The communists as well as some of those whose souls and thought were
enthralled by colonialism try to accuse Islam of letting the common people lead
a life of dependence on the alms given by the rich, this false accusation is
derived from the mistaken belief that Az-Zakat is an alms obligingly donated by
the wealthy people.
In refuting such accusations we should distinguish between Az-Zakat and
alms. Charity is voluntary. It cannot be imposed by law or by order of the
ruler. Az-Zakat, on the other hand, is an ordinance prescribed by law: the
government must fight those who refuse to pay Az-Zakat and may even kill them
if they persist in such refusal, because they would then be considered
apostates. It is needless to say that nothing of the sort will happen with
respect to charity which is completely left to our conscience.
From the financial point of view, Az-Zakat was the first regular tax
ever imposed in the world. Before that, taxes were imposed according to the
whims of rulers. The exaction of such taxes was affected by the ruler’s need
for money to achieve personal ambitions. The burden of taxation used to fall on
the poor rather than on the rich and very often the taxes were collected from
the common people alone. Islam organized the collection of taxes and prescribes
a maximum percentage which may not be exceeded in ordinary circumstances. Taxes
were imposed on the rich and middle classes but the poor were exempted.
It should be borne in mind that
Islam prescribes that the proceeds of Az-Zakat should be distributed among the
poor by the state and not by the rich people. In this sense, Az-Zakat is a tax
collected and distributed by the state. The Public Treasury under Islam is the
counterpart of the modern Ministry of Finance which collects public revenues
and distributes these among the various public utilities. The state supports
and looks after those who become needy-through inability to earn their living
or due to the insufficiency of their means-but it cannot be said that the state
does that out of charity or that such help is humiliating to the recipients. No
one can say that retired officials who benefits from social security schemes
feel like begging from the rich. The same thing can be said of helpless
children and an aged person who cannot earn his living. No one can say that the
pride of such people is hurt when the state supports and extends aid to them.
The state is a bound to do such things by virtue of its human obligations.
Social security by the state is a modern system which humanity managed
to adopt after bitter experiences and a long history of social injustice. One
of the glories of Islam is that it prescribed the said system at a time when
Europe lived in social darkness. Yet some people, who are charmed by systems
which are imported from the West or East, accuse the same systems of regression
and backwardness if they had been adopted by Islam.
It should be pointed out that if the circumstances of life in the early
years of Islam necessitated tolerating that the poor may personally receive
Az-Zakat in cash or in kind, nothing in the provisions of Islam prescribes that
the aforesaid method is the only way for distribution of Az-Zakat. Therefore,
nothing in Islam prevent the use of Az-Zakat funds in building hospitals and
schools from which people may benefit or in the establishment of cooperative
societies which can make life easier for the poorer people or in the
construction of factories which provide permanent employment for many people.
In other words, the proceeds of Az-Zakat may be given in the form of social
services. Only those who are incapacitated through illness, old age or
childhood, are entitled to receive Az-Zakat in cash but others may receive it
in the form of employment or social services.
Besides, the Islamic society is not supposed to comprise any poor people
who might live in complete dependence on Az-Zakat. It is good to remember that
the Islamic society reached and ideal stages during the age of Omar bin Abdel
Aziz. Az-Zakat was collected, yet the collectors could not find any one who
would accept it or any poor people among whom they might distribute it. Let us
listen to what was said by Yehia bin Said, a Zakat collector under Omar bin
Abdel Aziz: “Omar bin Abdel Aziz sent me to collect alms from Africa. I
collected the alms and then looked for the poor to distribute the alms among
them but I found none, nor did I find anyone who might have accepted these from
me for Omar bin Abdel Aziz had enriched the people”.
There is no doubt that every community is likely to include poor and
needy people. Therefore necessary legislation should be made to face such a
problem. It should be borne in mind that Islam constantly attached to itself
new communities with different degrees of richness. It was only natural that
legislation should be made which would help to lead gradually to the ideal
stage which existed under the rule of Omar bin Abdel Aziz.
Alms are the properties which the rich voluntarily give for the sake of
charity. Islam approved and encouraged almsgiving. Alms were supposed to be
given in various ways: by supporting parents and relatives, and helping the
needy in general. It may also take the form of good deeds or kind words.
As for the gifts in kind which are given to the needy, they are subject
to the same prescriptions which governed Az-Zaka in the early days of
Islam.Circumstances of life at the time
tolerated the means to help the needy and those in trouble. Nothing in Islam
prescribed that alms should be given in one form only. Alms may be given in the
form of donations to societies and organizations which provide social services.
Az-Zaka may be given as an aid to any Islamic state which needs funds for the
execution of its schemes and enterprises. Islam maintains that as long as there
are poor people, the state should try all possible means to make their life
more comfortable. Besides, the Islamic society is not supposed to comprise only
poor people. When the Islamic state reaches the above-mentioned ideal stage,
many people may not be in need of alms just as they at one time did not need Az-Zaka.
In such a case, both Az-Zaka and alms will be allocated for services that are
of great importance to every community i.e., looking after people who are
unable to work for any reason whatsoever.
It will be noticed that Islam has never called upon Muslims to lead a
life of dependence on charity. The Islamic state is required to secure
honorable life for those who are unable to earn their living, it being
understood that such obligation is not the outcome of charity or condescension.
On the other hands, the Islamic state is required to provide work for
every person who is able to work. The state’s obligation to find work for every
Muslim is emphasized by the following tradition:-
“A man came to the Prophet (SAW) begging for anything to live on. The
Prophet gave him an axe and a rope and ordered him to collect some wood and
sell it and live by its price. He further told the man to come back and report
what would happen to him”.
Now, some misguided people may be inclined to say that the
above-mentioned tradition is just an individual example of no significance in
the twentieth century. They would also say that the said example involved an
axe, a rope and one man whereas modern life involves great factories, million
of unemployed workers and organized governments whose functions are carries out
by various competent departments.
Such logic is surely a naïve one. The Prophet was not required to talk
about factories or lay down the necessary legislation a thousand years before
the existence of any factories. If he had done so no one would have understood
It was quite sufficient that he laid down the basic principles of
legislation, leaving for each generation the task of devising their suitable
method of application within the framework of the basic principles.
The above-mention tradition contains the following basic principles:
1.Sense of responsibility
of the Prophet (i.e. head of the state) for finding work for the man.
2.The Prophet ensured work
for that man (according to the circumstances existing at that time).
3.The Prophet emphasized
his sense of responsibility by ordering the man to come back and report what
would happen to him.
This sense of responsibility which Islam prescribed thirteen centuries
ago is completely supported by the most modern economic and political theories.
But where the state is unable to find work for the unemployed, the Public
Treasury will support them until their circumstances improve. There is nothing
wrong in this, for Muslims are generous to themselves, to the state and to