The Almighty Allah, in order to fulfill the needs of the poor, has placed a share of poor in the wealth of the rich, which in Islamic terminology is named as Zakat. Zakat is a religious obligation, which is much emphasized in verses of Quran and traditions of the Prophet. So much so, that it is mentioned alongside Prayers:
وَأَقِیمُواْ الصَّلَو ةَ وَءَاتُواْ الزَّکَو ةَ وَارْکَعُواْ مَعَ الرَّ کِعِینَ
“And keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate and bow down with those who bow down.” (2:43)
وَأَقِیمُواْ الْصَّلوةَ وَءَاتُواْ الزَّکَوةَ وَمَا تُقَدِّمُواْ لأَنْفُسِکُمْ مِّنْ خَیْرٍ تَجِدُوهُ عِنْدَ اللَّهِ إِنَّ اللَّهَ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ بَصِیرٌ
“And keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate and whatever good you send before for yourselves, you shall find it with Allah; surely Allah sees what you do.” (2:110)
وَالَّذِینَ یَکْنِزُونَ الذَّهَبَ وَ الْفِضَّةَ وَلَا یُنفِقُونَهَا فِى سَبِیلِ اللَّهِ فَبَشِّرْهُم بِعَذابٍ أَلِیمٍ
“…and (as for) those who hoard up gold and silver and do not spend it in Allah’s way, announce to them a painful chastisement.” (9:34)
We also have numerous traditions about Zakat and some of them are as follows:
Imam Muhammad Baqir (a) said: Almighty Allah has mentioned Zakat alongside Prayers in Quran and said: “Establish Prayer and pay the Zakat.” Thus, all those who pray and do not pay Zakat are as if they have not even recited the prayers.
Imam Ja’far Sadiq (a) said: Allah has not made anything obligatory on the Islamic Ummah, which is more difficult than Zakat and most people would be sent to Hell on this pretext only.
In the same way, he said: One, who refrains from paying Zakat to the extent of one carat, is not Muslim and he would die the death of either Judaism or Christianity.
Imam Muhammad Baqir (a) said: One who does not pay the Zakat of his wealth, Almighty Allah would impose it in the form of a huge serpent of fire on his neck and till the accounting is complete, it would continue to bite him and it was regarding this that Allah, the Mighty and Sublime said: “…they shall have that whereof they were niggardly made to cleave to their necks on the resurrection day…”
Imam Ja’far Sadiq (a) said: Zakat became obligatory so that the wealthy are tested and they become means of livelihood for the poor. If people pay the Zakat of their wealth, no poor Muslim would remain; on the contrary, needs of all of them would be fulfilled through Zakat. Thus the presence of poor, needy, hungry and naked among the people is due to the sin of the wealthy. It is right for Allah, the Mighty and the High, to prevent His mercy from those who does not pay the rightful share of Allah from their wealth.
Amirul Momineen (a) said: “Then, Zakat has been laid down along with prayer as a sacrifice (to be offered) by the people of Islam. Whoever pays it by way of purifying his spirit, it serves as a purifier for him and a protection and shield against fire (of Hell). No one therefore (who pays it) should feel attached to it afterwards, nor should feel grieved over it. Whoever pays it without the intention of purifying his heart, expects through it more than his due. He is certainly ignorant of the Sunnah, he is allowed no reward for it, his action goes to waste and his repentance is excessive.”
His Eminence, Imam Musa Ibne Ja’far (a) said: Guard your wealth through payment of Zakat.
1. After Prayers, Zakat is the most important command of Islam. Therefore, in the Holy Quran, it is mentioned after Prayers. Thus one who does not pay the Zakat of his wealth, his Prayers will also not be accepted and he will not depart from the world as a Muslim, on the contrary, he dies the death of a Jew or a Christian.
2. Zakat has been made obligatory so that the wealthy may be tested, because paying of their wealth and that also with their pleasure and sincerity is a difficult job.
3. Zakat has been legislated to fulfill the needs of the life of poor.
4. If Zakat is paid in the right and complete manner and is distributed, no more hungry and naked ones would be seen.
5. By paying Zakat, there is increase in wealth and it remains safe.
6. Paying Zakat is one of the best worship acts, which if fulfilled with intention of proximity and sincerity, would serve as a means of divine proximity and penalty for sins.
Items on which Zakat is payable
Zakat is an Islamic tax, which is applicable on the wealth of the affluent people. The Muslim ruler, from the side of Allah, is responsible to collect it from the rich and to spend it in fulfilling the needs of the poor. The Holy Quran says:
خُذْ مِنْ أَمْوَ لِهِمْ صَدَقَةً تُطَهِّرُهُمْ وَتُزَکِّیهِم بِهَا وَصَلِّ عَلَیْهِمْ إِنَّ صَلَوتَکَ سَکَنٌ لَّهُمْ وَاللَّهُ سَمِیعٌ عَلِیمٌ
“Take alms out of their property, you would cleanse them and purify them thereby and pray for them; surely your prayer is a relief to them; and Allah is Hearing, Knowing.” (9:103)
The Messenger of Allah (s) fully used this command and according to the conditions of Muslim, applied taxes on the wealth of the rich, which is applicable to nine things and in collecting Zakat, he overlooked all secondary taxes.
