Zakat (Charity): A Societal Necessity
Imam W. Deen Mohammed
Editor's note: This is an excerpt from the book 'An African-American Genesis'by Imam W. Deen Muhammad. This book is an excellent reference source for all scholars. Secondly, this book provides consciousness awakening information that can contribute to a transformation in the thinking of African-American people.
Zakat (charity) A Societal Necessity
As with all the great religions, charity is a fundamental principle in Al-Islam that has been prescribed for its adherents. The concept of charity has an important role in the life of the Muslim and Islamic society. Charity in AJ-Islam is closely related to the concept of charity in Christianity, and perhaps in Judaism. I am sure that it is very close to the concept of charity for the Christians. Charity in Al-Islam starts with the minimum requirement, and goes to the maximum.
In exercising the maximum degree of charity, we must be prepared to share our wealth, our money and our homes with those who are out of doors. We must be willing to give up much of what we hold private and dear for the benefit of those who are shut out. Charity is a means for improving society. It is not seen as a desirable condition to be on charity. At sometime in a person's life, they should want to get off of the charity role.
Charity is a great necessity for the good future and well being of the society. God says that He has created us upon equality. He also says that He has flavored some above others. There will be some of us with greater spirit, greater talents and greater skills, and those with lesser ability may find themselves at the mercy of the better achievers. Therefore, God wants to sensitize and keep us in touch with the best of our nature that He has given us. He wants to keep charity in our spirit.
The role of obligatory charity (zakat) in Islamic society is to relieve the pressures on the less fortunate by taking a percentage of the annual income from those who are more fortunate. The amount arrived at by most writers and teachers on the subject of zakat or charity in Al-Islam is 2.5 percent (two and one-half percent) of your annual holdings. This is not an income tax deducted from your wages. This 2.5 percent is determined and collected based on your total accumulated wealth.
Under this particular concept or ruling, if you own an automobile, your automobile is accumulated wealth. If you have a garden, a farm, agricultural animals or money in the bank, it is all considered part of your accumulated wealth. From the above, we can see that the range of accumulated wealth under the terms of zakat is very broad.
Zakat is not the only way the Muslim society survives economically or financially. There is also sadaqah, which is an additional charitable deed performed after the obligation of zakat has been fulfilled. There is a great range for sadaqah. We have sadaqah eid: charity in one form or another that is distributed to the poor and needy. Muslims on the two great Eids celebrations: Eid ul-Fitr (Sadaqah ul-Fitr), and Eid ul-Adha. the bigger eid or the greater eid. As stated above, sadaqah is another term for charity, and that is the term we use for charity given on those great Eid days. We use that term for the charity that we give on those great days.
Sadaqah is expected from everyone, the poor as well as those who are in a better situation. Many times we don't have very much to give, but it is the spirit of the charity that is important for human society. Every man and woman needs the spirit of charity in their life in order for them to feel healthy enough to meet the greater challenges of life. If you do not have charity in your heart, you will be unable to meet the challenges of life.
An Islamic society has to finance important new projects. If you are an independent Muslim nation, you have to finance the defense of your homeland. There are also other forms of revenue, but in Al-Islam, it is all charity. The role of zakat is to improve social life for the less fortunate. It is to help them have the basic necessities of life: food, clothing, shelter, education, a chance to free themselves from an impoverished situation and provide them with an opportunity to establish themselves. As we say here in America, "A mind is a terrible thing to waste," and "It is better to teach one to fish, than to give him a fish."
Responsibility To Self And Community
The concerns that I am addressing are very precious to the life and aspirations of the healthy American people. The Holy Qur'an addresses personal responsibility, a very precious concern. God says that we are obligated by our own-self. We are taught that in order to carry out that obligation, we will have to struggle in the Path of God: "And struggle in the Path of God with your very souls, and with your wealth." Thus we have a responsibility and an obligation to ourselves, to our souls and to our personal life.
Why does God have to tell us that? Do we need a revelation? Do we need that great unusual kind of experience just to get us to accept responsibility to take care of ourselves? When you consider the behavior and great degree of neglect of most people toward themselves today, especially in the big cities, you will understand why God has to tell us that. Take into account the personal neglect in the individual life of many people today. Look at how they abuse themselves with crazy habits, such as drugs and liquors. Many people don't remember to brush their teeth daily and keep up other proper hygienic practices. They even risk terrible illnesses that are many times terminal.
