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The Role of Obligatory Alms (Zakah) in Social Justice

By February 20, 2024Uncategorized

Zakah, or obligatory alms, is the third pillar of Islam. It is a financial act of worship, whereby Muslims give a monetary devotion for God’s sake to those who are eligible to receive it. Through obligatory alms, a Muslim purifies themselves from selfishness and greed, as well as purifying their wealth by giving some of it away. It also purifies the recipient’s heart by fostering goodwill and gratefulness between them and those who give them obligatory alms.

Obligatory alms help society at large, as a major economic means for establishing social justice. This in turn leads to greater prosperity and security for all. Firstly, obligatory alms ensure that wealth does not only remain in the hands of a wealthy few. Through obligatory alms, there is a measure of redistribution of wealth, and especially to the lower and less fortunate members of society.

Zakah also ensures a level of social responsibility is born by the wealthy. They cannot just accumulate wealth and ignore the needs of others and be heedless of the situation of the less fortunate. Rather, they must empathise, share, and be part of the difficulties of the poor by not only giving the annual obligatory alms, but also by ensuring that it reaches the correct recipients in a timely manner. Zakah is given on an annual basis. We are strongly encouraged to regularly give in the way of voluntary charity.

Some of the core principles of Islam include brotherhood, justice, and mutual love between the believers. Obligatory alms ensure this in more than one way. The combination of physical and financial acts of devotion to God strengthens a community in the way it thinks and behaves. God often joins between the daily ritual devotions and obligatory alms in the Quran. The daily ritual devotions show sacrifice to God, discipline, and help to strengthen faith. The obligatory alms show a sacrifice of desires and the trappings of the world, as well as a willingness to help others and alleviate their difficulties.

The obligatory alms allow the poor and needy to feel a measure of self-worth that they do not need to beg, but will receive help on an annual basis due to their poverty and need. If we look at the lives of the disciples of the Messenger Muhammad, many of them were poor and some were wealthy. The wealthy would help the poor, both through the obligatory alms and continuous acts of charity. The poor in return did not feel resentment towards their wealthier brothers. It was a community of mutual love, brotherhood and justice.

It is for all of these reasons that the obligation of the obligatory alms is so important in Islam. It is a responsibility that should not be neglected. People should ensure that they are meticulous and conscientious in calculating and tracking their obligatory alms, in terms of when it is due, the amount due and how it is distributed to those eligible to receive it. God says, “Take, O Messenger, obligatory alms from their wealth, so that you can purify them from the uncleanliness of sins and evil actions, and by which you can increase their good actions.” [9:103]

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