Zakah – Its Concept and Purpose in Islam – Part 2 (Dr. Mansoor Alam, Ohio, USA)

In part 1 of this article, we had examined the prevailing opinions of both religious and secular Muslims, as well as the prevailing system of Zakat in some so-called Muslim countries.  We had concluded that the concept and practice of Zakat has been reduced to a lifeless ritual by means of which the rich believe they can gain entry into Heaven in the Hereafter.  On the other hand, our Prophet (pbuh) acted to establish the Deen of Allah in Medina by implementing the system of Salaah and Zakat as spelled out in the Quran.  In this part we will look closely at this system of Zakat.

If Zakat is one of the pillars of the Deen, it stands to reason that this pillar must stand on a firm foundation.  That firm foundation is comprised of each Muslim’s unshakable conviction, 100% commitment, utter sincerity, and complete dedication to the belief that the Allah-owned resources on the planet must be made available to all creatures and human beings for their sustenance, nourishment, and growth.

The Arabic word Zakat, with its root Z -K-W  means growth and development.  A tree is nourished and grows in the presence of Allah-owned resources such as the soil, the rain, the sun, and the air (56:63-72; 80:24-31).  Any interference in the flow of any of these resources will retard the growth and development of the tree.  Similarly, any individual, group, government, or system which disrupts the natural flow of Allah-owned resources on the planet to all human beings creates an imbalance in society: the rich/poor, the master/slave, the owner/worker.

In the West, this awareness is dawning in respect to plants, animal and insect species which are becoming extinct due to this imbalance in nature caused by the actions of human beings.

However, the global economic imbalance continues to grow unchecked because human beings have refused, in their greed, to believe in the basic economic principle of Zakat: unrestricted flow of resources to all human beings (41:10, 50:11, 55:10, 56:73, 79:33, and 80:32).

The capitalist New World Order of the West actively seeks to control the natural resources of weaker nations under the guise of “global economic security.”  Using the United Nations as a tool, the weak are intimidated into submission either through economic sanctions or military force.  Allama Iqbal beautifully captured this mentality of the powerful when he said: “Hai wo sultan ghair ki kheti pe ho jiski nazar.” (The master is one who always has an eye on others’ lands.)

Muslims, too, have abandoned the Quranic Zakat, which is Allah’s assured challenge to this naked exploitation of the weak by the strong.  Unlike other religions, Islam is a Deen, a system of life, a constitutionally-run, collective life that encompasses the social, economic, political, judicial, and military aspects of a community.  The leaders of this community are not priests, or scholars, or the rich, or the strong: they are the most upright who commit to upholding the laws of Allah in the land, “Amr bil ma’aroof” (enjoining what is right) and “Nahya ‘anil munkar” (forbidding what is wrong).  They make sure the Quran, the Constitution of Allah, is enacted i.e. put into action.

What then, is the position of the Quran on the Economic World Order that should prevail, in other words, Zakat?  The Quran emphasizes the importance of economics in human life.  While describing the life of Heaven, the Quran says there will be no hunger and no misery there.

“There is therein (enough provision) for thee not to go hungry nor to go naked.” [Yusuf Ali (20:118)]

Too, the Quran teaches us to work for the good of this life, as well as the hereafter (2:201, 7:156), in contrast to the mindset of those who consider economic prosperity in this life to be an end in itself.  According to the Quran, such people live at the animal level:

“Verily Allah will admit those who believe and do righteous deeds, to Gardens beneath which rivers flow; while those who reject Allah will enjoy (this world) and eat as cattle eat; and the Fire will be their abode.” [Yusuf Ali (47:12)]

Taqwaa (righteous works) includes the use of economic prosperity to achieve a higher and nobler goal (10:63-64, 16:30).  Economic prosperity is a means, not an end; it is a source for life, not the end of life; it is a prerequisite for growth and development in life, not the final goal of life.  Since economic prosperity is so essential to human growth and development, Allah has addressed the issue of Zakat in great depth in the Quran.

To begin with, Allah says He is Rahman and Rahim:

“There is no moving creature on earth but its sustenance dependeth on Allah: He knoweth the time and place of its definite abode and its temporary deposit: All is in a clear Record.”[Yusuf Ali (11:6)]

“How many are the creatures that carry not their own sustenance? It is Allah who feeds (both) them and you: for He hears and knows (all things).” [Yusuf Ali (29:60). Also see verses (6:152) and (17:31)]

Allah, of course, does not personally feed anyone:

And when they are told, “Spend ye of (the bounties) with which God has provided you,” the Unbelievers say to those who believe: “Shall we then feed those whom, if God had so willed, He would have fed, (Himself)?- Ye are in nothing but manifest error.” [Yusuf Ali (36:47)]

Allah fulfills this promise by creating the resources for the nourishment and growth of all moving creatures.  No one, therefore, has the right to own or control the Allah-given natural resources or to restrict their flow to humanity at large (107:7, 17:20).  Otherwise, this is tantamount to belying the Deen of Allah (107:1-6). Any association or partnership with Allah in this respect is Shirk, an unforgivable sin in the sight of Allah.  Allah says:

“Join not anything as equal with Him; be good to your parents; Kill not your children on a plea of Want—We provide sustenance for you and for them.” [Yusuf Ali 6:151]

Secondly, Allah is clearly the real owner of the resources He has created.  The following verses in the Quran leave no doubt about this:

  •         The earth and all its resources belong to Allah. It is such an obvious fact that no one can deny it (6:12, 10:31, 29:61 &63, 31:25, 34:24, 39:10 & 38, 43:9).
  •         Allah is the inheritor of the earth (19:40).
  •         The earth has been created for the benefit of all (55:10).
  •         It has been created to provide nourishment for all (56:73).
  •         To Him belongs all that is in heavens and the earth, “La hu ma fissamawati fil ardh” (2:116, 2:255, 4:171, 5:40, 14:2, 16:52, 20:6, 22:64).
  •         “Lillahi ma fissamawati fil ardh” (2:284, 3:109, 3:129, 4:131,132, 5:40, 10:55, 10:67, 14:2, 16:52, 20:6, 21:19, 34:1, 42:4, 42:53, 53:21).
  •         “Lillahi miraathus samaawaatti wal ardh” (3:180).

