ALMSGIVING (ZAKAT AND KHUMS)

The act of sharing and providing others who are less fortunate is not only mandated upon Muslims but it is also considered one of the noblest acts that can bring a person closer to God. Giving charity benefits the individual and society; it purifies the soul from stinginess and meanness.

The Quran says,

“Take alms from their wealth in order to purify and sanctify them.” (9:103)

From a moral perspective, the obligation to pay the obligatory charities is no less important than the obligation to pray. Whenever the Quran refers to people who pray, it also refers to people who pay their obligatory dues.

Charity is not considered as a gift to the poor, but rather a right of the poor. The Quran states,

“And in their properties [fortunate ones] is the right of the beggar and the destitute.” (51:19)

Every monetary or material possession that people acquire comes through the generosity of God. Mary, the mother of Jesus was known to have received her sustenance unconditionally from the Almighty One,

“Every time Zachariah entered the sanctuary to visit her, he found her supplied with sustenance. He said, ‘O Mary! From where did you get this?’ She said, ‘This is from Allah;’ verily, Allah provides sustenance to whomever He wills without limit.” (3:37)

Although people must work to earn a living, God is the One who determines the amount and the form of sustenance they will receive throughout their lifetime. Therefore, when people are directed to return some of their wealth toward charity, in reality they are not relinquishing their own property, but merely returning what God has lent them. God has said,

“O you who believe! Spend out of what We have provided for you,” (2:254)

and in another part of the Quran we read,

“Surely those who recite the Book of Allah and keep up prayer and spend out of what We have given them secretly and openly hope for a gain which will not perish.” (35:29)

The supply of provision and sustenance not only applies to mankind but all kingdoms of God’s creation (i.e., animal and plant). The Quran says,

“Many are the creatures that carry not their own provision; but Allah provides for them and for you.” (29:60)

Money that comes from obligatory charities (zakat and khums) provides security and dignity within society by providing for the needy, bridging the gap between the rich and poor, and eliminating poverty.

The money collected is used for food, shelter, education, health care, orphanages, libraries, transportation systems, and other public services.

A community in which everyone pays their dues (zakat and khums) will be successful and a community in which people do not pay the zakat and khums will fall apart. Prophet Muhammad said, “My community will continue to live fairly if they are faithful to one another, return deposits to their owners, and give alms [zakat] to the poor. But if they do not fulfill these duties, then they will encounter famine and scarcity.”[1]

Imam Ali has stated, “God, the Glorified, has fixed the livelihood of the destitute in the wealth of the rich. Consequently, whenever the destitute remain hungry, it is because some rich people have denied him his share.”[2]

In another saying in regards to charity, we are told, “When charity is delivered out of the hand of its owner, it says four things: at first, I was perishing and you gave me life; I was insignificant and you made me great; I was an enemy and you turned me into a friend; You used to protect me then, but now I will protect you up until the Day of Resurrection.”[3]

These traditions and legislations only refer to obligatory almsgiving; however, there is, in addition to the required alms, a voluntary charity of any kind, such as money, words, or deeds.

Voluntary charity is called sadaqah. Like zakat and khums, these benefit both the individual and the society. Prophet Muhammad said, “Give charity and cure your sick people by it because charity can surely remove your bad fortunes and ailments, and it causes prolongation of your lifetime and increases your rewards.”[4]


[1] Wasa`il al-Shia, v.6 p.13.
[2] Nahj al-Balagha (The Peak of Eloquence).
[3] Al-Ithna Ashariyyah, p.23.
[4] Kanzal-Ummal, v.6 p.31.


Discovering Islam by Sayed Moustafa Al-Qazwini