by Hajj Abdalhaqq Bewley

It is well known to all of us that the there are five absolutely indispensable elements which make up Islam, all of which are absolutely essential to the practice of our deen. We find them clearly delineated in the authentic hadith reported by ‘Abdallah ibn ‘Umar,  and his father, in which he said: “I heard the Messenger of Allah Salla-l-laahsay: ‘Islam is built on five: witnessing that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, establishment of the prayer, payment of Zakah, Hajj of the House, and the fast of Ramadan.’”

We know from this, and many other Qur’anic and Prophetic references, that Zakah is an absolutely indispensable element of Islam as a whole. Salah and Zakah are explicitly coupled together in the Qur’an at least twenty-nine times and many more times in an implicit way. The phrase “aqimu’s-Salah wa atu’z-Zakah” – “establish the Salah and pay the Zakah”– is a refrain which permeates Allah’s Book from beginning to end. This has been taken by some significant mufassirun to be evidence of the fact that Salah and Zakah are in effect interdependent. What they mean by this is evidence, in a legal sense, that a person’s prayer is not acceptable unless their Zakah has been properly discharged.

The first khalifah of the Muslims, Abu Bakr as-Siddiq Radia-l-laahu anhu confirmed this interpretation by saying that he would fight anyone who made a distinction between Salah and Zakah and, indeed he carried out his threat, since this was the basic cause of the Ridda Wars which took place during his caliphate. Yet, despite this, there is no doubt that the great majority of Muslims definitely consider Salah to be much more important than Zakah.There is no doubt that many of us fail to give Zakah the prime importance it is due as the third indispensable pillar of our deen.

Although it is not our aim on this occasion to go into to the fiqh of Zakah in a detailed way, it is nevertheless important to present a comprehensive overview of the key elements involved. This will help us to begin to recognise its main characteristics and see it clearly as the essential but neglected act of ibadah it is, whose purpose is to serve as a social safety net for the most needy people in every Muslim community.

Perhaps we should first of all briefly mention Zakat-al-Fitr, if only to make it clear that this is not to be confused with the pillar of Zakah that we are talking about here. Zakat-al-Fitr is a legal obligation connected to Sawm, the pillar of fasting in Ramadan. Zakat-al-Fitr is binding on every Muslim and has its own rules and conditions, which connect to the fiqh of fasting and to the Eid. However, discharging the obligation of Zakat-al-Fitr at the end of Ramadan, which every Muslim must do, has nothing whatsoever to do with the pillar of Zakah which we are talking about here.

The payment of Zakah proper, the Zakah which is the third pillar of Islam, becomes obligatory for every Muslim provided they fulfill certain conditions. The first is Islam itself: Zakah is not paid by non-Muslims. Freedom is another condition: Zakah is not paid by slaves. The third condition is possession of the nisab. The nisab is the minimum amount of wealth on which Zakah is due. If a Muslim has less than that no Zakah is owed. A further condition is actual ownership. Zakah is only paid by Muslims on property which actually belongs to them and moreover which is in their possession at the time. Finally there is hawl: a general rule that Zakah is only paid by Muslims on wealth which has been in their possession for a year or more.

Zakah is also subject to certain other factors. As with all our acts of worship, and indeed all our actions in general, a vital element in the payment of Zakah is the niyyah – the intention behind it – which must be made by the person who pays it. They must specifically intend to be fulfilling their obligation of paying Zakah to make it valid. The time of payment is another important factor. In the same way that there is a specific time for the prayer, the fast and the hajj, there is also a correct time for paying Zakah.

Another factor which was always integral to the correct payment of Zakah is its proper collection. Traditionally Zakah has always been collected by officially appointed collectors. The important point to grasp is that, legally speaking, Zakah is not the act of individual voluntary Sadaqah it has now universally become. Another vitally important aspect of Zakah which has largely been abandoned is the matter of its correct distribution, which we will look at in more detail later. There is no doubt, however, that Zakah should basically be distributed locally since its primary purpose is to look after the needs of poor Muslims in the area in which it is paid. Only in the event of there being no eligible Muslims in the local community should it be distributed further afield.

