‘Zakat’ – the Third Pillar of Islam

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(The emphasis of this article is about importance of Zakat in Islam, benefits that zakat payers get, recipients of zakat and their benefits. Detail Rules and Regulation of Zakat is not included in this article).

  1. What is Zakat?

‘Zakat’ is a special terminology used in Islamic religion to explain one of the ‘Five Pillars of Islam’. This is an obligatory Charity to pay on surplus wealth, every year at the rate of 2.5 % by solvent Muslims to resolve financial, intellectual and spiritual need of people and for establishing the religion of Allah. It is not a wishful charity by rich people, rather a right of the needy people. Allah says :

 “ In their ( rich people ) wealth had a share for the needy  who ask and who does not ask others” ( Quran 51: 19 ).

Allah has prescribed ‘Zakat’ as a worship and Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)  established this for the welfare of Zakat givers, recipients and community.

‘Zakat’ is written in Arabic as ‘ Zakah’, which stands for an action that purifies something. Islam has  introduced zakat for purification of wealth. So it is called, ‘ Zakat al Mal’ (Zakat of Wealth) which means purification of wealth.

  1. Why Zakat is important in Islam ?
  • Once for the purpose of teaching and confirmation about Islam, Angel Gibrel asked Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) : what is Islam ? The Prophet (pbuh) replied:

“Islam has been built on Five ( Pillars) : Testifying that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, performing the prayers, paying the Zakah, making the Pilgrimage to The House of Allah and Fasting in Ramadan” ( Bukhari, Muslim).

In above hadith, we find Zakat as third Pillar of Islam.                                    Pillar is important for existence of any building. Same is Zakat for Islam.

  • Establishing Zakat is an obligatory religious duty.  Allah orders : “ Establish prayer , give Zakat and submit yourselves with obedience to Allah along with those who do the same”                 ( Quran 2: 43).
  • Zakat distinguish between believer and disbeliever. Those who do not pay Zakat , they are treated as unbeliever. Allah says :

 “ Those who do not give Zakat and in hereafter they are disbelievers                 ( Quran 41 : 7 ).

  • Zakat is so important that it is not only obligatory for Muslims but was also obligatory for previous nations. Allah says :                 “We appointed them ( Ishaq and Yaqob ) as leaders to guide the people through our Command, and send them revelation to strive for good deeds, worship their Lord and pay Zakat. Both were our worshippers” ( Quran 21 : 73 ).                                                                    “ He (Allah) has blessed me (Jesus) wherever I dwell , commanded me to worship Him and pay Zakat as long as I live” ( Quran 19: 31 ).

Above references from Quran and Hadith confirms that , to build ‘House of Islam’ and live in it as a  Muslim, needs pillar of Zakat. Indeed, Zakat was  also pillar of previous religions from Allah.

  • Allah has introduced Zakat as a permanent system in all ages for purification of wealth management and solve financial, intellectual and spiritual  weakness  of people. This is essential for building a strong virtuous nation where everyone has opportunity to enjoy bounty of Allah. Zakat payers and recipients  both are benefitted in this system.


  1. Benefits for those who pay Zakat
  • There is assurance of reward from Allah for paying                           Allah says : “ Surely, those who believe, do good deeds, keep up prayers and pay zakat; will have their reward from their Lord. On them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve “ ( Quran 2 : 277 ).
  • Believers can expect Mercy from Allah by paying Zakat.  Allah says :“ I shall grant Mercy to those who maintain piety, pay zakat and believe in Our Revelation” ( Quran 7 : 156 ).
  • Zakat purifies soul of zakat giver by removing greediness for wealth and creating love for less fortunate people. Allah orders : “ Take from their wealth a charity in order to purify them and cleanse them”  (  Quran 9 : 103).
  • Warning of Punishment for not paying zakat effectively reduces economic greed and reduces intention of building wealth without giving due share of the needy. As a result , all people including zakat payer can avoid corruption and unrest  arisen from greed driven illegal means.               Prophet (pbuh) said :                                                                                                           “ Whoever is made wealthy by Allah and does not pay zakat of his wealth, then on the Day of Resurrection his wealth will be made like a ball-headed poisonous male snake with two black spots over the eyes. The snake will circle his neck and bite his cheeks and say, ‘ I am your wealth, I am your treasure’( Bukhari).                                                                                                 Thus,  wealth accumulated  for enjoyment without giving zakat causes terrible punishment.
  • Allah will make wealthy people accountable for the sufferings of less fortunate people for not addressing their problems by paying zakat.

