CAN ZAKAT BE PAID BY WAY OF ESTIMATION?
Islam permanently constructs its verdicts on robust foundations, thus guessing or estimating the amount of due zakat, a method prevalently resorted to in agriculture, is not desirable, simply because more often than not, the ultimate result does not match one’s expectations. As a general tenet, the Messenger of God has forbidden agricultural trade based on assumptions, that is, before the ripening of crops. It is worth mentioning that the Messenger of God personally made assumptions on some crops before they matured and became manifest; scholars like Abu Hanifa and Sawri, however, contend that this was during a special circumstance concerning and exclusive to the Jews of Khaybar, and for that reason, it is not appropriate for us to conduct trade based on such assumption. Other scholars who permit estimation limit it strictly to grapes and dates, excluding all other types of produce. In view of the adopted course of action after the Prophetic Era, it may be said that although such conduct may be allowable for governments in order that they may attempt to balance the treasury from the perspective of income and expenses, adopting such a method for generally ascertaining zakat will inevitably result in uncertainty and/or error. Therefore, although estimation could be an approach espoused by some governments, it can, in no way, provide a consistent basis for an Islamic judgment pertaining to zakat.
SHOULD ZAKAT BE COLLECTED INTO THE SAME FUND?
Items collected as zakat must not be mixed with other taxes and revenues, as the Qur’an has specifically identified the targets of zakat. In addition, there are those who are ineligible to receive zakat. Therefore, given that the collector is the government, zakat must essentially be collected and distributed in a different fund to avoid such a complication.
The following hadith transmitted by Anas ibn Malik is worth a highlight in terms of displaying the Prophet’s scrupulous sensitivity concerning this issue: “One morning I took Abdullah ibn Talha to the Messenger of God only to see him with a tool in his hand, marking the zakat camels.”1
As understood by the hadith, items that have arrived at the treasury as zakat are meticulously demarcated to avoid a possible muddle. This sort of sensitivity, as exemplified by the Prophet himself, is an incumbent duty on all who assume the responsibility for collection and distribution.
CAN ZAKAT BE PAID IN WORTH?
There is no harm in paying the amount of zakat, after it has been established, with a different type of value. In fact, this assertion can be found in the hadiths that identify the items subject to zakat. For instance, the fact a person can give a 4-year-old camel and sheep or its equivalent of 20 dirhams, instead of the one 5 year-old camel he was originally obliged with, upholds the general practice allowing such substitutions. Similarly, the Noble Messenger declared that the zakat on dates could be given with grapes, or vice-versa.2
Predicating its verdict upon the above and other proofs, the Hanafi school has accepted that zakat can be paid in worth, allowing the donor a choice. If desired, the zakat can be paid in kind; or, its worth can be disbursed in cash; or checks or bonds may be contributed—a practice widely used today.
IS ZAKAT PAID ON WEALTH UNDER SOMEBODY ELSE’S CONTROL?
Islam, as a basic principle, compels a person causing or instigating an action, whether it is good or bad, with some responsibilities. In a hadith encompassing broad meanings, the Prophet of Islam informed his followers that a person breaking new ground, good or evil, will share an equal reward or sin with those who follow in his footsteps. Another hadith, harmonious with this one, states: “A cause of an action is like its perpetrator.”
It is renowned that a person who has his duty of zakat fulfilled by somebody else receives, through the cause, an invaluable opportunity of acquiring immense rewards, not to mention the rewards bestowed on the mediator. By informing about the great rewards awaiting the wife,3 a slave,4 and a guard5 for mediating in such a beneficial practice, the Noble Messenger entirely encouraged this action. Though there are numerous hadiths in relation to this point, we will for the time being only contend with one: “There is equal reward for a husband whose wife, without squandering, gives from their food supplies; the same goes for a guard. They cannot deduct from each others benefits.”6
WOULD INSULT AND SCORN ANNUL ZAKAT?
