As we approach the final days (Ashrah Akheerah) of the sacred month of Ramzan, we seek ways to get closer to God. One of the best approaches to attain righteousness and closer relationship with Him is zakat, i.e. spending a certain amount of wealth on the poor. The Quran says, “You shall not attain righteousness unless you spend on others of that which you love, and whatever you spend, verily God has knowledge of it.”
Zakat gives us an enlightening idea that the acquisition of wealth is not an end in itself, nor is it to be squandered for lower motives. God has endowed it to certain people with it, to serve higher spiritual purposes. Clearly, it is not meant to gain power over the less fortunate through monopolisation of the means of livelihood. Rather, the will of the endower, the Almighty, is to ensure kindness and charity from the rich to the poor: “Those who spend in charity, whether in prosperity or adversity, who restrain anger and pardon people; God loves those who do good to others.” This is the spiritual dimension of zakat.
Literally, zakat means “purification” or “cleansing”. Though it encompasses the purification of all of one’s possession, it refers, most specifically, to one’s enormous wealth. However, it purifies not only the wealth of the giver but also his heart and mind from miserliness, greed and all selfish tendencies. A renowned Sufi Imam Ghazali states in his spiritual discourses (Ihya Ulum al-Din): “The divine decree by which Allah bids His servants to spend their wealth, is also significant in purging the habit of miserliness, which is a deadly evil. It can only be eliminated by making oneself accustomed to spending money. The purity he acquires is in proportion to his expenditure, to his delight in giving away and to his joy in spending for the sake of God.”
Similarly, zakat purifies the hearts of the poor recipients from hostility, envy and all ill feelings that they harbour towards the rich. Instead, it fosters in their hearts goodwill and warm wishes for the contributors. Most remarkably, it instigates them to do special dua (prayer) for their helpers. And a prayer from a faqir (poor), yateem (orphan) or miskeen (beggar) will never be rejected in the court of Allah.
Zakat is distributed to faqir, miskeen, yateem (orphans), musafir (helpless travellers), maqrooz (debtors), etc. It was also given as a ransom to free the slaves. Prophet Mohammad liberated many slaves by paying ransom money. Similarly, he was so caring for the orphans that he promised, “The one who cares for an orphan and myself will be together in paradise like this”, and held his two fingers together to illustrate.
Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi is an alim (classical Islamic scholar) and a Delhi-based writer. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org