A final factor which it is vital to grasp, if the pillar of Zakah is to be restored to its rightful place at the heart of Islam, is that only the correct elements should be used to pay it. Zakah is only payable on three types of wealth – livestock, agricultural produce and monetary wealth including trade goods – and the precise means by which it may be paid, have been clearly defined from the time of the  Prophet Salla-l-laah onwards and have been confirmed by every generation of ‘ulama since. They are: animals of a precise type and age in the case of the Zakah on livestock; grain, fruit or oil of a precise quantity and quality in the case of agricultural Zakah; and, crucially, gold or silver of a precise weight in the case of the Zakah of monetary wealth and trade goods.

The proof that it was the metal itself – actual gold and silver – rather than any particular type of currency which was required in payment of Zakah on monetary wealth, is shown by the fact that the amount owed is calculated by the precise weight of gold or silver needed to pay it; it was never calculated in purely monetary terms. As we will see, despite the current situation, whereby monetary wealth is now measured in terms of paperand electronic currencies, this requirement to pay the Zakah of monetary wealth and trade goods in actual gold or silver has not changed.

We have already mentioned the importance of the correct distribution of Zakah and this has not been left to personal choice. The people who may receive Zakah are clearly delineated in the Qur’an in ayah 60 of Surat at- Tawba the meaning of which is as follows:

Sadaqah is for the poor,

the destitute,

reconciling people’s hearts,

freeing slaves,

those in debt,

spending in the way of Allah

and travellers.

It is a legal obligation from Allah, Allah is all-Knowing, All-Wise.

The word sadaqah, as used in this ayah, has always been understood by mufassirun and ‘ulama to refer specifically to Zakah. These categories of Zakah recipients which are listed in this ayah have been defined by the scholars of Islam throughout the centuries and are clearly explained in the classical commentary which the Tafsir Jalalayn gives on this ayah. It says:

The word, sadaqah, used here means Zakah so the meaning of the ayah is: Zakah is for and must be distributed to: the poor, – who are those who do not have enough to cover their normal needs; the destitute – they are those without anything at all; those who collect it – they are those whocollect the Zakah and distribute it, and the  scribes who record it; reconciling people’s hearts – this entails, amongst other things, the use of Zakah to encourage other people to become Muslim; freeing slaves – this is by giving them what they need to purchase their freedom; those in debt – that is people who ask for help to pay debts, provided those debts have not been incurred in disobedience to Allah; spending in the Way of Allah – Zakah can be used for helping those who do not have the means to undertake jihad; and travellers – those who are prevented by lack of means from completing their journey. It is a legal obligation from Allah. Allah is All-knowing of His creation, All-Wise in what He does. It is not permitted to give Zakah to people outside these categories or to deny it to any of them if the need exists. So the ruler should divide it among them but can give more to some categories if necessary…”

It can be seen from this that the use of Zakah is very specific and that it acts as a form of safety net for the most needy members of society in any Muslim community. Zakah may not be used in any other way. For instance, people often think that Zakah can be used, under the heading “spending in the way of Allah”, for projects such as building or purchasing a mosque or Islamic centre or school, when in fact, this is not a valid use of Zakah.

We made it clear earlier that officially authorised collection of Zakah was an integral factor in its correct implementation. This was the case from the time of the Prophet Salla-l-laah onwards. He is commanded in the Qur’an, in ayah 103 of Surat at-Tawbah to: “Take sadaqah from their wealth to purify and cleanse them.” As in the previously quoted ayah about the recipients of Zakah, the word “sadaqah” in this context is universally accepted as referring to Zakah. The important point to realise is the fact that this is a command from Allah. The leader of the Muslims is ordered to take  Zakah; it is not left to the choice of the individual donor. The Prophet Salla-l-laah confirmed this in his words of instruction to Mu’adh when sending him to Yemen. He said to him: “Allah has made it obligatory for Zakah to be taken from their property and given to their poor.” Again it is clear from this that Zakah is to be taken by the Muslim authorities; its payment is not to be left to the will of the individual concerned.

This obligation for the leader of the Muslims to actually take Zakah from the Muslims is further vividly illustrated by the words and actions of the first khalifah, Abu Bakr as-Siddiq, we referred to earlier. After affirming the inseparable connection between Salah and Zakah, he declared, “If they refuse me even a hobbling rope, which they used to pay to the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, I will fight them for it.” And, as we know, he went on to risk the very existence of the fledgling Muslim community by carrying out his threat. This shows that he considered the collection of Zakah to be an absolute duty of the political leader of the Muslim community.