All wealth is God’s alone and naturally, He can dispose of it as He wills. Thus, individuals “possess” wealth only to serve and only relative to the ultimate ownership of God. He gives unto and trials whom He wills, and withholds from and trials whom He wills. Thus, the wealthy paying zakat must entirely comprehend that what they possess has been bestowed unto them only temporarily and ultimately is not theirs. The real owner of the wealth is He Who has decreed zakat, Who additionally has identified its places of disbursement. Thus, at no point does a payer have the right to boast and brag about zakat, as he is only the agent of distribution, so to speak. A verse in relation to this states, “O you who believe! Spend a part of what We have given you before that day arrives when there shall be neither trading, friendship nor intercession” (Baqara 2:254). This clearly alerts and instructs humankind as to the ideal course of action.
Therefore a person, as a servant of God, in no way holds the privilege of embracing disdain for the intended recipients of zakat. Furthermore, the Qur’an explicitly provides the following warning for those who are not able to infer such a conclusion from other Qur’anic passages:
O you who believe! Render not vain your almsgiving by taunts and injury, like those who spend their wealth only for ostentation, and believe neither in God nor in the Hereafter. Such men are like a rock covered with earth; a shower of rain falls upon it and leaves it hard and bare. They will gain nothing from their works. God does not guide the disbelievers. (Baqara 2:264)
From this perspective, zakat keeps the rich in line with tawhid (belief in the Oneness of God), while at the same time rescuing the poor from a financial oppression and effectively constructing a bridge that connects both sides of the community. Thus, today, we describe with pride how our predeseccors, having entirely grasped this notion, had a common practice of leaving pouches full of gold written on them in places easily accessible to the poor: “This is halal (permissible) for you to take.” The objective was to prevent the poor feeling even a tiny bit of embarrassment or discomfiture.
IS IT BETTER TO GIVE ZAKAT SECRETLY OR OPENLY?
The comparative virtue of secretly and openly giving zakat or sadaqa differs according to place and time. Although it may be better, on occasions, to give openly, at other times, opting to pay secretly may provide a wiser option. Verses and hadiths elaborating on both these circumstances afford us different clues in relation to this point. For example, “To give alms in public is good, but to give charity to the poor secretly is better for you and will atone for some of your sins,” (Baqara 2:271) “Those who spend their wealth by night and day, in private and public, shall be rewarded by their Lord” (Baqara 2:274). Based on these Qur’anic statements, we ascertain the diverse benefits of secret and open charities depending on time and place. Yet, Muslim scholars have preponderantly advised an open payment of zakat while recommending the secret offering of other charities.
Though an open payment may act as an encouragement to others, a secret payment forestalls the emergence of vices, like pride, arrogance about one’s means, and showing off. A person may be able to steer clear of these vices while performing zakat, which is, after all, an imperative obligation which is supposed to be performed with the intention of purifying the wealth; however, as for sadaqa, a voluntary activity, falling prey to these vices may come more easily. It is for this reason while enumerating the seven groups of people to be shaded under the shade of the Throne, on a horrendous Day where no other shade exists, the Messenger of God also includes, “those whose left sides are oblivious to what their right sides have given (as charity).”7
Therefore, it is essential to give voluntary sadaqa or charities secretly, and for this reason, it is said that a supererogatory sadaqa given in secret is 70 times more virtuous and valuable than that which is given openly. The Noble Messenger articulated the following: “Goodness never exhausts, sins are not forgotten, and God never dies; so do as you wish.”8 Indeed God is Alive and Eternal, a Watcher and Guard over all things perpetrated. As verified by this additional declaration: “We have shown him the right path, whether he be grateful or ungrateful” (Insan 76:3). In other words, human may either nurture a profound gratitude towards the Being Who has, through innumerable ways, made him aware of His transcendent existence, or ungratefully, throw into dissipation all his privileges, including himself, by shamefully choosing the path of disgraceful rebellion.
Note that giving explicitly may involve a degree of disdain on behalf of the benefactor as s/he acquires personal insight to the needs, condition, and circumstances of the beneficiary. In addition, a hadith such as, “The hand which gives is better than the hand which receives,” might spuriously justify disdain in souls lacking full insight into the Message. But clearly, disdaining and abasing a Muslim has indubitably been decreed forbidden.
