Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Zakat | Almsgiving | A Sacred Practice of Purification

In the Name of the Most Magnanimous One, the Generous Giver



1.
There are people in the world so hungry,
that God can not appear to them except in the form of bread.
- Indira Gandhi


God will charge on the Day of Judgment,
"I was hungry and you didn't feed Me."
- Abrahamic Sacred tradition

The world is full of suffering, it is also full of overcoming it.
- Helen Keller

When one knows Thee, then alien there is none, then no door is shut.
Oh, grant me my prayer that I may never lose the touch of the One in the play of many. - Rabindranath Tagore

2.
Zakat | Meanings and Philosophy

Zakat or Almsgiving is one of the fundamental pillar of the Universal Path and made natural (incumbent) to anyone who claims to have self-surrendered to God and claims to love His creation as a Sign of the love to the Creator. Zakat is more than free will charity, but is a right of the needy from the excess wealth of the rich, so that there remains no starvation and poverty and thus degradation of human dignity.

The word "Zakat" has two meanings. One of its meanings is "clean, pure." Or to be clean or to purify. The other meaning is to grow, expand and multiply. Because payment of Zakat results in increased wealth, the wealth given in the path of God the Most High is called Zakat.

The zahir or outward meaning of the word Zakat is 'cleansing' or 'purifying' or 'helping to thrive'. The meaning according to Shar (religious law) is 'an obligation that proceeds from a person's wealth and possessions.' The batin or hidden meaning is 'purifying the heart of thoughts other than Allah (since Zakat is a step of letting go of the excessive attachment to material wealth, for the sake of God).'

In the Universal Path, it is obligatory for those of pure conscience to help those in need from one's excess. Thus giving the poor due is made mandatory. The God conscious are those who spend in our path, out of Our provided subsistence" (The Quran 2:3) One of the philosophy of Zakat is that the destitute disturbed in mind on account of hardship of livelihood and excessive worry for day to day living can not commemorate God and devoid of peace. So to help the needy is to enable them to commemorate God with a contended mind. Another philosophy of Zakat is that excess and shortage of everything is bad and moderation in everything is commendable. The excess of worldly riches is also injurious to spiritual state.

Shaykh Sadi writes, "If there is no wealth in our hand we are distressed. If we have it we are fettered to its love. There isn't a more tumultuous calamity than wealth, whose presence and absence both are painful."

Hazrat Abu Bakr Siddiq, may God be pleased with him, who is also a noble exemplifier of generous heart once said, "I will not say that there is any different between Prayer and Zakat." Zakat has been paired with such a high sense of righteousness that it is placed on the same level of importance as offering Salat or heart prayer. In the sacred tradition it is also mentioned that the prayers of those who do not pay zakat will not be accepted. Those who are not generous to others, God doesn't open the gate of His divine generosity towards them.

Zakat is a way of purifying from attachment to wealth and possessions, letting go of greed and selfishness. In addition, Zakat also purifies the person who receives it because it saves the beneficiary from the humiliation of begging and saves from degraded dignity.

3.
The Goal is Purification

The path of purification implies that the human heart be purified from that which is blameworthy and one such blameworthy characteristic is extra attachment to wealth and hoarding up material wealth to the extent that it makes one blind to the poor and needy around one. Such condition is sure contrary to loving one's neighbor, since true loving means to help the other in their dire needs. To constantly have love for the poor is a quality of the Prophets who were seen mostly among the poors, giving up so much so frequently that they themselves lived like poor.

When the mirror of the heart is thoroughly cleansed of the rust of human nature and its selfish characteristics, it becomes capable of reflecting lights from the extrasensory world. And this require not just lip service and high talks about loving God, but real action towards God's creation.

How is a man's worth measured? It is measured by his purity. The foundation of peace rests on purity and God does not countenance any corruption, nor does He displays His beauty to anyone who is spiritually unclean. God loves the pure of heart (Q 2:222). Zakat or giving alms to poor from one's excess wealth is a purification of attachment to wealth and possessions.

In the letter on Almsgiving, Shaykh Sharafuddin Maneri wrote to one of his disciple, "there is a worship connected to one's body and another pertaining to one's property. The latter is more efficacious than the former, for its advantage accrues to another as well. Sufis simply pay no attention to all to property and have no dealings with anyone except God." Thus just as worship purifies, so does Zakat or almsgiving with pure intention for pleasing Almighty God alone.

4.
The Disease of Attachment and its Cure

There are visible diseases of the body which has its cures, and there are invisible diseases of the heart with cures as well. The cure of attachment to wealth, property, possessions and material hoarding is the distribution them among the needy, to give alms and to engage in charity without asking for return. Every struggle inside human soul is placed for the self's trial and means of its purification. Thus the attachment and the condition of craving for material wealth and to have more and more - is placed inside the heart of the children of Adam. The Quran says, this condition is a distraction until the death, "The rivalry for hoarding (material stuff) distracts you, until you reach your graves" (102, 1-2). And this condition of attachment is placed as a contrast against which the ascension of human being can happen from selfishness to selflessness.

Verily We have created man into toil and struggle. Does he think that no one has power over him? He may say (boastfully): wealth have I squandered in abundance! Does he think that no one sees him?
Have We not shown him the two highways?
But he has not attempted the Ascent - Ah, what will convey unto you what the Ascent is!
(It is) the setting free of a slave, and to feed in a day of hunger to an orphan or to a poor man lying in the dust (homeless, destitute).

