Zakat is one of the five pillars of Islam. It is a cardinal obligation which is unanimously agreed by all because this is proven from the noble Quran, the blessed Sunnah and from consensus (ijma’).
1. The person on whom it is obligatory
- It is obligatory on every adult Muslim who completely owns a certain minimum amount (nisab) of wealth.
- Three of the great scholars of Islam of the Schools of Jurisprudence have held that Zakat is also obligatory for minors too.
The nature of Zakat can be seen either like an act of worship such as prayer or fasting, or it can be seen as an obligatory right of the poor over the rich.
Those who prefer the first view exclude minors and the insane from its obligation because acts of worship become compulsory only after the person reaches a certain age of maturity (bulugh). Those who preferred the latter view did not take into account the age or sanity of the person on whose behalf Zakat was paid if they were wealthy enough. The schools of Malik, Shafi and Ahmed all follow the latter.
The jurists also differed about a person who is in debt. They took into account such things as the type of debt, amount owed compared to what one possesses and the type of wealth. Their opinion was again in light of the two ways of understanding the nature of Zakat mentioned earlier. It seems that for a person who has an ongoing serviceable debt, such as a mortgage on a property whose repayment is kept up, Zakat is obligatory.
2. The kinds of wealth subject to Zakat
Zakat must be paid on money, gold and silver.
The jurists differed about Zakat on gold and silver depending on how they are used. They can be used in transaction, as some form of currency or as a medium of monetary exchange, or they can be used as personal jewellery. According to their understandings of the hadiths available, Abu Hanifah gave the verdict that Zakat is compulsory on personal jewellery whereas Malik and Shafi thought not.
3. The nisab and the rates of Zakat
An ounce of silver costs around fourteen pounds in the UK. All four Schools of Thought agree that Zakat should be levied on 40 ounces or above of silver. This gives a nisab of around £560. Zakat is 2.5% on wealth which meets the nisab or more than that
4. The time for payment of Zakat
The wealth has to be there for a complete year (hawl) before paying Zakat on it becomes an obligation.
The time chosen should not be exclusively set aside for Ramadan. It needs to be at different times throughout the year from different people in order to maintain cash flow and effective utilisation of the Zakat funds. It is a common yet mistaken belief that paying Zakat in Ramadan carries extra reward. Perhaps the obligatory pillar of Zakat is confused with general charity known as Sadaqah. Sadaqah was given by the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) more in Ramadan. All good deeds carry extra reward in this blessed month. However, there is nothing that makes payment of Zakat in Ramadan a special virtue.
As to whether Zakat can be paid before the year is out or not, then again depending on which of the two understandings is accepted by the jurist about the nature of Zakat, they have differed. Those who understand that it is a specific act of worship require waiting for the period to elapse whereas those who understand that it is a right of the poor over the better off permits giving it earlier. Malik did not allow giving it before the period was up (hawl) whereas both Abu Hanifah and Shafi allowed it.
5. The persons to whom Zakat is given
There are eight categories of people who deserve Zakat. It is the responsibility of the relevant organisation in the UK to fairly identify, select and then manage distribution of Zakat funds to those people, through independent liaison, and co-operation with local and governmental bodies where appropriate.
Alms are for the poor, and the needy,
and those employed to administer the (funds);
for those whose hearts need to be reconciled;
for those in bondage, and in debt;
in the cause of Allah;
and for the wayfarer:
(thus is it) ordained by Allah,
and Allah is full of knowledge and wisdom.
[Surah at-Tawbah(9): Ayah 60]
These categories are: the poor, the needy, workers in Zakat administration, people whose hearts need to be reconciled (mu’allafat qulooobuhum), captives, debtors, in the cause of Allah and wayfarers.
Mu’allafat quloobuhum: This is a general right. According to Abu Hanifah and Shafi who these people are needs to be carefully considered by those who are in a position to judge such matters. An ideal example of such a person who can judge would be a Home Secretary of a land. In the UK they are the Muslims who are in a position of leadership through practical work, research, analysis and consultation, and have a good grasp of the condition of the population, the politics of the country and the challenges faced by Islam and the Muslims. Many types of people, both Muslims and non-Muslims fall into this category. In this category, individuals or groups who are close to becoming Muslims deserve Zakat. Another group of people are those who have recently embraced Islam. They may be alienated from their family and friends besides coming into the Ummah shackled by heavy debts. Yet another group who may be given Zakat are those whose harm towards Muslims is averted by doing so.