Conditions that Make Zakat Obligatory
Zakat is charged on specified wealth because it is owned or possessed, i.e. one has to pay Zakat if one possesses wealth to the value of Nisab or more as one is deemed to be rich according to the Shari’ah. The Qur’an and the Sunnah impose this levy on wealth that covers wealth and income. The Prophet (peace be upon him) gave a listing of Zakatable items and rates to be charged on each of them and determined exemptions and the criteria of Zakatability. Still, Zakat is only due when certain conditions are fulfilled. These conditions relate to both the payer and the wealth of the payer; and should be counted as a Mercy from the Almighty.
Who Must Give Zakat
In general, most Muslim jurists agree that Zakat is obligatory on Muslims who are:
- Mature i.e. have reached the age of puberty
- Free i.e. not captives
- Owning the prescribed Nisab amount However, there is disagreement amongst Muslim jurists on whether or not Zakat is compulsory on the wealth of minors and the insane.
Imaam Shafi’i reports the Prophet (peace be upon him) said:
“Invest the fund of the orphans so they may not be used up by Zakat.”
This Hadith implies that there is an obligation of Zakat on the wealth of minors and the insane. Such obligations become the responsibility of their guardians.
What Wealth is Subject to Zakat?
The Qur’anic reference to items subject to Zakat is rather general. Surah Al-Taubah (9:103) mentions the word “amwal” and Surah Al-Baqarah (2:267) mentions, “What you have earned,” and “What we have produced for you from the earth.”
Hence, in the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him) it became clear that Zakat was levied on camels, sheep, gold, silver, agricultural output and goods designated for trade. Certain items were exempt, included things used for personal purposes such as clothes, household furniture and durable commodities, etc.
It must be noted in this regard that Zakat was imposed on agricultural products, livestock, trade inventories, gold and silver. Except for personal and family things, nothing of substantial value, of the time, was left outside the domain of Zakat. Land was almost worthless unless it was used in agriculture, and dwellings were commonly inexpensive.
On the basis of such texts, Muslim jurists have formulated various opinions and rules about what wealth are subject to Zakat. These may be categorised as follows:
- those who believe that only items specifically prescribe in the Qur’an and Sunnah are subject to Zakat, for example dates, raisins, wheat, sheep, camels, assets acquired for the purpose of resale, gold and silver.
- those who include items similar in nature to those mentioned above but not specifically mentioned by the Prophet (peace be upon him), e.g. vegetables, debts, wages, salaries, professional income and the return generated by fixed assets.
- those who include all the above as well as contemporary items of income and wealth- including fixed assets.
Muslim jurists agree that personal and consumable wealth is not Zakatable. Furthermore, they agree that even from among the wealth that is generally subject to Zakat, Zakat is only taken if this wealth fulfills the following conditions:
- Ownership: The wealth must be fully owned by the potential payer. This ownership must be absolute and not restricted, except as provided by the law of the country.
- Growth: The wealth must have the ability to grow or increase or multiply, or is itself a result of a process of growth, such as animals or agricultural products. However, Muslim scholars also deem money, gold, silver and merchandise to have the potential of growth as it is usually made to grow through trade. Zakat is meant to help relieve the poor without impoverishing the rich, by having the rich to pay from their surplus, i.e. taking a little from the plenty. Imposing Zakat on wealth that does not grow reverses this purpose, since Zakat is paid year after year, over and above other living expenses.
- Nisab: For wealth to be subject to Zakat it must first attain a minimum value. In several Hadith, the Prophet (peace be upon him) established certain minimum values for the different wealth and exempted anyone who owns less than the minimum from the payment of Zakat. However, once a person owns the minimum of any wealth, then the whole amount of that wealth becomes subject to Zakat. The amount of Nisab must be over and above what is required to satisfy the immediate basic needs of the payer, including family responsibilities and due debts.
- Haul (passage of a year): Since Zakat is a yearly obligation, the wealth should be held for a year before it is charged with Zakat. However, the Haul condition is restricted to livestock, money and business assets and does not apply to agricultural products, fruits, honey, extracted minerals and found treasure as the latter are subject to Zakat at the time of harvest or when discovered.
Equal Distribution Amongst Categories
When funds are plentiful and there are deserving people of all categories, then distribution must cover all of them. The distribution amongst the eight categories need not be equal, i.e. each group need not receive exactly one eighth of the total proceeds since the main criteria is need.
When funds are less, as when an individual payer distributes his/her own Zakat, then all of it may be spent on one category, since dividing such a small amount diminishes its effectiveness and would not enrich the recipients.
Furthermore, all funds may be given to one category, when necessary. Preference must be based on actual needs and public interest and not on personal opinions or prejudice. However, as the poor and the needy are the most important category, satisfying their needs is the main objective of Zakat. This objective is repeatedly mentioned in the Hadith of the Prophet (peace be upon him).
How Much Zakat Do You Give Someone Who is Eligible to Receive Zakat
The difference between jurists on this issue may be grouped into two major faculties. The first view is to give the maximum, sufficient enough to satisfy the essential needs, without determining any specific amount. The second view is to give a specific amount in whose determination jurists differ.
According to Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, the first view seems to be more consistent with the texts and objectives of Zakat. Two major opinions may be derived in this regard, i.e. to give what satisfies essential needs for the lifetime or only for one year.
Umar (RA) was once asked what to do with the Zakat collected from bedouin Arabs. He answered,
“By Allah, I shall render the sadaqah to themselves, until each of them becomes the owner of a hundred camels, male or female.” (Al Mussannaf Abdur Razzaq)
In another incident, Umar (RA) declared
“When you give, make [the recipient] rich.” (Al Amwal)
Intention When Discharging Zakat
The majority of jurists stipulate that intention is a pre-requisite for discharging of Zakat since it is an act of worship and all forms of worship require an intention.
Should Recipients Be Told It’s Zakat
When Zakat is distributed by individuals directly to the recipients, it is not required to reveal that it is Zakat, especially as many deserving of Zakat may hesitate to take it owing to their own doubt with regards their true eligibility. This is sometimes caused by the lack of education of Zakat. It is generally accepted that the intention need not be a verbal declaration and that it can be made in the heart.
Delaying the Payment of Zakat
Zakat may be delayed for certain legitimate reasons, such as when there is a lack of liquid funds, otherwise the delay or negligence in the payment of Zakat is not permitted and is in fact sinful.
Disbursement of Zakat in Kind
Muslim jurists who insist on payment in kind deliberate that Zakat is an act of worship and as such can only be done the very same way outlined in the Sunnah. Therefore, payment must be made with the same Zakat item. On the other hand, the Hanafi jurists and others allow payment in kind [by giving another type of item of like value] on grounds that it makes no difference in so far as relief to the poor is concerned. (Al Bahr, Vol. 2). Zakat can be given in kind or cash.
Transference of Zakat to Another Area
The general principle is that Zakat must be distributed in the same area where it is collected. The local poor and needy have a priority since the Zakat is collected from their neighbours, kith and kin.