The dictionary definition for the word zakât is growth and surplus. This form of worship, which is financial in nature, is called zakât because the wealth of the one who gives zakât will increase and be the means of blessings and rewards in the next world. There is no doubt that the wealth of the righteous who give zakât—those who do not withhold from assisting the poor—will most certainly increase. Righteous deeds that are done to soothe the hearts of the poor will be given recompensed by Allah the Almighty. In fact, we are told:
“Say, ‘Verily my Lord enlarges and restricts sustenance to such of his servants as he pleases; and nothing do you send in the least (in His cause) but He replaces it; for He is the best of those who grant sustenance.” (Saba’, 34: 39)
In contrast, the wealth of the person who encroaches on the rights of the poor will be exposed to many perils and harms, and may even become completely destroyed.
There is purity in zakât. If the right of a poor person is found to be subsumed within someone else’s fortune, then that right becomes a spiritual stain on that wealth:
“Of their wealth take alms, so that you might purify and sanctify them; and pray on their behalf. Verily your prayers are a source of security for them: and Allah is one who hears and knows.” (Tawba, 9: 103)
In Islamic law, anyone who has wealth that has been in their possession for a year must give 1/40th of that wealth to the poor as zakât.
Poor people have a right over the wealth of the rich. The person who asks for something has rights, whether he be an aggressive beggar or one who refrains from asking due to modesty.
The Qur’ân is explicit on this matter in: “And in their wealth there is a due share for the beggar and the deprived.” (Dhâriyât, 51: 19)
All religions urge their members to help and support their fellow man. Yet Islam, in its obligating of charity, places much great emphasis on this lofty act, in a manner that is unparalleled. Moreover, no other religion makes clear the merits and sublimity of this act to the degree that Islam does. In a number of places in the Qur’ân, zakât is mentioned in connection with prayer: “And be steadfast in prayer: give zakât, and bow down your heads with those who bow down (in worship).” (Baqarah, 2: 43)
To pay the Zakât is a Divine command that has allowed the community of Muhammad to live until this moment with a clean conscience.
In a hadîth the Prophet is reported to have said: “Protect your property by giving zakât; treat your illnesses by giving sadaqa (voluntary charity); repel disasters and trouble with prayers and supplications. (Jâmi‘ al-saghîr)
Zakât, from one perspective, is considered an act of sadaqa, that is, a demonstration of a servant’s fidelity (sidq) in his servitude to Allah. It has been reported: “Allah will deprive those who do not give zakât of protection for their property and whoever does not give sadaqa, Allah will leave them devoid of health. Whoever does not give a tenth of their harvest, Allah will deprive them of the productivity of the land. Whoever shows idleness in their prayers, Allah will not facilitate for him uttering the testimony of faith at the moment of death.”
In the Holy Qur’ân, Allah says: “O you who believe! There are indeed many among the priests and anchorites, who in falsehood devour the wealth of men and hinder (them) from the Way of Allah. And there are those who hoard gold and silver and spend it not in the Way of Allah: announce unto them a most grievous chastisement. On the day when it will be heated in the fire of Hell, and with it will be branded their foreheads, their flanks, and their backs, ‘This is the (treasure) which you hoarded for yourselves: now taste the (treasures) you hoarded.’” (Tawba, 9: 34-35) One who desists from giving zakât will be branded by that wealth after it has been heated up in the flames of Hell, a fitting punishment for a wicked act of rebellion.