The Fiqh of Zakat

Linguistically zakat means growth, increase and purification. In the shari'a the term refers to the amount of money or kind taken from specific types of wealth when they reach a specific amount at a specific time which must be spent on specific categories in specific ways. It is called zakat because the wealth of the the one who pays it is purified by it and because the payer gains increase with Allah Almighty by it, in that his rank with Allah is raised through it. This is attested to by the words of the Almighty, "Take sadaqa from their wealth to purify and cleanse them" (9:103) and "But anything you give as zakat, seeking the Face of Allah – whoever does that will get back twice as much."(30: 40)

The types of wealth on which zakat must be paid are monetary wealth, crops and livestock. Monetary wealth refers to gold and silver, in whatever form they take, and trade goods; crops comprise agricultural produce of the kind which can be stored for extended periods; and livestock refers to camels, cattle, and sheep and goats.

Zakat became a legal obligation in the second year of Hijra. The evidence of its obligatory nature is the Book, the Sunna and the consensus of all the Muslims. Anyone who disputes the fact that it is obligatory is an unbeliever. If someone affirms that it is obligatory and then refuses to pay it, he should be punished and it should be taken from him by force, but he is not considered an unbeliever.

There are certain conditions which make zakat obligatory and certain other conditions which make it valid. The conditions which make zakat obligatory are five in number.

¥ Islam: non-Muslims do not pay zakat.

¥ Freedom: slaves do not pay zakat.

¥ Nisab: all types of wealth must reach a certain minimum amount before zakat becomes applicable

¥ Ownership: zakat is only owed on wealth which is completely owned by the payer and completely at their disposal.

¥ A year's possession: monetary wealth and livestock must have been owned for a complete lunar year before zakat is owed. This condition does not apply to agricultural produce.

There are five conditions which make zakat valid.

¥ Intention: it must be remembered that zakat is an act of worship and requires a specific intention like all other acts of worship.

¥ Collection: zakat should be paid to a collector appointed by the leader of the Muslim community.

¥ Local distribution: zakat should be distributed among the community in which it is collected unless it is not possible to do so because none of the recipient categories exist there when it may be sent elsewhere.

¥ Correct time: zakat should be paid promptly at, but not before, the time it falls due.

¥ Correct elements: zakat should be paid with the correct means according to the type of wealth in question: the right age and kind of animal in the case of livestock; the right quality in the case of agricultural produce; and the right weight of gold and silver in the case of monetary wealth.

Although it is true that the nature of wealth has changed and that for the vast majority only monetary wealth will come into the frame as far as zakat is concerned, there are still millions of Muslims throughout the world who are involved in agriculture and animal husbandry and so, without going into too much detail, it is appropriate to give the basic rules of zakat for these kinds of wealth. The quite complex specifications involved in the zakat on these types of wealth, which are outlined in many traditional books of fiqh, show how essential it is to have officially appointed collectors who have the knowledge and experience necessary to ensure that correct and fair assessments are both made and carried out.

The Zakat of Livestock

As mentioned earlier zakat must be paid on camels, cattle, sheep and goats provided that they reach the minimum number on which zakat is due. It makes no difference whether they are foddered or put out to grass nor whether they are used for milk, wool, meat, riding, as work animals or for any other purpose. As with monetary wealth, no zakat is owed unless the minimum zakatable number of animals has been in the possession of the owner for a full year. No zakat is due on horses unless they are kept or bred for trading purposes in which case they become classified as trading goods, enter the category of monetary wealth, and are assessed accordingly.


The minimum number of camels on which zakat is due is five. Between five and twenty-five, depending on the number, a certain number of sheep or goats must be paid as zakat. After twenty-five the zakat must be paid in camels of a particular age and sex depending on the number in the herd.


All types of cattle are considered together for zakat purposes. The minimum number of cattle on which zakat is due is thirty. Thereafter zakat must be paid in cows of particular ages according to the number in the herd.

Sheep and Goats

Sheep and goats are considered together for zakat purposes. The minimum number on which zakat is due is forty, when one animal of a particular age must be paid as zakat. Another animal is due when the herd reaches one hundred and twenty in number and then more according to the size of the herd.