This is not only in afterlife but may also have adverse affect in this world like unrest and safety. Wealthy people pay zakat for saving themselves from punishment in afterlife. They are also safe in this world because poor people  will not revolt against them as they will get their right from the rich. Rather, both rich and poor will live in harmony.

Prophet (pbuh) said: “ The poor will never suffer from starvation or lack of clothes unless the rich neglect their due . If they do, Allah will surely hold them accountable and punish them severely”( Tabarani).

  • Allah increases wealth of the people who gives zakat and does not allow increase in wealth by unlawful means.  “ Allah will not allow to increase whatever illegal interest you try to receive in order to increase your wealth at the expense of people’s property. Whatever, amount of zakat you give to please Allah , will be doubled “                         ( Quran 30:39 ).                                                                                                         Prophet (pbuh) said :                                                                                                    “ Wealth never decreases because of charity” ( Muslim ).

Interest based economy as we see in present world was also before Islam. Allah does not allow this because wealthy money lenders take peoples money with his capital. As result, burden of debt increases on people and wealth accumulates in the hands of few rich people. According to OECD ( Organisation for Economic     Co-operation and Development ) report 2012  5% people enjoy 71.6 % of world wealth. This can not be acceptable.

 Allah has abolished interest and  introduced zakat system  for the benefit of all.  In zakat-based economy, 2.5% of surplus wealth of rich Muslim is taken for the welfare of the poor. This reduces poverty without any significant affect on the rich people. When zakat was effectively established by early Islamic Rulers, no one became poor by giving zakat. They  circulated money in agriculture ,livestock , trade and commerce for their economic growth , instead of keeping money idle  that would reduce at the rate of 2.5% per year in the form zakat.

Believers have no doubt that Allah will bless them not only in afterlife but also in this world in their wealth. So their effort continues as directed by Allah.

Allah advise the believers:

 “ When prayer is finished, disperse in the land and seek ( by work ) the bounty of Allah and remember Allah much, that you may be successful “ ( Quran 62:10 ).

  • Zakat is a process of purification and economic honesty for the rich Muslims. Allah orders :

 “ Take from their wealth a charity in order to purify them and cleanse them” ( Quran 9:103 ).

 Rich Muslims give zakat for the satisfaction of Allah. It helps to make their mind pure and  remove greed for wealth. As a result , they can pursue fair economy. Paying zakat and illegal earning can not exist together in a believer.

  • Above references from Quran and Hadith clearly establishes the benefits that the believers get by paying zakat. It purifies the reach people, free their soul from the greed of unlawful wealth accumulation and creates love for less fortunate fellow brothers for the sake of Allah. All  these qualities in the rich people who control economy , can present a virtuous economic system for  welfare of   On the other side, corrupt leaders and wealthy people can cause poor to starve to death. To understand the consequence of corruption by leaders and wealthy people it is worth to mention Famine in Bangladesh in 1974  , where estimated 1.5 million people died though there was no food shortage. According to Prof Amartya Sen ( Noble prize winner ) level of rice production and food grain availability was higher in Bangladesh in 1974. Obviously,  corruption of leaders and  wealthy people who  used to control the country’s  food stock and distribution is to blame. To abort this situation, Allah has introduced zakat as annual training of purification and cleansing of wealthy people. It brings them  close to Allah. Those who are close to Allah they will be generous than depriving  the less fortunate out of greed. Prophet (pbuh) said :

 “ A generous person is close to Allah”( Tirmidhi).


  1. System of establishing zakat

Islam has given a system of establishing zakat in the society. Islamic system involves three parties in the management of zakat (a) Management, (b) zakat giver ( c) zakat recipient.

