The term ‘Zakaah’ in Islam comes from the Arabic word ‘zakaa’ which literally means to purify, to increase, to grow and to be good. In Islamic terminology, it refers to that portion of ones’ wealth which is given as an act of worship to a particular person or persons with certain conditions. As taught by the Holy Quran the act of giving Zakaah purifies and cleanses the giver from sins and iniquities and it also brings an increase to his wealth. The Holy Quraan states, “Take from their wealth alms in order to purify them and sanctify them with it”. (Chap. 9 Verse 103)
In another verse it states, “Allah will destroy Riba ((usury) and will give increase for charity and alms”. (Chap. 2 Verse 276).
Zakaah which is normally understood to be a ‘poor due’ is in reality a great form of worship which far exceeds the concept of simply helping the poor or giving charity. According to the teachings of the Holy Quraan and the Prophet Muhammad (SA) it is regarded as one of the five fundamental pillars upon which the religion of Islam rests. In this regard there are over twenty verses of the Holy Quraan in which the command is given to the Muslims to “establish regular prayers (Salaah) and give Zakaah”. In the same manner, the Holy Prophet Muhammad (SA) has said, “Islam is founded on five pillars, – testifying that there is no one worthy of worship except Allah (the one true God) and that Muhammad (SA) is the Messenger of Allah; performing the prayers (Salaah); giving (paying) the Zakaah; making the pilgrimage (of Hajj); and fasting in the month of Ramadaan”. ( Bukhaari and Muslim). In light of these sacred teachings, ‘Zakaah’ has been deemed as a compulsory duty in Islam and has a deep significance in the lives of Muslims.
It should be understood that although Zakaah is known to be a charity or poor due, it differs from the regular optional charity or Sadaqah which can be given by each and every Muslim. In fact, all Muslims are encouraged to be charitable to the extent of their ability.
While outlining the order and command of Zakaah upon the Muslims, the Holy Prophet Muhammad (SA) has explained that it is not a duty which has been imposed upon every single Muslim. Instead, it is one which has been placed upon those who are not poor and needy and are well to do. This is clearly established from the tradition of the Prophet (SA) in which he advised his companion Muaz bin Jabal, (when he sent him to Yemen), with the following words: “Tell them also that Allah has enjoined Zakaah upon their wealth which will be taken from their well to do people and distributed to their poor people.” (Bukhaari, Muslim) This tradition along with others, makes it abundantly clear, that with respect to Zakaah, there are two categories of people. They are (a) those who must pay and (b) those who are entitled to receive.
The Holy Quraan as well as the teachings of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (SA) have given sufficient guidelines regarding both these groups.
As for those who are entitled to receive the Zakaah, the Holy Quraan states, “Alms are only for the poor and the needy, those who collect them, those whose hearts have been (recently) reconciled (to the truth), for those in bondage and in debt, those in the cause of Allah, and for the way farer; a duty imposed by Allah. Allah is the Knower and the Wise.” (Surah Tauba Verse 60)
In this verse eight categories of people are listed who can receive Zakaah
As for those who must pay the Zakaah, the Shariah has also given sufficient guidelines so that each person can fulfill this compulsory duty which has been imposed on him/her.
Zakaah, as an act of worship is connected to ones’ wealth and hence it is the state of a persons’ wealth which would determine when the Zakaah is compulsory upon him or not.
NISAAB OF ZAKAAH
While identifying this state (of a persons’ wealth), the Shariah of Islam has established a certain amount (in one’s wealth) which must be reached before this duty becomes compulsory upon an individual. This amount in Islamic terminology is called the ‘Nisaab’.
According to the authoritative and authentic works of the early scholars and Jurists of Islam, Nisaab is defined as, ‘The minimum amount of property liable to payment of Zakaah.’ (Pg. 480 – Mu’jam lughah al Fuqaha – Dictionary of Islamic Legal Terminology by Dr. Muhammad Rawwas and Dr. Hamid Sadiq)
The same is also mentioned in (Mu’jam Al Mustalahaat Ad-deeniya- Dictionary of Religious terms by Dr. Abdullah Ibn Ashiy Al Maliki and Dr. Abdul Latif Sheik Ibraheem), it states, ‘Nisaab is the minimum quantity or amount of property liable to payment of obligatory poor due.’
It is therefore a condition for the obligation of Zakaah that a person’s wealth must be of a certain minimum amount, (Nisaab) after which Zakaah can be paid.