In the case that animals are jointly owned by two or more partners zakat is owed on the whole flock or herd provided that each partner is a free Muslim and that their share individually reaches the minimum number on which zakat is due. The zakat should be shared between the partners according to the proportion which each owns of the whole flock or herd.


The official collector should visit each location at a given time each year in order to assess and take the zakat from every flock and herd. The animals taken as zakat should be of average size and in good condition. If the collector is late, zakat only has to be paid on the number of animals he finds, not on the number that may have been there when zakat fell due. If the owner has died and the animals have been inherited by a new owner he only pays zakat after the animals have been in his possession for a full year. It is not permitted for the owner of animals to assess his own zakat and give it out before the arrival of the collector, but if two years or more elapse without the collector coming then the owner of the animals may assess and pay the zakat he owes to the appropriate recipients.

The Zakat of Agricultural Produce

Various types of agricultural produce are subject to zakat and they are largely those foodstuffs which can be stored for extended periods. No zakat is due on fresh fruit and vegetables intended for immediate consumption. In agricultural zakat the nisab is the same for every type of produce namely five wasqs. The wasq was a measure which corresponded to roughly a camel-load and was a measure of volume made up of sixty sa'as. The sa'a is equivalent to 2.035 litres so one wasq equals 122 litres. So this makes the minimum amount of any type of agricultural produce on which zakat is due 610 litres by volume. This is sometimes expressed in terms of weight as 610 kgs. The problem is that the same volumes of different kinds of produce vary considerably in weight so that it is better to hold to the volume measure whenever possible.

The amount of zakat payable on agricultural produce varies according to how the land in which the particular crop is being grown is irrigated. The basic rule is that when the land is naturally irrigated, whether by rain or surface water such as rivers or springs, then one tenth of any crop which reaches the amount of the nisab is taken as zakat. When artificial means of irrigation have to be used at the expense of the cultivator to bring water to the land the zakat is only one twentieth of the crop. The zakat of agricultural produce should be assessed and collected by an officially appointed collector and none of a crop on which zakat is due may be consumed or sold until the zakat on it has been properly assessed.


Where cereals are concerned, zakat is assessed on the amount of actual grain which has been harvested after threshing has taken place. The zakat on cereals falls due once the crops have ripened in the field and should be paid immediately the harvest process has been completed.

Certain grains are considered as forming a single category for zakat purposes, namely wheat, barley and rye. These are added together and if the combined quantity reaches the nisab, zakat is taken proportionally from each type of grain.

Other types of grain are considered as forming separate categories and are not added together for zakat purposes, namely rice, sorghum, millet and maize, so that crops of these must each individually amount to the nisab before any zakat falls due on them.


Lentils, chick-peas, peas, and various kinds of beans are also considered as forming a single category for zakat purposes and so crops of these grown by a single grower should be added together when calculating zakat. If the combined crop reaches the amount of the nisab, zakat is due on it and should be taken proportionally from each individual type of pulse.

Oil crops

Zakat is due on olives and various types of seed grown for their oil content. They are not added together, each being considered separate for zakat purposes. The nisab is calculated on the basis of the amount of actual fruit or seed harvested but the zakat should be paid in oil after pressing has taken place.

Dates and raisins

Zakat must also be paid on dates and grapes when they are intended to be consumed as dried fruit. The zakat on them falls due when they are ripe on the branch but is, of course, paid after they have dried.

The Zakat of Monetary Wealth

The problem of paper money

As was noted above the last couple of centuries have witnessed a radical change in the way that wealth is viewed and that rather than being seen in terms of ownership of land, and thus expressed largely in agricultural produce and livestock holdings, wealth is now seen in almost exclusively monetary terms. The whole subject is, however, from the zakat point of view, further complicated by the fact that the nature of money has also concurrently undergone a total transformation, gold and silver having been replaced by paper and electronic currencies. Since it is also clear that the zakat of monetary wealth may only be paid in gold and silver, it now becomes a question, given the current nature of money, of how that can, and indeed if it should, be brought about.

To start with it must be understood that, economically speaking, the current situation of the Muslims throughout the world, both because of our inextricable relationship with the openly usurious global economic system and also because of the nature of paper money itself, has clearly moved us into the realm of the haram. This puts us in what should be experienced by all of us as an absolutely intolerable situation and it must be the explicit intention of every Muslim to do everything in his power to combat this abominable system and take all the necessary steps to disconnect from it in the shortest possible time. Only then will it be possible to re-establish the pillar of zakat in a complete way.

