A Fundamental Pillar
Zakat is a form of charitable almsgiving mandated upon every capable adult Muslim. In the Arabic language, the word Zakat literally means “to purify”, implying spiritual growth and blessing. Universally recognized as one of the 5 Pillars of Islam alongside fasting (Saum), prayer (Salah), pilgrimage (Hajj) and the testimony of faith (Shahada), Zakat offers a means for Muslims to not only purify their wealth, but also make regular contributions to their community. The act of regular contribution is intended to promote care for the vulnerable, and additionally serves as a safeguard against the many sins that stem from arrogance and greed.
The 5 pillars of Islam are thoroughly enumerated within the prophetic tradition and Hadith literature. Consequently, it is an absolute necessity for Muslims to affirm all 5 pillars as fundamental aspects of Islam, akin to pillars that solidify the foundation of a building's structure.
"Islam has been built upon five things - on testifying that there is no god save Allah, and that Muhammad is His Messenger; on performing salah; on giving the zakah; on Hajj to the House; and on fasting during Ramadhan."
[Al-Bukhari & Muslim]
As the scholarly analogy goes, if one pillar were to crumble, the entire building’s foundation is at risk of collapsing. The fact that Zakat is one of five duties that lay the foundation for one’s outward submission to Allah demonstrates the spiritual significance of giving alms. Affirming one’s dutiful obligations and acting upon the 5 pillars- including Zakat- entails that one has laid the foundations of their deen (religion). Thus, the act of paying Zakat should be understood as a spiritual duty to contribute to those in need in order to bring forth good.
“And establish prayer and give Zakat, and whatever good you put forward for yourselves—you will find it with Allah; surely Allah sees what you do.”
[Surah Al-Baqara: Ayah 110]
Where Does Zakat Go?
According to Islamic guidelines, Zakat is to be collected and distributed among those in the community who are most in need, especially the vulnerable and poor. The recipients of Zakat also cannot belong to the giver’s immediate family, as this is recognized to be a separate responsibility altogether.
There are 8 distinct categories of eligible Zakat recipients:
The needy and destitute
Certified Zakat collectors and administrators (See Feeling Blessed’s list of Zakat eligible nonprofits here)
Those whose hearts are to be won over
Individuals burdened with debt
Those who strive in the path of Allah
Travelers in need
“Alms-tax is only for the poor and the needy, for those employed to administer it, for those whose hearts are attracted ˹to the faith˺, for ˹freeing˺ slaves, for those in debt, for Allah’s cause, and for ˹needy˺ travelers. ˹This is˺ an obligation from Allah. And Allah is All-Knowing, All-Wise.”
[Surah At-Tawbah: Ayah 60]
According to the commentary of Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Allah, The All-Knowing and Wise, revealed the aforementioned ayah to communicate the obligatory expenditure of Zakat and the proper distribution of alms. Since the immediate needs of the poor (Fuqara’) are recognized to be the most pressing and critical, they are mentioned first in the ayah. The 8 enumerated categories are further expounded upon in the hadith literature.
Zakat-ul-Maal vs. Zakat-al-Fitr
There are two types of Zakat. Both of which differ in eligibility, amount due, and due date.
Zakat-ul-Fitr: Obligatory upon all able self-supporting Muslims, specifically those who have food in excess of their needs. The amount due is the same for each person and is equivalent to the cost of a sufficient, nutritious meal. Payments for Zakat-ul-Fitr are made during the month of Ramadan, prior to the Eid prayer. Note that the minimum price of Zakat-ul-Fitr in USD is updated each year during the month of Ramadan- stay tuned for updates!
Zakat-ul-Maal (Zakat on Earnings/Wealth): Obligatory upon all able adult Muslims. Specific amount and eligibility is based on an individual’s maintenance of zakatable wealth above a certain amount (nisab) over the hawl period. The next section will briefly explain the calculation and payment of Zakat-ul-Maal in more detail, alongside the concept of zakatable wealth, nisab, and hawl.
Calculating and Paying Zakat
Now that the spiritual significance of giving alms is understood from a Quranic and prophetic perspective, how can one go about paying their Zakat-ul-Maal?