It is clear, therefore, that the collection and distribution of Zakah is an integral function of Muslim governance and history shows that all the schools of fiqh have upheld this organic connection between Zakah and political authority. It was something which was taken for granted throughout all the centuries of Muslim rule up until the present time. Centrally appointed collection and distribution of Zakah is assumed in all the traditional literature on the subject and is the clear position of the four madhabs of Islam. They are all in agreement about the integral connection of Zakah to Muslim governance. For instance, Imam as-Sarakhsi, the famous Hanafi scholar, says in his book al-Mabsut: “Zakah is a right of Allah and is to be collected and distributed by the leader of the Muslims or his appointees. If anyone pays his Zakah to anyone else it does not remove from him the obligation of Zakah.” Imam Malik says in the Muwatta:

“The distribution of Zakah is up to the individual judgment of the man in charge… There is no fixed share for the collector of Zakah except as the leader of the Muslims sees fit.” Imam ash-Shafi’i says in al-Umm about the Qur’anic category, “those who collect it,” that they are those appointed by the khalifah of the Muslims to collect and distribute Zakah.And Imam Ahmad is quoted in the book Ash-sharih ar-rabbani li musnad Ahmad as saying, “The khalifah alone has the authority and responsibility to collect and distribute Zakah whether by himself or through those he appoints and he has the authority and responsibility to fight those who refuse to pay it.”

These are merely four representative examples from literally thousands of other corroborating possibilities, so it is clear that right from the time of its original prescription, the collection and distribution of Zakah was an integral and inseparable function of Muslim governance. The fact that the collection and distribution of Zakah is no longer in the hands of the political leaders of the Muslim community, means in effect that the pillar of Zakah can no longer be said to exist in the way it was prescribed by Allah in His Book and subsequently implemented by His Messenger. The payment and distribution of Zakah by isolated individuals, which is what Zakah has at best been reduced to at the present time, does not in fact properly fulfill the legal obligation of Zakah, because, as we have seen, the active involvement of established Muslim political leadership is essential if it is to be implemented correctly. Lack of this organic connection between Zakah and Muslim leadership necessarily means that the nature of Zakah has been altered beyond any recognition from its original function and practice.

Plainly said: unless it is collected and distributed according to the Shari’ah by a recognized Muslim political authority, it is, properly speaking, not really Zakah. So a first priority for us, if we really desire to see the pillar of Zakah restored to its pivotal place at the heart of Islam, must be to ensure politically effective Muslim leadership, at least at the local level of every Muslim community. Without this it is impossible for the collection and distribution of Zakah to be correctly implemented according to the Shari’ah.

Another factor which has played a major role in undermining Zakah and which has gone hand in hand with the loss of political authority we have noted, has been the change in the nature of wealth and money over the last two centuries or so. Until the end of the eighteenth century the chief measures of wealth in human society were land, and the animals and agricultural produce produced on it, and mercantile wealth, which was exclusively measured in terms of gold and silver coinage. These natural components of human prosperity are highlighted by Allah ta’ala in the Qur’an in Sura Ali ʿImran when He mentions:

…heaped-up mounds of gold and silver, and horses with markings, and livestock and fertile farmland. 3:14.

And, as we have seen, these are the very things on which Zakah, as a tax on superfluous wealth, is levied: particular types of agricultural produce, livestock, and monetary wealth, when any of these reaches the level of the nisab, in other words a level which is over and above the legitimate immediate needs of the individual concerned.

The problem is that the urban existence of the vast majority of Muslims in the world today means that Zakah on livestock and agricultural produce has basically no relevance at all to their lives. It is also the case that gold and silver have long ceased to be used as currency and this has meant that Muslims no longer recognise the need to pay Zakah on their monetary wealth and trade goods in these two metals, in spite of the fact that, as we have seen, this is the way that the Shari’ah demands that it should be paid.

The rise of the banking industry, which brought paper money into general use and has made it, in most cases, the only legal medium of exchange, has made it very difficult to measure, or even establish the monetary wealth owned by a Muslim on which Zakah must be paid. What is at issue here, where Zakah is concerned, is the relationship between gold and silver – on which, and with which, Zakah must be paid – and the paper money, and now increasingly the  electronic currencies, which today make up most people’s monetary wealth.

