Islam





zakat
alms-giving


Islam Glossary
The Five Pillars
Islam
   The Arabic word which gives Islamic religion its name is islam, which means "submission," in particular, submission to God. This submission takes the form of the arkan ad-din, or the Pillars of Religion, which form the active ritualistic life of the Muslim and define the believer's relationship to God. The fifth ritualistic duty that every believer owes to God is zakat, which means alms-giving or charity. In the Qur'an , zakat is joined with prayer (salat ), the first of the Pillars, and this joining has led to a tradition in Islam that the two are equivalent in importance.


Islam Glossary
Ummah
   The Qur'an asserts that material wealth was created by God for the enjoyment of humanity; unlike Christianity or Buddhism, Islam is essentially a world-affirming religion. However, the Qur'an also demands that individuals take material responsibility for poverty and suffering in the community or ummah; the ummah , after all, consists of the community of the faithful. To that end, the Quranic revelation demand that each person give up a certain amount of material wealth to support the poor, the indigent, the sick, and the suffering. This is the zakat.


   The zakat is institutionalized in Islamic law, the Shari'ah, which constrains everyone to give the equivalent of 2 1/2 percent of their wealth to the poor in the form of taxes if one's wealth is in money. If one's wealth is in other less liquable property, Islamic law provides a complex calculus for determing the zakat .. Islamic law also requires that individuals give food to the poor during the feast that follows the fast of Ramadan ('Id al-fitr ) to ensure that all believers can eat following the severity of the Ramadan fast. The institutionalization of the zakat makes Islam the first welfare state in history in which redistribution of income and wealth was a foundation of state and government.

   In Islamic tradition, there are four principles that should be followed when rendering the zakat . The believer must declare to God his intention to render the zakat : the zakat must be rendered or paid on the day that its due—failing to pay one's zakat is not merely a matter of defying the tax authorities, it is a refusal to submit to the wishes of God; distribution must be in kind—if one's wealth is in cattle, one must pay in cattle rather than in money—though this principle is not rigorously followed in Islamic history; the zakat must be distributed in the community within which it is exacted—theoretically, one cannot levy the zakat in one city and disperse it in another.

Richard Hooker



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1998, Richard Hooker
Updated 1-19-98