The Zakah tax is the third pillar of Islam. It consists of the payment of a specific portion of wealth whenever the total savings of a person reaches a specific level. This wealth is then distributed to a specific set of beneficiaries at a specific time in order to improve the general welfare.
The Zakah tax and the religions of the past:
The previous scriptures recognized the essential meaning of the Zakah tax, this being a consideration for the poor by giving them a portion of wealth. Allah says:
“And when We took the covenant of the Children of Israel: do not worship anyone except Allah and show respect to parents, near relatives, the orphans, and the poor, and speak righteousness to the people, and establish prayer, and pay the Zakah.”
The Messiah (peace be upon him) mentioned Zakah when he was in the cradle. Allah relates his words:
“And He enjoined prayer and Zakah upon me as long as I live.”
Zakah in Islam is a complete system. From the beginning, Islam encouraged spending in charity. Allah says:
“In their wealth is a clear right for the beggar and the destitute.”
When the Islamic state was established in Madinah, the Zakah tax became one of the formal Islamic rites with a distinct system of its own based on the following principles:
1. It is an obligatory duty on the wealthy. It is not a voluntary charity. Allah says, commanding His Messenger (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him):
“Take from their wealth charity.”
Allah also calls it:
“…a duty from Allah.”
2. It is taken from specific types of wealth, each type having a unique minimum limit, whereby no Zakah is levied unless it is reached.
3. The amount of Zakah levied is inversely proportionate to the effort needed to acquire the wealth. In the Zakah on produce, for instance, rain-fed produce is taxed more heavily than produce that is cultivated with irrigation.
4. It is given to a specific set of beneficiaries that are mentioned in the Qur’an. Allah says:
“The charity is only for the poor, the destitute, the Zakah collectors, to reconcile hearts to Islam, to free the slaves, people in debt, those in the path of Allah, and the wayfarer; an obligation from Allah, and Allah is All-Knowing, All-Wise.”
Zakah is a manifestation of Islam’s concern for the human being. Allah has honored the human being. He says:
“Truly, We have honored the descendants of Adam.”
One of the ways in which this honor can be seen is Allah has taken into consideration those who are unable to provide for themselves. He has made society responsible for their needs through a number of inunctions in the Divine Law, among the most important of which is Zakah. This concern is conditional. The needy person is expected to expend the maximum possible effort to provide for his or her self so that any charity given will be of a supplementary nature. Thus, this charity might be to remedy a temporary misfortune, or it might be to provide for someone who is completely incapable of providing for his or her own needs.
Zakah is an institution managed by the state. It is the responsibility of the political authority to collect the Zakah, safeguard it, and distribute it to its rightful recipients who are mentioned in the Qur’anic verse. Allah commands His Messenger (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) in the following way:
“Take from their wealth charity to cleanse them and purify them.”
The political authority must appoint the officials who are responsible to collect, safeguard, record, and distribute the Zakah. The political authority must also set the salaries of these officials, which is also drawn from the Zakah.
Published on: April 29, 2004. From Link: islamonline.com