We must, however, start from where we are, and so we must deal with the change that has taken place in the nature of money and see how zakat can be best applied to the type of currencies we are at present faced with. As we saw with the fatwa of Shaykh 'Illaysh, if paper money is viewed logically as numbered tokens worth in reality no more than the value of the paper they are printed on, then zakat does not come into the picture at all. But as we also saw, paper money was originally intended to directly represent certain specific amounts of gold and silver and if we take that view of it banknotes are, as was noted earlier, in reality acknowledgements of a debt owed by a bank to the bearer of the note.

From the standpoint of zakat there are two difficulties in taking this position. The first is that while this specific gold/silver equivalence was the initial intention of paper money, it is clearly no longer the case since paper currencies have long since given up any pretence of being tied to their original direct connection with gold and silver coinage. The second is that while it is true that creditors must pay zakat on debts owed to them they do not have to do so until the debt has been repaid, since, although they own the money, they do not have full use of it until it returns to their possession. But in the case of paper money no such restriction exists because the possessors of the banknotes have full use of the value they represent, by their use of them as a medium of exchange in the country in which they live, even though they do not have possession of it in real terms.

So for zakat purposes it is better to view paper money as being like bond certificates whose value is more or less guaranteed by the government. This does not legitimise their use as a medium of exchange, since there is no way under the laws of Islam that such financial instruments can be employed to replace gold and silver coinage as money, but it does give us a way of understanding their usage and of making it possible to assess them for zakat purposes. This is because although they are forbidden by the shari'a they have been imposed on us by force as being the sole means of exchange whereby we are able to conduct all the financial transactions necessary for our lives. This brings the principle of darura into play, whereby the forbidden becomes temporarily permissible if it is a question of preserving life. On this basis alone the use of paper money has gained a temporary, but extremely reluctant, permissibility for the Muslim community.

Other examples of the application of the principle of darura are the drinking of wine to preserve one's life in the absence of water or any other permitted beverage or eating pig-meat when absolutely no other food is available. In such extreme situations these otherwise forbidden and abhorrent acts become not only permitted but in the eyes of some authorities mandatory. They are, of course, conditional on the fact that no other means exist and they must be abandoned the moment that any permitted forms of sustenance appear. Paper money should be viewed by the Muslims in exactly the same light, something abhorrent which no Muslim would use unless absolutely forced to do so, and even then with extreme reluctance, and something for which a halal replacement must be found at the earliest possible opportunity.

Although paper money may be used and assessed for zakat purposes on this basis, that still does not make it permissible to pay any zakat owed in any other form than the actual gold and silver which the shari'a requires, since for one thing there has never been any evidence that anything else has ever been acceptable and secondly there is no difficulty in obtaining the gold and silver necessary to fulfil the obligation.

The nisab for the zakat of monetary wealth

The nisab for monetary wealth in silver is two hundred dirhams and in gold it is twenty dinars. Records of the respective weights of the silver dirham and the gold dinar have been kept from the earliest times and it is known that a dirham weighed the equivalent of 2.965 grammes and a dinar the equivalent of 4.235 grammes on the basis of a ratio of seven dinars to ten dirhams. This means that the nisab in terms of silver is 593 grammes or 20.92 ounces and in terms of gold it is 84.7 grammes or 2.99 ounces.

Zakat on savings

In the light of the above it is, therefore, appropriate for zakat to be taken from wealth held in paper currencies, whether in the form of actual banknotes, bank accounts, or other kinds of savings accounts, provided they amount to at least the value of the nisab and have been continuously in the possession of their owner for at least a year. If that is the case then one fortieth or two and a half percent of their value must be paid in gold or silver as zakat. In view of the current extremely low price of silver it would seem better to take the gold nisab for zakat purposes, but which ever nisab is chosen zakat should be paid in the metal whose nisab is selected, so that if zakat is calculated using the silver nisab it must be paid in silver and if zakat is calculated using the gold nisab it must be paid in gold.

Zakat on trade goods

As we saw at the beginning of this section trade goods are also considered by the shari'a as monetary wealth on which zakat is due. Trade goods are all goods which have been purchased or acquired or manufactured with the primary intention of resale. There are basically two kinds of trade goods.

