[Shamim A Siddiqi, New York]


INTRODUCTION: Zakah is one of the fundamental Ebadah in Islam. Equally, it is one of the most important “peaceful” and systematic means of transferring of funds and resources from high ups to lower downs. It makes the flow of wealth from “haves” to “have-nots” so willingly and cooperatively that there is no wrinkle on the face of the person who pays rather, he expresses thanks to Allah (SWT} that enables him or her to fulfill his or her obligation towards the society, especially in meeting the basic and fundamental needs of those who are poor, needy, underemployed, unemployed or incapacitated. The person who, under the prescribed criteria [Nisab] of Zakah, after paying it feels contented that the receiver has relieved him or her from one of his/her greatest social responsibilities towards the community or the Ummah. On the other hand one who receives Zakah either through state or through individuals does not feel any obligation to person who fulfills it as his Ebadah [worship] and he receives it as his or her right that Allah places in the wealth of haves for the “have-nots.” It does not violate the feelings of self-respect of the receiver or creates any sense of arrogance or high headedness in one who pays it. Both sides are at par highly dignified and thankful to Allah alone.


It is, therefore, essential that I must first spell out the meanings of Zakah and then elaborate its concept, its philosophy, collection and its method, distribution and utilization and its economic effects both on individuals and society in the overall spectrum of Islam as way of life. The topic is vast and I will, therefore, discuss the following aspects of Zakah in detail:


1.  Meanings and concept;

2.  Method of Collection and Distribution;

3.  Its economic effects.


It will explain to the person who pays the Zakah as why he is paying and one who receives it must know as why he is receiving it without any obligation to anyone. It would equally explain the significance of Zakah in the present context of the world that how beautifully and effectively Islam establishes its own welfare system for its people without throwing any burden on the exchequer of the state in any way. In an orderly fashion, it removes the disbalances in the economic strata of the society with the willing cooperation of its own people.   


MEANINGS OF ZAKAH:  Literary meanings of Zakah are “increase” or “augmentation” or “growth”. It also means “purification” [Lexicon – E. W. Lane Part III page 1240] Zakah is not a tax on income at all but a levy on the savings. However, it must be noted that all the means of production and things that are in personal use, including house, is exempted from Zakah. In the Islamic Shariah [code of conduct], Zakah is a system or process through which a fixed amount of 2½ % is charged on the total accumulated wealth of an individual who possesses it if it equals to or exceeds 7½ tola [about 3½ ounces] of gold or 52 ½ tola of silver and that it remains with him or her for a period of a year. It is paid as an obligatory Ebadah. He/she thus purifies his or her mal [wealth] and Allah gives Barakah [blessing] in it. It flourishes his wealth and all become Khair [good] for the person and the community. This fixation of the criteria [Nisab] is a barometer that tells who is to pay Zakah and who will accept Zakah if his or her savings do not touch the level of the fixed Nisab.


The human life can be compared to a triangle with three cones.  One cone represents the Creator and Sustainer and the other cone the people. Now the individual who is at the third cone has to cement his relations with Allah, the Creator and sustainer, by offering Salah [prayer] and on the other he is to cement his or her relations with the people by willingly sharing his or her wealth regularly by imparting a fixed percentage point every year towards the welfare of his/her fellow citizens. It helps in maintaining equilibrium in his personal life and the society in which he lives. He/she keeps his Allah pleased constantly by praying at least five times in a day and keeps his community solvent by being mindful of the people’s needs and urgencies. That is why in the Qur’an, Allah has given equal emphasis on both these formats of Ebadah: Salah and Zakah. Every where in the Qur’an, both go together: “establish prayers and pay Zakah”. This is the least that is expected from a Muslim. That is the reason Allah (SWT) declares in the Qur’an about the idolaters: “If they repent and establish Salah and pay the Zakah, then leave their way free. Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful” [Al-Tawba. 9: 5]   


THE CONCEPT OF ZAKAH: Allah (SWT) hasn’t created everyone in this world at par with equal amount of talents, capacities and resources. Men or women earn their livings by exercising these God-gifted resources and talents. The more one is talented and have better physical and mental faculties, he is expected to make more in this world and one who is deprived of these means or suffers in any capacity naturally gets less from the bounties of nature scattered all around. Everyone thus gets as per his capacities. It is, therefore, natural that in the fitness of the matter who gets more must share it with one who gets less or cannot make any thing at all. The Qur’an confirms it:


