Yes. It is Zakat or Sadaqah. The first is definitive or decisive, the second is in inconclusive and indecisive. Zakat is given annually, Sadaqah is given every day the sun shines in the heavens. Yes. Zakat is third in the hierarchy of our duties and responsibilities as Muslims. Read the Last Testament. The Quran, there you would discover that whenever Salat is mentioned as a duty, next in importance to be mentioned is Zakat, alms given to the poor (Quran 24: 55=56). In fact, to underscore its importance, the Prophet (s.a.w) is reported to have said that “he is not one of us he who fills his stomach while his neighbour suffers from pangs of hunger”.
In Islam, acts of charity are so important that even the poor has to be involved. In another tradition, the Prophet says again: “Every Muslim has to give in charity.” The people asked, “O Prophet of the Almighty! If someone has nothing to give, what will he do?” He said, “He should work with his hands and benefit himself and also give in charity (from what he earns).” The people further asked, “If he cannot find even that?” He replied, “He should help the needy who appeal for help.” Then the people asked, “If he cannot do that?” He replied, “Then he should perform good deeds and keep away from evil deeds and this will be regarded as charitable deeds.”
Acts of charity become doubly rewarding during the month of Ramadan. It becomes extremely important particularly today when the coronavirus pandemic has rendered homesteads very homely, when breadwinners have become ‘bread-losers’, when families are finding it difficult to put meals on their table. Hardly would a day passes us by without voices of the weak and the helpless be brought to our hearing. To be in positions of ease such that one could extend hands of kindness and charity to the other is therefore a rare blessing we should treasure.
In other words, a season of adversity such as this is ironically one of opportunities; opportunities to partake of divine blessings. This is a period when we can put smiles on the faces of the poor and the needy and thereby earn rewards from our Creator. In view of the important position it occupies in Islamic law, some classical jurists have held the view that any Muslim who consciously refuses to pay zakat while having the means to do so has become an apostate. In countries where Islamic law is operationalized, such individuals would be compelled to pay the Zakat in addition to other possible punishments. In modern states where zakat payment is compulsory, failure to pay is deemed to be a form of tax evasion that attracts dire punishments. The Almighty says: It is not righteousness that ye turn your faces to the East and the West; but righteous is he who believeth in the Almighty and the Last Day and the angels and the Scripture and the Prophets; and giveth his wealth, for love of Him, to kinsfolk and to orphans and the needy and the wayfarer and to those who ask, and to set slaves free; and observeth proper worship and payeth the poor due. And those who keep their treaty when they make one, and the patient in tribulation and adversity and time of stress. Such are they who are sincere. Such are the God fearing. – 2:177
According to Yusuf al-Qaradawi, Quran 9:5 of the Quran makes Zakat one of the three prerequisites for non-Muslim to become Muslims: “but if they repent, establish prayers, and practice zakat they are your brethren in faith”.
Once collected, it is mandatory that Zakat be given to certain category of people mentioned in Quran 9:60: “Alms are for the poor and the needy, and those employed to administer the (funds); for those whose hearts have been (recently) reconciled (to Truth); for those in bondage and in debt; in the cause of the Almighty; and for the wayfarer: (thus is it) ordained by the Almighty, and the Almighty is full of knowledge and wisdom.”. In other words, charity shall be given to those living without any means of livelihood (Al-Fuqarā’), i.e the poor, those who cannot meet their basic needs (Al-Masākīn), i.e the needy, Zakat collectors (Al-Āmilīyn ‘Alihā) when such group of people are equally in need, as aid for Islamic proselytization, as assistance to those who have reverted back to Islam and to free those in bondage. It is equally meant to be given to assist those who have incurred overwhelming debts while attempting to satisfy their basic needs (Al-Ghārimīn), as aid to those fighting for a religious cause (fī Sabīlillāh) and as assistance to the wayfarers.
Let us maximize our reward this glorious month by remembering the poor and the needy. Let us remember that the best charity is that which is given freely and without expectation of gratitude. The Prophet (s.a.w): the believer’s shade on the day of resurrection shall be his acts of charity.”.
Afis Ayinde Oladosu Ph.D
Professor of Middle Eastern, North African and Cultural Studies,
Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies,
University of Ibadan,