In order to fulfill your duty of paying alms, you must contribute a fixed proportion of your wealth- that being 2.5% of your savings. Paying this portion on a yearly basis is obligatory upon all capable Muslims. In this case, “capable” refers to adult Muslims who are sane and are able to maintain wealth over a certain amount known as the nisab. Once your eligible wealth exceeds that of the nisab for the entirety of the hawl (lunar year) period, you are required to give Zakat.
How Much Zakat Do I Pay?
As mentioned before, the key to giving alms through Zakat-ul-maal is contributing 2.5% of your savings on a yearly basis. Once again, this contribution is mandatory as long as the donor is capable and maintains the nisab amount.
Think of the nisab as a minimum threshold calculated for the purpose of paying Zakat. Once it is determined that your zakat-eligible wealth exceeds the amount of the nisab for an entire lunar year, it is your responsibility to calculate how much is paid by evaluating your wealth through assets and liabilities. Fortunately, the Feeling Blessed mobile app offers a seamless and simple solution for calculating your required Zakat payments on the go.
It is important to note that the aforementioned nisab tends to vary. The nisab is equivalent to around 3 ounces of gold, meaning that the current price of a minimum Zakat payment in USD or GBP changes depending on gold and currency exchange rates. As the price of gold may fluctuate on a day-to-day basis, this number does as well. Our partner, Islamic Relief USA, also has a simple online Zakat Calculator that accounts for the cost of nisab based on the latest economic and financial data.
When Do I Pay My Zakat?
The Zakat-ul-Maal of one's saved wealth is due after a full lunar year passes in which one’s zakatable wealth maintains the amount of the nisab. The majority of scholars hold that the Zakat can be paid in advance of its due date, so it is ideal to pay your Zakat early when it is most convenient.
The Zakat Foundation explains the category of “zakatable wealth” concisely by dividing it into two general categories, both with distinct payment times:
Growth Wealth: Includes business assets, currencies, livestock, gold, and silver. The Feeling Blessed Zakat Calculator also accounts for more modern and conventional means of wealth ownership, including shares, pensions, ISAs, and trusts. These are to be paid within a full lunar year (354 days) of ownership.
Windfall: Includes crops and whatever else has value at the time of harvest. These are to be paid immediately at the time of harvest because they are considered growth and income in and of themselves.
Ensuring that your zakatable wealth is being calculated accurately also involves identifying your financial liabilities and what you owe at a given point in time. This is why the Feeling Blessed Zakat Calculator also accounts for utility bills, personal loans, overdraft fees, credit card balances, and business liabilities.
While Zakat is due annually based on the lunar cycle, many prefer to pay alms during the blessed month of Ramadan. This is because Ramadan is a time of year when the reward for good deeds, including the giving of alms, is multiplied. Note that conducting the Zakat payment during the holy month is not obligatory, as long as the appropriate amount is spent by the due date.
Understanding the spiritual significance of Zakat is one of many steps in implementing the faith-based act of giving alms. Amid all the nuances and intricacies, the basics of how and when to pay Zakat should be clear to the everyday practicing Muslim. By establishing this fundamental pillar of Islam in our lives, we can make a difference, bridge our communities, and acquire the mercy of Allah.
“Moreover, establish prayer, pay alms-tax, and obey the Messenger, so you may be shown mercy.”
[Surah An-Nur: Ayah 56]
We believe that making an annual habit of calculating and giving for the sake of Allah should not be seen as a daunting process. Charitable giving and acquiring spiritual knowledge should be accessible for all Muslims. That is why the digital tools and services supplied by Feeling Blessed and its many nonprofit partners are here to help things go smoothly. With a vast array of Zakat Eligible causes to choose from, you can easily calculate your zakatable wealth based on your assets and liabilities using the Feeling Blessed app.
The time is now. Before your Zakat is due, affirm your intentions, calculate your wealth, choose a Zakat Eligible cause, and give conveniently online. Wherever you may be, you can make a lasting contribution with Feeling Blessed.