“Is it they who apportion their Lord’s mercy? We have apportioned among them their livelihood in the life of the world, and raise some of them above others in rank that some of them may take labor from others; and the mercy of Allah is better than (the wealth) that they amass.”                                                                                   [The Qur’an. 43: 32]


“He it is who has placed you as viceroys of the earth and has exalted some of you in rank above others, that He may try you by (the test of) that which He has given you.”

[The Qur’an. 6: 165]


“And covet not the thing in which Allah has made some of you excel others. Unto men a fortune from that which they have earned, and unto women a fortune from that which they have earned. [Envy not one another] but ask Allah His bounty. Allah is ever Knower of all things.                                                                                            [The Qur’an. 4: 32]


“Lo! Thy Lord enlarges the provision for whom He will, and straitens (for whom He will). Lo, He was ever Knower, Seer of His slaves.”                           [The Qur’an. 17: 30]


In view of this scenario of differences in capacities and resources in different people, Allah (SWT) has categorically declared: “And in their wealth the poor and the deprived has due share,” [The Qur’an. 51: 91] and in Surah Al-Ma’arij, it says: “And in whose wealth there is a right acknowledged for the beggar and the destitute.”

[The Qur’an. 80: 24 -25]                                                                                                                                


The directives of Rasulullah (S) are distinctly clear when he (S) ordained: “Take (Zakah or Sadaqah) from their wealthy and return it to their poor and destitute” Thus the deprived people of the society have a right in the wealth of “haves” as ordained by Allah and His Prophet Muhammad (S) and it is the obligation of the Islamic society and sate to collect it from the rich and transfer it systematically to the poor and needy, the “have-nots”. How? It needs an elaborate discussion as follows:                                                                                                                            


COLLECTION: Considering the nature of Zakah that it is collectable only from those Muslim brothers and sisters who have attained the minimum standard of Nisab and the sanctity of Ebadah that it signifies, it is essential that an autonomous body is created to manage both its collection and distribution in the manner it has been spelled out in Shariah. The Institution of Zakah must be managed by highly trusted men of character and integrity so that it is collected through rightful process and distributed or expended in the manner it is ordained by Allah in Verse 60 of Surah Al-Tawba and as practiced by Rasulullah (S) in his lifetime.


To execute both the functions effectively, the country should be divided in different Zones, districts, towns, boroughs and villages from administrative point of view of Zakah and its implementation. It should be followed by house to house and family to family survey for: 1. listing number of members of each family [adults and minors with their respective ages]; 2. address and identity; 3. monthly/yearly income and source of earnings; 4. list of assets and liabilities – cash and bank balances,  ornaments, shares, liquid and fixed assets and liabilities, stock in trade if he/she is a business man or woman; 5. health condition of family members; 6. yearly/monthly needs and requirements of the family; 7. amount of deficit, if any; 8. total value of assets minus liabilities; 9. Zakah due or entitlement to receive; 10. Remarks of the surveyor/compiler/administrator 


The criterion of Zakah fixed by Shariah [Islamic code of conduct] connotes that each and every member of the society either will pay Zakah if he reaches or surpasses the limit or will receive if he or she is below that standard. In the time of Caliph Omar ® a register was maintained with all the necessary information for all the receivers at each place especially in the capital Madinah. In today’s society, it would be much easier to maintain and keep this information updated through computer internet system. Survey will be carried out regularly at frequent intervals to meet the changing needs and urgencies of the situation in each and every individual case. Today a person or a family is receiving Zakah, tomorrow its condition improves and it will automatically start paying Zakah. Similarly, a person or a family that was paying Zakah may fall in trouble and becomes entitled to receive Zakah will automatically be helped out of this fund. This adjustment of individual status will, thus, be maintained in a continuous process in either of the two situation, doing justice to each and every case.  


