Zakat is an obligation, a pillar of Islam, and an effective system of providing spiritual, social and economic benefits within a community. But when we pay zakat, do we feel the true extent of its power? Do we relate to it in the same way that we relate to prayer, fasting and hajj?
Arguably, when we do pay our zakat, we don’t quite appreciate the magnitude of what we are doing or give it sufficient thought and attention.
Here are some tips to help you make the most of your zakat this year and in years to come In sha Allah:
1. Remember: zakat is for your own self!
We often only think of zakat in terms of its benefit for others. But don’t forget about zakat’s impact on you, the zakat payer! The word zakat comes from an Arabic root word that means both purification and growth and when Allah
commands His Prophet to collect zakat in the Qur’an, He mentions its purifying quality, both externally and internally.
“Take, from their wealth a charity by which you purify them and cause them increase…” [Qur’an: Chapter 9, Verse 103]
When you pay your zakat, try to feel your soul being cleansed of miserliness and greed, and be confident that as a result of paying your zakat properly, your wealth too will be purified and blessed by Allah.
2. Get up to date before you calculate
Before you start your calculation process for this year, pause for a moment and consider whether you are definitely up to date with your zakat for all previous years. Remember that at the very least, zakat became a potential obligation on each of us from the age of puberty, when we also became accountable for our other core acts of worship.
Might you have had some money saved in your name during your teenage years on which zakat was never paid? Or perhaps you were a university student and mistakenly assumed that having a student loan meant that you didn’t have to pay zakat. Maybe you’ve only recently considered your zakat obligation seriously and haven’t realised that you do need to make up for previous years.
Making up for Zakat that we may have forgotten or neglected to pay remains an obligation and debt upon us – it doesn’t just go away! So make sure that before you complete your obligation this year, you travel back in time to ensure that you’re up to date.
3. Get your sums right!
The accurate calculation of zakat is absolutely important. Today, when assets are more complex than ever before, it’s critical that we pay close attention to where our wealth is stored and what the zakat treatment should be. Have you considered the possibility of having to pay zakat on your pension, for example? Or on a second property that you own? Or on inheritance that you may have received? How do you value your gold accurately?
Make sure that you’re not one of those who are either overwhelmed by these questions or too lazy to understand them properly. Take your time to consider your zakat calculation carefully, ask for help where needed and take advantage of available resources.
Even though it can be complicated at times, remember that this is a test from Allah to assess your level of concern for fulfilling the third pillar with excellence.
4. Don’t overlook your own locality
It often comes as a surprise to many people that the local distribution of zakat was always a key component of how it was administered. Binding the hearts of payers and recipients within the same community is one of the wisdoms of zakat and so it is important that you don’t overlook potential eligible recipients within your own town, city or country before you give your zakat for international distribution.
No matter where you live and no matter how prosperous your country, local eligible recipients will always be present and it is undoubtedly the responsibility of zakat payers in a locality to meet the needs of recipients within the same locality, especially if these have gone unmet (even if temporarily) by the government or family members.
None of this means that we should be blind to the extreme plight of millions around the world and to the fact that they too warrant our support. Perhaps a solution lies in simply splitting our zakat contributions or paying our zakat locally and sadaqah elsewhere. But let us not forget that were the full payment of zakat and the principle of local distribution respected by all Muslims around the world, much of the poverty that we witness today would cease to be a reality.
5. …or your relatives
Our Prophet(pbuh) taught us that there are two rewards for supporting our relatives in need, one of giving charity and the other of strengthening the ties of kinship:
“Charity given to the poor is charity, and that given to a relative is two things: charity and upholding the ties of kinship.” [Ibn Majah]
Although Zakat cannot be given to direct ascendants or descendants, nor indeed to one’s wife, other family members can and should be supported if they are eligible. This is one key way of maximizing the impact of your Zakat because of the doubling of its reward.
6. Maximize impact!
When paying one’s zakat, it is advisable to give consideration to exactly what the impact of one’s payment will be. Will one’s zakat be used for emergency relief, the provision of basic essentials, education, training or supporting enterprise for example? Will the impact be relatively short-term but urgent or relatively long-term and potentially transforming?
Note that one of the purposes of zakat is to transform deserving recipients into payers of zakat, if not immediately then one day in sha Allah. Islam doesn’t encourage a culture of dependency after all, even though the safety net for those who find themselves in a difficult situation is always there.
So it is worth thinking about how far your zakat actually goes, both in economic and spiritual terms. If we are rewarded for all the good deeds that our actions enable, then enabling someone to become self-sustainable because of a strategic use of zakat funds can mean a lot of benefit back to the one who originally supported that individual. Think of all the subsequent spending and charity by the one who has been lifted out of poverty, the reward of which will fall equally in the account of the supporter as well as the supported!
If we are entrusting, as most of us do, organisations and charities to administer zakat for us, it is worth understanding more about exactly the kinds of zakatable projects they are engaged in so that we factor in the considerations above when selecting charities.
7. Remember Zakat-al-Fitr
Unlike zakat itself, zakat-al-Fitr is payable on behalf of every member of a household, even an unborn child! Its purpose is distinct from that of the pillar of zakat, or Zakat-ul-Mal, as explained in the following hadithwhere Ibn `Abbas said:
‘The Messenger of Allah(pbuh) enjoined Zakat-ul-fitr on the one who fasts (i.e. fasted during the month of Ramadan) to purify him from any indecent act or speech and for the purpose of providing food for the needy. It is accepted as zakat for the person who pays it before the Eid prayer and it is Sadaqah (i.e. voluntary charity) for the person who pays it after the Eid prayer.’ [Abu Dawud and Ibn Majah]
An interesting point to note here is that scholars advise for this specific form of charity to be paid and distributed in the same area as one’s own physical location on the day of Eid itself. This is so that the impact on the needy in one’s own vicinity on the day of ‘Eid is catered for. This is something to be borne in mind if one is celebrating ‘Eid abroad!
So that’s it, seven simple tips and reminders to make sure that you make the most of your zakat for this Ramadan and the ones to come. May Allah accept our zakat payments and thereby purify our souls, our wealth and our communities.