When little folks try to tell something important to people, it doesn't have the strong impact or force that it does when told by someone established in television or other news medias. That is why the media can control the spirit of the African-American better than any of their own leaders, single-handedly or together. But, you can thank God that there is always a number saved by His Grace to keep struggling and fighting for the precious life of the people.
Often the trendy atmosphere of America in the form of cultural sensitizers and cultural signals go against our best spirit and tries to suppress our best motives. I am not blaming any particular person or quarter of American society for these things at this particular time, but it happens. If I truly believe in my religion, and truly believe that God has Power over everything, then no matter what the atmosphere or the environment is saying, I'll remember that God is bigger than the environment. He made the environment; therefore when He says something that obligates me. I hear Him.
Don't you see how important it is to believe in a God? When you believe in God, you have the power to meet any oppressor or any opposition. That is why Satan, the worst of oppressors never wants us to have God in our life, because God blocks him out, cuts him out of business.
The Holy Qur'an also addresses community responsibilities. God tells us, "Hold firmly to the cable that God extends out to you (for your salvation, for your unity), and do not be divided among yourselves." We have a community obligation to hold onto the Holy Qur'an, the Word of God. We have an obligation to hold on to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), the last and universal liberator from God. We are obligated to hold on to his sunnah (practices). As stated in the above verse, we have an obligation to hold on to each other. After all, God has extended His Help that we may be united. Muslims are to be united against the forces and schemes of Satan, which are divisive. Satan can break the unity of everybody except those who are united under God.
We are taught in the Holy Qur'an, "The believers are the ones who call to all that is good' and excellent. "The true believers call to that which has good utility for man and society. They call only to what their Lord has approved. They command what is good and excellent, and forbid what is indecent and evil. In promoting excellence, the Muslim must take into consideration other communities: Christian, Jewish and even Socialist communities.
The Muslim is obligated to recognize his responsibility to all the communities of man. He cannot forget that in promoting his own cause, he has to have a healthy regard for the destiny of other people. He must also contribute to the worthwhile and noble endeavors of others. He is to support, compliment, congratulate and feel happy about the progress of other people who are not of his religion. This kind of attitude is healthy for anybody, and it is an obligation for the Muslim.
No Racism In Al-Islam
All the precepts, formulas, prescriptions, etcetera for Islamic life in the Holy Qur'an moves, most of all, on the principle and in the line of peace. The nature and aim in Al-Islam for all of our activities is peace. Therefore, there are no radical teachings in the Holy Qur'an on race. The Holy Quran comes to us with the sober truth, wherein it says, "you all are descended from one ancestor, and he was made from dust”.
Our religion first humbles us. It doesn't preach to our elegance or to our exaggerated pride, flattering us with racial or ethnic compliments. We are taught, "It is Allah who has created your forms, and has made your forms beautiful. This is not being said in the spirit of the demagogue. The demagogue wants to flatter you in order to make you like him. But, Allah is too big to come at us in that inferior way. He comes at us to strengthen us.
When I hear or read that God has created my form beautiful, there is nothing anyone can tell me to discourage me, to make me feel inferior or to make me think that nappy hair, a wide nose, black skin or thick lips are ugly. You cannot tell me anything false after I heard or read the truth from God. What can anybody else tell me after God has said, "7 made your forms beautiful." No one else can manipulate my ego if I truly believe what God has said.
To expound further on the nature of man, God says, "We have indeed created man in the most excellent mold. " What is God talking about, "The excellent mold" He is bringing to our awareness that He has an exclusive pattern on our nature and form. We are His fine product, and nobody else has any claim to that pattern. In fact, nobody can produce another one. We have been molded for excellence. That is the purpose of the mold. God goes on to say, "Surely God has made you tribes and families that you may know one another. "
I am a Muslim, and if another Muslim is dissatisfied with me because I say, "No matter what some white people or most white people have done to us that have made us see them as devils, my Holy book says that all people are the same. " If the Holy Qur'an says that we are all the same, I must believe that there is a possibility in me for becoming a devil also.