The first are the kind of goods which are bought with future resale in mind but which may stay in the possession of the purchaser for a considerable period before he sells them. If the value of such goods amounts to the nisab or more and they remain in your possession for at least a year then zakat should be paid in gold or silver on the price received when they are sold.

The second type of trade goods are those goods subject to constant turnover, such as the stock of a shop or a market stall or any other kind of trading or manufacturing business. When someone has such stock zakat is assessed on the basis of a regular annual valuation on a particular selected date of the stock and liquid capital in hand. The valuation is made on the current market price of the goods concerned. If the stock and accumulated capital combined amount to the nisab or more, then one fortieth of their value must be paid in gold or silver as zakat.


There are two kinds of debts, those you owe to other people and those other people owe to you, and both kinds of debts have a bearing on the zakat of monetary wealth.

If you owe money to others then the amount you owe is subtracted from the amount of monetary wealth you possess before your zakat is assessed so that, for instance, if you possess monetary wealth adding up to more than the nisab but when your outstanding debts are taken into account the amount is reduced to less than the nisab, then you have no zakat to pay. If, however, you have disposable assets, which are not liable to zakat and which could be sold to pay off all or some of what you owe, then your debt is considered to have been reduced by the amount of the combined market value of those assets.

In the case of agricultural produce and livestock debt is not taken into account when assessing the amount of zakat owed.

If money amounting to the value of the nisab or more is owed to you and remains outstanding for a year or more, you owe zakat on it but do not have to pay that zakat until the loan is repaid to you.

Business investments

Investments are basically of two kinds, those whose primary purpose is to produce profit through resale and those whose primary purpose is to produce income. They are treated for zakat purposes in a similar way to trade goods. So that if, for instance, you own a property company whose principal activity is buying and selling houses then your whole property portfolio is viewed as turnover stock which should be valued annually and zakat paid on the total value. If, however, your main intention is to produce income through letting out the properties you own, then you will only pay zakat on the price you receive if and when you sell one of those properties. The basic principle applies that zakat is only due on goods or property acquired with the intention of resale in mind.

Personal property

Going by this principle no zakat is owed on personal property such as house, furniture, household goods, transport, land which are regularly used by you and your family and not intended for trade. The same applies to gold and silver jewellery which are regularly worn and not intended for trading purposes. The same also applies to tools you own which you use to earn your living and, in the case of a business, buildings and plant used in the carrying on of the business. As mentioned earlier, however, the value of disposable personal assets which could be sold to pay debts is set against outstanding debts when zakat is being assessed.


This contains all the general principles appertaining to the zakat of monetary wealth and they seem fairly straightforward on the surface. What you find, however, when you go into the details of people's individual circumstances, is that there are endless anomalies and exceptions and it would be impossible to cover all of them. This is a further reason why it is indispensable to have officially appointed zakat assessors and collectors with a thorough knowledge of all the laws of zakat and experience in dealing with zakat in the light of the many and varied financial circumstances which people face in the world today.

The Recipients of Zakat

There are eight categories of people to whom the collected zakat must be distributed by the leader of the Muslims and Allah, may He be exalted and glorified, lists them for us in the Qur'an when He says: "Collected sadaqa is for: the poor, the destitute, those who collect it, reconciling people's hearts, freeing slaves, those in debt, spending in the way of Allah, and travellers." (9:60)

The Poor

The poor are considered to be those muslims who have some means of support but not sufficient to cover their needs, so they may have a job or a business but their income is not enough to pay the basic living expenses of themselves and their families. Such people are entitled to enough zakat to bring their income up to a level which enables them to meet their basic needs. This may well be the case with a merchant whose capital and stock reach the amount of the nisab. In that case he must pay whatever zakat he owes but will also be entitled to receive zakat on the basis of his personal financial situation.

The Destitute

The destitute are Muslims who have no property and no income whatsoever. There are, of course, many reasons which might bring this situation about. It might be due to a calamity that has befallen them or a disability which prevents them from earning or they may be people who have some property to which for some reason they temporarily have no access. Students might also fall into this category if their studies genuinely prevent them from earning and they have no other means of support.

