The Qur’anic word Zakah and the mean­ing it con­veys there is no equiv­a­lent in any other lan­guage as far as we know. It is not just a form of char­ity or alms-giving or tax or tithe. Nor is it sim­ply an expres­sion of kind­ness; it is all of these com­bined and much more. It is not merely a deduc­tion of a cer­tain per­cent­age from one’s prop­erty, but an abun­dant enrich­ment and spir­i­tual invest­ment. It is not sim­ply a vol­un­tary con­tri­bu­tion to some­one or some cause, nor a gov­ern­ment tax that a shrewd clever per­son can get away with. Rather, it is a duty enjoined by God and under­taken by Mus­lims in the inter­est of soci­ety as a whole. The Qur’anic word Zakah not only includes char­ity, alms, tithe, kind­ness, offi­cial tax, vol­un­tary con­tri­bu­tions, etc., but it also com­bines with all these God-mindedness and spir­i­tual as well as moral motives. That is why there can be no equiv­a­lent to the word Zakah because of the supreme orig­i­nal­ity of the Qur’an, the Divine Book of God.


The lit­eral and sim­ple mean­ing of Zakah is purity. The tech­ni­cal mean­ing of the word des­ig­nates the annual amount in kind or coin which a Mus­lim with means must dis­trib­ute among the right­ful ben­e­fi­cia­ries. But the reli­gious and spir­i­tual sig­nif­i­cance of Zakah is much deeper and more lively. So is its human­i­tar­ian and sociopo­lit­i­cal value. Here is an expla­na­tion of the far-reaching effects of Zakah:


  • Zakah puri­fies the prop­erty of the peo­ple with means and clears it from the shares which do not belong to it any­more, the shares which must be dis­trib­uted among the due ben­e­fi­cia­ries. When Zakah is payable, a cer­tain per­cent­age of the wealth should be dis­trib­uted imme­di­ately in the right man­ner, because the owner no longer has moral or legal pos­ses­sion of that per­cent­age. If he fails to do so, he is obvi­ously retain­ing some­thing which does not belong to him. This is cor­rup­tion and plain usurpa­tion from every point of view, moral and spir­i­tual, legal and com­mer­cial. It means that the unlaw­fully retained per­cent­age makes the whole lot impure and endan­gered. But, on the other hand, if the poor’s div­i­dends are assorted and dis­trib­uted among due ben­e­fi­cia­ries, the remain­ing por­tions of the lot will be pure and decent. Pure cap­i­tal and decent pos­ses­sions are the first req­ui­sites of per­ma­nent pros­per­ity and hon­est transactions.


  • Zakah does not only purify the prop­erty of the con­trib­u­tor but also puri­fies his heart from self­ish­ness and greed for wealth. In return, it puri­fies the heart of the recip­i­ent from envy and jeal­ousy, from hatred and uneasi­ness; and it fos­ters in his heart, instead, good will and warm wishes for the con­trib­u­tor. As a result, the soci­ety at large; will purify and free itself from class war­fare and sus­pi­cion, from ill feel­ings and dis­trust, from cor­rup­tion and dis­in­te­gra­tion, and from all such evils


  • Zakah mit­i­gates to a min­i­mum the suf­fer­ings of the needy and poor mem­bers of soci­ety. It is a most com­fort­ing con­so­la­tion to the less for­tu­nate peo­ple, yet it is a loud appeal to every­body to roll up his sleeves and improve his lot. To the needy it means that it is by nature an emer­gency mea­sure and that he should not depend on it com­pletely but must do some­thing for him­self as well as for oth­ers. To the con­trib­u­tor it is a warm invi­ta­tion to earn more so that he can ben­e­fit more. To all par­ties con­cerned, it is, directly as well as indi­rectly, an open trea­sure for spir­i­tual invest­ment that com­pen­sates abundantly.


  • Zakah is a healthy form of inter­nal secu­rity against self­ish greed and social dis­sen­sion, against the intru­sion and pen­e­tra­tion of sub­ver­sive ide­olo­gies. It is an effec­tive instru­ment in cul­ti­vat­ing the spirit of social respon­si­bil­ity on the part of the con­trib­u­tor, and the feel­ing of secu­rity and belong­ing on the part of the recipient.


Zakah is a vivid man­i­fes­ta­tion of the spir­i­tual and human­i­tar­ian spirit of respon­sive inter­ac­tions between the indi­vid­ual and soci­ety. It is a sound illus­tra­tion of the fact that though Islam does not hin­der pri­vate enter­prise or con­demn pri­vate pos­ses­sions, yet it does not tol­er­ate self­ish and greedy Cap­i­tal­ism. It is an expres­sion of the gen­eral phi­los­o­phy of Islam which adopts a mod­er­ate and mid­dle but pos­i­tive and effec­tive course between the Indi­vid­ual and the Soci­ety, between the Cit­i­zen and the State, between Cap­i­tal­ism and Social­ism, between Mate­ri­al­ism and Spirituality.