What is Zakat? Concept, Purpose and Importance in Islam

“Mommy remember the time when I asked you about why do we fast in Ramadan and you told me it’s to empathize with the poor people and then-“

“Honey, get straight to the point,” my mother said, yawning while stroking my hair with her fingers.

“Okay. What is zakat?” I asked.

She did not reply right away. When I looked at her, she smiled. 

“Where do you get so many questions from?” she asked, not stroking my hair anymore. So I took her hand which now rested on my chest and kept it back on my hair. I loved it whenever she stroked my hair.

“Last night, while I was playing with my Legos, I heard dad and you discussing something called zakat and you looked as if you were talking about money. Is zakat like a bank or something?” I asked looking at the yellow glowing stars on the ceiling. 

Or maybe zakat is their friend or something? The name sounds funny though.

“I think you should ask daddy about it. He will answer it better,” mommy replied while the mattress on the other side of me dipped. I looked at daddy who tried getting comfortable in my purple blanket but his long legs like always could not fit in it.

“Ask me what baby?” Dad asked, looking at his phone. Why do grown-ups use so much of the phone anyway? It’s not even like they play Roblox or Minecraft

“Daddy, what is zakat?” I asked looking at daddy, who looked away from his phone and then looked at mommy with a questioning look, to which mommy smiled again. He paused and looked at me.

“Do you remember the five pillars of Islam?” Dad asked, keeping his phone on the table, away from us.

“Umm. Yes. Shahadah faith, Salah prayer, Sawm fasting, Hajj pilgrimage and… Oh!” I sat up straight, my eyes wide with the realization. “Zakat or charity is one of the five pillars of Islam!” I answered excitedly. I knew that I had heard this word somewhere else too!

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“Yes, you are correct baby,” daddy said, kissing my forehead.

“So if it’s one of the five pillars of Islam, which means it’s compulsory. Oh, well I have to do zakat too?” I asked daddy who looked relaxed and not worried at all. Why is he not worried that I have to do zakat too?

“Okay. Whether or not my beautiful daughter will have to do zakat, we will discuss that later. Is that okay?” daddy said, smiling. He slowly put his strong hand on my head, entangling mommy’s fingers within his thick ones. I could feel my head growing heavier because of their combined weight. 

But we had zakat to discuss.

“So, everybody has some amount of money. People who have money are rich and the ones who do not have money are poor. Agreed?” daddy asked, straightening his back on the bed, taking his hand off my head.

He then looked at the glowing stars on the ceiling above and continued, “Islam offers a balance to that system. If you have some amount money that you have not used in the past one year, let’s say from one Ramadan to the next, then you are liable to ‘pay’ zakat that is, you give a certain amount of money every single year for the poor people.” 

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Daddy took a deep breath and then continued, “It doesn’t have to be the only money that has been kept in the bank for the entire year. It could be unused expensive gold and silver jewelry like ones your mommy owns or anything else that we bought with the purpose of selling it away to make money in the future. If all of these items haven’t been used by us in the past one year, then we have to calculate and give away zakat on those items too.”

I also shifted my gaze at the glowing stars above; mom had paused stroking my hair. I nudged her hand and she started stroking again. 

That was a lot to take in. We had to pay zakat. But how much?

Almost sensing my question, daddy continued, “What mommy and daddy do each year is, we make a chart of the totally unspent amount of money that is saved in our accounts –“

“Like in the bank?” I asked.

“Yes, like in the bank. And then we make another list of all the properties that we own and have not used in the past year. And then we make a third list where we write down the total weight of the gold and silver that we own and we haven’t used in the past year.” Daddy then turned towards me and asked, “Are you following what I am saying, honey?”

“Oh yes, I know what gold and silver are. They are expensive. I know that. But what are prospeties?” I asked sheepishly. 

“Properties, honey. Properties. Like the lands that we have back in India, which we are making money from or the houses that we don’t use and have instead given it up for rent- through which we earn money.” Daddy said smiling and turned towards my side facing me. I loved daddy’s smile. 

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“Then after we have made the list, then we look up at the current prices or rates of the gold, silver, and those properties. Then along with the unused money that we have lying in our bank accounts, we find the sum total of everything.” Daddy said slowly, emphasizing every word. 

“After that, we take out 2.5% of that total amount and we distribute that among the people who need it. So for example, if you have 100 unused riyals for one entire year, then you will give away 2.5 riyals to the poor people and keep the remaining 97.5 riyals for yourself,” Daddy said with a huge grin.

“Now do you understand what zakat is?” he asked patiently.

“Oh yes, I think I understood most of it. But whom do we give the money to?” I asked daddy to which he replied, “Oh yes after we have taken out the amount, it is also our responsibility to find people in need of money.”

“Like poor people?” I asked.

“Yes, like the poor people and also the people who need money. Not everybody who needs money can be poor. They may have a house but not enough sustenance and sometimes they may be just surviving. It is our duty to look out for such people,” daddy said looking at me.

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He then continued, “Also, giving zakat is only compulsory for people who can give zakat. If you are earning and if you have unused wealth, only then you have to give zakat. That means, you, my little princess do not have to give zakat.” Daddy said, yawning. He then closed his eyes for a while. A stray tear ran down through the corner of his eyes. Daddy is tired. 

“Also remember one thing honey.” Daddy said opening his eyes, “just because you are giving away, your wealth doesn’t decrease. It never does. You may feel sometimes that you are losing a huge amount of your money. But this doesn’t work that way. Think of it as an investment — like in one of God’s businesses. There is always a return. Always.” Daddy smiled, softly patting my cheek.

“Daddy, how is there a return? And why do we call this act as the pillar of Islam? Why pillar?” I asked with a yawn and I closed my eyes for some time. I felt daddy shifting closer to me. I liked him as my pillow. My giant pillow. I opened my eyes and looked at mommy. She was already asleep, but she was still stroking my hair.

How does she manage to do that? I have to ask her.

But daddy didn’t reply to my question yet. I looked at his side. He had fallen asleep, too. I will ask him again tomorrow. I looked at the glowing stars again and realized something.

There is no compassion without an action. And there is no Ramadan without giving. 

About the Author

Fareeha

Fareeha Arshad is a forager of meaning, a reader by passion, a writer by choice, and a scientist by vocation. The Arab born, confused Desi lives on the Persian Gulf coast of Saudi Arabia with her parents and siblings, where she spends most of her time studying, teaching, writing or cooking. 

Author: Mith Books

Mith Books | The Merchant of Stories | Timeless Tales from Around the World

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