The system will fundamentally scatter the basic human needs - food, clothing, medical help, shelter, education and free justice to each and every deprived individuals of the society through the paramount welfare system of Islam that does not allow any of its member to suffer for want of means but gets the equal opportunity to stand and struggle for the betterment of his and his family life and becomes a source of strength for the community in due course. 


Unfortunately, there is no Islamic state at this critical juncture of human society. The adversaries of Islam are opposing its emergence anywhere in this world with tooth and nail simply out of ignorance and centuries-old animosity and prejudices. Thus, they are preventing implementation of the system of Zakah and showing to the world its economic blessings that what the “mightiest power” on earth could not maintain its much popularized welfare system and gradually making it wither away, the welfare system of Islam could do it in more accomplished manner and on a permanent basis. What a boon it would be for the human society. Can the stalwarts of the liberal societies accept this challenge and let the Islamic system emerge somewhere on this earth to prove its worth? Unfortunately, currently, they all are behaving like “dogs in the manger.”


In the absence of an Islamic state, the Muslim communities around the world should resort to introduce and implement the system of Zakah for its people on the pattern discussed above. The Muslim community living in America can do it in a much more polished manner as it has better sources of implementation and follow up that are available in this society. They are all crying for the paucity of funds for their different welfare works, programs and uplifting of the community whereas the remedy is in their hands but they don’t look towards it as their adversaries do. It would hardly take more than six months to get this project implemented, if all the communities start the “data collecting process” all at a time. By next Ramadan they will, Insha Allah, be able to raise a lot of funds within the community “openly” as the blessing of Allah.


In American perspective or anywhere in the world it would be on voluntary basis. Only the Muslim leadership has to prove its worth and show the requisite amount of courage, integrity of character and trustworthiness to its members and convince them that they will use the Zakah funds only for the purpose they are assigned by Allah and in the manner it was disposed off by His Prophet (S). If they are able to build the confidence in their people, they can transform the Muslim society of America into a vibrant community to be reckoned with. In the absence of Islamic state, the Muslim communities every where in the world have to undertake this onerous task voluntarily and fulfill its great obligation of serving its deprived people from the sources that Allah has put within their own means so that they don’t “beg” from outside. Its enormous blessings I will discuss, Insha Allah, later on.


A Format: To facilitate the computation of payable Zakah, I suggest the following format for individuals who want to work it out in the absence of any collective institution.


Computation of Zakah Return Format




Phone…………………………….. Area/Zone…………………………………………….


Details of Cash and fixed assets:                                                               Value in Dollars


      1.  Cash in hand and bank as at ………………………………………..                                                                

2.      Shares at market value……………………………………………...

      3.   Goods in stock & in trade, both raw & finished……………………

      4.    In case of factory: Total value including goods in trade &

             Goodwill value LESS - Book value of land/building, machinery

             furniture, transport and office equipment………………………….

      5.    Market value of bonds and securities or any investment………….           

      6.    Ornaments – gold, silver & bullion………………………………..

      7.     Any other asset –fixed or otherwise not mentioned above……….      

      Total Value of assets [cash & fixed]…………………………………

                       Less liabilities – loans payables………………………..…

              Net value of Assets for calculating Zakah..................................

              Zakah Payable @ 2 ½ %                           ……………………..                                 


Important Notes:  Zakah is not payable:

       1.   On diamonds and precious stones

       2.   On gold less than 7 ½ tola and Silver less than 52 ½ tola             

       3.   Living home, utensils and articles of personal use

       4.   Means of production and earnings


Signature……………………………                                          Date…………..


This format is only for the assessment of Zakah at individual level. For manufacturing units, banks and financial institutions, mines and fisheries, hotels and hospitals, air and land transport businesses, food and agricultural industries, military contractors and house building industry, departmental stores, etc. that are the backbone of modern trade, industry and commerce and can yield hundreds of billions of Zakah every year need special survey/study. But the pattern of collection and distribution will be the same as discussed above. Muslim Ummah should take initiative in this respect and develop a mechanism to foretell the amount of Zakah that can be raised/collected at state level and show to the capital-hungry nations of the world the miracle what the institution of Zakah can display in getting the economy of the “have-nots” resolved in less than a decade or so at ease and without any “oppression/exploitation” of capitalism or “nationalization” of socialistic system. I will discuss the miracles of Zakah and its enormous bounties that an Islamic society will taste when elaborating the economic effects of the system at some later stage.


