The Misers only Pay Zakat!
Infaq, or spending, and the giving of charity in the way of God is mentioned in the Islamic texts frequently, for example: “O you believers! Spend from what We have granted you!” (Surah Baqara verse 254; Surah Munafiqun verse 10). Charitable giving in its various forms has been the cornerstone of philanthropic endeavours in Muslim societies – waqf, for example, supported scholars and da’wah activities, it has built many great institutions of learning, in addition to think tanks, for producing eternalised principles and thought. Muslims have been, and continue to, support such initiatives due to the Islamic principles of sadaqa and sadaqa jariyah. Giving to charitable causes in Muslim societies is believed to be an action that not only brings pleasure and fulfilment to the giver, but more importantly, an action that brings the giver closer to God in-hope to earn His pleasure.
The bare minimum payment of Zakat is not necessarily categorised as ihsan (goodness), it is a legal obligation in Islam. It is something one has to perform no matter what (as long as the conditions are met). It was said that those who only paid their minimum Zakat obligations, were considered to be stingy and misers as this is seen as an act to simply discharge one’s responsibility of Zakat. Doing more and giving more was considered ihsan. The general point here should not be misunderstood, all actions in Islam, even the obligations, are Ihsan. However, here there is a demarcation to demonstrate what is legally required and what the believer should do extra to attain the pleasure of God. Zakat is a small part of that.
The philosophy to give more than one’s obligations with respect to Zakat, is however changing. With the growing challenges posed by materialism, individuals are becoming more materialistic resulting in a decline in generosity when it comes to charity. Despite the continuous generosity of the Muslim community, charities have to continuously be more innovative (to encourage donations) in order to catalyse the process of Muslims giving charity.
The process of using Zakat payments is very stringent as the zakat can only be used for specific purposes and cases. Unlike other charitable donation categories such as Sadaqa, there are multiple restrictions given the impermissibility of utilising Zakat for everything that is considered ‘good’.
However, Zakat is used is often misunderstood by the masses; as one of the five pillars of Islam, God elevated the status of Zakat and Zakat giving to a level unprecedented by other categories of charity. Zakat, in simple terms, cannot be used for anything and everything – if this was the case, one begs to ask, why there was a need to separate Zakat in Islam and allocate and specify certain types of recipients. Wouldn’t one category fit all types of work and goodness? It’s therefore important to not overlook the basic principles of Zakat during discussions, rather, for individuals to reflect the true purpose of Zakat and why it was not a blank canvas for all causes.
Psychology of giving:
An important point to highlight at this juncture is the psychology of giving. As human beings, we have a tendency to become negligent and miserly when it comes to our charitable responsibilities of financially contributing towards causes. God, the One who knows us better than our own selves, has therefore intentionally obligated us to pay Zakat. Irrespective of whether one likes or dislikes paying Zakat, it is hoped that the payer will be purified by the discharging of this obligation. If God had permitted the payments from Zakat to be all-encompassing when it came to utilising these monies, there would have been an increased probability of Muslims becoming complacent and therefore, feeling satisfied with simply just paying the bare minimum. This is because, from a psychological perspective, individuals would be more inclined to feel that they would not ‘need’ to contribute towards other causes such as building mosques, Da’wah activities etc. If Zakat was indeed for all types of goodness, there wouldn’t be any need to give extra donations; there would be a cognitive perception created in the minds of people, subconsciously, that their Zakat would be sufficient and therefore, all encompassing. If such a mind-set was to become the norm, and if it was indeed to settle in the minds of Muslims across the world, this would be a disaster for the neediest and vulnerable in our societies.
There a number of variables to highlight on this issue. Firstly, we must ask ourselves – is Zakat being abused? Are there any conflicts of interest? Who are the main real and true beneficiaries?
Translating the Qur’an, making copies and distributing them amongst people is undoubtedly a rewarding and much needed activity. However, it is wrong to use Zakat for this purpose. We should help and donate money for this cause, no doubt, but not finance this through Zakat payments. We therefore turn to the Qur’an where God has specified the recipients – due to there being clear verses on this matter, there’s no requirement for ijtihad to be done. Due to such unwavering evidence for these categories, stretching the categories to other meanings is wrong and unacceptable. Therefore, those who pay their Zakat outside of the categorises as highlighted by the Qur’an, their Zakat would be void and not be accepted as Zakat and would hence need to pay their Zakat again.
There a number of other issues related to this. But this may be left for another time.
It is important to understand these issues. Be safe and careful where you give your Zakat. It is better to be safe than sorry.
Sheikh A. Hasan (Zakat Specialist)