A further difficulty arises if the recipient is not known to be poor by the public—someone who has kept his/her need quiet, so to speak—in which case giving the sadaqa overtly may incur the ill-thought from both the donor and others that the recipient is accepting the donation without a genuine need. Here, then, is another example of how each act of faith becomes both an opportunity and a trial—for it is not right to indulge in such thoughts about others, and we risk rapidly and completely annulling any potential benefits to ourselves if we fail to check our tendencies to judge or criticize in this way. Thus, in order to fend of Satan’s whispers and the personal embarrassment the poor may experience, the best method remains that of our predecessors—one in which we secretively place the sadaqa in a location which is easily accessible by those in need, and then swiftly leave.
Perhaps we could make an exception for those towering spiritual figures who, by virtue of having already conquered their own egos, are not easily affected by the side-effects which plague the majority, and by whose leadership in the field of charity, many more souls might be drawn into random giving. For these noble individuals, visibility in the act of sadaqa might be appropriate. But this would certainly be an atypical situation—not a recommended practice for the average person.
Putting the Qur’anic balance into the picture, it can be ascertained that, occasionally, it is preferable to opt for an open payment of zakat, however, as mentioned earlier: “To give alms in public is good, but to give charity to the poor secretly is better for you, and will atone for some of your sins. God has knowledge of all that you do” (Baqara 2: 272). There is a balance, in other words. In similar fashion to salat (prayer) and sawm (fasting), the performance of obligatory actions is an instrument of public encouragement, as well as clearing its performer from likely incriminations. The highly potent and symbolic words of the Prophet in reference to those deliberately falling back from congregational salats were as follows: “I have contemplated leaving a deputy to lead, then burst in on those who, without excuse, fall back from salats, and set their houses ablaze.” In addition, the outer manifestation of a life of faith, of an adherence to the practice of Islam, is not a trivial matter, as verified by another hadith “Whoever performs our salat, faces our qibla (the direction turned towards during salat, towards the Sacred Ka‘ba), and eats what we slaughter is a Muslim under the guarantee of God and His Messenger.”9 In effect, the belief of a Muslim is reflected and generally understood by others in terms of the publicly performed obligatory deeds; therefore, there is benefit in offering these openly, to dispel any possible suspicion and spare witnesses from the easy temptation of judging another believer; in addition, public contributions of zakat provide an inspiration to those outside of the faith who might feel invited to submit after witnessing the all- encompassing mercy espoused by the Qur’an.
The actions of Abu Bakr and Ali, may God be pleased with t hem, who had totally comprehended the balance displayed in the Qur’an, are exemplary. The former, having had
dirhams worth of wealth, donated a quarter of it at night, another quarter at day, another quarter in secret and the last quarter in public; thus he actualized all the facets emphasized in the Qur’an. The latter openly donating his 4 dirhams, and then remarked, “O God, let this be an encouragement”; while during a secret donation, he prayed “Only for your sake my Lord.” While giving at night, he prayed again: “May my night be alight;” and during the day, he uttered, “O God illuminate my day.”10 There it is: a display of the Companions’ astounding sensitivity and their profound vitality in bringing Islam to life.
CAN DEFECTIVE PROPERTY BE GIVEN AS ZAKAT?
The awesome balance set by Islam in all fields is also visible in the fundamentals of offering and collecting zakat. While instructing the collectors to avoid collecting the “best possession,” the benefactors are themselves encouraged to choose to give their best as an invaluable means of reaching the spiritual summit, a fact attested to by the Qur’an: “You will not attain righteousness until you spend of what you love” (Al Imran 3:92). Anas ibn Malik narrates the following in relation: “Of the Ansar (Medinan Muslims),” Abu Talha was one of the richest, and Bayruha—a garden across the Masjid al-Nabawi (the grandmosque at Medina), was his most beloved possession. The Messenger of God, on occasions, used to enter it and drink from its clean water. When the verse, “You will not attain righteousness until you spend of what you love” (Baqara 3:92) was revealed, Abu Talha went to the Prophet and proclaimed the following: “If this is what the Almighty God has decreed in His Book, then from now on Bayruha, my most prized possession, is a charity for God. I anticipate its rewards and benefits from Him alone. O Messenger of God! Do with it as you wish.” The Prophet responded delightfully, “How beautiful! This will bring a multitude of rewards and a copious recompense in the afterlife. I have heard your words on this subject, but if you ask me, divide it between your relatives,” and upon this Abu Talha divided it between his relatives.”11 Indeed, it is evident that in order to become an ideal servant of God, one must donate, for His sake, one’s most cherished items. Those who aspire to Paradise undoubtedly will present, with paramount pleasure, their best crops and produce.
