The Qur’an and Sunnah encourage the development and transformation of individuals and society in every aspect of life: spiritual, economic, psychological and social. Zakat is a tool to help transform individuals and society.
God tells us how He transformed the Prophet ﷺ. “Did He not find you an orphan and give [you] refuge? Did He not find you unguided then guide you? And He found you in want, so He enriched (you)?” (Qur’an 93:6-8). The Prophet ﷺ was often seeking personal growth, asking God for “self-sufficiency” and refuge from “poverty”. God clearly tells us to transform ourselves if we want transformation in society. “Indeed, God will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.”(1) (Qur’an 13:11) The Prophet ﷺ told us: God “loves the believer who is committed to God and rich”(2) – encouraging us to seek the best spiritual and material states. The Prophet ﷺ also told us: the “strong believer is better and more loved by Allah than the weak one”(3). This is further encouragement to us to transform our weaknesses into strengths to gain closeness to God.
One of the five pillars of Islam – Zakat – means growth, directly referring to development and transformation. It is of no surprise that the benefits of Zakat mentioned in the Qur’an and Sunnah incorporate development and growth. The Prophet ﷺ was instructed to take payments to “purify & cleanse” the inner self. The second Caliph of Islam, Umar, focused on spending Zakat to transform the material lives of the needy. He instructed, “When you give, make [the recipient] rich.” In his actual practice, he gave such amounts that made the poor rich. A person came to him complaining of poverty. ‘Umar gave that person three camels just to help him out of need – camels being the most valuable assets for Arabs then – and went on to advise his Zakat collectors to “repeat the distribution of the Sadaqah [Zakat] on people, even if you give them a hundred camels.” In another incident, he declared his policy to be “Indeed, I shall repeat the distribution of Sadaqah [Zakat] to the poor, even if one of them has one hundred camels.” ‘Ata’ says, “I would have loved to see a Zakat payer give what is due on him to one Muslim family in such a way that makes them really relieved.”(4)
God has mentioned eight categories for Zakat distribution: “Alms (Zakat) are meant only for the poor, the needy, those who administer them, those whose hearts need winning over, to free slaves and help those in debt, for God’s cause, and for travellers in need. This is ordained by God; God is all knowing and wise.” (Qur’an, 9:60) Each category of Zakat focuses on a particular transformation. The categories of ‘the poor’ and ‘the needy’ focus on transforming the economic state of individuals. The category of ‘those who administer them’ concentrates on improving bureaucracy which helps transform the society. ‘Those whose hearts need winning over’ centres on social transformation where relationships are forged with the wider community possibly leading to spiritual transformation of the society. The category of ‘freeing slaves’ aims to transform the values and standards of society by championing human rights and freedom. The category ‘those in debt’ seeks to release people from financial constraints to financial freedom. The category ‘God’s cause’ seeks to establish a God conscious society through determined and influential individuals taking lead in communal affairs. The category of ‘travellers in needs’ transforms instability to stability. Just as a Zakat payer is promised rewards embedded with transformation, Zakat distribution is embedded with transformation too.
The classical jurists of Islam agree that Zakat is to be used to transform individuals and society.
The renowned medieval scholar of Islam Ibn Qudamah mentions that Zakat is a means to enrich and suffice the needy (5). Imam al-Ramali echoes a similar view stating that the purpose of Zakat is to “enrich” the needy and make them self-sufficient (6). Thus, Zakat plays a transformational function by catalysing the journey to self-sufficiency. This is supported by several Islamic legal opinions relating to the distribution of Zakat. For example, one Islamic legal opinion states that a farmer should be given enough Zakat to buy tools to reap sufficient income for his/her needs.
The Maliki jurists clearly state that Zakat is a resource to enrich and develop self-sufficiency for the foreseeable future (7). The objective is transforming people to self-sufficiency. Hence, they consider assessing recipients by evaluating if their needs – and not the net quantum of wealth – are sufficed.
The Hanafi jurists considered Zakat to be transformational too, but considered the Nisab as the benchmark for assessing Zakat eligibility. The Hanafis considered Zakat to be a means of transforming the present day and state of the recipient. Zakat is interpreted to be a resource for an immediate source of relief to meet urgent needs of the different types of needy people outlined in Surah Taubah (8). The eligibility assessment is in relation to the net current wealth, and not the budgeted needs and expenses for the forthcoming year.
What is transformation and how does Zakat actually transform? Considering the above, in respect to economic empowerment, transformation involves moving from a state of insufficiency to a state of self-sufficiency. As for the categories focusing on the society, transformation involves moving from weakness to leadership. This is reflected in the following verse: “Allah has promised those who have believed among you and done righteous deeds that He will surely grant them succession [to authority] upon the earth just as He granted it to those before them and that He will surely establish for them [therein] their religion which He has preferred for them and that He will surely substitute for them, after their fear, security, [for] they worship Me, not associating anything with Me. But whoever disbelieves after that – then those are the defiantly disobedient.”(9)
Transformation is the journey between two poles. Transformation is not binary where it’s all or nothing, rich or poor; rather, transformation has phases and stages. Zakat’s objective of economic empowerment is to enrich the poor and make them self-sufficient; to take them from one side of the spectrum to the other. This is attained by making transformational interventions. These interventions facilitate transformation and facilitate opportunities to develop. Simply moving a step-up the economic, spiritual or leadership ladder is transformation. Every step overcomes a hurdle and brings it with it a new opportunity. Zakat is the means; not the end.
1 Qur’an 13:11
2 Sahih Muslim
3 Sahih Muslim
4 Fiqh al-Zaka
6 Nihayat al-Muhtaj
8 Al-Muhit al-Burhani
9 Qur’an 24:55
Our vision is for Islam to flourish in society as a source of prosperity and harmony for all. We distribute Zakat transformatively within the United Kingdom.
Through giving out Zakat grants in the UK, we’re here to support and empower individuals in poverty, transform community institutions, and promote understanding of faith and believers.