The word ‘Zakat’ is often roughly translated as ‘charity’. However, there is a fair bit more detail required to fully understand this obligatory pillar of Islam.
There are a number of different Arabic words relating to charity, such as sadaqah and lillah, the Arabic language being so beautifully specific, different words relate to different specific meanings.
Zakat refers specifically to obligatory charity, meaning, while you can pay voluntary charity as and however, whenever and to whoever you please, once a year all Muslims with the financial means to do so are obliged to give a certain amount of money in charity.
When To Pay:
As Ramadan approaches, you are likely to see more and more reminders and adverts for where to pay your Zakat to. It is not obligatory that you have to pay your Zakat during Ramadan, however, it is a popular time to do so for a number of reasons.
- Reward for good deeds are multiplied during Ramadan, so it is an excellent time to increase in your amount of giving
- It is an easy way to remember to do it each year
Another popular option, particularly among reverts, is to pay Zakat each year on the anniversary of your shahadah. It is a nice way of marking the date and a way of showing gratitude to Allah. However, do remember that the Islamic calendar is slightly shorter than the general Gregorian calendar, so you will need to make a note of the Hijri date of your shahadah. For example, I took my shahadah on 3rd February 2014, which fell on the 2nd Rabi’ II 1435 of the Islamic lunar (Hijri) calendar. So each year, I look up roughly which day the 2nd Rabi’ II will fall on the Gregorian calendar and mark a reminder for myself.
Popular apps such as Muslim Pro have tools which can help you convert the dates if you would like to calculate this for your own shahadah.
How Much Do I Pay?
The minimum amount that a Muslim must pay in Zakat is calculated based on the price of 612 grams of silver at that time. This is known as the Nisab threshold. If your wealth meets this threshold, you must pay 2.5% of your wealth in Zakat.
These specific figures may make it sound a little bit confusing to calculate, especially as a new Muslim when things like this are totally new to us. However, thankfully there are some very useful websites and apps that make the calculation very simple to do.
I use the Muslim Pro app (as already mentioned) which has a very easy-to-use Zakat calculator. Many websites, particularly Islamic charity websites, provide Zakat calculators too, which you can find with a simple Google search.
Who Do I Pay It To?
Unlike voluntary charity, which can be paid to anyone for any number of worthy causes, Zakat must be paid to Muslims. It is preferable that it is paid locally, if you are able to do so.
The Qur’an specifies 8 types of people who are eligible for receiving Zakat:
“Indeed, [prescribed] charitable offerings are only [to be given] to the poor and the indigent, and to those who work on [administering] it, and to those whose hearts are to be reconciled, and to [free] those in bondage, and to the debt-ridden, and for the cause of God, and to the wayfarer. [This is] an obligation from God. And God is all-knowing, all-wise”. (Qur’an 9: 60)
So, in essence, this includes:
- The poor, meaning those on a low income which is not sufficient to cover their needs.
- The needy, similar to the above, meaning someone who is in difficulty.
- Zakat administrators and charity collectors.
- Those whose hearts are to be reconciled, meaning new Muslims and friends of the Muslim community who might be encouraged to accept the faith of Islam.
- Those in bondage, meaning to assist slaves and captives to free themselves.
- The debt-ridden, meaning indebted Muslim individuals who are unable to pay their debts.
- In the cause of Allah, meaning funds to support a struggle against oppression, or tuition fees or study materials for a student studying Islamic studies, for example.
- The wayfarer, meaning those who are stranded away from their hometown, or traveling with few resources.
If you are unable to pay directly to an individual, look for charities which are local to you and who provide help to your community. Otherwise, search for various causes by popular Islamic charities in your country. And may Allah reward you for everything you give for His sake.
“Take charity from their wealth in order to purify them and sanctify them with it.” (Qur’an 9: 103)