In a hadith conveyed by Abu Hurayra, the Messenger of God reveals, “Whoever donates an amount equivalent to a handful of dates out of his pure earnings—and certainly God accepts only that is pure—God will take it and, just how one of you rears his foal, he will raise it to the size of a mountain.”12
Through another hadith, again transmitted by Abu Hurayra, the Prophet earnestly announced, “O humankind! God is Pure and He only accepts what is pure. God has also commanded the believers what He has commanded the Prophets, namely “O Messengers! Eat of the pure things and act with righteousness” (Mu’minun 23:51); and for the believers, “O you who believe! Eat of the good and clean things which We have provided for you, and be grateful to God, if it is He whom you worship” (Baqara 2:172).
In tandem, a person must put himself in the shoes of the recipient, and thus avoid giving substandard or defective items. The Qur’an elaborates the following caution in relation to this very fact:“…and seek not the bad (with intent) to spend of it (in charity)” (Baqara 2:267). In other words, one must be absolutely alert in preventing any illicitness, such as this has been forbidden by God, from coalescing with one’s donations—either accidentally or by virtue of neglect on our part.
Consequently, all manner of “filth” must be kept well at bay from honest and pure earnings, and the charity should be presented from the purest portion—the portion which the benefactor himself would gladly accept in the reverse scenario, were he to find himself the recipient instead. In practical terms, this means ensuring that gains are not secured through means which are, themselves, illicit; and to make certain that the offering meets the highest trade standard, in terms of both the quality of the goods and their real value.
During the blissful era of the Prophet, people used to leave bunches of dates at the Masjid al-Nabawi for the poor to eat. One day, after having seen a few defective bunches, the Prophet (upon whom be peace) pointed with his stick and said, “If the owner of this charity wished, he would have donated a finer bunch. Its owner will, in turn, be reciprocated with a similarly defective return in the afterlife.”13
WHEN IS THE MOST VIRTUOUS TIME FOR OFFERING ZAKAT?
After having reached its nisab, a property on which a year has elapsed becomes subject to zakat. Yet, the generally prevalent practice is to offer it during the month of Ramadan. Although this remains the overall accepted routine, there are others who maintain that zakat should best be given before its deadline or during the season of harvest. All these views, certainly, are predicated upon various proofs, which can be recapitulated as follows.
PAYMENT DURING RAMADAN
The practice of giving zakat in Ramadan is by and large based on two notions—namely to benefit from the special month’s blessings, and to put a smile on the faces of the poor in preparation for Eid. While it remains essential to perform deeds within their specific time frames and in line with their particular requirements, their performance at sacred times and places, it is hoped, brings even greater rewards. For instance, offering salat at the Ka‘ba or Masjid al-Nabawi is considered more valuable in comparison to other places. This isactually implied by the words of the Noble Prophet, who declared that there are only three mosques in the world that, on their own, are worth traveling to—Ka‘ba in Mecca, Masjid al-Nabawi in Medina, and Masjid al-Aqsa in Jerusalem.14
As for timing, the blessings of Ramadan are evidently manifest; it is considered the “sultan” of the other eleven months, containing a night superior to a thousand months. Therefore, completing an obligation like zakat within the parameters of Ramadan is believed to be an opportunity to greater rewards, as well as serving its prime role of relieving its benefactor from a compulsory duty in a timely, scheduled manner. Narrated by Anas ibn Malik, the ensu ing hadith alludes to this. The Prophet was asked, “What is the most virtuous fast after the fast of Ramadan?” He responded, “The fast of (the months of) Shaban, in reverence to Ramadan.” He w a s t hen asked: “Which sadaqa is of greater virtue?” And he replied, “Sadaqa given in Ramadan.”15
PAYMENT BEFORE THE DEADLINE
The payment of zakat during Ramadan does not prevent it from being offered before this deadline. Also, there is no harm in offering zakat which is due between two Ramadans during the previous (first of these two) Ramadan. It is well renowned that Abbas, the uncle of the Prophet (upon whom be peace), had asked the Prophet whether it would be appropriate to give zakat before its due date, to which he has given an affirmative response, attested to by personal verification of the Prophet through the chain of Umar: “We received the due zakat of Abbas last year.”16 Thus, the gist of it all is that a person, without wasting time, must perform his obligations before the cut-off dates. All in all, there is no problem in paying zakat beforehand during the preceding Ramadan, for this is far preferable than being under the debt of zakat.
