Most of us are familiar with the Arabic terms ‘Zakat’ and ‘Sadaqah’. Both are referred to in the Quran as blessed ways of giving in charity. However, are the terms interchangeable? Can we give some money with the intention of Sadaqah and have it count as part of our compulsory Zakat?

Actually, not. The meanings and connotations of each of these words imply specific types of charity giving. For example, the literal definition of the word Zakat is ‘increase,’ as in growth. The Holy Quran says:

“Take, (O, Muhammad), from their wealth a charity by which you purify them and cause them increase, and invoke [ Allah ‘s blessings] upon them.” [Surah Al-Taubah: 103]

Here Allah (SWT) promises the blessing of growth in the wealth of any who pay from their own money and property; the Zakat or annual charity, which He has obliged. It is such a blessed act that this growth is designed to occur spiritually and mentally in both the people who pay Zakat, as well as those who receive it.

On the other hand, Sadaqah stems from the root ‘sidq’, which means truthfulness. Here it is understood that someone’s action of giving, is linked to the belief they hold. So giving in Sadaqah on a regular basis and with no compulsion, indicates how much a person believes in Allah (SWT) and desires to go over and above, in order to please him.

In short, the main differences between giving Zakat and giving in Sadaqah can be summarised as follows:

  1. Obligation: The Zakat is compulsory once every lunar year, for those who own the minimum nisab amount of wealth. Sadaqah, is however optional and can be given at any time.
  2. Amount: The Zakat is set at 2.5% of the owner’s wealth. Sadaqah however, can be given in as large or as small amounts as desired. It does not even have to come in a monetary format. Abu Dharr (RA) reported that the Messenger of Allah (SAW) said:

“Your smile to your brother is a Sadaqah for you.”

  1. Distribution: There are certain categories of person or projects, that are eligible to receive Zakat. Examples include: the poor, the needy, the wayfarer and the debt-ridden. Likewise, there are some people who cannot receive your Zakat, for example your mother or your wife. This is because these types of close relatives should already be maintained in your regular spend.

“Never shall you attain the virtue of true faith until you spend in charity from that which you love. And anything you spend, indeed, God is all-knowing of it.” [Surah Ale Imran, 3:91].