Zakat (mandatory charity) is the third pillar of Islam. All Muslims who possess sufficient financial resources are required to pay it annually. Each individual who possesses the Nisab (minimum amount of wealth needed for Zakat to become obligatory on a person) has to set aside a fixed portion (2.5%) of their wealth for the poor. This compulsory act of alms-giving serves to ensure the welfare of the needy and vulnerable sections of society. The rights the poor have in Islam are unique, as Muslims are religiously obliged to assist and empower them. Otherwise, those who are in need would be voluntarily aided by some, while many others would opt to withhold their wealth due to selfishness and greed.
Zakat has a lofty status in Islam as a pillar of faith and an act of worship. In fact, it is regularly mentioned alongside prayer in the Quran. This gives believers a strong incentive to seek the pleasure of Allah by supporting the poor. Moreover, poor-due purifies our wealth, cleanses us of negative qualities, and instills care for the weak in our hearts. It leads to harmony between different segments of society, preventing the spread of resentment and despair. Society is more balanced as a result. There are eight categories of people who are eligible to receive Zakat.
Al-Fuqara (The Poor)
They have the greatest need for Zakat, for they suffer from immense poverty. They don’t have the resources to even meet their basic needs for half a year. Therefore, it is critical to support them with an adequate amount of poor-due. They should be given enough charity for them to be able to fulfill their needs for a year until they can be given charity again.
Al-Masakin (The Needy)
They are those who are also facing struggles to make ends meet but to a lesser extent than the poor. Their requirements will be lower than those of the poor because their condition is relatively less troubled. Thus, they should be given the amount of Zakat they require to make do until it is time for the next cycle of poor-due.
The collectors of Zakat
These are the people who the rulers have tasked with collecting and handing out the payments of Zakat. Their noble role in the distribution of Zakat involves them first collecting poor-due from those who are liable to pay it. They are then responsible for taking care to disburse it to only those who deserve it. These people are entitled to receive Zakat for their efforts, regardless of their financial status. However, if they happen to be poor, they are permitted to receive additional Zakat on account of their poverty, in case they require it to get by for a whole year.
New Muslims and those who are inclined towards Islam
This Zakat’s purpose is to encourage people who may have recently accepted Islam to embrace the religion wholeheartedly. In such cases, it aims to strengthen the faith of the newcomers to the Deen. The aim is to ensure they don’t get discouraged and disheartened by the challenges reverts tend to face. Furthermore, it is permissible to give this charity to someone who may be considering accepting Islam. Indeed, it may succeed in bringing their hearts closer to Islam, convincing them of its truthfulness.
Freeing slaves and captives
A slave can enter into a contract to buy his freedom from his master. This contract means he has to pay a certain amount of money to his owner. It is permissible to provide him with Zakat to enable his payment of the fee that guarantees his freedom. On the other hand, slaves can also be bought directly using Zakat funds and then granted freedom. The freeing of slaves is either rare or non-existent in today’s world, where slavery has more or less ceased.
A Muslim may be held captive as a prisoner by disbelievers, or he may have been kidnapped. We may utilize Zakat assets to pay his ransom and have him freed, provided it is the only means by which his release can be sought.
Zakat can be employed to pay off debts. It can be used to pay off debts related to both reconciliation and need. A man may reconcile between two conflicting parties, incurring debts due to his honorable act. His debt can be repaid using Zakat, irrespective of his financial status, as his noble act benefitted the community. A person who is unable to repay his debt after taking a loan for his needs can also be backed with Zakat to repay his debt.
For the cause of Allah
Zakat can be given to those who are performing Jihad (fighting for the sake of Allah). They are allowed to receive the Zakat money for assistance. It can also be put to use to arm the fighters with weapons, equipment, etc. Zakat may also be spent on those committed to seeking Islamic knowledge, aiding them in their noble mission.