Charity is not just recommended by
Islam, it is required of every financially stable Muslim. Giving
charity to those who deserve it is part of Muslim character and one
of the Five Pillars of Islamic practice. Zakat is viewed as
“compulsory charity”; it is an obligation for those who have
received their wealth from God to respond to those members of the
community in need. Devoid of sentiments of universal love, some
people know only to hoard wealth and to add to it by lending it out
on interest. Islam’s teachings are the very antithesis of this
attitude. Islam encourages the sharing of wealth with others and
helps people to stand on their own and become productive members of
In Arabic it is known as zakat which literally means “purification”,
because zakat is considered to purify one’s heart of greed. Love of
wealth is natural and it takes firm belief in God for a person to
part with some of his wealth. Zakat must be paid on different
categories of property — gold, silver, money; livestock;
agricultural produce; and business commodities — and is payable each
year after one year’s possession. It requires an annual contribution
of 2.5 percent of an individual’s wealth and assets.
Like prayer, which is both an individual and communal
responsibility, zakaat expresses a Muslim’s worship of and
thanksgiving to God by supporting those in need. In Islam, the true
owner of things is not man, but God. Acquisition of wealth for its
own sake, or so that it may increase a man’s worth, is condemned.
Mere acquisition of wealth counts for nothing in the sight of God.
It does not give man any merit in this life or in the hereafter.
Islam teaches that people should acquire wealth with the intention
of spending it on their own needs and the needs of others.
“Man’, said the Prophet, ‘says: My wealth! My wealth!’ Have you
not any wealth except that which you give as alms and thus preserve,
wear and tatter, eat and use up?”
The whole concept of wealth is considered in Islam as a gift from
God. God, who provided it to the person, made a portion of it for
the poor, so the poor have a right over one’s wealth. Zakat reminds
Muslims that everything they have belongs to God. People are given
their wealth as a trust from God, and zakat is intended to free
Muslims from the love of money. The money paid in zakaat is not
something God needs or receives. He is above any type of dependency.
God, in His boundless mercy, promises rewards for helping those in
need with one basic condition that zakaat be paid in the name of
God; one should not expect or demand any worldly gains from the
beneficiaries nor aim at making one’s names as a philanthropist. The
feelings of a beneficiary should not be hurt by making him feel
inferior or reminding him of the assistance.
Money given as zakat can only be used for certain specific things.
Islamic Law stipulates that alms are to be used to support the poor
and the needy, to free slaves and debtors, as specifically mentioned
in the Quran (9:60). Zakat, which developed fourteen hundred years
ago, functions as a form of social security in a Muslim society.
Neither Jewish nor Christian scriptures praise slave manumission by
raising it to worship. Indeed, Islam is unique in world religions in
requiring the faithful to financially help slaves win their freedom
and has raised the manumission of a slave to an act of worship - if
it is done to please God.
Under the caliphates, the collection and expenditure of zakat was a
function of the state. In the contemporary Muslim world, it has been
left up to the individual, except in some countries in which the
state fulfills that role to some degree. Most Muslims in the West
disperse zakat through Islamic charities, mosques, or directly
giving to the poor. Money is not collected during religious services
or via collection plates, but some mosques keep a drop box for those
who wish it to distribute zakaat on their behalf. Unlike the zakaat,
Giving other forms of charity in private, even in secret, is
considered better, in order to keep one’s intention purely for the
Apart from zakaat, the Quran and Hadith (sayings and actions of the
Prophet Muhammad, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him)
also stress sadqah, or voluntary almsgiving, which is intended for
the needy. The Quran emphasizes feeding the hungry, clothing the
naked, helping those who are in need, and the more one helps, the
more God helps the person, and the more one gives, the more God
gives the person. One feels he is taking care of others and God is
taking care of him.