  • Management of Zakat :

Establishing zakat is one of the key functions of Islamic State.

Allah says :

“ ( They are ) those who, if We establish in the land ; establish prayer, give zakat, order the right and forbid the wrong. With Allah rests the end of all affairs “ ( Quran 24: 41).

Based on above order from Allah, first Islamic State of Madinah took over the responsibility of establishing zakat . Prophet (pbuh)  was in charge of this . He fixed the eligible wealth and rate of zakat on it. He also set up Zakat Management system. Regional governments used to execute zakat system. After the Prophet (Pbuh), rightly guided Caliphs followed Prophet (pbuh) for the management zakat.

After rightly guided Caliphs, Zakat also continued as a key state function during dynasty rule of Umayyad, Abbasid and  till end of Ottoman empire in 1918. They all had complete zakat  management system with zakat collector, supervisor, inspector and treasury in charge.

  • Zakat giver.

The second party in zakat system is zakat payer.  All Muslims who have surplus wealth  for a year , must pay zakat. Details of  surplus wealth eligible for zakat and amount of zakat was fixed by Prophet (pbuh). This is available in the book of Fiqh ( Islamic Jurisprudence ). AS a rule of thumb , wealth equal to value of 87.48 grams gold or 612.36 grams silver is eligible for zakat.

           ( C) Third party in zakat system is Recipients of zakat.  The  category of recipients is fixed by Allah. ( ref. Quran 9 : 60 ). Even the Prophet (pbuh) was not involved in deciding recipients.

Recipients of Zakat ;

Decision on beneficiaries of zakat was made by Allah alone and stated in verse    60 , chapter 9 of Quran . Allah says :

“  Zakat expenditures are only for the poor, for the needy, for those employed to collect zakat, for those whose hearts are to be own over, to free people from bondage, to free people from debtors, for the cause of Allah and  for those who become needy on a journey. Paying zakat is an obligation that Allah has decreed. Allah is All-Knowing and All Wise”( Quran  9 :60).

Above verse states 8 categories of recipients of zakat:

  1. For the Poor ( Fuqara)

‘Fuqara’ are those people, who do not have enough money for necessities of life. They are not physically fit to work or does not earn enough to maintain basic need. They are generally known as beggar. They seek help for their need. These people are entitled to receive zakat.

 There is no zakat for the one who is rich nor for the one who is strong and able to earn. However, zakat money can be used to provide source of earning to a physically fit person.

Prophet (pbuh) said:

 “ charity is not lawful to be given to anyone who is rich or to anyone who is strong and fit. Two men came to the Prophet and asked him to give them a share  of zakat. When he looked at them carefully, he found them strong and able. He said to them : ‘ if you wish I will give you , but you should  know that no one who is rich or able to work and earn has  any claim to share in it” ( Abu Dawood, Nasai).

Abu Dawood recorded a hadith (1641) that  stated that, one day a person begged from Prophet (pbuh). Prophet (pbuh) arranged to sell some of the stuff of that man, buy an axe and some food. Prophet (pbuh) fixed handle on the axe by own hand . Then he advised him to go to jungle, cut wood and sell. By this way he became solvent.

Prophet’s (pbuh) teaching here is to think, make research and find out ways that help poor people to work for their need. Early Muslims followed the footstep of Prophet (pbuh).

Second Caliph of Islam,  Omar (RA) used to distribute zakat in a way that recipients transform poor to rich. As a result, in course of time , it was difficult to find eligible zakat recipient.

During the rule of  fifth Caliph  , Omar Ibn Abdul Aziz(RA) poverty was reduced to the extent that there was no eligible recipients. He used surplus zakat for developing agriculture and productivity. Revenue from this further enhanced zakat fund. He also used surplus zakat for building house for poor people

  1. For the needy ( Miskin ) : Economic condition of this category of people is like ‘ Fuqara’. Only difference is that they do not beg for financial help like  ‘ Fuqara’.                                      Prophet (pbuh) said : “ The true Miskin is one who, despite his poverty, abstain from begging” ( Bukhari, Muslim).  He encouraged the believers to find out this category people and extend help.
  2. For those employed for zakat administration :

Those people who collect zakat, supervise collection, keep accounts, manage treasury  and assist in distribution are included in this category. There salary is provided from Zakat fund.