Those nine items are as follows: camels, cows, goats and sheep [who graze in natural pastures and not on private lands]. Gold and silver coins (dirhams and dinar, which was the currency of that period), subject to the condition that its taxable quantity is owned by a person for 11 months continuously; wheat, barley, dates and resins.
Imam Ja’far Sadiq (a) said: When the following verse was revealed in the month of Ramadhan: “Take alms out of their property, you would cleanse them and purify them thereby…,” the Messenger of Allah (s) ordered his announcer to announce in public that just as Allah, the Mighty and the High has made Prayers obligatory, He has also made Zakat obligatory. Thus, pay Zakat on gold, silver, camels, cows, sheep, wheat, barley, dates and resins. But he allowed the rest to remain with them.
It is narrated from Imam Muhammad Baqir and Imam Ja’far Sadiq (a) that they said: Allah has made Zakat obligatory along with Prayers. Thus the Messenger of Allah (s) fixed it for nine items; and he overlooked the rest: gold, silver, camels, cows, sheep, wheat, barley, dates and resins.
These things were the most important sources of income for the Muslims of that time, which the Messenger of Allah (s) subjected for payment of Zakat, and by collecting and spending it, he fulfilled the needs of the poor and deprived to an extent.
But, in the present age aeroplanes, ships and automobiles have replaced camels as mode of conveyance. Cows and sheep who graze on natural pastures and which come under the condition of Zakat are very less and it is replaced by animal husbandry and poultry industry on a large scale. Now, we have no more gold and silver coinage, which might be saved, on the contrary in their place, paper currency and the like have appeared. These days, rice is the staple food of most people and it grows in abundance.
Finally, in a time when the quantum of Zakat on wheat, barley, dates and resins after deduction of the heavy costs that it entails, is insufficient to pay the cost of living of the poor and needy; in such circumstances and conditions what the value of Zakat will be and how it would defray the cost of living of needy, deprived, helpless aged and children without guardians etc.? Definitely, Islam in this regard has displayed foresight and there are various options. Therefore, it is necessary for the Muslim jurists and scholars to derive means of incomes from sources of Islamic laws and to present them to the Islamic government authorities.
Disposal of Zakat
The Muslim authority collects Zakat from the wealthy and spends it in the following ways:
1. It may be given to a poor person, who does not possess actual or potential means to meet his own expenses, as well as that of his family for a period of one year. However, a person who has an art or possesses property or capital to meet his expenses is not classified as poor.
2. It may be paid to a destitute person (Miskeen), who leads a harder life than a poor person (Faqeer).
3. It can be given to an indebted person, who is unable to repay his debt.
4. It may be given to a stranded traveler.
5. It may be spent in the way of Allah for things, which have common benefit to the Muslims; for example, to construct a mosque, or a school for religious education, or to keep the city clean, or to widen or to build tar roads or to publish books.
6. It can be given to a person who is a representative (Wakil) of the Imam or his representative to collect Zakat, to keep it in safe custody, to maintain its accounts and to deliver it to the Imam or his representative or to the poor.
7. It can be given to those non-Muslims, who may, as a result, be inclined to Islam, or may assist the Muslims with the Zakat for fighting against the enemies, or for other justified purposes. It can be given to those Muslims also, whose faith in the Prophet or in the Wilayat of Amirul Momineen is unstable and weak, provided that, as a result of giving, their faith is entrenched.
8. It can be spent to purchase slaves to set them free.
The Holy Quran says:
إِنَّمَا الصَّدَقَتُ لِلْفُقَرَآءِ وَالْمَسَکِینَ وَالْعَمِلِینَ عَلَیْهَا وَالْمُؤَلَّفَةِ قُلُوبُهُمْ وَفِى الرِّقَابِ وَالْغَرِمِینَ وَفِى سَبِیلِ اللَّهِ وَابْنِ السَّبِیلِ فَرِیضَةً مِّنَ اللَّهِ وَاللَّهُ عَلِیمٌ حَکِیمٌ
“Alms are only for the poor and the needy, and the officials (appointed) over them, and those whose hearts are made to incline (to truth) and the (ransoming of) captives and those in debts and in the way of Allah and the wayfarer; an ordinance from Allah; and Allah is knowing, Wise.” (9:60)
With attention to the above tradition, the legislation of Zakat was effected so that the above expenditures may be taken care of.
 Wasailush Shia, Vol. 9, Pg. 22
 Wasailush Shia, Vol. 9, Pg. 28
 Wasailush Shia, Vol. 9, Pg. 32
 Wasailush Shia, Vol. 9, Pg. 22
 Wasailush Shia, Vol. 9, Pg. 12
 Nahjul Balagha, Sermon 199
 Wasailush Shia, Vol. 9, Pg. 11
 Wasailush Shia, Vol. 9, Pg. 53
 Wasailush Shia, Vol. 9, Pg. 55
 For more details about laws of Zakat, see books of jurisprudence.