The collectors

The collectors and the distributors of zakat are also entitled to a share of it. Such men must, however, be Muslims, free men, upright and just, and well versed in all the prescriptions of the shari'a relative to the assessment and collection of zakat. This applies even if they have other means since it is in the nature of a salary for the work they do. No zakat, however, may be given to those who are placed in the position of being its custodians. They must be paid from other sources.

People whose hearts are to be reconciled

This can apply firstly to people who have just become Muslim or are on the point of doing so and who may be strengthened or swayed by help from zakat funds, and secondly to non-Muslims who are friendly towards the Muslims and who can be of some help in a war situation. This permission of the law is dependent upon close examination of the circumstances of those involved because zakat grants should only be made to non-Muslims when there is real necessity for their services or when there is a certainty of their sincere desire to become Muslims.

Freeing slaves

Zakat may be employed to help Muslim slaves to buy their freedom. Slaves freed by this means remain under the clientage of the Muslim community.

Those in debt

Zakat may be given to an individual to pay his debts, as long as these are not debts connected with the deen. This applies even to debtors who have died. Zakat to debtors is conditional on them already having handed over to their creditors all the spare money and property in their possession.

In the way of Allah

This category is generally considered to be confined to those fighting jihad to enable them to mount and equip themselves properly. Such grants may be made to fighting men even if they are well off. No part of the zakat may, however be used for the construction and upkeep of fortifications, nor for works entailed by a defensive war, nor for the construction of warships, nor for the building of mosques or any other public works.


Zakat may also be used for the support and repatriation of travellers, providing they are free Muslims, who have need of such help. This is dependent on them not being able to find anyone who can lend them what they require.


What is clear from the above categories is that zakat acts in Muslim society as the helper of last resort, a kind of final social safety net. The recipients of zakat are all people who have no access to any other source of help in their particular situation. It is important to understand that zakat is not charity. Private giving and the establishment of awqaf take care of all the ordinary charitable needs of the Muslim community. Zakat is there see to the needs of all those who have no where else to go. This is another reason why it is important that zakat should be collected communally and distributed locally since it is only communally that sufficient funds can be gathered and efficiently distributed and only on a local level that people's real needs can be properly recognised and taken care of.

A political leader is necessary in each community to oversee the collection and distribution of zakat in each locality. Normally some of the the zakat, although not a fixed share, is allocated to the collectors and then the needs of the community's poor and destitute taken care of, and then those of the other categories when and where appropriate. The decision about this rests in the hands of the political leader of the Muslims and such a leader must exist in every community to enable zakat to be distributed properly. Imam Malik puts the whole matter of distribution very clearly in the Muwatta when he says in the Book of Zakat in the section on those entitled to receive zakat:

The position with us concerning the dividing up of zakat is that it is up to the individual judgement of the man in charge. Whichever categories of people are in most need and are most numerous are given preference, according to how the man in charge sees fit. It is possible that this may change after a year, or two, or more, but it is always those who are in need and are most numerous that are given preference, whatever category they may belong to. This is what I have seen done by people of knowledge with whom I am satisfied.

Zakat al-Fitr

Zakat al-fitr is fundamentally different from the types of zakat we have been looking at previously. The zakat we have looked at so far has been a tax on superfluous wealth whereas zakat al-fitr is a poll tax, a tax on the individual, in which the amount of wealth they have plays no part. The two types of zakat are also completely independent of one another. Payment of the zakat on your wealth does not absolve you from paying zakat al-fitr and payment of zakat al-fitr does not absolve you from having to pay zakat on your wealth if you have sufficient to warrant it.

Who pays zakat al-fitr

Zakat al-fitr was imposed by the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, as an obligatory tax to be paid by or on behalf of every Muslim at the end of Ramadan, no matter what their age, sex, economic circumstances or social status. A man must pay for all those for whose upkeep he is normally responsible – wives, children, slaves or other dependents. People who live alone must, of course, pay for themselves individually. The point is that zakat al-fitr is owed by every single Muslim at the conclusion of the month of fasting and its importance is made clear by the fact that in one hadith the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, made the acceptance of the fast by Allah dependent upon its payment.

