The Meaning of Zakah
Linguistically, the root of the word zakat implies purification, blessing and growth. Allah says: “Indeed, whoever purifies himself (tazakkaa) shall achieve success.” (Al-Ala, 14)
Both these words are highly meaningful. The spending of wealth for the sake of Allah purifies the heart of man of the love of material wealth. The man who spends it offers that as a humble gift before the Lord and thus affirms the truth that nothing is dearer to him in life than the love of Allah and that he is fully prepared to sacrifice anything for His sake.
In the shareeah, its technical meaning is in reference to a specific portion of one’s varied wealth that one must give yearly to a specific group of recipients.
The Importance of Zakah
Zakah is mentioned frequently with prayer in the Qur’an – in 82 places, to be precise 🙂 Paying zakah is a sign that a person is Muslim and submits himself to Allah. Allah says: “But if they repent, establish prayer, and give zakah, then they are your brothers in religion; and We detail the verses for a people who know.” (At Tawbah, 11)
One of the keys to receiving Allah’s Mercy in the hereafter is by giving zakah. Allah says: “The believing men and believing women are allies of one another. They enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and establish prayer and give zakah and obey Allah and His Messenger. Those – Allah will have mercy upon them. Indeed, Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise.” (At Tawbah, 71)
Paying the zakah purifies a person as well. One of the ways in which is purifies is a believer is by cleansing the believer’s soul of stinginess and miserliness. It also purifies a person’s wealth by removing any evil from it.
There are also the obvious benefits for society as a whole – such as helping the poor with what they need. It also strengthens the ties of brotherhood, as Muslims will know their brothers will help them out when they are in need. If one is not particularly rich, he will realize his own capability to give money and hence recognize Allah’s blessing on him.
What About One Who Doesn’t Give Zakah?
Just as with prayer, the one who denies the obligation of zakah or says that it isn’t part of Islam is a disbeliever.
The question, however, is about the one who does not give zakah out of laziness or stinginess? The majority of scholars say that he is still Muslim; the zakah is to be taken by force and he should be punished according to judicial discretion.
After the death of the Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, some tribes refused to pay the zakah. Abu Bakr (the first khalifa/caliph of Islam) fought these people as he fought those who openly apostasized. The companions considered these people to be outside the fold of Islam.
Abu Bakr said, “By Allah, I will fight anyone who distinguishes between prayer and zakat. Zakat is the compulsory right to be taken from the property. By Allah! If they refuse to pay me even a she-kid which they used to pay at the time of Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him), I would fight them for withholding it.” (Muslim)