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Zakat: Bridging Worship and Social Justice in Islam

In this series of articles, I will tackle a topic that I’ve also tried to summarize on my YouTube channel. I don’t think I can cover it in one article because, after briefly touching on the worship aspect of zakat, I will delve into its historical evolution and how we should approach zakat calculations today. I will talk about general guidelines for calculations, rather than providing specific examples, as that would exceed the scope of a column.

Zakat is one of the fundamental tenets of Islam. It is counted among the five pillars of Islam, alongside prayer, fasting, and pilgrimage, which is why it’s considered so important. You might ask, “Okay, it’s one of the five pillars, but is it an act of worship?” My answer is yes!

Throughout history, Islamic scholars have regarded zakat as a financial act of worship but have not stopped there. What does this mean? Zakat is not just an act of worship. It has a societal dimension. Humans are social beings and cannot live in isolation. They are compelled to live with their kind, as dictated by the natural laws and the laws instilled by God in human nature.

In a society shaped by these inherent and cosmic laws, there will naturally be both rich and poor, lazy and diligent, those who understand life and conduct their business according to general commercial principles, and those who do not. This inevitably leads to the formation of various social classes within society. In such a society, ensuring socio-economic justice is crucial. It is precisely here that states must intervene as a higher authority to establish this justice.

Is it only the responsibility of states? Of course not. Individuals, as well as the associations they form, need to pool their strengths and contribute to this process.

Zakat plays a crucial role here. It is so significant that its place cannot be filled by anything else. The Prophet’s (pbuh) statement about “taking from the rich and giving to the poor” is aimed at this purpose. We can refer to the role zakat plays in this context as public finance. In other words, zakat has one aspect of worship and another aspect concerning expenditures for public welfare. This is why I have mentioned zakat and tax together in the title.

Who will pay zakat/tax, to whom, at what rate, to whom will it be distributed, will it be paid directly or collected by the state and distributed in areas determined by the state, and whom shall we consult to find the correct answers to these questions? Given that Islam did not emerge yesterday and has a history of 1400 years, how have these practices been implemented throughout history, and what have jurists and political decision-makers said? Yes, the correct answers to these questions will be the key elements in helping us fulfill our duty of zakat worship and obligation in the diverse conditions of today’s world.

In summary, I can say that zakat, from one perspective, is an act of worship required because God commands it, and from another perspective, it is related to public finance due to its implications for public welfare, hence open to juristic interpretations within the relationship between the state and citizens, embodying mutual rights and responsibilities.

Indeed, aware of this, jurists have discussed the matter of zakat both in terms of its aspect of worship, alongside prayer, fasting, and pilgrimage, and in terms of the state-citizen relationship, under Arabic terms like “emvâl, haraç, ahkâm-i sultaniye.”

To be continued.

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Dr. Ahmet Kurucan is a an author and scholar focusing on Islamic Studies and Law.


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