By Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi (Toronto, Canada)
Zakat in The Qur’an
“When I read in Qur’an I find great stress on ‘salat and zakat’ in many, many verses and so I feel afraid to advise my children to be conscientious about paying khums from their salary but not to pay zakat. May Allah (swt) forgive me because I am not alim and not in a position to interpret Qur’an and also as a Shi‘a I have to do taqlid but my heart is not at peace about this matter of zakat. In every respect I feel Shi‘a are superior to Sunni but on this matter I am confused. How come all of them (Sunni) who have any wealth have the honour of fulfilling this duty whereas we do not?”
First of all, the repeated occurrence of an item in the Qur’an does not mean that it is more important than the other orders that have been mentioned fewer times. For example, the laws of inheritance have been mentioned only once. That one occurrence does not make the laws of inheritance any less important than zakat. Similarly, the order of going for hajj and fasting during the month of Ramadhan has occurred only once respectively even though both are part of the five arkan (pillars) of Islamic teachings.
Or, for example, there are more verses that describe the spiritual aspect (intention and sincerity) of giving recommended charity (sadaqa) than the verses on how to pay zakat. This does not diminish the importance of wajib zakat.
Secondly, the term “zakat” as used in the Qur’an does not necessarily mean the same as the “zakat” listed in the furu‘-e din or the five pillars of Islamic teachings. Majority of our people read the Qur’anic term “zakat” in the light of what they have been taught about “zakat” as one of the wajib taxes in Islam. The reality is otherwise. In many places, the Qur’an uses the term “Sadaqa” for the wajib zakat, and conversely it uses the term “zakat” for recommended charity.
“Sadaqa” in the meaning of wajib zakat
1) While ordering the Prophet to take the zakat from the people, Allah (s.w.t.) says: “Take from their wealth the Sadaqa, you would cleanse them and purify them thereby, and pray (Salli) for them; surely your prayer (Salat) is a relief to them; and Allah is Hearing, Knowing. Do they not know that Allah accepts the repentance from His servants and takes the Sadaqat. And surely Allah is the Forgiving, the Merciful.” (9:103-104)
As you see in this verse, the words “Sadaqa and Sadaqat” refer to the wajib zakat, and the word “Salli
and Salat” refer to du‘a and not to the daily prayers.
2) While describing the causes for which wajib zakat is to be used, the Qur’an says: “The Sadaqat are only for the poor, the needy, their collectors, those whose hearts are conciliatory (towards Islam), the emancipation of slaves, the debtors, in Allah’s way, and the stranded traveler.” (9:60)
Based on this verse, all the Muslim scholars have outlined the causes for which the wajib zakat is to be
“Zakat” in the meaning of recommended charity (i.e., Sadaqa)
1) The famous incident in which Imam ‘Ali (a.s.) gave charity to the beggar while he was in the position
of ruku‘ has been described in the Qur’an as follows: “Your master is only Allah, His Messenger, and those who believe: those who establish the prayer and pay the zakat while they are in ruku‘.” (5:55)
The commentators of the Qur’an say that the last phrase of this verse refers to Imam ‘Ali bin Abi Talib (a.s.) when he gave the ring from his finger to the beggar while he was in ruku‘.
It is worth noting that none of the schools of law in Islam enlist the ring or personal jewelry as an item for
2) Wherever the Qur’an quotes the pre-Islamic prophets talking about “zakat,” it is surely not talking about the wajib zakat as defined in the Islamic laws. In the historical context of those prophets, the Qur’an uses the term “zakat” in meaning of charity. For example:
Prophet ‘Isa (a.s.): “…and He has enjoined on me prayer (salat) and charity (zakat) for as long as
I live…” (19:31)
Prophet Isma‘il (a.s.): “And he enjoined on his family prayer (salat) and charity (zakat)…” (19:55)
Referring to other prophets: “…and We revealed to them the doing of good, the establishing of
prayer (salat) and the giving of charity (zakat)…” (21:73)
Thirdly, now that the variety in the meaning of zakat as used in the Qur’an is clear, let us deal with the question that: Why does the Qur’an mention “salat and zakat” so many times? In majority of the cases where “salat” and “zakat” are mentioned together, the word “zakat” covers all forms of financial obligations that we have upon one another in a Muslim society. “Salat” represents God’s rights upon us and “zakat” represents the rights of other people that God has placed upon us.
By combining “zakat” with “salat,” we are being constantly reminded that Islam is not a religion that only
gives importance to fulfill the rights that God has upon us, it also gives importance to the rights that other
human beings have upon us.
In this sense, the word “zakat” (just like the term “infaq”) encompasses all the rights of other people
including khums, fitra, anfal, etc. For example, in the very beginning of Chapter Two of the Qur’an, when
Allah (s.w.t.) describes the qualities of the righteous people, He says: “Those who believe in the unseen,
who establish the prayer, and who give in charity (yunfiqun, verb form from infaq) out of what We have
Finally, there is no need to feel that others are more superior to us. No one has stopped any Shi‘a from
paying 2.5% (or, for that matter, from paying 10%) from his or her salary as the “zakat” in the meaning of
recommended charity (Sadaqa). But you cannot make something that is not wajib as wajib by your own
whim and desire! Why should a Shi‘a think of himself as inferior by paying khums which has been mentioned once in the Qur’an? Does its occurrence only once make it a lesser obligation? Should we not be questioning the other Muslims who have totally suspended the obligation of khums even though it has been mentioned —even if once— in the Qur’an?
They should be asked why they have suspended khums whereas all Islamic schools of law believe that zakat cannot be given to someone who is from the Banu Hashim, the family of the Prophet. The Shi‘as have not suspended the zakat; we from day one have believed that zakat is wajib in the nine items and recommended in other items that can be weighed or that grows from the earth, and have not suspended that law that all!