"Zakat" By Khalid Baig
Charity itself has been a cherished institution in all human societies. It remains so even in the capitalistic society. But without a strong belief in Allah and the Hereafter, a charitable act can only be motivated by a desire for fame or some other worldly reward. Human beings are driven by rewards. The only truly selfless act is one in which the reward is sought from Allah instead of other human beings. And that is the change in orientation that Islam provides and that remains its most distinguishing feature. Once a goat was slaughtered in the Prophet's household and its meat was distributed. Later on the Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, asked Aisha, Radi-Allahu unha, what was saved from the goat? "Nothing but a shank," she said. "Everything but the shank," said the Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam. For what was given away in charity was truly saved for the hereafter.
There are other distinct features of Islam's system of Zakat. The Qur'an mentions where it can be used.
"The alms are only for the poor and the needy, and for those employed in connection therewith, and for those whose hearts are to be reconciled, and for the freeing of slaves, and for those in debt, and for the cause of Allah, and for the wayfarer." [Al-Tauba 9:60].
Zakat, on the other hand, cannot be used to maintain mosques or support the scholars. Neither can it be used to support the normal functioning of the government. No one can change its rate, sources, or application, which are all pre-determined by the Qur'an and Sunnah. All these distinguish Zakat as an act of worship rather than a tax and have been responsible for keeping the system mostly free of corruption, even at a time when some Muslim countries have generally fallen victim to the corruption epidemic. Yet the problem is that a very large number of those who should be paying Zakat are careless about their responsibility.
To be sure, a Muslim has financial obligations other than Zakat (to support mosques, schools, and other community projects on an as needed basis), but Zakat itself remains the most potent system for addressing the economic problems of the Ummah. With 2.5% of the savings of the rich people throughout the Ummah going to its poor people every year, the basic needs of everyone could be satisfied. In fact if used properly, it could put IMF, the World Bank, and other shylocks who have been enriching themselves at the expense of the poor out of business in the Muslim countries.