Among the fundamental tenets of Islam Zakat occupies a place next in importance only to belief and Namaz. As one would say, it is the third pillar of Islam.
Zakat means that a Muslim who is in possession of a certain amount of wealth, or more, is required by his religion to spend one fortieth of it at the end of every twelve months on the poor, the needy and the wayfarer, and on such other items of charity and good-doing as are prescribed for it by God and the Prophet.
At several places in the Quran Zakat has been enjoined on Muslims side by side with Namaz. While reading the Quran you would have come across a number of times the command: “Be steadfast in prayer; practice regular Charity.” On several occasions it has been spoken of by the Quran as a characteristic feature of Muslims that, “They establish prayer and practice regular Charity”. These two verses go to show emphatically that those who do not offer Namaz and fail to pay the Zakat are, in fact, not Muslims for the two basic attributes and distinguishing features of a genuine Muslim are not present in them.
Anyway, habitual neglect of Namaz and failure to practice the Zakat are, according to the Quran, not the qualities of a Muslim but of an atheist or a polytheist. About the Namaz we have a verse in Sura-I-Rum of the Quran, which reads:
Establish regular Prayer and be not ye among those who join gods with God:
And about the evasion of Zakat being the attribute of polytheists and infidels we have it in Sura-I-Fussilat:
And woe to those who join gods with God, those who practice not regular Charity, and who even deny the Hereafter. (XLI: 76-77)
The fate that awaits those who do not pay the Zakat and the punishment that is going to be handed out to them in the Hereafter is so dreadful that the mere thought of it is enough to make one’s hair stand on end. For instance, it is stated in Sura-I-Tauba:
And there are those who bury gold and silver and spend it not in the way of God; announce unto them a most grievous penalty- On the Day when heat will be produced out of that (wealth) in the Fire of Hell, and with it will be branded their foreheads, their flanks and their backs. “This is the (treasure) which ye buried for yourselves. Taste ye the (treasures) ye buried.” (IX: 34-35)
In one of his Traditions, the Prophet has explained in a little more detail the purport of this Sura. The Tradition when translated into English reads:
“He who possesses gold or silver (i.e., wealth) but does not fulfill the obligations that are attached to the possession of wealth (i.e., does not pay the Zakat etc.,) plates of fire will be prepared for him on the Day of judgment. These plates will be heated further in the fire of hell and then his forehead and sides and back will be branded with them. The plates will be heated up again and again to brand him and this will continue throughout the Day of Judgment which will be equal to fifty thousand years in this world.”
Besides it, other horrible kinds of punishment are also mentioned in the Traditions. May Allah save us all from them!
Unjust and ungrateful
People who have been blessed by God with wealth and prosperity are, indeed, a most unjust and ungrateful lot if they do not pay the Zakat and shirk from spending their riches in His way as desired by Him. They richly deserve the punishment that is going to be meted out to them on the Day of Recompense.
Again, what is generally not realized is that it is our own poor and indigent brothers we serve when we pay the Zakat or spend our money on other acts of charity. By evading the Zakat we, as such, do a great wrong to our need and helpless brethren and play foul with their rights.
To think over it from another angle, whatever we have by way of property or wealth has, after all, been granted to us by God and we are His creatures and slaves. He commands full control and authority over our possessions as He does over our lives. Were He to demand from us every bit of our property or our life itself our duty, even then, would lie in placing everything before Him quietly and without demur. It is merely His kindness and benevolence that he has called on us to give away in Zakat only one-fortieth of the wealth He has bestowed on us.
Another extra-ordinary favour of the Lord is that He has placed an enormous reward on Zakat and other deeds of charity though whatever we give away is only out of the possessions and the wealth He has been pleased to bestow on us. It would been perfectly reasonable and justified if there had been no promise of a reward from Him on these things. If He is pleased with our conduct when we spend, from the resources He has favoured us with, in Zakat and in other charitable activities, as ordained by Him, and has given the assurance of a rich premium on such deeds of ours, it is solely due to His Infinite Kindness and Mercy. States the Quran.
The parable of those who spend their substance in the Way of God is that of a grain of corn: it growth seven ears and each ear hath a hundred grains. God giveth manifold increase to whom He pleaseth: for God careth for all and He knoweth all things. Those who spend their substance in the Cause of God, and follow not up their gifts with reminders of their generosity or with reminders of their reward is with their Lord: on them shall be no fear nor shall they grieve. (II-261-261)
In the above verse, three promises have been made on behalf of God to those who practice Zakat and spend their money in His Way through other means”
One God, will repay them hundred-fold in this world for what they spend’
Two, they will be rewarded bounteously in the Hereafter;
Three, there will be for them neither fear nor grief on the Day of Judgment.
The holy Companions had the fullest faith in these premises. When verses extolling the spiritual merit of expending in the path of God and denoting what stupendous Divine reward there was on it were revealed to the Prophet and the Companions came to know of them from him they were so deeply stirred that such of them as were poor and did not have the means to give away something in charity left their homes loads on their backs so that they could earn some money to spend for the sake of God.
We will reproduce here just one Tradition of the holy Prophet revealing the significance and the outstanding worth and merit of Zakat.
States the Prophet: “There are three things, whoever acquires them acquires the real joy of faith Firstly, to worship Allah and no one besides Him; secondly, to believe sincerely in and, lastly, to pay the Zakat cheerfully on one’s possessions every year.”
Apart from the reward and recompense in the Hereafter, numerous worldly advantages also accrue from practicing the Zakat regularly and spending in other Divinely prescribed branches of charity. For example, a Muslim who discharges these obligations properly experiences a rare feeling of satisfaction and tranquility in his heart, the poor do not feel jealous of his wealth-on the other hand, they wish him well, pray for his welfare and look towards him with love and admiration, the world holds him in high esteem, everyone likes him and feels drawn towards him sympathetically and God bestows prosperity on him and multiplies his wealth.
A tradition of the holy Prophet reads:
“The mandate of God is: ‘O Son of Adam! Go on spending the wealth I have given thee (on the poor, the needy and the destitute): I shall give thee more”.
“I can swear no one will become poor because of expending in the way of God”.
May Allah endow us all with staunchest faith in the sayings of the Prophet and grant us the great good fortune to act on them!