“Alms (Zakat) 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 Allah; and for the wayfarer: (thus is it) ordained by Allah, and Allah is full of knowledge and wisdom.” (Surah Al Tawbah 9:60)
One of the five pillars of Islam, Zakat is a purification for one’s wealth, freeing one from the love of possessions by encouraging humility and discipline. An essential principle of Islam is that everything belongs to Allah. We do not own our wealth, but have been entrusted with worldly possessions by Him.
Zakat means ‘purification’ and ‘growth’; possessions are purified by setting aside a portion for those in need, and like the pruning of plants, this cutting back encourages new growth.
The annual payment of zakat is different to any charitable gifts given out of kindness or generosity, otherwise known as sadaqah. Zakat is a mandatory religious obligation and forms the systematic giving of 2.5% of one’s net wealth each year, benefitting targeted recipients on a sustained basis.
From the Quranic verses ordaining zakat, eight classes of recipients have been identified by the scholars. As Ramadan approaches, we need to organise ourselves to reach out and distribute support to the eight beneficiaries of zakat.
- The Masakeen – translated as ‘the destitute’, these are people who do not have anything, and who are in need of asking others for food, clothing and shelter.
- Fuqaraa – translated as the ‘poor’ or ‘needy’, these people have some money, but not sufficient for their everyday needs. The elderly are often amongst the ‘fuqaraa’. The Prophet Muhammad said “He is not one of us who does not show tenderness to the young and who does not show respect to the elder.” (At-Tirmidhi). It is a sad fact that the elderly tend to be neglected in today’s society. According to recent research, older people are among the most excluded and materially worse off.
- Amil’ Zakah – these are the alms collectors, people who the authority employs to collect zakat. The authority gives them a fee for their work, which includes collecting, recording, guarding, dividing and distributing zakat.
- Fi sabi ‘Lillah – this means ‘in the path of Allah’ and pertains to anyone struggling for a righteous cause, including expenditure towards the promotion of Islam and for all charitable purposes.
- Gharimun - these are the debtors, people burdened by debts because of personal needs or social necessity. These people should be given zakat if they do not have enough money beyond their basic needs to repay debts. Help should also provided to those who may have landed themselves in debt as a result of social obligations such as supporting an orphan or renovating a school.
- Ibn as’Sabil – traditionally, the wayfarers are travellers stranded in a foreign land in need of money. These people can receive zakat, if the purpose for travelling is lawful. Wayfarers can today be interpreted as refugees or displaced people.
- Riqab - the riqab are people in bondage or slavery. Zakat can be used to buy the freedom of such a person. Many people living in poor countries suffer from economic slavery at the hands of local landlords, rich industrialists, and multinational corporations that exploit natural and human resources.
- Mu’Allaf - translated as ‘those who have inclined towards Islam’. Zakat can be used to attract the hearts of those who have inclined towards Islam. It includes those who have just become Muslim, or those whose circumstances are so desperate they fear turning to crime if they are not helped.