It is important for Muslims to know and understand that the Nisaab (the minimum amount liable to Zakaah), for each category of wealth has been fixed and specified by the Holy Prophet Muhammad (SA) upon divine guidance from Allah.
It is for this reason one will see that a Nisaab has already been fixed for livestock, land produce, treasures and minerals, gold and silver. Not only has the Nisaab been fixed but the rates of payment have also been specified by the noble Messenger of Allah (SA). In this manner the Nisaab was also established for money/currency.
However, due to the fact that during the time of the Prophet (SA) two metals namely, gold and silver, were being used as money, gold in the form of Dinars (gold coins) and silver in the form of Dirhams (silver coins) the Prophet (SA) obliged Zakaah on both, dirhams and dinaars. In this regard, the Prophet (SA) is reported to have said, “There is no Zakaah on anything less than five uqiyyas of silver.” (Reported by Ahmad and Muslims and has been considered sound and authentic by both).
As quoted by the renowned scholar of the past An-Nawawi, he says it is the unanimous consensus of the scholars that one uqiyya equals 40 dirhams, thus five uqiyya equals 200 dirhams. (Al-Majmu’)
Similarly in another tradition narrated by Imam Muslim, the Holy Prophet Muhammad (SA) is reported to have said, “And on silver, for every two hundred dirhams, the due is 2½ %. If there are only one hundred and ninety, Zakaah is not due on them unless the owner volunteers to pay”. In another narration reported by Ibn Qudaamah, he says, ‘It is authentically reported from the Prophet (SA) that he said, “On silver 2½ % is due”. (Al- Mughni)
Based on these traditions, it has become established that the Nisaab of silver was fixed and made specific in the Shariah of Islam. This has been the unanimous agreement of the Sahabahs and the entire Muslim Ummah.
Like the silver coins, a Nisaab was also fixed for the gold coins (Dinar). According to the opinion of the majority of jurists, 20 dinars (gold coins) were fixed as the Nisaab for gold.
It should be understood that both these Nisaab were distinct and separate from each other. In this regard Dr. Yusuf Qardhawi writes, ‘The Nisaab of gold is independent from that of silver’. This is so, since the Holy Prophet (SA) himself specified two separate Nisaab, one for silver and the other for gold.
With respect to the weight content of silver and gold found in these coins, the early jurists and scholars of Islam have given the following guidelines which have been adopted by the Muslim Ummah:
They are: –
1 dirham (silver coin)
= 3.06 grams of silver.
= 612 grams of silver.
Based on this weight the Nisaab of silver has been fixed at 612 grams / 19.7 ounces.
1 dinar (gold coin)
= 4.25 grams of gold.
= 85 grams of gold.
Based on this weight the Nisaab of gold has been fixed at 85 grams / 2.8 ounces.
It is worth mentioning that during the time of the Prophet (SA) and afterwards, the value of 200 dirhams (silver coins) or 612 grams of silver was similar to the value of 20 Dinaars (gold coins), or 85 grams of gold. As such the Nisaab of each did not pose a problem to the Muslims. However when the value of gold began to differ from that of silver, it became necessary to identify which of the two Nisaab must be used for the calculation of Zakaah in cases of money (cash) and articles of merchandise.
While acknowledging and accepting both Nisaab as valid and sound, some of the early jurists and scholars adopted the gold Nisaab simply because of its minimal fluctuation. Many other jurists from the former and latter generations (of Muslims) however, accepted and adopted the silver Nisaab and considered it most appropriate for non-metal money (paper currency). They explained that this should be adopted since:
1) The silver Nisaab is determined explicitly by the authentic Sunnah (teachings of the Holy Prophet Muhammad [SA]) and the Ijma’ (Unanimous agreement of all the Sahabahs / companions of the Prophet) unlike the gold Nisaab which does not hold this position.
2) It is more beneficial to the poor and needy, which in reality, is the main objective of paying Zakaah.
3) It is more precautious in one’s religious duty.
4) The Nisaab of silver has been clearly specified by the Holy Prophet Muhammad (SA) and must not be altered due to the change in times. It is a divine injunction which is not subjected to analogy.
5) There is no proof in the Shariah which shows that one Nisaab must constantly be changed to facilitate the value of the other one. If this is the case then the original law of the Shariah would eventually be changed.