Although many Muslims are not aware of it, this whole matter has been much discussed by the scholars of Islam. The use of paper money, which we now take for granted and which is the only money we know, is in many ways contrary to the Shari’ah and many ‘ulama fought a strong rearguard action against its introduction into Muslim lands. One reason for this was because of the difficulties it placed in the way of Zakah and the consequent threat it posed to Islam as a whole. Although some modernist Muslims have tried to adapt and compromise the Shari’ah to make it fit in with the present economic system, the truth is, as many ‘ulama have made indisputably plain, that the deen cannot be fudged in this way. The Shari’ah on this matter is clear: Zakah on monetary wealth and trade goods may only be paid in actual gold or silver.

A number of fatwahs about this matter have been issued by Islamic scholars, including the landmark fatwa of Shaykh ‘Illish, the great Shaykh of al- Azhar of the late 19th century. A translation of the full text of this fatwa can be found in the book Zakah – The Fallen Pillar of Islam. Paper money had just been introduced for the first time as currency within the Ottoman Empire and Shaykh ‘Illish was asked whether Zakah should be paid on it or not. In summary his answer was that Zakah should not be paid on it because, unlike gold and silver on which Zakah must be paid, the paper which was acting as currency had no intrinsic value. Zakah would only be owed on it if there was sufficient weight of it for its value as scrap paper to reach the amount of the nisab on which Zakah would be payable on it as merchandise.

This makes the principle involved extremely clear: Zakah can only be paid using those means, which are clearly defined in the Book and Sunnah, namely livestock, agricultural produce and actual gold and silver. Unlike paper money, these are all things which have value in themselves as commodities. If you deface a gold coin it is still worth its weight in gold, whereas if you deface a hundred Pula note it is worth virtually nothing at all.

 It might be said, going strictly by this understanding, that no Zakah is owed on wealth held in bank accounts and other modern forms of saving and investment because no actual gold or silver is involved. However, going by the fact that the original intention of paper money was to represent particular amounts of gold and silver, it has been argued that, for Zakah purposes, monetary wealth held in these forms should be valued in terms of the amount of gold or silver that can be bought with it. If this amount exceeds the nisab, Zakah is owed. Certainly, if Zakah is to be paid at all in the present circumstances, and this is something which must be done both to re-establish Allah’s deen in its entirety and to look after the needs of millions of Muslims who are legally entitled to it, then this is the position which needs to be adopted by Muslims everywhere. What must be emphasised, however, is that this in no way removes the obligation for Muslims to pay Zakah in the actual gold or silver categorically demanded by the Shari’ah.

Since the Zakah on monetary wealth has to be paid in gold or silver, it is essential to know exactly what amount of gold and silver constitutes the nisab, the minimum amount on which Zakah is owed. The nisab in the case of gold is 20 dinars by weight and in the case of silver it is 200 dirhams by weight, so we need to know the exact weight of both the dinar and the dirham to find out whether or not we owe Zakah and if we do, how much we have to pay.

Both dinars and dirhams are mentioned in the Qur’an and were in use during the lifetime of the Prophet Salla-l-laah. The exact weight and purity of those coins were carefully recorded at the time and have been passed down through the centuries. The dinar weighed 72 grains of pure gold whose equivalent in modern terms is 4.25 grams. The modern equivalent of the dirham is 3 grams of silver. On this basis, as far as Zakah is concerned, the nisab for gold is 4.25 x 20 which works out at 85 grams, and for silver 3 x 200 which comes to 600 grams. The exact value of these amounts of gold and silver in whatever currency is in use in the place where a person’s Zakah is being assessed, will, of course, depend on their market value at the time and will need to be calculated at the time and place that the Zakah is being assessed.

In the modern context gold dinars and silver dirhams, conforming exactly to the traditional dimensions, were minted in 1992 by Muslim communities in both Britain and Spain and since then have also been produced in considerable quantities in Indonesia, South Africa, Malaysia and Dubai. This has resulted in their availability for the payment of Zakah in various places throughout the world. However, because it is the actual weight of gold and silver which are the vital factor where Zakah is concerned, there is no reason why Krugerrands or gold sovereigns or indeed any other form of gold and silver should not also be used to pay Zakah, provided of course they are of the right weight and purity. The important points, which must again be stressed, are that firstly, according to the Shari’ah, the Zakah owed on monetary wealth may only be paid in actual gold and silver and secondly that there is in fact no difficulty in obtaining the gold and silver necessary to accomplish this.

