Islam has five primary obligations, more commonly referred to as ‘pillars of faith’ that each Muslim should fulfil in their lifetime. The third most important of these, is to pay a portion of your excess wealth every year to the poor and needy, known in Arabic as ‘Zakat.’ There are some criteria which clarify a person’s obligation however, so who needs to pay Zakat and when should they do so?
For someone to be eligible for Zakat they must first be: Muslim, adult, sane and free. In addition to this, they should possess a certain minimum amount of what is deemed by Shariah to be ‘extra wealth.’ This amount is known as nisab and was established by Prophet Muhammad (SAW) at a rate equal to 87.48 grams of gold and 612.36 grams of silver. Therefore, anyone who owns this or an equivalent amount in money or cattle for example, would be obligated to pay zakat for that year.
This nisab amount must be fully owned by the person and zakat is only paid on wealth ‘in excess’ of personal use. Examples such as clothing, food, shelter, furniture and cars are excluded, as these are seen as daily necessities. Finally, the person must have had this minimum, or nisab, amount in their possession for a complete lunar year. If all these criteria are satisfied, then paying Zakat for that year becomes incumbent on them.
Once a person has established that Zakat is due, they need to then make the calculation for the actual amount they owe. Remember the total payable is 2.5%, so the amount will differ depending on how much wealth a person owns. Because each person’s financial situation is different it can seem like a huge task to discover how much you owe, but do not be disheartened. Most Islamic charities have online calculators which are very simple to use and in the space of a few minutes could tell you what you are eligible to pay. They also have some excellent zakat projects which you can research and send your alms to in a simple way. If you would prefer, you can always consult with your local Imam to assist in working out what you owe and you can also enquire if there are any local projects that would benefit most from your money.