Zakat in Shi‘a Fiqh – Part three

By Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi (Toronto, Canada)

Zakat On Currency

The Sunni schools of Islamic law believe that zakat is wajib on any kind of gold and silver, whereas the Shi‘a school believes that zakat is wajib on gold and silver only if they are in form of coins.
As for currencies, three of the four Sunni schools say that it is wajib to pay zakat on currencies provided they reaches to the minimum value (equivalent to 4.8 grams of gold) and provided they were under one’s continuous possession for a year.

The fourth Sunni school (Hanbali) believes that it is not wajib to pay zakat on currencies unless one converts them into gold or silver.11 This position is closest to the Shi‘a position that believes that zakat on currencies will become wajib only when one converts them into gold or silver coins.

The Shi‘a school believes that it is not wajib to pay zakat on currencies. There is a very logical
explanation for why zakat is not wajib in currencies:


1) If a person says that “the currencies or bank notes represent the gold or silver coins that are in the government’s treasury,” we would still say that zakat is not wajib on them. Why? Because a person who possesses the currencies does not possess the gold or silver coins, he just possesses the right to ask the government for gold or silver coins. For zakat to become wajib, one must possess the actual coins for a whole year.


2) If a person says, “the currencies or bank notes represent the gold or silver ingots that are in the government’s treasury,” we would still say that zakat is not wajib on them. Why? Zakat becomes wajib on silver and gold only in form of coins.


3) If a person says that “the currencies or bank notes are like promissory notes that prove the
indebtedness of the government to that person for certain number of gold or silver coins that are in its treasury,” we would still say that zakat is not wajib on them. Why? What a person has given to someone else as loan is not deemed to be in his possession and therefore it is not liable for zakat.

Moreover, there was a time when the value of US dollar, the main paper currency of our time, was fixed to an ounce of gold based on the gold reserves in the US Federal Reserve. But the costly Vietnam War drained US gold reserves and so, in August 1971, Nixon broke the Bretton Woods agreement, and refused to redeem dollars for gold since he had not enough gold to give.

The US dollar is now fixed only to the printing press of the Treasury and Federal Reserve.
I hope this clarifies the issue of zakat in the Qur’an and the way the Shi‘as have believed in it.

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Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi

About the author

He was born in 1957 in a family of ‘ulamã’ in Bihar, India. He comes from a region in Bihar (Siwan District, previously known as Saran) that has produced well-known Shi‘a scholars in the Indian sub-continent. Migrated to Africa with his parents where he received elementary education in English medium school. After that for two years, he studied Arabic and Farsi with his respected father and two other ‘alims in Dar-Es-salaam, Tanzania.

In 1972, at the age of fifteen, he went to the Hawza-e ‘Ilmiya-e Qum, Iran. During his ten years stay in Qum, he studied with various teachers; and moved from the levels of muqaddimãt to sutûh (equal to graduate level in secular universities) and, finally, attended the dars-e kharij (ijtihad lectures equal to post-graduate studies) of Ayatullah al-Uzma Shaikh Wahid Khurãsãni.

In 1982, he returned to India where he stayed at Gopalpur for about a year.

In June 1983, at the invitation of the Shia Muslim Community of British Columbia, he and his wife moved to Vancouver where he stayed till June 1991 and served Shi‘a Islam through his lectures, writings, and teachings. Based on his publications and educational background, in September 1987, the Simon Fraser University (Vancouver) admitted him in the post-graduate program at Masters’ level. This was even though he had no formal degree nor was he asked to sit for any exams. In 1990 he completed his thesis; and after successfully defending the thesis, was awarded the Master of Arts degree in History in 1991.

In July 1991, he moved to Toronto and till 1996 worked as the Director of Islamic Education & Information Center providing a variety of religious services to Shi‘as in North America. During this time, he was also involved in the founding of the As-Sadiq Islamic School, a full time Islamic school from KG to Grade 8 levels. Since July 1996, he has accepted the responsibilities of the Imam-e Jum‘a and Resident ‘Ãlim of the Jaffari Islamic Center / Jaffari Community Center.

He has traveled to most cities in Canada and U.S.A.; as well as to Australia, Guyana, Trinidad, United Kingdom, Dubai, Pakistan, Tanzania and Kenya for lectures.
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