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Zakat and Khums

As one of the first commandments in Islam, the Quran places heavy emphasis on giving zakat, alongside the need for performing ritual prayer. As is indicated in its connotation and backed by Quranic allusions, in addition to being a financial obligation, zakat is a type of spiritual purification (tazkiyah). The first impression one receives from the Quranic verses pertaining to zakat is that it is like any other act of worship whose validity rests on the intention of drawing near to God. At the same time, in addition to its religious aspect, zakat is a means of distribution of wealth and creation of a source of finance for the public affairs of the Muslim community. The Quran makes explicit reference to “those who work to collect zakat” (Tawbah 9: 60). This is a clear indication of the fact that in the time of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) zakat was viewed as a state tax, with agents appointed for its collection. 

Zakat is neither a head tax nor a tax levied on property. It is a tax on the productions of the members of the Muslim community as well as on their liquid assets. In other words, Muslims who come into possession of a certain amount of liquid assets or products, stipulated in the shari`ah, must pay a portion (one- or two-tenth) as zakat. 

The items on which zakat must be paid have been specified in traditional and fiqhi sources. These include seven items prevalent during the time of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH): wheat, barley, dates, raisons, sheep, cows, and camels. To these must be added gold and silver coins. Following the conquests and the expansion of Islamic territories controversy began to rage within fiqhi circles as to what new items had to be added to the above list. Two such items were rice and vegetables. The adherents of some schools, such as the Hanafites, were in favor of expanding the list, while there were others who thought it should remain intact. New theories regarding the addition of new items, such as cattle and liquid assets, to the zakat list have continued to be formulated up to the present day. 

The Quran has determined uses for zakat payments (Tawbah 9: 60) which underscore the reasons for its collection, i.e. distribution of wealth and funding the activities of the Islamic government. The uses of zakat include helping the needy, fulfilling the financial obligations of those incapable of repaying their debt, manumission of those enslaved due to some obligation, meeting the salaries of zakat collectors, establishing peace among enemies, and expenditure “for the sake of God” and in line with meeting the general needs of the Islamic community. 

Khums is another type of tax mentioned in the Quran (Ma’idah 18: 41), which is levied on war booty. In Sunni fiqh it is equal to one-fifth, but it may be less in certain cases. In Imami Shi`ite fiqh, a large body of traditions has been used as a basis to provide a much broader interpretation of the term booty. The most important case is where the term is construed as “business profit”, which views khums as a general tax applicable to all times and places and as a part of everyday life of the society. In other words, every eligible (mukallaf) person must calculate his or her income during the course of a year and give as khums one-fifth of the amount that remains after all expenses are paid. 

The uses of khums are mentioned in general terms in the same Quranic verse. However, in Imami fiqh the applications of khums are divided into the two categories of the “imam’s portion” and the “sadat’s portion” (sadat: the progeny of the Holy Prophet (PBUH)). The imam’s portion belongs to the infallible imam or his deputies, to be used for the needs of the Islamic community. The sadat’s portion belongs to the needy of Bani Hashem (the branch of Quraysh tribe from which hailed the Holy Prophet (PBUH)) who have been prohibited from taking zakat payments and for whom khums is the only source of income. 

In addition to zakat and khums, many Quranic verses and hadiths underscore the importance of charity as a moral imperative. However, in the Quran, Muslims are enjoined to exercise moderation in their charity (Asra’ 17: 29).

* source: Gorji , Abolghasem "Islam Entry" The Great Islamic Encyclopedia. Ed. Kazem Musavi Bojnourdi.Tehran: The Center of Great Islamic Encyclopaedia , 1989-, V.8 ,pp.412 - 413

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