In conclusion we have seen that a combination of factors – namely thefact that Zakah is no longer collected and distributed under Muslim political authority and the fact that there has been a total change in the nature of wealth in recent times – has meant that Zakah, the pivotal third pillar of the deen, has, to all intents and purposes, ceased to exist in anything like its original form and is certainly not being implemented in the way demanded by all sound Muslim legal authorities throughout Islamic history.At best it has now been left to individual choice and relegated to the realms of private sadaqah, which is very different from the pillar of Zakah commanded by Allah and instituted by His Messenger, and the rightly guided khalifahs who succeeded him,  ajma‘in.

This being the case it is clearly the duty of all Muslims to do everything within their power to put this right and restore the pillar of Zakah to its rightful place as one of the essential mainstays of Islam. As we have seen, to make this possible certain steps need to be taken, which can be summarised under four main headings.

POLITICAL LEADERSHIP: – As we have seen, recognised and active political leadership within each Muslim community is absolutely indispensable for the correct collection and distribution of Zakah. Therefore, we should either appoint new leaders from amongst ourselves who we then empower to organise the proper implementation of the pillar of Zakah, or we should approach and empower existing leadership to take it on.

ASSESSMENT & COLLECTION: – One of the first tasks of such leadership will be to appoint Zakah assessors and collectors. Not only will they have to be trustworthy and discrete, but they will also have to have the requisite knowledge of the fiqh of Zakah needed to calculate a person’s Zakah in the present situation and be able to deal with any special circumstances. So even if they are well versed in the traditional fiqh of Zakah they will also need to be clear on how to address the many new matters that the current financial system has thrown up.

GOLD AND SILVER COINAGE: – As we have seen access to gold and silvercoinage is essential for the correct payment of Zakah. Dinars and dirhams of the correct weight and purity of gold and silver are now available from a number of sources. As well as this other types of gold and silver coinage can also be easily obtained. It will be necessary to value cash and other assets in terms of the amount of gold or silver they can buy at that moment in that particular geographic location so that the exact weight of the metal concerned owed as Zakah can be correctly calculated. It must also be said that although Zakah must be collected and distributed in gold or silver, there is no harm in that gold or silver subsequently being exchanged for other forms of currency if that would make it easier for recipients. It is, however, hoped that within a reasonably short period of time the use of gold and silver coinage by traders and shopkeepers will become more and more commonplace so that such exchanges will cease to be necessary.

DISTRIBUTION: – The matter of the distribution of Zakah must be taken very seriously. Collected Zakah should be given as soon as possible to identified recipients within the Qur’anically defined eight categories. The leader of the community will have to liaise with the collectors and others, firstly to prioritise the categories of people entitled to receive Zakah in their particular location and secondly to decide how much each individual should be given.

I would like to finish by saying that what we have been talking about here is not just a theoretical possibility, some pie in the sky idea, some unrealisable dream about how things might be. This method of collecting and distributing Zakah in gold and silver, according to the original model first demonstrated for us by the Prophet Salla-l-laah and continued down through the centuries of Islam until comparatively recent times, has already been reactivated without difficulty in a number of Muslim communities throughout the world. It is in fact easy to do this and requires nothing more than the will to make it happen. And what greater incentive for us could there be than the words of our beloved Prophet Salla-l-laah himself, who told us: “Anyone who revives an aspect of my Sunnah that is forgotten after my death, will have a reward equivalent to that of all the people who follow him, without that diminishing their reward in any way.” (At-Tirmidhi) He also said, on the same lines: “Anyone who revives my Sunnah in the time of corruption will receive the reward of a hundred shuhada.” (al-Baihaqi) And in this case Fard and Sunnah combine together because we are talking about the re-establishment of Zakah, one of the fundamental obligations of our deen, and Allah ta’ala assures us on the tongue of His Messenger Salla-l-laah in a famous hadith qudsi: “My slave draws nearer to Me by nothing I love more than what I have made obligatory for him.” What more could we want; what greater reward could there be? Therefore we ask Allah, tabaraka wa ta’ala, to give us success in re-establishing the third pillar of His deen, Zakah, in the way He has prescribed it for us in His Book and the way it was implemented by His Messenger Salla-l-laah and those who have followed him down through the ages and that by doing that we may earn a great reward from Him and contribute significantly to the victory of Islam in our time.

Published in: Uncategorized on December 3, 2020 at 00:56  Leave a Comment  
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