DISTRIBUTION: Allah (SWT) has Himself spelled out the heads under which Zakah is to be expended in Verse 60 of Surah Al-Tawba. “The Sadaqah [Zakah] is for: 1. the Poor; 2. the needy; 3. and those who collect [or organize] the Zakah; 4. those whose hearts are to be reconciled; 5. freeing the captives;  6. and for the debtors; 7. and in the cause of Allah;  8. and the wayfarers – an obligation imposed by Allah. Allah is Knower, Wise.”


The above quoted verse is very significant. It pin pointedly categorizes the dire needs of the society where these funds are to be expended. Zakah cannot be used on any other head other than that Allah has fixed. Every head needs attention, especially “the cause of Allah” when the Deen of Allah no where dominates and struggle for its establishment is going on at different places in different names and nomenclature.




1. A minimum standard of living is to be worked out on the basis of prevailing market prices for an individual, a couple and a family of two, three and four children, subject to revision/adjustment on six monthly or yearly basis. 


2. With the help of the above standard, the amount of help from Zakah fund will be fixed for each family which may differ from family to family, depending on the basic needs and its available income, if any.


3.  Through the help of the standard Zakah Return Format -ZTF, the giver of Zakah will file his or her own return with the autonomous Zakah Collection Body -ZCB [as discussed earlier] with the amount due from him/her, subject to verification subsequently by Zakah Inspectors to be appointed by the aforesaid authority. It would minimize the paper work at both the ends. But in the absence of any collection authority as the situation exists today throughout the Muslim world and in America, the payment of Zakah on the community level will be on voluntary basis, and its correctness will depend on the individual’s Allah consciousness and the strains that the community will take in educating its people in understanding the importance of Zakah in depth. 


4. The aforesaid survey and the application of the minimum standard of living will tell the total amount of Zakah funds that will be available. Equally, it would establish the total number of families who fall under the category of “Zakah receivers” and the amount of Zakah funds that will be required by the community for payment in terms of cash for the immediate needs of these families. It will also tell that after meeting the immediate needs how much is left over for the permanent rehabilitation of the poor and needy at local, regional and national levels. 


5.  Zakah funds can be expended in three ways:

i. to meet the immediate needs of the poor and needy in cash on the lines spelled out above;

ii.  to use it for permanent economic rehabilitation of this group both on individual and collective levels like providing accommodation to homeless people, kitchen-soup facilities, building cottage industries, arranging small shop or businesses for one or a group of persons with equal share;


iii.  To undertake mass utility programs like: building low income-unit houses, hospitals, medical aids, halfway houses for inmates, medical pharmacies or aid clinics, educational institutions for imparting basic education,  providing technical know-how and opening  community centers etc.. 


6.  Priority of expenditure is to be fixed on the basis of the above categories. Initially, most or the bulk of the Zakah funds may be required to meet the immediate needs of the poor and needy. That may not leave much for item #ii, and #iii above. Alternatively, the entire proceed of Zakah may be divided into two halves [and it would be more prudent to do that]: one half for the immediate needs of the have-nots and the other half to be earmarked to resolve their economy on permanent basis in order to make the country/society solvent as a whole. It would go a long way in removing the poverty and sense of deprivation from the poor and the needy altogether within a period of five to seven years at the most. With the emergence of that era, there may not be anyone left to “accept” the Zakah and most of the funds will be available for only one head, “in the cause of Allah.”


7.  Zakah funds will be expended as a rule at the place from where it is collected. Only surplus, if any, will be transferred to center or other places to meet the local shortage.


8.  Under special circumstances, Zakah funds can be expended on only one head. Rasulullah (S) used to give a lot of Zakah funds for item # 7 “on those whose hearts are to be reconciled” or to poor and needy to make them solvent outright. It is on the discretion of the Head of the Islamic sate or the Shurah to disburse the Zakah funds as the situations warrants but within the limits of Verse 60 of Al-Tawba.


It is now desirable to discuss the enormous economic effects of Zakah on the socio-economic-political structure of a society that adopts and implements this system as the integral part of Islam as a way of life.


