Zakat: the Charitable Practice of Islamic Almsgiving

Zakat Alms
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Giving to charity is one of the five "pillars" of Islam. Muslims who have wealth remaining at the end of the year after paying for their own basic needs are expected to pay a certain percentage to help others. This practice of almsgiving is called Zakat, from an Arabic word which means both "to purify" and "to grow." Muslims believe that giving to others purifies their own wealth, increases its value, and causes one to recognize that everything we have is a trust from God.

Paying Zakat is required of every adult Muslim man or woman who possesses wealth of a certain minimum amount (see below).

Zakat vs. Sadaqah vs. Sadaqah al-Fitr

In addition to the required alms, Muslims are encouraged to give in charity at all times according to their means. Additional, voluntary charity is called sadaqah, from an Arabic word meaning "truth" and "honesty." Sadaqah may be given at any time and in any amount, while Zakat is typically given at the end of the year upon calculations of left-over wealth. Yet another practice, Sadaqa Al-Fitr,  is a small amount of food to be given in charity at the end of Ramadan, before the holiday (Eid) prayers. The Sadaqa Al-Fitr is to be paid equally by everyone at the end of Ramadan and is not a variable amount.

How Much to Pay in Zakat

Zakat is only required of those who have wealth beyond a certain amount to meet their basic needs (called nisab in Arabic).

The amount of money paid in Zakat depends on the amount and type of wealth one possesses, but it is usually considered to be a minimum of 2.5% of a person's "extra" wealth. The specific calculations of Zakat are rather detailed and dependent on individual circumstances, so zakat calculators have been developed to assist with the process.

Zakat Calculation Websites

Who May Receive Zakat

The Qur'an specifies eight categories of people to whom Zakat may be donated (in verse 9:60):

  • Poor people--who have few belongings.
  • Destitute people--who have absolutely nothing.
  • Zakat collectors--for their work in collecting and distributing the zakat.
  • Muslim converts--who may be estranged from their families and in need of help.
  • Slaves--to free them from slavery in times/places where slavery has existed.
  • Debtors--to help free them from insurmountable debts.
  • Those working in the path of Allah--soldiers fighting a just war to defend the Muslim community.
  • Wayfarers--who are stranded during their travels.

When to Pay Zakat

While Zakat can be paid any time during the Islamic lunar year, many people prefer to pay it during Ramadan.