AVOIDING OVERDUE PAYMENTS
Irrespective of the circumstances, a person compelled with zakat by Islam should immediately fulfill this obligation. As for those with reasonable excuses, such as suffering financial strife, they have been excused in any case.
The Almighty has placed numerous cautions in His Book advising debtors to reimburse their debts without delay or otherwise face dire consequences. For instance,
And spend of that which We have Provided you before death befalls any of you and he should say: “Reprieve me, my Lord, a while, that I may give charity and be among the righteous.” (Munafiqun 63:10)
Spend a part of what We have given you before that day arrives when there shall be neither trading, friendship or intercession. (Baqara 2:254)
In fact, the Qur’anic words, “Pay the due thereof upon the harvest day,” have been understood as a command by a considerable number of scholars, whereby palpable benefits derive from giving zakat promptly, as soon as crops and fruits are harvested.
On the other hand, a sudden and unexpected death may mean that a person will be commencing the afterlife in debt, as it is impossible for man to predict the place and time of his end. For that reason, it is crucial to constantly be aware of this reality. The Messenger of God refused to perform the funeral salat of a Companion until another Companion had agreed to pay his debt, as discussed earlier. This debt in question only pertained to personal rights, whereas the debt of unpaid zakat is even more serious in that it concerns both personal rights and the ultimate right of God; therefore, the latter burden is indisputably heavier. In emphasizing the importance of this responsibility, and in trying to thwart people from taking it on the lighter side, the Messenger of God instructed in the following way a Companion who wished to ascertain the most valuable charity: “It is the sadaqa you present while you are full of health, greedy towards riches, living with the fear of poverty, and desiring wealth. Don’t you ever postpone this to your last breath, wherein you will say, ‘This is his and that is hers.’ But that would b e worthless, as at any rate, your wealth has already become theirs!”17 In a similar Qudsi hadith, the Almighty after illustrating the conceited nature of man, reprimands him: “You collect and then withhold, saying you will give at the moment of death. But isn’t that a little too late?”18
WHAT ARE THE IMPLICATIONS OF DECEITFUL BEHAVIOR DURING PAYMENT OF ZAKAT?
No matter which action a person pursues, it will never escape the invincible, all-encompassing knowledge of God. In Qur’anic terms, though it may be the weight of a grain of mustard seed hidden in a rock or in the heavens or in the earth, in no way will it be beyond God’s omniscience. Being the Creator of everything, He certainly knows all things committed by human, concealed or unconcealed. After gaining full comprehension of this reality, it is unthinkable for a believer to even attempt to transgress the limits and instructions regarding payment of zakat. For the others who are weak at heart, spellbound by the world’s spurious luxuries, and who may resort to cheating their way out of zakat, the Messenger of God (upon whom be peace) addressed a simple but stern warning, as dictated to Abu Bakr and narrated by Anas ibn Malik: “Individual property cannot be separated in order to break free from the duty of zakat.”19
For all intents and purposes, then, those fostering the anticipation that they might be able to break free from the duty of zakat are hopelessly trying to flee from an obligation decreed by G o d , simultaneously displaying a deceitful and swindling demeanor w h i c h is totally unacceptable for a Muslim to endorse. Irrespective of what the action may be, everything is being recorded, as we speak, to be exposed on a Day when all secrets will be revealed. Fleeing from such a duty, when a true Muslim should actually be searching for ways to donate more than the bare minimum, can only be explained by a weakness of iman (faith in God), and such a feeble iman is bound to cause grave impairments over time.
CAN PROPERTY GIVEN AS ZAKAT BE BOUGHT BACK?
