Zakat: How did it begin?
Author: Mohammad Ahmed Shiwani | IslamicFinder
Paying Zakat constitutes one of the five pillars of Islam; it is often considered one of the most important forms of charity and, from an economic point of view, Zakat has been proved to be the ideal way through which economic equality can be maintained in society. Like all the different Islamic practices that Muslims are required to engage in, Zakat also has a specific history that is embedded in the time of the Holy Prophet (SAW). To understand the gravity of the immense practice, therefore, it is important that we understand the historical circumstances that it emerged in.
History shows that many prophets before Prophet Muhammad (SAW) were also commanded by Allah (SWT) to obey the principles of Zakah. It also shows that ideas about Zakat were gradually introduced into society during the time of the Holy Prophet (SAW). Initially, Zakat was made to be an optional practice whereby the Sahaba (RA) were told that they could pay Zakat to please Allah (SWT). Later, however, Zakat was established as mandatory and Muslims had to pay it if they owned wealth that exceeded a certain amount.
During the time of the Holy Prophet (PBUH), Zakat was collected and distributed by the state, hence state individuals would collect Zakat during the time that it was due and would then distribute it amongst those who were eligible for it. The Holy Prophet (SAW) repeatedly mentioned the immense blessings of Zakat to his Sahaba (RA) and the Sahaba (RA) would go to great lengths to ensure that they obeyed one of the five main tenets of being a Muslim.
The Prophet (ﷺ) said: A man giving a dirham as sadaqah (charity) during his life is better than giving one hundred dirhams as sadaqah (charity) at the moment of his death. (Abi Dawud 2866)
The entire concept of Zakat is essentially that it is used as a mechanism for the rich to show their gratefulness to Allah (SWT) whilst also showing concern for those who are not privileged enough, financially. Perhaps one of the most iconic incidents regarding Zakat is when, during the rule of the Ottoman Sultan, Mehmed II, Muslims would spend hours and travel miles trying to find someone to give Zakat to. In the end, they would usually hang their Zakat on a tree and hope for someone to collect it from there, owing to the impeccable income distribution that the Sahaba (RA) achieved by following the guidance of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). This perhaps goes to show how Islam is not just about a set of rituals, but is also about an entire way of life that premises itself in developing the economic, social, and political facets of society so that the Muslim Ummah may prosper and benefit from the teachings of the Holy Quran.
The magnanimity of Zakat and its importance to Muslim politics is perhaps best exemplified by the following quote from Hazrat Umar (RA), who said:
Even if a dog dies hungry on the banks of the River Euphrates, Umar will be responsible for dereliction of duty”.
This goes to show how important Zakat is to Muslims, since it comprises of a vital component through which the Muslim state is to be run. In essence, Zakat plays a crucial role in Islam as a deen (a total way of life) since it works to redistribute wealth and allow Muslims to take care of the most vulnerable in their societies.
Zakat is a very divine concept that is now one of the most important components of being a Muslim. All Muslims must offer Zakat if they own wealth beyond a certain amount and the benefits of the act are uncountable. Zakat allows Muslims to forego the idea that material acquisitions are the end-goal of life, it allows them to be more empathetic to the issues faced by their Muslim brothers and sisters, and it provides them with the ability to thank Allah (SWT) for His immense mercy and blessings.