Zakat, for Whom, for What, How Much

I wish to give Zakat to some poor relatives, beggars, homeless, orphans, madrassahs and masjids. But wait a minute, have I really considered the priorities of collecting and distribution of Zakat?, am I doing the right thing by following my Zakat wishes? I think many Muslims simply hope to feel satisfied that they did their duty to Islam whilst giving zakat to their chosen charities or individuals. Somehow, this method of collecting and giving Zakat clashes with the Zakat system painted in Islamic History Books.

First of all, zakat is not a matter of choice. Its a mandatory obligation upon every Muslim who earns above the bare minimum, or basically, every non-exempt adult Muslim is bound to pay Zakat. The giver is not being personally kind or generous by giving, it is among his compulsory duties to do so and its non-compliance also comes with consequences. What kind of consequences? The first caliph of Islam Khalifah Abu Bakr RA declared war on a tribe which refused to pay Zakat. Its importance to the Caliph was like Salah (prayer) and the fact that Salah and Zakah are mentioned together in the Majestic Quran at several places..

Next, I want to highlight that Sadaqah and Fitra don’t carry the same obligation as that of Zakat. Individuals are free to give Sadaqah and Fitra as much as they would like to for the benefit of the society. Donations are absolutely at the discretion of the giver. Whereas Zakat is fixed, mandatory and obligatory upon every non-exempt Muslim.

It seems that in many Muslim societies Zakat and Sadaqah have become somewhat confusing to distinguish. Zakah, like income tax, has to be assessed by a Zakat collector. How much Zakat should I pay is not something that I should calculate. Imagine if I were free to assess my own income taxes for the year! I would love to do that BTW but it doesn’t work that way. Its called Conflict of Interest. A zakat official assesses income and charges the assesse for a certain amount to be paid to state treasury.

Individuals don’t decide what to do with the Zakat money, the Chief of that locality will do that. Why? Because he knows more, he sees more and has more knowledge about the economic condition of his city and its surrounding areas. It may be the case, that his city is quite wealthy already and needs no Zakat but another city struggles for food and water. In other words, as an individual I will never have the complete picture of the greater community and therefore it makes a lot of sense for me to give zakat to an authority with broader and wider view of things. Obviously, this authority should be a public entity so as to avoid any potential conflict of interest.

One of the 8 recipients of zakat is “way of God” (Fi Sabilillah). Some people suggest it means to build a masjid. I disagree. I understand that it means that Zakat can be used for the struggle, to fight for the victory of Deen over the evil forces of Shaitan. Lets say there is an evil king who has engaged in genocide and civil war against his people. I believe Zakat fund can be utilized more efficiently by giving to those people who strive to replace the evil king. This would be better than setting yet another orphanage or another madrassah while the evil king continues to spill blood in the land. The ideological struggle is what I understand by “Fi Sabilillah”, and this is a great and epic battle between the forces of good against the forces of evil.

As you may appreciate, we have a problem now. See, in most countries the Zakat system is just a personal thing. Governments take income tax (which is far higher than Zakat), leaving Zakat in the same rank as any other acts of worship but at the discretion of individuals as if it was sadaqah. Although some Muslims came up with really innovative ideas to collect and channel zakat through charitable institutions, it still remains very much a personal decision to decide on how much and to whom to give zakat. The result of this is that every year funds get poured into masjids, madrassahs and orphanages, which is not a bad thing at all, but the far greater issues of Muslim societies either get worse or at best remain as bad as they are already.

So much talk of Zakat on TV makes me wonder, isn’t there one scholar who could stand up and ask for zakat to help the Yemenis, the Syrians, the Kashmiris, the Arakenese or the Palestinians? Obviously a celebrity scholar will not say such un-polite things on TV! I already knew that. But I just had to throw that in there…

At the moment, Zakat fund would be best utilized for rescuing Muslim countries from the grips of evil forces. Majority Muslim states are either colonized by their own elites or indirectly controlled by a superpower. If you agree with me, then would you agree that Muslims are only living in an imaginary “Free” world, whereas  in reality are chained to the commands of the dark forces as if they were modern day slaves (of policies and strategies of superpowers). The most urgent demand on zakat in this decade would be to free the necks from the chains that bind them together in humiliation and indignation.