The Fourth Pillar: Zakah (Regular Charity)

Charity is another aspect of proper Muslim conduct, one which both assists the community of Believers and which is pleasing to God.  The Qur’an speaks of two kinds of charity – alms or sadaqa and regular charity or zakah.  The administration of an organized zakah is left up to the community; God does not direct us how to deal with this issue, only that we must do it.  Zakah is another obligation, in other words, like prayer and fasting.  Presumably this would take the form of a state-organized tax, which would be collected and distributed to the needy.  Sadaqa, in contrast, is to be performed by the individual as he or she sees fit, although the Qur’an stresses how important it is that each Muslim do so to the extent that they are able.

And be steadfast in prayer, give zakah, and bow down your heads with those who bow down in worship.  (002:043)

And be steadfast in prayer and give zakah, and whatever good you send forth for your souls before you, you shall find it with Allah, for Allah sees well all that you do.  (002:110)

Charity, whether individually implemented or state organized, is an act of generosity and humanity which will not go unrewarded in the life to come.  In the Qur’an, God speaks often in general terms of charity as a religious duty, one which benefits the community, but which is also pleasing to Him.  He urges Muslims to spend what they have in His Way and for those who are in need.  This is far more pleasing to Him than those who horde their wealth, who will be rewarded with eternal suffering in the life to come.

Those who spend of their goods in charity by night and by day, in secret and in public, have their reward with their Lord.  On them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.  (002:274)

In the sacred text, God offers further guidance concerning those to whom charity should be given.  During the period of revelation, such guidance was necessitated by the fact that there were apparently those who, although there were others in far greater need, nonetheless insisted on claiming a portion of the charity for themselves.  God was aware of their greed, and instructed the faithful concerning those who, in His eyes, were truly deserving of the assistance of the community.

Charity is for those in need, who, in God’s cause are restricted from travel, and cannot move about in the land, seeking for trade or work.  The ignorant man thinks, because of their modesty, that they are free from want.  You shall know them by their unfailing mark: they beg not importunately from all the sundry.  And whatever of good you give, be assured God knows it well.  (002:273)

If only they had been content with what God and His Messenger gave them and had said, “Sufficient unto us is God! God and His Messenger will soon give us of His bounty.  To God do we turn our hopes!” that would have been the right course.  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 God; and for the wayfarer.  (Thus is it) ordained by God, and God is full of knowledge and wisdom. (009:059-060)

It is, however, important that such charity not be performed with an eye to self-aggrandizement or public approval.  Charity should be given humbly, whether in private or in public, with no thought attached to it other than that this is what God wishes and that this will benefit ones fellow creatures.  If one gives charity ostentatiously in order to win the admiration of others, then it were better he gave no charity at all.

Kind words and the covering of faults are better than charity followed by injury.  God is free of all wants, and He is Most-Forbearing.  O you who believe, cancel not your charity by reminders of your generosity or by injury, like those who spend their substance to be seen of men, but believe neither in God nor in the Last Day.  They are in parable like a hard, barren rock, on which is a little soil.  On it falls heavy rain, which leaves it just a bare stone.  They will be able to do nothing with aught they have earned.  And God guides not those who reject faith.  (002:263-264)

By no means shall you attain righteousness unless you give freely of that which you love, and whatever you give, of a truth God knows it well.  (003:092)