Zakat (Arabic: زكاة‎‎ zakāt, “that which purifies”,[1] also Zakat al-mal زكاة المال, “zakat on wealth”,[2] or “Zakah[3]) is a form of alms-giving treated in Islam as a religious obligation or tax,[4][5] which, by Quranic ranking, is next after prayer (salat) in importance.[6]

As one of the Five Pillars of Islam, zakat is a religious obligation for all Muslims who meet the necessary criteria of wealth.[7] It is not a charitable contribution,[8] and is considered to be a tax, or obligatory alms.[9][10] The payment and disputes on zakat have played a major role in the history of Islam, notably during the Ridda wars.[11]

Zakat is based on income and the value of all of one’s possessions.[13][14] It is customarily 2.5% (or 1/40th) of a Muslim’s total savings and wealth above a minimum amount known as nisab,[15] but Islamic scholars differ on how much nisab is and other aspects of zakat.[15] The collected amount is paid first to zakat collectors, and then to poor Muslims, to new converts to Islam, to Islamic clergy, and others.[16][17][18]

Today, in most Muslim-majority countries, zakat contributions are voluntary, while in a handful (Libya, Malaysia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Yemen), zakat is mandated and collected by the state.[19][20]

Shias, unlike Sunnis, have traditionally regarded zakat as a private and voluntary decision, and they give zakat to imam-sponsored rather than state-sponsored collectors.

About the author

Khwaja Yahya