The entire concept behind Zakaat is to eradicate poverty
“And those in whose wealth there is a recognised right for the needy or deprived,” Qu’ran 70.24-5.
Zakaat is one of the five pillars of Islam. There are three compulsory tenets- belief in Allah and his Messenger (SAW), Namaz and Zaakat. The remaining two are Roza and Hajj, though highly desirable for all Muslims are optional because some people for medical reasons are not able to fast and others don’t have the necessary money to go on the Hajj.
Essentially Zakaat is a tax imposed on wealth in order to help the poor. Historically, this was obligatory. And is still so in certain Islamic countries: Libya, Malaysia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Sudan.
The word Zakaat itself comes from the Arabic word to purify - as in the Qu’ran “take from their wealth so that you might purify and sanctify them,” Qu’ran (9.103). This verse from the Qu’ran teaches Muslims that Zakaat is a right which the poor have over the wealthy; it is a duty imposed on the wealthy.
Zakaat is not the same as the Western concept of charity which is entirely voluntary. Zakaat is an obligatory religious duty for all Muslims who meet the Nisaab threshold that is the minimum amount of wealth owned by a Muslim before the payment of Zakaat becomes an obligatory duty. The actual computation of the Nisaab is dizzingly complex and very difficult to understand.
The Qu’ran makes clear who is eligible to receive Zakaat: “Alms are only for the poor and the needy, and those whose hearts are to be reconciled. And for the cause of Allah and for debtors.”
Today Zakaat is voluntary. Voluntary contributions are also confusingly called Sadaqat (sabka in Hindi). In Kashmir, people tend to use Zakaat while in India Muslims use Sabka for general almsgiving and Zakaat to refer to alms given at Eid.
Indian Muslims further muddy the issue by saying Sabka gives good karma. Karma being a Hindu concept has no place in Islam just as shrines don’t either.
As Muslims we go to the mosque to pray to Allah; at shrines,people pray to various holy people in Islam or their relics.Shrines are only found in India and Kashmir;and not in any of the Gulf States or in other Muslim countries such as Malaysia or Brunei.
The whole concept behind Zakaat is the eradication of poverty.
In the time of Umar ibnAbdul Aziz, it is said that the Zakaat distributors travelled far and wide but were unable to find anybody poor enough in the region to receive Zakaat. It shows the true meaning and power of Zakaat and it’s importance.
If everyone paid the Zakaatand the funds were used widely to change the root causes of poverty then global hunger and destitution could be ended, at least in Muslim countries.
Today Zakaat in most Muslim states is voluntary and enforced only by fear of Allah, peer pressure and individual attitudes and does not take the form of giving a percentage of one’s wealth but rather generalised charity.
Charity is well known and practiced in the West though through personal feelings not out of religious obligation. Muslims often don’t understand the general lack of religion practised in the West since if you are born in a Muslim country to Muslim parents then from birth you are automatically Muslim.
Outside the West, people are unaware of the huge numbers of destitute and homeless people who sleep on the streets of every Western city and who beg for money.
Many of these unfortunate people have drug or alcohol addictions. It is a general assumption in many parts of the world and not just India that the streets of Europe are paved with gold and everybody living there is wealthy. This is the mistake Syrian refugees made in flooding into Europe.
Europe is often hard-put to give welfare to it's own citizens. A sudden huge influx of refugees strained their resources beyond control and resulted in an increased backlash against the Muslims.
As a European woman, I was actively involved in charity. I adopted stray cats, donated freely to animal welfare organisations and worked as legal co-ordinator for Amnesty International (Australia).
Many people in the West either outright refuse to give charity to organisations or individuals because as many they say:“We pay our taxes”. And taxation in the West is very high indeed. Others said I was wasting my time but it made me happy to help animals especially.
Beggars swarm everywhere both inside and outside the West. Some refugees and gypsies in Europe are extremely dangerous. I have travelled before in South-East Asia and was used to beggars but was shocked by the constant barrage from beggars in India.
