The Letter and Spirit of Zakat, by Shakeel Ahmad


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Zakat: the letter and spirit of the concept

Shakeel Ahmad, Dubai, UAE


Question: According to some critics, the Islamic institution of Zakah is not a positive aspect; rather, this institution help maintain the gap between the poor and the rich and it makes people submit to their conditions and wait for the charities of the rich. Zakah, to them, does not help Muslims improve their conditions and work hard to get a higher standards of living. How do you comment?

Answer: If "Zakah" meant the coins that are thrown into the extended hands of beggars in the Muslim lands, it would serve to cement the prestigious position of the super-rich - that is all.
But as far as I understand, "Zakah" means much more than that. It is a way of "purifying", and also a way of "increasing" wealth, i.e the general economy. Zakah can be the core of the interest-free economy visualized by Islam. When it is implemented by a society of sincere and dedicated Muslims who have the will to realize Allah's Laws on Allah's earth, it becomes a powerful instrument of economic transformation. Professor Shahul Hameed 


Part-2: The Spirit of Zakat (Zakah)

This is where I would like to graduate from the literal meaning (the letter) of zakat to the spirit behind the concept of zakat. Lets look at the number of times Allah has commanded us, in Quran, to pay zakat. Look at the importance of this system from the way Allah combines the commandment to establish prayer with paying of zakat [82 times(2)]. Look at these commandments along with the commandments to dole out sadaqat and to do good deeds in many forms. Allah commands us to establish a culture of giving that could lift our status in the society both materialistically, in the eyes of other communities, and spiritually in the eyes of Allah. 

Why at all think logically when many ulemas have asked us against applying logic to what is commanded by Allah? Why delve into the spirit of the term rather than simply follow the letter? Well, I tend to do so, simply because the pathetic situation of our people appalls me. Those who think the situation is not appalling, please stop reading any further. I dont believe that people do not pay zakat. I do not know of anyone around me who does not do so. Therefore, I tend to believe that either the way we give away zakat or the way it is used by the beneficiaries is grossly defective. 

Since I have no control over how the zakat money (or its equivalent in kind) can be used by a beneficiary, I would rather look at the way we give zakat. Well, some of us might jump to conclude that the basic premise (that the way we give away zakat is grossly defective) itself is faulty and there is no reason why we should worry about it or debate over it. May be, but I fail to understand why this brilliant divine system (which has no parallels because it comes straight from the Creator of all fail-proof systems of the world) has failed to equip the Muslims with command of the global economy.

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Better light a candle than curse the darkness   

Shikwa-e-zulmat-e-shab se to kahin behtar tha;
Apne hissey ki koi shamm'a jalaate jaatey. [Ahmad Faraz]

He grants Hikmah (Wisdom) to whom He pleases, and he, to whom Hikmah (Wisdom) is granted, is indeed granted abundant good. But none remember (will receive admonition) except men of understanding. (Quran, Al-Baqara, Chapter #2, Verse #269)

"Surely in the creation of the heavens and the earth, in the disparity of the night and the day, in the ships that course in the sea with that which benefits people, in the water that Allah sends down from the sky, reviving with it the earth after it was barren, in His spreading in it all kinds of living things, in the changing of the winds and of the subjected clouds between the earth, indeed are Signs for people who have understanding." [2:164]. "For you, Allah subjected the night and the day, and the sun and the moon, and the stars are in subjection to His command. Surely in this are signs for people who understand." [16:12].

Shall we then confine ourselves to the words alone or shall we also delve into the hikmah (wisdom/ larger objective) behind those words (and allow ijtehad to guide Muslims through changing times)? Are we ready to think out-of-the-box and act wisely, making use of the excellent tools (like the brain) that Almighty has equipped us with? How long shall we continue to waste such precious gifts from Allah that were given with a purpose - to be exploited by this preferred race (Quran >> 2:47, 2:122, 45:16)? What use is knowledge that is not exploited to benefit ourselves?

And certainly We have created for hell many of the jinn and the men; they have hearts with which they do not understand, and they have eyes with which they do not see, and they have ears with which they do not hear; they are as cattle, nay, they are in worse errors; these are the heedless ones. [7:179]

No sane person would contest the fact that zakat money is commanded by Allah to be used for Jihad-fee-sabilillah (striving in the way Allah). If we consider Jihad as "fighting for the cause of Allah", that is to spread (or establish) Islam and removing the obstacles in the way of doing so. As each one of us know that today it is not the mere obstacles that hamper any such effort but there is a strategic plan to nip any such thoughts in the bud itself and proactively engage Muslims in acts that do not leave them with any time or energy to even think in this direction. When it comes to a fight, the enemies of Islam have proved beyond any doubt that they have far superior technological prowess. In order to win any war, Muslims will need to be better equipped. If Jihad means "fighting for the cause of Allah", preparing for such a fight and equipping ourselves for such a fight also means "fighting for the cause of Allah". 

And make ready against them all you can of power, including steeds of war (tanks, planes, missiles, artillery, etc.) to threaten the enemy of Allah and your enemy, and others besides whom, you may not know but whom Allah does know. And whatever you shall spend in the Cause of Allah shall be repaid unto you, and you shall not be treated unjustly. [Surah # 8, Al-Anfaal: 60]

This means that we will need to match the enemies in all aspects, i.e., (1) in our faith (may come through Jihad an-Nafs and Jihad as-Shaytan), (2) education and knowledge, (3) application of knowledge (technology) and (4) economy, otherwise how can we "make ready" what is needed for Qital (the final form of Jihad: encountering with the enemy upfront). All expenses in building these capabilities would be "fighting for the cause of Allah", as expenses incurred on preparations. First two are primary areas, of course, and the last two are derivatives of the first two. As of today, we may be superior to our enemies in just one aspect, the first one. In all the other three areas, we are nowhere close to our enemies and any talk of winning a fight against them must be wishful thinking, and no more.

