Zakat an Arabic word, meaning sanctity and growth. In fact, the mind of a person who gives zakat is sanctified from the greed for wealth and from miserliness. Moreover, the poor have a right on a portion of the wealth of the rich. Allah says, 'And in their wealth and possessions (was remembered) the right of the needy, him who asked, and him who was prevented from asking' (51:19). Therefore, the wealth of the rich is sanctified by donation of a part of it as zakat. Allah says, Of their goods take alms (sadaqa) that so though mightiest purify and sanctify them' (9:103). The word zakat means growth. It is mentioned in the quran that 'that which ye lay out for charity, seeking the Countenance of Allah will increase: it is these who will get a recompense multiplied' (30:39).
According to Shariah, if the wealth of a Muslim is sufficient enough to meet the necessary expenses of himself and his family in a year and the wealth remains in his possession for the year, he is to donate certain amount from the accreted surplus to purposes sanctioned by the Shariah. Such donation is called zakat.
Like namaz, zakat is a farz (obligatory) religious rite. The instruction to give zakat and perform namaz appears conjointly in many places of the Quran. For instance, the surah Al-Muzzammil says, 'And establish regular Prayer and give regular Charity; and loan to Allah a Beautiful Loan' (73:20). It is to be noted that before the revelation of detailed rules on zakat the companions of the Prophet (Sm) used to donate almost all their surpluses that remained after meeting their necessary needs. On this issue the Quran mention: (Oh Muhammad,) They ask thee how much they are to spend; Say: 'What is beyond your needs' (2:219). Still later, with revelation of the verse 9:103, the zakat was perfected and it was made a farz for all Muslims.
Hazrat Abu Bakr (R) declared a jihad against those two Muslim clans who refused to give zakat. He said, 'I swear upon Allah, I will start jihad (holy war) against any person who will differentiate between zakat and namaz' (Bukhari and Muslim, Kitab-uz-Zakat)
An analysis of the Quran and the texts of hadith literature suggests that in the Islamic social system, zakat is treated as the main mechanism of attaining equitable distribution of income, social harmony and economic equity and equilibrium. Zakat has been made for the rich a tool for circulation of wealth in the society and its expansion, solution to the unemployment problem, and poverty alleviation. No other religion has such economic programme. The Great Prophet (Sm) said, 'Take it for sure that Allah made it obligatory for the rich to give zakat that should be collected from them for distribution among the poor' (Bukhari and Muslim, Kitab-uz-Zakat).
The people who can be taken care of by the zakat system are the destitute and the needy, such as the poor, orphans, widows, crippled and male and female persons who have no capacity to earn and buy the minimum for survival.
The surplus amount of wealth of a person that calls for an imposition of zakat is called nisab. Nisab is equal to (a) two hundred dirhams (52.5 tolas in measures of Bangladesh) of silver; (b) twenty mihkals (7.5 tolas) of gold; or, (c) one-fortieth of the total value of gold, silver and commodity in possession. The amount of zakat to be given on crops harvested from land irrigated by rivers, rains or any other natural means is one-tenth of the harvest; in case a farmer irrigates land by other means, the zakat will be one twentieth of the harvest; on wealth obtained by way of booty in war with non-Muslims, or the wealth extracted from mines or excavations, the zakat is one-fifth of such wealth.
Zakat is to be given for the possession of livestock, too. Subject to zakat are animals such as camels, cattle, rams (goats/lambs), and (according to Hanafis,) horses. Nisab is accounted for (a) five camels, (b) thirty heads of cattle, or (c) forty rams (goats/lambs). In these cases, the zakat comprises a ram (goat/lamb), a two-year old calf, or a ram respectively.
The heads under which zakat can be distributed have been fixed by Allah Himself. This is why zakat can not be utilised in heads other than the fixed rates. In identifying these heads, Allah says: 'Alms (sadaqa) are for the poor and the needy, and those employed to administer (the funds); for those whose hearts have been reconciled to truth; for those in bondage and in debt; in the cause of Allah; and for the wayfarer: (thus is it) ordained by Allah, and Allah is full of knowledge and wisedom'(9:60). [Muhammad Mansurur Rahman]