Zakat in Shi‘a Fiqh – Part 1

Sayyid Muhammad RizviThe writer, Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi (Toronto, Canada) 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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sister from Toronto had sent questions to me in 1999 about zakat and I had written a detailed response to her explaining the Shi‘i perspective on zakat.

Recently an article appeared in Federation Samachar (Tanzania) on the issue of poverty and it was critical of the Shi‘a jurists (mujtahidin) for not making zakat obligatory in all wealth as it is done by the Sunnis. Since my 1999 response deals with the issues raised in that article, I have decided to publish it with revisions and additions for the benefit of the general audience.

The Items of Wajib Zakat

Question: “Zakaat as we Shia calculate is payable on 9 items only. These items were the measure of wealth in those times and therefore should we not apply the principle to our wealth in general, as the Sunnis do, and not just to those 9 items?”

Answer: The Islamic shari‘ah (code of laws) is based on a system within which they are formulated and worked out. In Shi‘a Islam, the two main sources of laws are the Qur’an and the sunnah of the Prophet and Imams (may peace be upon them all).

The Qur’an, while ordering us to pay zakat, has not outlined the items on which zakat is applicable.

Interestingly, the case of salaat is also the same. While the Qur’an has ordered us to say the daily salat in more than 25 verses, nowhere does it tell us how to perform the daily salaat. In these cases, we have to refer to the sunnah for further details.

When Shi‘a jurists refer to the sunnah, after studying and analysing all the authentic ahadith on this subject, they reach the following two conclusion conclusions:

1) Zakat is wajib (obligatory) on the following nine items:

Coins: silver; gold

Cattle: cows; sheep and goats; camels

Crops: wheat; barley; dates; raisins

2) Zakat is mustahab (recommended) on other items that can be weighed or other things that grow from

the earth.

In conclusion, the jurist (mujtahid) is bound to follow the sources; if the sources con?ne the items

of compulsory zakaat to nine, then they cannot go by their inclination and extend that list. In

order to extend that list, they need clear proof in the religious sources to suggest that these items were

only applicable to those days and may be increased in future. But there are no such indications in the


One of the decisive ahadith on this issue is presented here as an example in which Muhammad at-

Tayyar asked Imam as-Sadiq (a.s.) about the items on which zakat is wajib.

The Imam (a.s.) listed the nine items as ?xed by the Prophet himself and then said, “The Messenger of

Allah (s.a.w.) exempted the zakat from other items.”

A person then asked the Imam, “May Allah protect you; we have an abundance of grain (not listed by

you) with us.”

The Imam asked, “And what is that?”

The person replied, “It is rice.”

The Imam remarked, “Yes, it is plentiful (in your area).” Then the person asked, “Is there zakaat in it (i.e.,

in rice)?”

Imam as-Sadiq (a.s.) scolded him by saying: “I am telling you that verily the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.)

has exempted the zaakat from other items and you are still saying ‘We have an abundance of a grain; is

there zakat in it?

The statement of Imam as-Sadiq (a.s.) is clear that there were other items such as rice and other grains

known to the people of that time and area as “wealth,” but still he insisted that you cannot include those

in the list of items for wajib zakaat.

Question: “When I read in Qur’an I ?nd 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 zakaat. May Allah (swt) forgive me because I am not alim and not in a position to interpret the Qur’an and also as a Shi‘a, I have to do taqlid but my heart is not at peace about this matter of zakaat.

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?”

Answer: 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 zakaat. 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 ?ve arkan (pillars) of Islamic teachings.

Or, for example, more verses 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 “zakaat” as used in the Qur’an does not necessarily mean the same as the “zakaat” listed in the furu‘-e din or the ?ve pillars of Islamic teachings. The majority of our people read the Qur’anic term “zakaat” in the light of what they have been taught about “zakaat” 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 “zakaat” 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.

“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 ?nger to the beggar while he was in ruku‘. It is worth noting that none of the schools of law in Islam enlists the ring or personal jewellery as an item for wajib zakat.

2) Wherever the Qur’an quotes the pre-Islamic prophets talking about “zakat,” it is surely not talking about the wajib zakat as de?ned in the Islamic laws. In the historical context of those prophets, the Qur’an uses the term “zakat” in the meaning of charity. For example:

– Prophet ‘Isa (a.s.): “…and He has enjoined on me prayer (salat) and charity (zakaat) 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 zakaat as used in the Qur’an is clear, let us deal with the question: Why does the Qur’an mention “salaat and zakaat” so many times?

In the majority of the cases where “salaat” and “zakaat” are mentioned together, the word “zakat” covers all forms of ?nancial 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.

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