The amount and form of payment of zakat al-fitr

The amount owed by every individual as zakat al-fitr is one sa'a of the staple food of the people in the locality where they live. As we saw above the sa'a is a measure equivalent to just over two litres, so in a place where the staple food is bread the zakat al-fitr is that quantity of wheat per person, where it is rice, then it is rice, and so on. Where various foods are eaten then it could take the form of whatever grain or pulse or dried fruit are acceptable in that area.

The time of payment and distribution of zakat al-fitr

Zakat al-fitr falls due on the last evening of the fast of Ramadan after the 'Id has been announced and is best discharged before the 'Id prayer the following morning, although there is no harm in paying it after the prayer. It is also permitted to pay it during the last couple of days of Ramadan. It should be given to people in the community who are known to be poor. Unlike other types of zakat it can be distributed individually and does not have to be centrally collected, although there is no harm in doing that.


The jizya is a poll tax levied on all non-Muslim adult males living under Muslim rule. Like zakat it has implications which go far beyond its primary function as a source of revenue for the Muslim government. Sanction for it, indeed the command to collect it, comes directly from the Qur'an when Allah says in Surat at-Tawba, "Fight those of the people who were given the Book who do not believe in Allah and the Last Day and do not forbid what Allah and His Messenger have forbidden and do not take as their deen the deen of Truth, until they pay the poll tax with their own hands in a state of complete abasement." (9:28)

The need for the Muslims to understand the importance of jizya as a legal principle has never been been more pressing than at present. It accomplishes two vital functions at one and the same time. It makes it clear beyond any doubt that Muslim governance can only be based on the worship of Allah alone and acceptance of Allah's laws as outlined in His Book and clarified and expounded through the Sunna of His Messenger. It categorically precludes the substitution of any other premise or constitution as the statutory foundation of any Muslim society. By doing this it deals a death blow to secularism, which is overtly or covertly the basis of virtually all government in the world today.

The idea of secularism was first introduced at the end of the 17th Century precisely in order to remove Divinely revealed law from the statute books with the primary purpose of allowing the usurers free rein in their eventually successful bid to achieve world domination through the employment of previously Divinely forbidden usurious financial techniques. The justifying rationale behind the move towards the secularisation of government was that it would make the adherents of every religious faith equal under the law but what it in fact entailed, apart from divorcing government from its last connection with Divine Revelation, was making every religion equally valid and by doing that denying all religious truth.

Jizya, on the other hand, puts everything in its right place, affirming the supremacy of Islam as the final Divine Revelation for all mankind but permitting the continued existence of previous religions in the subservient position which their supersedure by Islam demands. The only way to order human society is in accordance with the extent to which people acknowledge their Creator and agree to live by the laws which He has prescribed for them which alone can ensure a justice and balance for the human race. Allah makes the position abundantly plain a few ayats after his command to take jizya when He says in conclusion to that particular passage, "It is He who sent His Messenger with guidance and the Deen of Truth to exalt it over every other deen, even though the idolaters hate it." (9:33)

The fiqh of jizya

Jizya is a poll tax imposed on all conquered people of other religions who want to live under Muslim rule without accepting Islam. The amount of the tax is four dinars which must be paid by all adult males. Women, children, slaves, lunatics, paupers, monks, hermits and the sick are exempt from jizya. It must be taken in a manner which is humiliating to the payer which means it may not be gathered collectively but must be paid by each man individually to the Muslim authorities. If someone is in straitened circumstances the amount of his jizya may be reduced at the discretion of the Muslim leader.

No person subject to jizya may ride a horse or a mule; he may only ride a saddleless donkey and then must not ride astride. He must not appear drunk in public or be seen carrying alcohol, or eat pork openly, or publicly manifest his religious beliefs or attempt to propagate them in any way. All these things incur physical punishment.

Some one subject to jizya loses his protected status and is considered an enemy of Islam and punished accordingly if he does any one of the following:

¥ Takes up arms against the Muslims unless it is a clear case of justifiable self-defence.

¥ Refuses to pay the jizya he owes.

¥ Opposes the Muslim authorities.

¥ Seduces a Muslim woman.

¥ Betrays the Muslims in a time of war.

¥ Insults the Messenger of Allah in any way.

In return for the payment of jizya the property and lives of non-Muslims under Muslim rule are protected and they are permitted own property and carry on trade within the limits of the shari'a and they may not be enslaved.