing. (9:103)
Taking into account its very nature, zakat constitutes one of Islam's five pillars. It is associated with prayer (salat) in 82 Qur'anic verses. God, the Exalted One, prescribed it in His Book (the Qur'an), His Messenger corroborated it by his sunna, and the Muslim community by consensus upheld it. Ibn 'Abbas reported that when the Prophet 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 Book. Invite them to accept the shahada: that there is no deity but God and I am His Messenger. If they accept and affirm this, tell them that God, 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 sadaqa (meaning zakat) 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 God and it. (Bukhari, "Zakat," 1:41; Muslim, "Iman," 31.)
Many verses exhort Muslims to pay zakat and forbid hoarding wealth. For example:
The believers, both men and women, they are guardians, confidants and helpers of one another. They enjoin and promote what is right and good and forbid and try to prevent the evil. They establish the prayer in conformity with its conditions, and pay the zakat (prescribed purifying alms) fully. They always obey God and His Messenger. Those are the distinguished ones whom God shall treat with mercy. Assuredly, God is the All-Honored with irresistible might, All-Wise. (9:71)
Those who hoard gold and silver and do not spend it in God's way (to exalt His cause and help the poor and needy: O Messenger,) give them the glad tidings of a painful chastisement. (9:34)
Who Must Pay
Zakat must be paid by every free Muslim, man or woman, who has a nisab (the required amount of wealth). As for the insane and children who have a nisab, if their wealth is under disposal or in circulation, their guardians pay it on their behalf. If a person dies before paying it, it must be taken from the estate before paying off any debts, if there are any, and the heirs share the inheritance.
- Nisab is the amount of wealth remaining after meeting all expenses for such vital necessities as food, clothes, housing, and a mount. Thus, one does not have to pay zakat on what he or she needs to make a living, such as tools or machines related to carpentry, farming, tailoring, or working as a doctor. All debts are subtracted from one's wealth. If one has enough secured credit to pay off the debt, it is added to one's wealth, and if the resultant wealth reaches the nisab, one must pay zakat.
- For many items subject to zakat (e.g., money, gold, silver, and cattle), a full year of the Islamic calendar should pass, starting from the day of the nisab's possession. If the wealth possessed decreases during the year but is still possessed one year later, zakat must be paid. What matters is the availability of nisab at the beginning and end of the year. However, this condition does not apply to plantations and fruits, for their zakat should be paid, or at least calculated, on the harvest day and include what has been consumed before the harvest.
- In short, there are two types of zakat: one grows by itself (e.g., crops and fruits), and the other is used for growing and production (e.g., money, merchandise, and cattle). In the former case, zakat should be paid at harvest time; in the later, at the end of the year.
- The wealth subject to zakat should be actively or potentially increasing, growing, or productive. This condition will be explained below.
- One must have private, doubtless ownership or possession and the right of disposal of the wealth liable to zakat.
Intention. Since paying zakat is an act of worship, its validity depends upon one's sincere intention to pay it for God's sake. If one pays it without making the intention, one can still intend while the wealth expended as zakat has not yet been consumed.
Holdings Subject to Zakat and Their Nisab. Islam enjoined zakat on currencies and similar things, such as shares, bonds and checks, gold and silver, crops, fruit, livestock, merchandise, minerals, and treasure.
The Standard of Richness. Islam does not criticize earning; rather, it encourages working and earning one's livelihood. But it does not approve of earning for luxury and a luxurious life, and urges Muslims to work, earn, and live for the other life as their goal. It encourages mutual helping in society and spending in God's way and for the needy, and has not established a fixed standard of living. It regards having a house, a mount, two suits and other articles of clothing, and one month worth of livelihood (some say that one can keep a year of livelihood at the most) as the necessary commodities or wealth upon which one does not have to pay zakat. Bediüzzaman Said Nursi expresses a standard that can be valid for all times, as follows: While most Muslims are below the average standards of living, a Muslim cannot live a luxurious, comfortable life.
The Sunna has established approximately 90 grams of gold or about 600 grams of silver or 40 sheep or 30 heads of cattle or 5 camels as the standard. If, according to the place or the general standard of living of the people in a particular place, one has banknotes, merchandise, or other kinds of increasing income or capital whose value is equal to any of the standard values given, he or she must pay zakat. However, in establishing the nisab, the minimum amount or value, which favors the poor, is considered.
The Nisab and Zakat for Gold, Silver, and Other Jewelry. The nisab for gold is 20 dinars (approximately 90 grams) and for silver is 200 dirhams (approximately 600 grams), both being owned for one year. The due on them is one-fortieth of their value. Any additional amount is to be calculated in this manner. Gold and silver are combined. Thus, if one has gold and silver whose value is equal to 200 dirhams of silver, zakat must be paid. Likewise, gold, silver, banknotes and the like, and commercial merchandise are also combined. Things made of gold and silver are treated like gold and silver. In other words, if the weight of gold and silver they contain amounts to the nisab, their zakat is paid.Although most of the scholars opine that no zakat has to be paid on diamonds, pearls, sapphires, rubies, corals, or other precious stones that women wear as ornaments and unless they are used for trade, it is piety and a measure to be saved from the obligation of zakat, which is both God's and people's right on rich people, to make some payment due to them. One should not buy such precious stones in order to avoid paying zakat.
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