Speaking in terms of trade, although there may be no problem in buying a charity item back, insofar as zakat is concerned, it is rather inappropriate. The most famous narration involving this scenario is that of Umar’s, who had once given charity in the way of God, only to soon see it being up for sale at the market. Carrying the intention to repurchase that item, he went and asked the Prophet (upon whom be peace) whether it would be appropriate or not. The Prophet’s response was, “Do not revert to your sadaqa!” In another version, the Prophet says, “Do not repurchase it, even if it could be sold to you for one dirhem, as reverting to sadaqa is like reverting to something you vomited.”20 Bearing in mind both the fundamental trade principles of Islam and the above hadith, the scholars have concluded that although such a trade is financially valid, it is ultimately attached to a large degree of inappropriateness and therefore discouraged. It is clear that, in this case, the verdict is influenced more by a socio-psychological incentive than a strictly jurisprudential one.
IS THERE A WORLDLY PUNISHMENT FOR UNSETTLED ZAKAT?
Being a financial obligation and a matter of concern for the entire community, zakat has necessitated the instalment of many incentives and deterring precautions against the evasion of payment—and appropriately so. Caliph Abu Bakr’s explicit declaration to wage war against the deniers of zakat, and the scholars’ agreement on the seizure of half the wealth of a withholder of zakat, can be considered as clear examples. As for the repercussions in the afterlife, we can only know what the Qur’an and Sunna permit, and due to our insufficiency in being able to entirely apprehend its nature, we leave the details with the Almighty and His Messenger. Simply put, acts of worship are constructed on faith, for which reason it is unthinkable for a true believer to abscond from duties pertaining to his/her servanthood. Nevertheless Islam, in allowing no vulnerabilities in the matter of zakat, and in preparing for weaknesses of faith, has prescribed certain laws to address the diverse attitudes exhibited by those whose own beliefs have not reached a level sufficient for appropriate self-monitoring on this important matter.
Eluding the duty of servanthood, Islam maintains, is all but equivalent to transgressing the borders of the religion itself. As zakat is an imperative social requirement incumbent on Muslim individuals, neglecting this worship cannot be passed over lightly, and Islam cannot remain indifferent to those who avoid zakat, and quite plausibly, will take firm precautions. To impose a fitting punishment, the scholars have agreed upon seizing half the property of a person resisting zakat out of avarice, as verified by the hadith conveyed by Muadh ibn Jabal, wherein the Messenger of God had announced, “Whoever gives zakat accepting a divine reward will receive just that; and whoever refuses, we will confiscate half his property as penalization. This is one of the definite verdicts of God. As for Muhammad’s family, they have no share (i.e. they are ineligible to receive zakat).”21
WHAT IS THE PUNISHMENT FOR UNSETTLED ZAKAT IN THE HEREAFTER?
The mysteries of the Heavens, impossible for human to know, are only known to the Creator. The afterlife, as far as knowledge attained through human’s endeavors is concerned, is also a mystery. God, however, Who is the Ultimate Knower of all mysteries, has provided us countless information concerning the afterlife, including the destiny of those who resist the payment of zakat. The following verses depict the ominous situations they are destined to face:
Those who hoard up gold and silver and do not spend it in the way of God, give tidings unto them of a painful punishment. (Tawba 9:34)
That which they hoard will be their collar on the Day of Resurrection. (Al Imran 3:180)
Moreover Sunna, the other half of revelation, contains additional reports in relation to this. The Messenger of God, as reported by Abu Hurayra and Jabir, said, “For those who deny the Right of God, as well as owning camels, cattle or sheep, their stock will return to them in the afterlife, more in numbers and larger than ever. The person will be seated in a straight and wide place wherein the animals, of which none have broken horns or are hornless, will begin to trample him. After the first round comes to an end, it will start again, and this process will continue until the verdict closes on all creatures. Again, if a person financially eligible for zakat refuses, then his wealth, in the Hereafter, will embody the appearance of snake, bold from excessive poison. The man will flee, only to find that each time the snake is relentlessly breathing down his neck; and it will be exclaimed to him, ‘This is your wealth which you were so stingy over!’ Finally, realizing there is no chance of escaping, the man will helplessly insert his hand into the snake’s mouth, whereby the snake will commence torturing him by gnawing like a camel chewing crop.”22
In another hadith, on the account of Abu Hurayra, the Prophet of Islam warned, “Gold and silver of which their rights (zakat) have not been presented will be brought on the Day of Judgment in the form of steel pillars, which will then be scorched and employed to brand their owners.”23
Senturk, Omer Faruk. “Charity in Islam” Tughra Books Press. January 2007.
- December 16, 2013
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