Use of Zakat Fee-Sabilillah     

From "Towards Understanding the Quran (Tafheem ul Quran)" by Syed Abul A'ala Maududi, Chapter-9, Ayat # 60 [Urdu Print version, Vol-2, Page-208, Note-67]

"The Way of Allah" is a general term which implies all those good works which please Allah. That is why some Jurists are of the opinion that Zakat Funds may be spent on every kind of good work. But the fact is, and the majority of the earliest Muslim scholars have opined, that here the 'Way of Allah' stands for Jihad in the Way of Allah, that is, the struggle to eradicate the systems based on kufr and to establish the Islamic system in their stead. Therefore the Zakat Fund may be utilised to meet the expenses of the journeys the people make, or for procuring means of conveyance, equipment, weapons and other articles needed for Jihad, irrespective of the fact whether they are so well off or not as to need any help for personal requirements. Likewise help of a temporary or permanent nature may also be given to those people who devote the whole of their time and energies, temporarily or permanently, for this work 
It should also be noted that there has arisen a misunderstanding regarding the "Way of AIIah," for the early scholars usually use for Jihad the Arabic word as (ghazvah) which is synonymous with "fight". They, therefore, are of the opinion that Zakat Fund may only be used for the purpose of fighting (Qital).
But Jihad in the Way of Allah is a much more comprehensive term than mere fighting in the Way of Allah. Jihad applies to all those efforts that are made to degrade the word of kufr and to exalt the Word of Allah and to establish the Islamic System of life (aqamat-e-deen), whether by propagating the Message of Allah in the initial stage (dawat-o-tableegh) or by fighting in the final stage of the struggle.

Dr. Israr Ahmad follows similar line while explaining the meaning (tafseer) of this part of the verse (fee-sabilillah)

Therefore, when Yusuf Al Qaradawi extends the meaning of Jihad-fee-sabilillah to include other forms of Jihad like the intellectual and educational forms which serve "to preserve Islamic identity", he cannot be disputed. But, "preserving Islamic identity" is not proactive whereas Jihad has to be proactive. And Jihad-fee-sabilillah in such an extension will then mean "striving towards educational and socio-economic empowerment of Muslims", the vision of Bihar Anjuman ( Thus spending zakat money on any project or endeavour that helps fulfill this vision is simply spending on Jihad-fee-sabilillah, or at least on preparing for Jihad-fee-sabilillah, as envisioned by Syed Abul A'ala Maududi (Tafseer-ul-Quran).   


Agreed that priority should go to fuqara and masakeen while distributing zakat money, but if we try to change their situation by making them self-reliant, I don't see why it would be wrong? Agreed that our payment should involve making them own the money (or the tools bought out of it to empower them) and also that this money cannot exceed the nisab, but what's wrong in planning the best use of this money (and providing expertise) with an intention to bring about a worthwhile change in their economic condition (in the long run)? 

We may not agree with those who believe that zakat money can be used even for construction of masjids (4), but I do not see any reason why we should not be advocating the use of this money for all the eight areas advocated by Allah, that has been strategically weaved into Bihar Anjuman ('s projects which strive to empower the poor educationally and economically. I do not discourage Muslims to take care of their poor relatives and neighbours, but in order to achieve a much greater objective of empowering the Muslim masses, they must allocate at least half of their zakat money to projects directed towards this end, so that long term benefits can accrue to the society.

Let's allow our hearts to feel the urgency of pushing ourselves into action. Let's allow our eyes to see a bright future aligned with our vision. Let's allow our minds to be used to translate these feelings into plans. Let's allow our hands and feet to implement these plans into result-oriented actions. Let's all our senses help us monitor, follow up and improve upon continuously. It is high time we broke out of the slumber that has plunged us into stagnancy and allow our senses to be exploited to the full so that we can revert to the dynamism of the golden Islamic era. Let's compete with each other in a race to do good deeds, as commanded by Allah (5:48, 23:61)

Not equal are those of the believers who sit (at home), except those who are disabled (by injury or are blind or lame, etc.), and those who strive hard and fight in the Cause of Allah with their wealth and their lives. Allah has preferred in grades those who strive hard and fight with their wealth and their lives above those who sit (at home). Unto each, Allah has promised good (Paradise), but Allah has preferred those who strive hard and fight, above those who sit (at home) by a huge reward;  
Quran An-Nisa, Chapter #4, Verse #95)

..............  Part-1: The Letter of Zakat (Zakah) 

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References and Notes:

1. as in Qardawi quoted some hadiths to explain the broader meaning of Jihad such as the hadith which reads: Never a Prophet had been sent before me by Allah towards his nation who had not among his people (his) disciples and companions who followed his ways and obeyed his command. Then there came after them their successors who said whatever they did not practice, and practiced whatever they were not commanded to do. He who strove against them with his hand was a believer: he who strove against them with his tongue was a believer, and he who strove against them with his heart was a believer and beyond that there is no faith even to the extent of a mustard seed. (Reported by Muslim) Then he also said that these forms are also included in Jihad by analogy for both of them are intended to support Islam and defend it against its enemies [Qaradw, Ysuf al-, Fatw Musirah, p. 287]



4. Some contemporary Muslim scholars hold the view that this category includes all acts that are in interest of the society such as building mosques, schools, hospitals etc., among them are Sheikh Abd al-Halim Mahmud [Mahmd, op.cit, p.344-46] and Sheikh Hasanayn Muhammad Makhluf [Fatw Shariyyah wa Buhth Islamiyyah, 2nd ed., Matbaat Mustafa al-Bb al-Halab, Egypt, 1385/1965, p. 296]