Zakat is one of the five pillars of Islam, along with prayer, fasting, pilgrimage to Mecca, and the declaration that there are no other gods besides Allah.
Muslims are required to give approximately 2.5% of their total wealth to charity every year. This mandatory charity is called Zakat. Zakat means “that which purifies.” Muslims believe that wealth is a blessing from Allah. And those who have been blessed should share their wealth with those who don’t as much as they can afford to do so.
Every year at the end of Ramadan, Muslims worldwide celebrate the holiday of Eid-al-Fitr, which marks the end of fasting during daylight hours throughout Ramadan (the 9th month in the Islamic calendar). The word “Eid” means “celebration.” On this day, men dress up in their best clothes, and women wear festive dresses. Everyone enjoys being together outside, often listening to Koranic recitations or local musicians playing drums and other instruments.
Zakat, the obligatory giving of a set proportion of one’s wealth to charity, is considered by Muslims as the personal responsibility of every individual Muslim to help those in need and foster social harmony. Zakat plays an important role in achieving socio-economic justice by removing the inequalities that may exist in society. The Quran says: “Take sadaqa from their wealth so you can purify them and sanctify them with it.” [Quran 9:103]
Muslims believe that everyone should strive to pay Zakat regardless of whether they are wealthy or poor because this will make their hearts feel more satisfied. Prophet Muhammad said, “He who dies while he is still paying his Zakat dies a death of a martyr.” [Sahih Bukhari, 2122] In other words, he will be awarded by Allah for all the good deeds that he had done on earth while making sure that everyone is provided with what they need.
Zakat is only used to help people living in poverty and those responsible for taking care of them, such as orphanages, hospitals, or any other public service areas. Zakat money cannot be given to individuals supporting themselves due to job loss or bad health.
Zakat is collected from rich Muslims and distributed among poor Muslims. However, some exceptions are where non-Muslims may receive Zakat funds if they meet certain criteria. The Quran states: “Zakat expenditures are only for the poor and for the needy and for those employed to collect (Zakat) and for bringing hearts together and for freeing captives and for those in debt (or bonded labour) and the cause of Allah and the (stranded) traveller – an obligation (imposed) by Allah. And Allah is Knowing and Wise.” [Quran 9:60]
Most importantly, Zakat must not be given to one’s parents, children, siblings, or spouse due to a certain pre-Islamic tradition that used to forbid such an act. Even though Zakat may be given to any relatives, it’s encouraged that everyone strives not to do this. Rather they should give the Zakat to those responsible for taking care of the relatives, such as a poor orphaned relative. In this way, Muslims can ensure that Zakat is distributed to everyone who needs it and avoids breaking ties with their own families.
In addition, Zakat must not be given to someone irresponsible or wasteful with his money until he reforms himself from his ways and starts using his money responsibly again. For example, a rich man may have ten camels, but instead of caring for them and using them wisely to provide him with income throughout the year, he decides to spend all his time drinking alcohol or running after women. Therefore, if this person asks for Zakat, it should not be given because he has no right over it and would probably not use the money properly. However, if this person reformed himself and started using his camels wisely, Zakat should be given.
After learning the basics about Zakat, we can now move on to how it is distributed by Muslims today. Zakat must first go to those responsible for collecting it, such as a mosque or other organization that uses these funds to help people in need worldwide. These organizations include Al-Salam Foundation, Muslim Aid, Islamic Relief, SKT Welfare and many more. These groups work together with local and regional branches and support projects where ever they may be needed, whether helping victims of natural disasters or covering medical expenses for poor children who don’t have access to free health.