It is to be noted that I never saw any rich Indian give money to a beggar (though this is a wide statement). In India, I was always being coerced by a Muslim tour guide in Jaipur to give Sabka to every beggar that appeared. I was always told this is good karma but they would never gave one single rupee out of their own pockets.
To a much lesser extent, I also found beggars in Kashmir though I was told that many of the beggars in the centre of Srinagar come from India and are not Muslims and that the Qu’ran tells us that Zakaat should be given to Muslims in preference to non-Muslims.
My pale skin was a magnet for beggars everywhere and I was very glad to put on niqaab after I converted to Islam and gain respite fromthis constant siege of beggars.
It was a revelation in Kashmir to have the true intent of Zakaat explained to me. That Zakaat is given to those who are unable to work through disability, illnesses or age.
Zakaat is not about indiscriminate giving to anyone who begs. Some boys sold dusters or notebooks by the roadside in Srinagar and this is honestly trying to earn a living. Neatly dressed little girls openly begged for money along the same road. It was explained they did this during their school holidays and more out of the wish for extra income than need. If I gave them ten rupees then they always demanded more. So instead I always brought fresh cakes or biscuits to give them. They hated this and their faces registered disgust.
One day one of the honest boys selling dusters exclaimed he was too hungry when we didn’t buy anything. I had no cakes left and was about to give him some money when my companion stopped me. He told me that boy is trying to earn a living in accordance with Islam to give him money for nothing, might encourage him to believe begging is the better option.
In UAE, where I live now, there are no beggars. There are many poor low wage workers but no beggars. Begging is illegal in this Muslim country.
Nobody here is troubled by the sight of overt poverty. There are glimpses of poverty and Emirati people give money to feed these people after Friday prayer. Lacking Arabic this isn’t possible for me since I have no way of finding out who they are. Many Emirati people also don’t understand English. But every single day that I am able, I do give Zakaat. People sometimes say I need not spend so much.
People in Kashmir and India said I have a duty to give first to people. It is true that Sahih Bukhari states that, “The best charity is that which is practised by a wealthy person. And start giving first to your dependents.”
However, I have no dependents. Sometimes people just catch my heart like the old man begging outside a Portuguese church in Goa. Afterwards, I found out he was a gypsy.
But I also know that the Qu’ran teaches that: “A good deed done to an animal is as meritorious as a good deed done to a human being, while an act of cruelty to an animal is as bad as an act of cruelty to a human being,” (Surah 4:36).
One hadith relates that a woman was sent to hell because of a cat which she locked up without food or water until it died, Sahih Bukhari. Another hadith relates that a woman was granted Jannah simply for the act of giving water to a dog dying of thirst, Sahih Bukhari,(4:538).
I do not therefore consider myself as obliged to give Zakaatto people. I can count on the fingers of one hand the people who have loved and helped me in this life. Animals have always given me unconditional love.
Abu Hurrairah (may Allah be pleased with him) was a very close companion of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and he related more hadith than any other companion.
Abu Hurrairah so loved cats that people forgot his original name of Abdul Rahman and he became known as Abu Hurrairah or “Father of kitten”- Hurrairah means a kitten in Arabic.
Cats are revered in Islam. They wander freely in Masjid al-haram in Makkah. So my Zakaat is to the cats of UAE.
Few dogs are visible here unlike Kashmir where stray dogs are everywhere and mostly disliked but I saw few cats. In the West, stray cats and dogs are few. People or organisations take care of them. In UAE there are very few dogs visible but there are many stray cats.
Two of the cats I feed are tabbys and I call one Muezza. They now have names, food and know love. One of them was tattered, the sort people automatically kicked on sight. Now she had bloomed into a beautiful sweet natured little cat. I can’t give them what they crave so badly, a home because I don’t have one of my own. I gladly give these cats my Zakaat.
And when I sit with these little strays snuggled next to me I feel a sense of deep peace. It is the same peace as when I hear the Azaan.
The peace given by the sight of the soaring white minarets, of Sheik Zayed Mosque, and the peace of a special remote place of green water and ineffable beauty in UAE. It renews every single time my happiness and gratitude that I am a Muslim.