  1. For those people whose support is necessary for Islam:

Zakat money can be spent for the following under this category;

( a ) to establish new Muslims in Islamic society. New Muslims sometimes, face economic difficulty when they  leave their  relatives and accept Islam. Any help to them will consolidate their faith in Islam.                                                                   ( b ) To win the heart of those non-Muslims whose support is important to reduce hostilities against Muslims and Islam.

( c ) Even zakat money can be spent for those ignorant Muslims whose action weaken Islam. Zakat Fund can be used to attract them to true Islam by giving education, gift and financial help.

During lifetime of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh ) ; when Muslim nation was weak, zakat money was used for winning the heart of those people whose support was necessary for reducing hostility. During the Rule of Rightly Guided Caliphs, Islam was strong and  zakat fund was not use that much in this category. Caliph Omar (RA) believed reconciliation money for non- Muslims is only applicable during the weakness of Muslims.                           In the history of Islam , Muslims are passing through  most difficult time now. They are helplessly facing miseries in the hand of their own tyrant secular leaders and other nations. In the prevailing circumstances, this category deserves zakat more than any time in the history. Every Muslim should spend a portion of their zakat for any action that makes Muslim nation  strong and  help to come out from difficulties. Funding for research to reduce hostility, cooperation among different faith, organise interfaith dialogue, educate non- Muslims about Islam , exchange gift are  few to name.

  1. For the freedom of people :

At the advent of Islam selling and buying human being as slave was in practice worldwide. Islam adopted many means for eradicating slavery. Allah approved to use zakat money to free humankind from the bondage of slavery. Today there is no slavery as such selling and buying human being. But mankind is still not free in absolute sense. Human trafficking,  women as forced sex worker, child labour, unjust rule of strong over weak person and nation, burden of work beyond one’s capacity, more work than contract without pay – all these should be eliminated, and zakat money can be used for these purposes.

  1. For freeing people from debt:

When people take loan to meet their basic need and fails to repay , Islam extend help from zakat fund to settle the debt. By this action lender gets his money back and debtor is relieved from anxiety of loan. A beautiful solution indeed. No one is loser. There is no solution like this in the world.

Bankruptcy that we see in modern economy does not protect lender, whereas Islam save both lender and borrower.

  1. For expenditure in the cause of Allah :

In this category zakat may be used for any activity that makes Islam and Muslim nation victorious over all other religion by  establishing Islam as a complete way of life. Today Islam and Muslim nation is passing through difficult time .The way of life of Allah(Islam) that the prophet (pbuh) established in Islamic State of Madina, is removed from states in Muslim land by tyrant rulers. Muslims are forced to follow manmade law than Islam in their own country . Due to weaknesses of Muslims, powerful countries  staging proxy our in Muslim land , causing destruction, killing people , destroying their home and left many homeless .No Muslim can sit idle in this situation. They should come forward with all resources to save the nation from miseries caused by tyrant leaders and their foreign masters. The way of salvation from this situation is to re-establish the right way of life.” Surely the only right way of life from Allah is Islam” ( Quran 3 : 19). Calling Muslims to follow Islamic way of life, education and training  of Muslims on Quran- hadith and wisdom, preaching true message of Islam to non-Muslims, Unity of Muslims, establishing good interfaith relation, Intellectual- spiritual and economic development of Muslims, developing high calibre leadership for nation and do research to solve the problems of Muslim nation and make them strong are high priority actions in the cause of Allah .Muslims should act in these sectors collectively  with solid plan and program.  A portion of zakat should be used in these sectors for revival of Islam. Nothing changes without sincere hard effort.

Allah says :

“Allah will not change the condition of a nation until they change what is in themselves” ( Quran 13 : 11).

