by Kyla Brierley
“Compassion, social justice, sharing and strengthening – these are all encompassed in the Quranic articulation of the ethical concept of charitable giving.” As giving and moral values became fundamental elements in the growth of Muslim practice, charitable giving and the process for collecting and distributing these monies soon became institutionalized, and giving in the form of zakat was created. Zakat is a method of obligatory giving, in which one must give a minimum 2.5% per lunar year of their total wealth. While Zakat is frequently compared to the Christian tradition of tithing, it primarily contributes welfare only to the poor and deprived. It is not considered a burden, but rather an integral part of Islamic faith. Through this form of charitable giving in the Islamic culture, zakat helps to achieve economic equality and improve the well being of all members of society through religion, economics, and social consciousness.
Firstly, zakat is a representation of the Islamic belief that acknowledges God as the sole owner of everything in the universe. God has put his faith in the wealthy, trusting that they will properly distribute their money to those in need. As stated in the Book of Zakat, “zakat in Islam is not a voluntary act of charity in which a rich man gives to the poor out of his own sweet will, rather it is in his belief in God and the Hereafter.” Similar to that of prayer and devotion, zakat is an act which is thought to lead God’s believers closer to Him. Zakat is deemed so important in the Islamic faith that it is mentioned at least one hundred times in the Qur’an. Consequently, it is noted that “the prayers of those who do not pay zakat will not be accepted.”
Secondly, “the institution of zakat is the cornerstone of the Islamic economic system. [It] works to ensure an equitable distribution of wealth and establishes a safety net for needy members of society.” Zakat encourages people to invest and distribute their wealth for the greater good of society, rather than letting it accumulate over time. It is often argued that “zakat is the most effective measure to improve the economic condition of the “have-nots.” By providing debt relief and enhancing price stability, the poor are given a fair chance to amend their way of life with the hope of being able to support themselves one day. Funds collected during prosperous times can also relieve the economic burden of society during periods of depression.
Lastly, “zakat is a means of compulsory redistribution of wealth in a way that reduces differences between classes and groups, thus preventing the many social disorders from which Communist and Western societies alike suffer.” Zakat is not used merely to meet the present needs of the poor and needy, but serves other functions that deeply affect social life.” The Quran outlines eight categories of disbursement, each of which contributes to the benefit of society. For example, by distributing wealth to the poor and those owing money, it solves the problem of indebtedness, which ultimately leads to peace and stability in the community.
Therefore it can be concluded that through religion, economics and social consciousness, zakat contributes extensively to economic justice and the enhanced well being of members in Islamic society. With poverty statistics growing considerably each and every day around the world, there is much to learn from the practices of the Islamic faith in charitable giving. Not only could Western society benefit economically with such practices put in place, it could help to shed even more light on issues such as poverty and homelessness and change the perception of those less fortunate around us, thus solving many societal issues.
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