OUR ECONOMIC MALAISE: In the consumer based economy, it is essential that there is a constant flow of cash to different sectors of the population in shape of wages, profit, tax cuts or aid programs. The more there is a higher velocity in money circulation, the greater will be the volume of economic activities. Reducing or cutting down the rate of interest is one of the effective means of pumping more money in the market for investment, economic activities, thereby producing more employment and wages. It automatically creates demand in the market for goods and services when the purchasing power of the common man increases. The supply side economist that is why recommend resorting to expending on development, social services and building infra-structure in peace time to boost employment and increase the number of wage earners and thereby taxes. These all are the artificial means to boost the economy, employment and wages, leading to prosperity of the people as a whole.


But, unfortunately, this process is not smooth. Its passage is bumping. It is frequently visited by inflation, depression and sluggish economy, leading towards unemployment, labor unrest, contraction in economy, confronting with fiscal crisis often and on. It is enveloped with a vicious circle of economic rise and fall. It happens because there is no hard and fast economic rule that is universal except one: increase the demand, the supply will increase followed by employment, additional income to the people and revenue to the state. Everyone follows it meticulously.


The economic activities under the capitalistic system depend on the whims of the entrepreneurs, the lenders, and the capitalistic class that hold money and control its inflow and outflow. This “selfish” class invests in the market only when there is a chance of making profit increases the flow of cash in the market thereby increasing economic activities, employment and a bit of prosperity at the common strata. But on the slightest hint of slackness in business, fall in demand, lower return of profit,  it starts the process of contracting money supply in the market, creating shut downs and lock-outs in industries, unemployment, loss of wages resulting in labor crises and budget deficits etc.. This trade cycle is the product of unrestricted capitalism. Humanity is constantly experiencing this “boom and bust” in the economy for centuries together. The stalwarts of the system have no cure for this ailment. It is the inherent weakness of the system.  As such, the system could never reach its ideal, the “optimum” point where all the factors of production are constant along with the growth in economy.


The system of Zakah takes care of all the ailments that are inherent in the capitalistic economy and offers much more benedictions of its own. Let us examine its blessings in the human society that adopts it as an integral part of Islam as a system of life, a code of conduct, the Divine guidance for the benefit of mankind to live in peace and harmony as equals with no sense of superiority of “haves” over the “have-nots.”





1.  It increases the velocity of money:  In 1964 when I was in East Pakistan, I worked out the accumulated wealth of the country that was to yield about 2000 million Rupees of Zakah per year, quite sufficient to wipe the poverty out of the country within five years time. This article was published in series in Pakistan Post.  In 1983 I did the same exercise in the USA when its economy was in a very bad shape. I wrote a detailed letter to President Reagan that if you levy even one percent on the net accumulated wealth of the people, you could get about 300 billion to maintain the social welfare system of the country without resorting to public finances. Then I explained in the last two paragraphs the blessings of 2½ %  of Zakah that would have much greater potentials on wider scale to eliminate the poverty of 32.2 million people  [the have-nots of that time] within four to five years time altogether.  President Reagan very much appreciated my letter and acknowledged it with thanks.

The point that I want to emphasis is that the system of Zakah is feasible and can do away with the economic problems of the “have-nots”, irrespective of the fact whether the country is poor like Pakistan or the richest like the USA. It is a doubled edges sword. This divine system does not encourage anyone to keep his savings and surpluses idle and finish it within years just by paying Zakah on it every year. He/she will always prefer to invest it in some productive means to produce goods and services in the country thus creating employment, wages, profit, resulting in progressively higher GNP. It will increase the economic activities in the country to its maximum capacity. Money in the Islamic economic system cannot be kept idle. It must be invested or be given up through paying Zakah. It is the habit of investment to accelerate the pace of progress. Equally, Zakah multiplies this pace many a times.


