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Al-Zakat (Alms Giving)


Al-Zakat is the third pillar in Islam, it is hard to translate the word, or find its synonym in English. In Arabic, the word is driven from the root z.k.a and the verb that is driven from that root is zakka which means " to purify", and also means “make something grow and develop”. It is commonly known that al-Zakat is “alms giving”. This translation is not accurate, if we consider the philosophy behind that pillar. There is a difference between alms giving al-sadaqa and al-Zakat. Sadaqa is a “voluntary service” of any kind that is given from any person to another. The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) encourages everyone to give sadaqa. A smile, words of sympathy, half a fruit of a date can be a sadaqa. Zakat, on the other hand, is an assigned amount of money or crops that should be paid to the community.glossary Zakat is not a tax system where everybody pays some expenses in return of the public service that the government offers. It is not either a system of social insurance where the rich pays some installments to guarantee some services in cases of any damage.

It is the right of the community to take this percentage of money or crops from all its members, which is used to support the less privileged among them. In this sense, the person who pays the Zakat, gives the needy “their rights”:

And in their wealth and possessions (was remembered) the right of the (needy), him who asked, and him who (for some reason) was prevented (from asking) (HQ: 51: 19).

The philosophy behind this act has multi dimensions. Al-Zakat considers that rich people's properties are not absolutely theirs. Unless they pay the rights of the poor, they are considered transgressors. It is also a yearly reminder of the fact that what we earn and what we have is not really ours. It is a gift from God. We shoulder certain responsibility towards this gift. Because socially and legally, what we have is ours, we are prone to get attached to what we have and forget that we are just passing by. Al-zakat emphasizes that fact indirectly. The awareness of that dimension protects the individual human being from feeling superior. This awareness may even raise feelings of overall responsibilities for what seemingly are her/his properties.

To witness that there is no God but God through al-Zakat has a specific dimension. Al-Zakat makes us aware of the Origin of All. To awaken our souls to that reality, we can remove the false barriers and feel how much we belong to one another, because we belong to Allah. In this process, our ego melts and diminishes. We realize that it is God who gives through us, and that every one of us is a medium, a messenger from Allah. We are one with Muhammad (PBUH) the Messenger of Allah. Muhammad (PBUH) , for us, turns to be the symbolic expression of our oneness.

Al-Zakat removes our social identity from the way and highlights the spirit as the core of our existence. It is not a coincidence that Al-Zakat is driven from the verb that means, “to purify”. Elevating ourselves to a higher abstract level means that we are disposing our ego. This is the very act of purification. What defiles us, is our lower self with its power that pulls us down and drags us in the abyss of the pride and arrogance.

Al-Zakat is the way that a person becomes a channel through which Allah reaches the needy. Therefore Al-Zakat is accomplished if one is connected to the higher source. It is not a mere act of giving, but it is a kind of prayer. No wonder, thus that in most of the verses that mention Prayers, al-Salat, Al-Zakat follows. This message is given to the whole world, that is, they should open themselves to be channels for love. That is only possible, when the individual human being is truly aware that s/he belongs to Allah alone. Consequently what s/he owns here in this world is a mirage.

While al-Zakat is mainly a purifying ritual, it has its social and economic impact. The outcome of shared feelings of belonging to one another and to the Supreme among a community creates a self -observation attitude where the interest of the whole is preferred than the mere individual interests. This may result in economic flourish and elevation of poverty without the interference of a government to limit the expansion of individual property. A person, whose thoughts are directed to what is best for the whole community is likely to invest, rather then freeze her/his money. The more s/he earns, the more s/he would think of how to support and then invest.glossary  Next >>>

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