Among the fundamental tenets of Islam, Zakaah occupies a place next in importance only to belief and Salaah. As one would say, it is the third pillar of Islam.
Zakaah means that a Muslim who is in possession of a certain amount of wealth, or more, is required by his religion to spend one-fortieth of it at the end of every twelve months on the poor, the needy and the wayfarer, and on such other items of charity and other heads of expenses as are
prescribed1 for it by Allah (Subhaanahu Wata'aalaa) and the Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihe Wasallam).
At several places in the Holy Quraan, Zakaah has been enjoined on Muslims side by side with Salaah. While reading the Holy Quraan you would have come across a number of times the command: "Be steadfast in prayer: practise regular Zakaah." On several occasions it has been spoken of by the Holy Quraan as a characteristic feature of Muslims that, "They establish prayer and give regular Zakaah." These two verses go to show emphatically that those who do not offer Salaah and fail to pay the Zakaah are, in fact, not Muslims, for the two basic attributes and distinguishing features of a genuine Muslim are not present in them.
Anyway, habitual neglect of Salaah and failure to pay the Zakaah are, according to the Holy Quraan, not the qualities of a Muslim but of an atheist or a polytheist. About the Salaah we have a verse in Sura-h-Room of the Holy Quraan which reads:
Establish regular Salaah and be not ye among polytheists those who join gods with Allah (Subhaanahu Wata'aalaa) [XXX:31]
And about the evasion of Zakaah being the attribute of polytheists and infidels we have it in Sura-h-Fussilat:
And woe to polytheists those who join god with Allah (Subhaanahu Wata'aalaa) those who practise not regular Zakaah, and who even deny the Hereafter. [XLI:76-77]
The fate that awaits those who do not pay the Zakaah and the punishment that is going to be handed out to them in the Hereafter is so dreadful that the mere thought of it is enough to make one's hairs stand on end. For instance it is stated in Sura-h-Tauba:
And there are those who bury gold and silver and spend it not in the way of Allah (Subhaanahu Wata'aalaa); announce unto them a most grievous penalty-On the Day when heat will be produced out of that (wealth) in the Fire of Hell, and with it will be branded their foreheads, their flanks and their backs. "This is the (treasure) which ye buried for yourselves. Taste ye the (treasures) ye buried." [IX:34-35]
In one of his Traditions, the Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihe Wasallam) has explained in a little more detail the purport of this Surah. The Tradition when translated into English reads:
"He who possesses gold or silver (i.e., wealth) but does not fulfill the obligations that are attached to the possessions of wealth (i.e., dues not paid, e.g., Zakaah etc.) plates of fire will be prepared for him on the Day of Judgment. These plates will be heated further in the fire of hell and then his forehead and sides and back will be branded with them. The plates will be heated up again and again to brand him and this will continue throughout the Day of Judgment which will be equal to fifty thousand years in this world."
Beside this, other horrible kinds of punishment are also mentioned in the Traditions. May Allah (Subhaanahu Wata'aalaa) save us all from them!
UNJUST AND UNGRATEFUL
People who have been blessed by Allah (Subhaanahu Wata'aalaa) with wealth and prosperity are, indeed, a most unjust and ungrateful lot if they do not pay the Zakaah and shirk from spending their riches in His way as desired by Him. They richly deserve the punishment that is going to be meted out to them on the Day of Recompense.
Again, what is generally not realised is that it is our own poor and indigent brothers we serve when we pay the Zakaah or spend our money on others acts of charity. By evading the Zakaah we, as such, do a great wrong to our needy and helpless brethren and play foul with their rights.
To think over it from another angle, whatever we have by way of property or wealth has, after all, been granted to us by Allah (Subhaanahu Wata'aalaa) and we are His creatures and slaves. He commands full control and authority over our lives. Were He to demand from us every bit of our property or our life it self, our duty, even then, would lie in placing everything before Him quietly and without demur. It is merely His Kindness and Benevolence that He has called on us to give away in Zakaah only one-fortieth of the wealth He has bestowed on us.
Another extra-ordinary favour of the Lord is that He has placed an enormous reward on Zakaah and other deeds of charity though whatever we give away is only out of the possessions and the wealth He has been pleased to bestow on us. It would have been perfectly reasonable and justified if there had been no promise of a reward from Him on these things. If He is pleased with our conduct when we spend, from the resources He has favoured us with, in Zakaah and in other charitable activities, as ordained by Him, and has given the assurance of a rich premium on such deeds of ours, it is solely due to His Infinite Kindness and Mercy. States the Holy Quraan:
The parable of those who spend their substance in the way of Allah (Subhaanahu Wata'aalaa) is that of a grain of corn; it groweth seven ears and each ear hath a hundred grains. Allah (Subhaanahu Wata'aalaa) giveth manifold increase to whom He pleaseth: for Allah (Subhaanahu Wata'aalaa) careth for all and He knoweth all things. Those who spend their substance in the cause of Allah (Subhaanahu Wata'aalaa) and follow not up their gifts with reminders of their generosity or with injury-their reward is with their Lord: on them shall be no fear nor shall they grieve. [II-261-262]
In the above verse, three promises have been made on behalf of Allah (Subhaanahu Wata'aalaa) to those who practise Zakaah and spend their money in His way through other means:
One, Allah (Subhaanahu Wata'aalaa) will repay them hundred-fold in this world for what they spend;
Two, they will be rewarded bounteously in the Hereafter;
Three, there will be for them neither fear nor grief on the Day of Judgment.
The holy Companions had the fullest faith in these promises. When verses extolling the spiritual merit of expending in the path of Allah (Subhaanahu Wata'aalaa) and denoting what stupendous Divine reward was on it were revealed to the Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihe Wasallam) and the Companions came to know of them from him they were so deeply stirred that such of them as were poor and did not have the means to give away somethings in charity left their homes and went out in search of work and carried heavy loads on their backs so that they could earn some money to spend for the sake of Allah (Subhaanahu Wata'aalaa).
We will reproduce here just one Tradition of the Holy Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihe Wasallam) revealing the significance and the outstanding worth and merit of Zakaah.
States the Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihe Wasallam). "There are three things whoever acquires them acquires the real joy of faith; Firstly, to worship Allah (Subhaanahu Wata'aalaa) and no one besides Him; secondly, to believe sincerely in and, lastly, to pay the Zakaah cheerfully on one's possessions every year."
Apart from the reward and recompense in the Hereafter, numerous wordly advantages also accrue from practising the Zakaah regularly and spending in other Divinely prescribed branches of charity. For example, a Muslim who discharges these obligations properly experiences a rare feeling of satisfaction and tranquility in his heart, the poor do not feel jealous of his wealth. On the other hand, they wish him well pray for his welfare and look towards him with love and admiration. The world holds him in high esteem everyone likes him and feels drawn towards him sympathetically, and, Allah (Subhaanahu Wata'aalaa) bestows prosperity on him and multiplies his wealth.
A Tradition of the Holy Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihe Wasallam) reads:
"The mandate of Allah (Subhaanahu Wata'aalaa) is: "O Son of Adam! Go on spending the wealth I have given thee (on the poor, the needy and the destitute); I shall give thee more."
"I can swear no one will become poor because of expending in the way of Allah (Subhaanahu Wata'aalaa)."
May Allah (Subhaanahu Wata'aalaa) endow us all with stanchest faith in the sayings of the Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihe Wasallarn) and grant us the great good fortune to act on them!