  1. And for the travellers when they need help:

In this category all types of traveller, who has spent or lost money and in trouble during journey is eligible for financial help from zakat fund, even though they are rich at home. Immigrants , refugees who lost everything at their home are eligible for zakat.

According to  United Nations Refugee Agency report ( June 2018 ) 68.5 million people were forcibly displaced in 2017.  Majority of them are from Muslim land like Syria, Iraq, Burma, Afghanistan etc.

Believers should spend a portion of their zakat for their cause.

Goal of Zakat System:

  1. First goal of Zakat is purification of the soul of wealthy people and make their soul rich. This is the objective of giving zakat as fixed by Allah.

 Allah says :

“ Take from their ( rich people ) wealth a charity in order to purify them and cleanse them “ ( Quran 9 : 103 ).

Throughout the history of mankind, Economy is controlled by rich people and the leaders. If their soul is pure, they will establish welfare economy that is good for them and for others as well . If rich people lack in spiritual strength, they will do all sorts of corruption to grab wealth and deprive others right in wealth. Rich people who does not fear Allah accumulate wealth illegally. Their illegal action leaves  many human beings without food, medicine, cloth and shelter. This type of people, despite their prayer, fast and zakat are treated as the poor person of the nation and exposed to hellfire.

Prophet (pbuh) said :

“Do you know who a poor person is ? The companions replied that a poor person is one  who had no money or property. The prophet replied : ‘ the poor person from among my nation is one who will come on the Day of Judgment with good record of prayers, Fasts and Zakat but also has abused somebody, slandered someone, stolen the wealth of another, had killed or beaten someone. His virtues will be credited to the account of one ( who suffered at his hand ) and if his good deeds fall short to clear the account, then his sin would be entered in (his account) and he would be thrown in the Hellfire” ( Muslim).

 Allah has given plenty of wealth in Muslim world. For example, Nigeria is an oil rich country, but the people are poor because leaders and wealthy people are stealing this. Corruption is hindering poverty elevation efforts in Muslim world.

To abort this situation, first action needed is the purification of the soul of wealthy people. Rich people  should be educated about their accountability to Allah on their financial matter, punishment of Allah for corruption, reward from Allah for fair economic activities and punishment for not providing basic need ( food, cloth, medicine, shelter ) of the poor. This will  help to enrich their soul and motivate them to give zakat and avoid greed for accumulating wealth illegally. If spiritual poverty in the leaders and wealthy people is solved human being will be able to develop and manage the wealth that Allah has given in this world plenty for all.

Prophet (pbuh) said :

“Riches is not having many possessions. Rather, true richness is the richness of Soul” ( Bukhari ).

  1. Second goal of Zakat is to eliminate economic poverty.

For this reason , Prophet (pbuh) said :                                                                       “ Take wealth from rich and give to the poor”(Bukhari).                                                          This shall be done in a planned way . Among the poor , those poor people who are busy in the cause of Allah and has no time for trade or work to earn for their expenses should get priority. Allah says :

“Charity is for those poor, whose poverty is because they are confine in the cause of Allah- they can not go about in the land ( for trade or work )”          ( Quran 2 273 ).

Simply by taking some zakat money from the rich and giving this to the poor, may not solve the problem of the poor permanently. Zakat money shall be given with guidance to use these for income generating by physically fit people. For disabled, orphans and old people who are unable to work for earning, zakat fund shall be invested to generate revenue to support them. Solving intellectual poverty aids in solving economic poverty. This  is what we see from guidance of our prophet to a physically fit man who asked for help to solve his economic problem. Building house for homeless people, building hospital for the free treatment of sick poor and building Education and Training Institute for poor to learn free about religion and means of earning. These are best charities that provides the poor’s right of shelter, healthcare,  education and  means of earning through education.

  1. Third goal of zakat is to establish religion of Allah ( Islam) .  This is stated  in the category of zakat recipients as, ‘for the cause of Allah’.

 “Truly, the religion with Allah is Islam” ( Quran 3 : 19).

