When I was gardening with my mother in the front yard, planting blooming flowers or slender vines, my hands were getting the worst of it. The result of our efforts was magnificent – or as magnificent as we could make it – and our hard work paid off. Each morning we would have an evolving garden to look forward to. However, at the completion of our task, we found our hands covered with mud and nails darkened with the result of our labor. Without doubt, I was not going to march in, prop open the fridge, take out the leftovers, and shove them in my mouth with my hand still browned with my latest excursions. And without a second thought, I was not going to go the prayer rug, and raised my hands in the air to begin my salaat (prayer). Before doing anything, I must wash my hands of the impurities.
That is where the problem lies. After hard days of extensive labor to provide for the family, some people fail to do one of the five pillars of Islam: Pay Zakah. The literal meaning of the word is “to purify.” Not only to give alms to the needy, zakah serves the purpose of purifying our earnings from any chance of ill-gotten income, cleanse our souls from greed, and to do the most desired act by every Muslim – obey Allah (SWT) . I am giving this message to you because, regretfully, there are many Muslims today who fail to do so.
Allah (SWT) has clearly warned us of our fate on the Day of Judgment if we fail to pay Zakah:
And let not those who withhold what Allah has given them of His bounty ever think that it is better for them. Rather, it is worst for them. Their necks will be encircled by what they withheld on the Day of Resurrection.1
To further explain, Prophet Muhammad (SAW) warned:
Whoever Allah (SWT) has granted wealth but does not give its zakah – for him will be formed on the Day of Resurrection a poisonous snake with black growths over its eyes. It will wrap itself around his neck and then begin biting his cheeks, saying, “I am your treasure, I am your wealth.”2
The evident importance of obeying this command is enough to rattle our senses, but, surprisingly so, some of us are disobeying Allah (SWT) . It is our duty, mine and yours, to spread the message to those in danger of hoarding wealth. Before doing so, however, it is important to understand the basics of zakah.
What is Zakah? 3
Islam commands us to share our wealth with those in need. That wealth can come in different forms: from our knowledge or a smile, to food or money. The non-obligatory charity, formally known as sadaqah, is to be given throughout the year in any shape or form to whomever one desires. The obligatory one, Zakah, is as important as a form of worship. It differs from sadaqah in the sense of its purification quality. It is to be given on a yearly basis with a specified percentage of your monetary wealth, 2.5%, to the impoverished of the Muslim community, if you have enough wealth to do so. Both types of charities are undoubtedly important and serve as a source of cleansing our soul from the disease of hoarding our wealth. Just as one would refrain from eating out of a dirty hand, one must purify their wealth and give that share to those who are in need.
It is a well known opinion that if every Muslim was to give zakah, then there will not be a single hungry person in the world. As our duty to humanity and our duty to Allah (SWT) , we must pay this yearly due, help those in need, cleanse our soul, and protect ourselves from the punishment of the Day of Reckoning.
1 Surah al-Imran [3:180]
2 Sahih al-Bukhari
3 For detailed information and specifications of paying one’s alms, it is encouraged to go to the nearest mosque and inquire whether one is obliged to do so, to whom it is required to give to, and how much is to be given, as there are stipulations attached to the deed.