Zakat is one of the five pillars of Islam, these pillars being prayer (five daily prayers), shahadah (testimony of faith), hajj (obligatory pilgrimage to Mecca), zakat (alms), and fasting in the month of Ramadan. Zakat is different from giving charity, it is considered obligatory. Zakat is giving money to the needy and a Muslim who has wealth (meeting requirements) needs to give 2.5% of their wealth a year. Not all Muslims are required to pay zakat. Those who do not have enough money to give are excluded from paying zakat (those who are under the nisab or minimum wealth).
There are three categories related to zakat. They are the following:
In business, if your trade goods or exploited assets are worth at least 85 grams of pure gold ($4,503 at this point in time) then you meet the requirement. In trade goods, you will have to pay 5% of the products’ current price. In exploited assets, you will have to pay 10% of the net worth.
In the agricultural context of zakat, there are two types of crops: irrigated crops and non-irrigated crops. For irrigated and non-irrigated crops the person needs to own at least 653 kg. or 1439 lb. of crops in order to be required to pay zakat. When it comes to irrigated crops, a muslim needs to give a total of 5% of the total harvest in zakat. With non-irrigated crops the zakat rate is 10% of the total harvest.
As for a muslim’s personal wealth, if it is worth at least 85 grams of pure gold or more, then they meet the requirement and must pay 2.5% of it as zakat.
Zakat can be given from wife to husband. The husband does not need to give zakat to his wife as he is already responsible for her. There is a hadith which supports this claim:
With regard to a wife giving the zakat of her wealth to her husband, many scholars have said that this is permissible, and they quote as evidence the report narrated by al-Bukhaari (1462) and Muslim (1000) from Abu Sa’eed al-Khudri (may Allaah be pleased with him), that when the Prophet SAWS (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) commanded the women to give in charity, Zaynab the wife of ‘Abd-Allaah ibn Mas’ood came to him and said: “O Prophet of Allaah, today you told us to give in charity. I have some jewelry and I want to give it in charity, but Ibn Mas’ood claims that he and his child are more deserving of my charity.” The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “Ibn Mas’ood has spoken the truth. Your husband and child are more deserving of your charity.”
This hadith indicates that it is permissible for a woman to give her zakat to her husband. This is the view of al-Shaafa’i, al-Thawri and the two companions of Abu Haneefah. It was one of the two reports narrated from Maalik, and from Ahmad.
There is another type of zakat called zakat al-fitr. Zakat al-fitr is different to regular zakat as it is paid after Ramadan has ended and before the Eid prayer, it can be paid 2-3 days in advance if need be. Zakat al-fitr is not paid in money or clothes or anything else. It is paid for in food. Unlike regular zakat there is no nisab for zakat al-fitr, it is obligatory to be paid in food. Zakat al-fitr is paid in the local staple food of that country as stated in this hadith:
Shaykh ‘Abd al-‘Azeez ibn Baaz (may Allah have mercy on him) said:
In as-Saheehayn it is narrated that Abu Sa‘eed al-Khudri (may Allah be pleased with him) said: We used to give it at the time of the Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him), a saa‘ of foodstuff, or a saa‘ of dates, or a saa‘ of barley, or a saa‘ of raisins.
Foodstuff is interpreted by many scholars to be the foodstuff of the region, whether it be cow, wheat or anything else. Zakat al-fitr is paid if the person has a surplus of his and his dependents needs. It also isn’t paid one full hijri year later, rather it is paid when the time comes. Zakat al-fitr should only be given in the form of the local staple food because zakat is helping the poor and needy. Of course giving them corn even though it isn’t their staple food is still helping, it is recommended and is the popular view of many scholars that zakat al-fitr is to be given as the local staple food.
The total amount of zakat al-fitr that is needed to be paid is around 4 madd. One madd is a handful of food when you cup your hands together, this could be translated to around a 10$ meal. The head of the household should pay for zakat al-fitr for each of his dependents. So if the father wants to pay for zakat al-fitr, then he should pay for his wife and children.
Not everyone is eligible to receive zakat. There are 8 people who are eligible for zakat. First is the Fuqara (translated as the needy) they have some wealth but don’t have enough to sustain themselves daily. The second person is Al-Masakin (the destitute person). These are the people who are in extreme poverty and need to ask others for clothes, food, and shelter. The third person is ‘Amil Zakat, these people are appointed by an Islamic head of state or government to collect zakat and distribute it.
The fourth person is Mu’allaf, they are the people who have just become Muslims, or whose situation is so desperate that they may turn to crime. The fifth is Ar-Riqaab. These are slaves whose masters have allowed their release for a certain fee, zakat can be used to set them free. The sixth is Al-Gharimeen. They have been put in debt through needs or social necessity. They are given zakat if they do not have money beyond their needs to pay their debts.
They are also given zakat if they fall into debt due to building a school or starting some other beneficial cause. Zakat can not be given to those who have fallen into debt because of un-Islamic or sinful purposes. The seventh person is Ibnus-Sabeel, these are travelers who are in a foreign land and are in need of money. Zakat can be given to travelers if their reason for travel is lawful. The last person is Fi Sabeelillah. These are people who are in Jihaad, who travel for knowledge or are stranded in hajj. They can be given zakat when in need.
Zakat is paid every year, once your wealth reaches the nisab then you pay your zakat one lunar year later. The time when you hit the nisab is when it is recommended to pay your zakat. So if you hit the nisab threshold on Thu Al-Hijjah then on the next Thu Al-Hijjah you should pay it.
There is a hadith mentioning the punishment of not paying zakat:
“Once I went to him (the Prophet) and he said, ‘By Allah in Whose Hands my life is (or probably said, ‘By Allah, except Whom none has the right to be worshipped) whoever had camels or cows or sheep and did not pay their Zakat, those animals will be brought on the Day of Resurrection far bigger and fatter than before and they will tread him under their hooves, and will butt him with their horns, and (those animals will come in circle): When the last does its turn, the first will start again, and this punishment will go on till Allah has finished the judgments amongst the people.’“
(Sahih Bukhari, Chapter 24,539)
When everyone contributes, the needy, hungry, and poor get what they need to survive. It also helps stave off crime because when people in dire situations get help, they’re less likely to turn to criminal acts as a way to sustain themselves. As you have also read, zakat can be given to help free a slave whose master has offered their freedom. As you can see, zakat is a very important and virtuous duty for every Muslim, meeting the requirements of course, to fulfill.