As Owner, then, Allah has given us these resources as a trust which we are required to disburse according to His Will (the system of Zakat), which is, to make available to all living creatures according to their needs, without any hindrance or control, the sustenance and provisions of life.

It was the Prophet’s (pbuh) unshakable conviction, his utter commitment, and total obedience to this system of Zakat that led to the establishment of the basic infrastructure of a universal, welfare-based economic system in Medina, and which reached its pinnacle during Khalifa ‘Umar’s (R) time when, it is said, hardly anyone was in need of charity.  The Prophet (pbuh) lived his life true to this principle: he was not an owner of anything, no land, no possessions; he was merely an enforcer of the Will of Allah – he established the system of Zakat.

Shirk – Associating Other Owners Besides Allah to the Ownership of the Earth

Since Allah owns the Earth and its resources, then no one else can be an owner.  A simple example illustrates this well:

I wish to buy a piece of land. The seller and I sign the papers, and legally, I become the new owner. But if we carry this process back far enough, a point will come where this mutual deal will come to an end. Someone must have acquired that land illegally at first without any mutual agreement.  Now, in legal jargon, any illegally acquired property, no matter how many times it is bought and sold thereafter, remains illegal. So, how can I say that “I” am the “legal” owner of that land? In my own defense I may claim that I acquired the land “legally,” or that it is not my responsibility to worry about someone else’s very first illegal acquisition of that land, or that I bought it from halal earned income, so I “own” it. But it does not change the reality — I am involved in a deal which was Shirk to begin with.  And, as long as I believe in “my ownership,” I am involved in Shirk.

Brothers and sisters! It is not difficult to understand this kind of Shirk if our hearts and minds are open and sincere.  According to the Quran, Muslim believers are required to enter into a contract with Allah in which they must sell their life and wealth to Him in exchange for Jannah:

“Allah hath purchased of the believers their persons and their goods; for theirs (in return) is the garden (of Paradise)” [Yusuf Ali 9:111]

But, if we cling to the attitude that we own our life and wealth (in violation of the above ayah) then how can we practice and establish Zakat?  First, this Shirk (having two owners, Allah and us) has to be slowly and gradually eliminated before the tree of Zakat can take firm root in a land rooted in Tauheed (with Allah only being the owner of everything including our lives) and not inShirk (in which others are also owners along with Allah). That is where Sadaqaa or charity comes in.

What is Sadaqaa?

Our Islamic scholars interpret both Zakat and Sadaqaa as charity. And whatever instruction Allah has given in the Quran in the following verse for Sadaqaat they attribute it to Zakat.

Alms [Sadaqaat] 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 God; and for the wayfarer: (thus is it) ordained by God, and God is full of knowledge and wisdom. [Yusuf Ali (9:60)]

But, first of all, why would Allah use two different terms if they mean exactly the same thing? It does not make sense. Secondly, the Arabic language also does not support it. While the root meaning of Zakat comes from Z-K-W , meaning growth and development, the root meaning of Sadaqaa comes from the root S-D-Q , meaning truth and power. Therefore, all the words that are derived from this root will have these two meanings (truth and power) embedded in them. Siddeeq is one who proves his trust and belief by his actions. As-Sadaqatu is anything that is given in the way of Allah voluntarily to prove one’s promise and belief in Him as opposed to Zakat, which is compulsory [Tajul ‘Uroos]. Therefore, Sadaqqa has a different purpose in Islam than Zakat and both cannot be equated with each other. How can income tax (a compulsory thing) be equated with charity (a voluntary thing)?  

The Function of Sadaqaat

Initially, Allah asks us for Sadaqaa (charity – voluntary giving), which is used to gradually change a wrong, unbalanced economic system (based on capitalist politics of greed) to a balanced one that guarantees equal economic opportunities and protection to all. The rich are asked to give their surplus wealth back to the nascent Islamic state for the benefit of the poor and suffering—the ones who really worked hard for creating that wealth in the first place. The instruction about Sadaqaat in verse (9:60) above would gradually change an unjust economic system to one that would ultimately be based on the economics of Zakat.

Thus charity is an emergency measure whereas Zakat is a permanent feature of Islam. Also, by making charity a short-term solution, the Quran recognizes that long-term or indefinite dependence of individuals and nations upon others invariably leads to degradation of the human self, to loss of human dignity, and to lack of human freedom and thought – all of which constitute human growth and development.  

Conclusion

Sisters and brothers! Zakat is not an economic ritual to purify a Muslim’s wealth and to earn salvation in the hereafter.  Quranic Zakat, as implemented by our Prophet (pbuh) and the rightly-guided Khalifas, forms the basis of an economic system which ensures economic security, with dignity, to everyone under its jurisdiction, right here, in this world. In addition, the tree of Zakat cannot grow and develop in a land rooted in Shirk. This must always be kept in mind.

How Zakat leads to the growth and development of the entire human race will be discussed in the next article.

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