Posted: 26 Jul 2008 12:29 PM CDT
This important essay was first published by Henrik R. Clausen and reprinted here with his permission.
Historically, Zakat being one of the five ‘pillars’ of Islam, is the holy tax introduced by Muhammad. A bit of background information seems in order.
It is not without precedent, as Muhammads fifth generation ancestor Qusayy had formalized the religious rituals at the Kaa’ba, including a tax (rifada) on wealthy pilgrims that would enable the poorer pilgrims to afford the costs of the pilgrimage.
Depending on one’s view of pre-Islamic paganism, one could consider this tax ‘holy’, or just a tool of the Meccan traders to increase the income from the wealthier pilgrims. As Islam has now replaced paganism, this is mainly of academic interest. It is worth noting, though, that the scope of this tax was closely tied to the Kaa’ba and the Hajj/Umra pilgrimages.
Zakat isn’t, and that’s important. Zakat is payable to Islamic rulers anywhere, who will then dispose over the resources. Hajj and Umra remain as important in Islam as they were in paganism, of course, and still have a marginal connection to the Zakat.
The purpose of Zakat
* The foremost and primary purpose is to distribute the wealth of the community among the poor …”
The emphasis on the community is an Islamic classic, and it makes sense. For if individuals with talent for trade and business were to have too much economical power, they, not the Islamic leaders, would direct the community. Unfortunately (will be elaborated below), this is not good for productivity in society. The Soviet Union also emphasized the community over the individual, leading to extensive irresponsibility and neglect. And, as in the Soviet Union, Islamic countries have not become affluent by this approach.
* Removing the love of wealth from one’s heart, a spiritual disease that could be detrimental to one’s Iman. Thus, it is a form of Tazkiya (self-purification).”
Now, it might seem weird that any religion would request to remove any kind of love from one’s heart, but this indeed is the case here. It’s a bit contradictory, for what is actually the problem of loving wealth? It is clearly assumed that there is some problem, but the nature of the problem is unclear. Is it inherently bad to have a nice house, good clothes, healthy food and money to spare with friends and family?
But we do get a clue with the reference to Iman (faith). People who have their material needs fulfilled and confidence that this will be the case later as well, are less likely to bother with religion. Material wealth does diminish religiousness, as we can see in the West, and that in turn diminishes the power base of religious leaders.
Continue reading this excellent article here