The economics of Zakat and its relevance to modern times is a hotly debated issue among both religious and liberal Muslims. This series of articles will attempt to explain the concept of Zakat in the light of only the Quran and the faithful implementation of this concept by our Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). We will see how a similarly implemented system can solve the current economic problems of not just Muslim Countries, but of the World.
Zakat - First Universal Welfare System
Contrary to the beliefs of both religious and secular Muslims, the Prophet Muhammad achievements were based not on ephemeral but on the permanent values of the Quran. He brought about the greatest revolution, even an economic and political miracle in human history (see Michael Hart, THE 100, pages 3-10). In a very short time after the prophet migrated to Medina and implemented the system of salaat and zakat, the economic condition of the people changed.
* (For a detailed discussion about the system of salaat, see a two part article in MONITOR, pages 6-10, September/October 1998, and pages 7-12, December1998/January 1999)
The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is reported to have said; If a single person were to sleep hungry in a town, then God`s protection is lifted from that town -[Masnad Imam Ahmad]. This hadith emphasizes that no one (Muslims or non Muslims) under this system should go hungry. Thus this zakat system created the first universal welfare system in human history. It also gradually transformed the existing slave based economy to a universal welfare based economy. By the end of the Prophet`s period, the entire Arabian Peninsula enjoyed economic as well as political security. This system reached its pinnacle during Khalifa Umar`s time (again, see Michael Hart, THE 100, pages 261-265), a time when, history tells us, hardly anyone was in need of charity.
What has occurred then in the intervening years that the Muslims masses are suffering economic deprivation even though they live in areas with plenty of natural resources?
What Happened Then?
Muslims and non Muslims alike ask the question; If the system implemented by our Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and Sahabaa (r) was so good, why did it not continue? The answer is simple, we changed or abandoned the system implemented by the Prophet Muhammad. Instead of deciding matters with open consultation, as the Quran requires, the Ummayad and Abbasid dynastic rulers created a dictatorship under the guise of " Shari`iah " and " Ijma`a ". This was a ploy to fool the people. The rulers first acquired illegal political authority, and then delegated religious authority to Imams appointed by themselves.
Thus they hijacked the train of Islam from the track of our Prophet (pbuh) and his Sahabba (r) and put it on a new track called " Shari`ah ." Since then, a minority of the rich and powerful has been riding this train and entertaining their friends while exploiting the vast majority of Muslims along the way. Consequently, common Muslims have continued to live in poverty and to suffer intergenerational economic misery. Islam`s system of Zakat has had nothing to do with this sad state of affairs.
Zakat & Our Approach
Today, we are taught that zakat is one of the pillars of Islam. Zakat is generally translated as charity or poor due and it is required to be distributed according to the details given in the Shariah. However, the descendents of the Prophet (pbuh), generally known as "Syeds" in the Indian subcontinent are forbidden to take zakat according to this Shariah. No matter how poor, they are considered superior by birth compared to other Muslims due to their supposed relationship with the Prophet (pbuh). Obviously, this is against our Prophet`s Sunnah since he proclaimed justice, fairness, and equality for all, regardless of family or blood relationship.
The dispensation of zakat is regulated by different rates (called shar`h ) for different items called (nisaab) whose details are given in books of hadith and Fiqh. Zakat on money is 2.5% of the savings over a period of one year according to the Shari`ah. There are many conditions attached to the giving and receiving of zakat. There is no uniformity even among the Sunnis in the restrictions, rates and even the items of zakat.
In addition, there are different books of Fiqh and Shari`ah for different Muslim sects or schools of thought! Although Islamic scholars know about these differences in zakah among the Muslim sects, they rarely bring them out into the open, since it is in the interest of these scholars to keep the people ignorant.
The differences in zakat among the four Sunni Imams are not as major as among the Sunni and Shi`ia Imams. For example, in Fiqh Jaffariah , there is no zakat on paper currency. So, for the followers of this Fiqh there is no Zakat on bank accounts. When General Zia-ul-Haq, the Pakistani military ruler instituted compulsory zakat in Pakistan, the Shi`ia `Ulema revolted against it and refused to abide by the government`s zakat ordinance. Ultimately the government excluded Shi`ias from the yearly bank account deductions. This led many Sunnis to declare themselves Shi`ias on their bank forms to avoid paying zakat on their bank accounts.
Zakat - Conclusion
Dear sisters and brothers! We must re-turn to the true spirit of the Quran; we must have the courage to follow the Islam of our Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), which requires real sacrifice and a drastic change in our lifestyles. We must go back to the Quran as the primary source, and not to the rulings of Islamic scholars from the time of the Ummayad and Abbasid rulers.
In Part 2 of this article we will look at the real meaning and significance of zakah - the Arabic word zakah with its root z-k-w , which means growth and development, not charity or poor-due. Keeping this meaning in full view, zakat is supposed to ultimately lead to growth and development of all human beings; it is supposed to remove the need for charity or poor-due in the long term. We will see how zakat not only leads to the economic progress of individuals and all human beings but to their spiritual progress as well. We will also note the difference between Sadaqaa and Zakat.