Islam provides a spiritually and intellectually motivated way of life that guarantees happiness and prosperity for all. This is not something new. It was established in past by Prophet (pbuh) and four rightly guided Caliphs after him. Only needs efforts for revival. Zakat fund can be used for all activities that help revival of Islam as  ‘way of life’ from Allah.

Allah has explained the benefits for those who spend in the ‘way of Allah’ by an example in Quran. Allah says : “The example of those who spend their wealth in the way of Allah is like a seed ( of grain) which grows seven spikes, in each spike is a hundred grains. Allah gives manifold increases to whom He pleases” ( Quran 2 : 261 ).

On the other hand, there is punishment for those who do not spend in the way of Allah. Allah says :

“Spend in the cause of Allah and do not destroy yourselves by refraining .

Do good deeds; Allah loves those who do good” ( Quran 2 : 195 ).

Allah has sent  Prophet (pbuh) to make Islam victorious .In his absence it is the duty of Muslims.

 Allah says : “ It is Allah, Who has sent His Messenger with guidance and the religion of Truth ( Islam ) to make it superior over all other religion even though the polytheists may dislike it “ ( Quran 9:33)

Above references is enough for people to spend in the way of Allah. Still we see  now a day , only few people spend money for making religion of Allah victorious.

  1. To ensure freedom of people.

At the advent of Islam slavery was a common practice worldwide. Islam introduced  many action plans to free human beings from slavery. Using zakat fund is one of them. Today there is no open slavery as such selling and buying people like before. But do exist in many forms.  Strong people is limiting the freedom of the weak people, strong countries are not allowing weak countries to rule freely, women and girls are forcibly used as sex slave, child labour do exist, more work is demanded without extra pay, people do not have freedom to chose their leader etc. Most notably human trafficking of women and girls for prostitution  and forced labour, child labour , prostitution and pornography and organ trading has reached to  serious concern. According to United Nations Report ( 29 January 2019 ) human trafficking hits 13 years record high . Mankind should be made free from all these injustices and a portion of zakat may be used for this purpose.

This may be by  funding for research and action to counter human trafficking and rehabilitation of victims .

Conclusion :

Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) established zakat system as stated above and achieved the goal of zakat set by Allah in Quran. In this process , first he solved  the poverty of soul and mind. After that he utilised spiritual power and intellectual power of the  believers to use Rule of Allah in solving economic poverty. By this process poor Arabs became rich economically, spiritually and intellectually.

Today , in the absence of Islamic state like that the early Muslims had during the time of Prophet (pbuh) , four rightly guided caliphs and Rule of Omar Ibn Abdul Aziz (RA); Muslim Nation has lost opportunity of using zakat system for purification, enrichment of economy, mental and spiritual power for their benefit in this world and in afterlife. Today, zakat system exists in individual level with an aim of fulfilling obligation of giving zakat to poor. That also in most cases limited to relatives. This helps poor Muslims to meet their needs, perhaps in most cases not more than a week. Poor remains poor .This in economic situation of the poor recipients.

 Spiritual side of wealthy Muslim zakat giver is even worse. In most cases purification of soul is not in consideration of zakat giver. In absence of purification of soul ( main goal of giving zakat) corruption in leaders and wealthy people in Muslim world is in record high. As a result of  their corruption, Muslims are passing through miserable life.

Giving zakat to the poor is only one segment of zakat recipient. Allah has decided eight categories of recipients in Quran. It is surprising that most Muslims today give zakat only to the poor and ignore other recipients , though they know that even the Prophet (pbuh) had no authority to increase or decrease recipients. Prophet (pbuh) used to set priorities from the recipients according to prevailing situation in Muslim World.

Today the most important category of recipient of zakat is , ‘ for the cause Allah’. This is because Muslims never face the difficult situation like today anytime. So not only zakat money but also time and energy shall be sincerely devoted for the revival of Islam. Critical thinking, research  and education of  Muslims for ‘Revival of Islam’ will enrich spiritual and intellectual power and that will come in aid to solving economic poverty. This is the zakat system which is treated as third pillar of Islam and a great worship of Allah for His satisfaction.   




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