2. Constant Flow of wealth: Through paying Zakah every year on the accumulated wealth of the individuals, industries, trades, businesses, corporations, semi-government agencies, the flow of wealth from “haves” to “have-nots” or from the affluent to the deprived will be constant, catering the immediate needs of the poor and needy and rehabilitating their economy on permanent basis on the lines suggested earlier. Within a decade at the most, there will be no body in the country to accept Zakah. As it is expected, most of the deprived class may become solvent and might come in the position to pay Zakah by themselves. And when there will be none to accept Zakah in the country except a very small minority that is incapacitated, wayfarers and “the cause of Allah” , the proceed of Zakah will be available to meet the needs of the have-nots and down trodden of other underdeveloped countries of the world. What a blessing it would be for the world to rejoice the blessing of Zakah! What the total efforts of the World Bank, the IMF and the “super economies” of the world could not do within the last fifty years, the Institution of Zakah with all certainties will attain, Insha Allah [God willing], within a decade, provided there is a will in the Muslim countries to give a chance to establish the Islamic system of life and the so-called “progressive” and “liberal” societies have the courage and stomach to bear it with patience. Will both the Muslim and the non-Muslim worlds accept this challenge?


In the time of Caliph Omar bin Abdul Aziz, within the two and half years of his rule, the society was so prosperous that there was practically no body to accept the Zakah. The blessings of Zakah do not end here. Its far reaching effects go beyond our imagination.


3.  Manifold Increase in demand of good and service: The flow of wealth to have-nots will increase the purchasing power of the poor and needy. They will naturally spend the Zakah money on their immediate needs like food, cloth, shelter, health and other house hold necessities, thereby increasing the demand of these goods and services manifold. Since this demand will be constant with the constant flow of Zakah good number of industries will be established to cater these demands, increasing more employment, wages and yielding more taxes for state revenue. It will automatically increase the standard of living of the masses and their prosperity with total employment. This circle of demand and supply will go on multiplying the economic activities in geometrical proportions every year till the economy reaches the “Optimum” point within the stipulated period of a decade, a “point” that is beyond the reach of capitalism.


Equally, the sector of permanent rehabilitation of the poor and needy will help in establishing medium and cottage industries. The undertaking of mass utility programs will augment the demand of capital goods thereby boosting production and creating employment in that sector of the economy. It will be the additional boon to the economy. 


Other benefits of the system of Zakah can be summarized briefly as follows?


* It will increase the bargaining power of the worker as he will have something to fall back in case of unemployment.


* Dependence on foreign loan in underdeveloped countries will gradually diminish or may be limited for sometime to the extent of technical know-how only.


* The constant presence of the forces of demand and supply in the market will keep the “inflation” away and the frequent visit of “recession”, “depression” or “sluggish” economy will become the things of the past.


* Government will be able to divert its resources form rendering “welfare services” to some greater needs of the society like defense. [Ref. to Verse 60 of Surah Al-Anfal]


* It will ultimately enable the Muslim world to render greater and greater help in rehabilitating the world economy by offering its “surpluses” to “have-nots” of the world, especially of the underdeveloped countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America, augmenting into a new era of “help and cooperation” and not of “loan and exploitation” as prevails today


CONCLUSION: I have so far discussed Zakah – its meanings, concept, collection, distribution and the “economic effects” on the lines it is understood today or was comprehended in the past since the time of Prophet Muhammad (S) to our time. Now the world situation has changed. It is much more complicated with tremendous economic and political trends, currents and cross currents, global issues and challenges that are constantly disturbing the peace and tranquility of human abode. Enormous means of production and earnings have been added in the economic dictionary of the age along with the ever-growing dilapidated condition of the poor that is, unfortunately, becoming poorer and poorer day by day.


Equally, a lot of new Zakatable items that were not in existence when the system was introduced have now been added to the list.  The needs and responsibilities of a modern state are becoming boundless the way the dictum of President Bush of “preemptive” attack has become “stateless”. National boundaries, jurisdiction and the concept of “sovereignty” are becoming “fragile” and “meaningless.” In such a “melting-pot”, the system of Zakah, its scope, implementation and diversity of purpose in the present context of the world has attained new dimensions and that must be addressed in detail. At the same time, the “need” of the modern man and that of the emerging global society are generating multi-dimensional problems. This is a surmounting challenge that the system of Zakah faces today and it has to resolve it to prove its benefitiality to the human society. I will do it, Insha Allah, soon.



Shamim A Siddiqi

October 27, 2003