- The Quran, Chapter of The City

Thus the spiritual practice of giving in charity, alms giving is a pathway of the spiritual ascent because it frees the self from the bondage of material attachment and excessive non-letting-go tendency. It is one of the most practical medicine against stinginess which is the opposite of generosity and generosity is a divine quality. Those who refuse to pay zakat or refuse to participate in almsgiving, there are no baraka (blessings) upon their wealth and income, and such wealth which denies the right of the poor are eventually taken away from them from other doors of need imposed upon them from the Unseen.

"Do not withhold your money, (for if you did so) Allah would withhold His blessings from you." - The Prophet (in Bukhari)

5.
Zakat | Token of Thanksgiving and Genuineness of Claim for Love

Everything that is in the heavens and earth is God's.
- The Quran

Only that which cannot be lost in a shipwreck is yours.
-Al Ghazzali

The one who understand the reality, understands well that nothing in this world truly belongs to us. We come into this world naked, empty handed, so shall we leave this world naked and empty handed. No matter how much bank balance or property or wealth one amasses, goes with. Everything that is given to us is given as a safe keeping for a very limited period of time. All things belong to God, and wealth is therefore held by human beings as a sacred trust.

The almsgiving is a higher form of token of thanksgiving for the grace that is given to you as a free gift. We may delude ourself of earning that wealth, but is the many conditions given to us that help us obtain those wealth, from an able parent to able family which enable us to get education and sound mind etc. all are not chosen by us, but given. It is a means by which we are tried whether we are magnanimous to other, whether we are generous to other or whether we turn a blind eye to those in need.

wa la tansawl fadla baynakum
And do not forget to be magnanimous to one another
- The Quran 2:237

Since Zakat is a token of thanksgiving and a loving appreciation to God's grace, God promises to reward those who give Zakat. It is narrated in Islamic Sacred Tradition that "Seven people will be shaded by Allah under His shade on the Day when there will be no shade except His. Among these seven group of people shall be the one who practices charity so secretly that his left hand does not know what his right hand has given (i.e. nobody knows how much he has given in charity). Indeed Allahu Ash-Shakur, God Is the Most Appreciative, Rewarder of Good.

When a person enters into the sanctuary of faith, he makes a present of his heart and spirit; when he prays, he offers his body and time; when he gives alms, he bestows his goods. Now, all these three qualities are those of lovers and show the genuineness of their claim to love. The Zakat is a proof of our genuineness of love of the Beloved's creation for the sake of the Beloved alone. May God purify our intention.

6.
Principle of Zakat

The principle of Zakat or Poor Due is very simple. It is to be given freely from what one has as excess. In Islamic tradition to make the practice of almsgiving wholesome and uniform for all, it is made obligatory to pay Zakat equal to 2.5% of the excess wealth. If every single able human being could participate in Zakat and help poor from 2.5% of their excess wealth, it would be sufficient to erradicate poverty from the face of earth by making every poor self-sufficient to earn and run their small business.

Leaving aside complex rules and theories that often confuse people, this is how you may calculate your Zakat due. Whatever wealth you have (in terms of money in the bank, savings, extra possessions that you don't use but have as an luxury such as a second car, second home, gold, precious stones and even agriculture product that have value) you calculate the value of all of them (in terms of their money value) and deduct from that any debt or obligation you may have (credit card balance, loans that you need to pay back) and thus find a total. Now from this total calculate 2.5%. This is the amount that is the poor due or Zakat on you. Its worth noting that when a person obtains goods or possessions, Zakat is not due on that until a full year passes.

Next question is who should get this Zakat or Poor Due?

The poor, destitute, the needy, those who are in debt and do not have means to pay. You may give this to your needy relatives as well. The poor orphans also hold a greater right to receive this Zakat.

Zakat is NOT for religious people who already have wealth or means to support themselves or should NOT be given to build mega mosques (like mega-churches) or luxurious religious establishment. It is only FOR the poor and needy.

7.
Giving to Orphans and Needy Students towards their Sustenance and Education

I have been personally in touch with a Non-Profit organization here in Bangladesh by the name Utsho-Bangladesh where I volunteer. If you are interested to contribute, you may send your Zakat money (partially or fully) to Utsho-Bangladesh which provide residence, shelter to needy, poor and orphan children who have next to nothing. Many of them are even rescued from streets. To learn detail about Utsho Bangladesh click here and also here is another local newspaper report on Utsho's activity.

You may click on the Paypal button below to contribute which shall be conveyed by Utsho-Bangladesh Zakat Fund to help orphans and poor kids as well as to Sacred Heart School in Kolkata to support children of financial hardship as well.







Alternatively for Bank Transfer, please write to us for Bank Account details of both USA and UK.

May God accept your Zakat and purify your heart and soul. May your generosity be rewarded with a divine generosity worthy that of the Most Generous, the Most Bountiful Lord. Amen.

Ya Karim!

Madad Ya Zul Jalali wal Ikram
Help O Lord of Majesty and Generosity!

8.
His riches shall not save him when he perishes

As for the one who gives and guard oneself and confirms ultimate goodness, so We shall ease him to the ease.

But as for one who is miserly and claim to be self-sufficient and denies ultimate goodness, so We shall ease him to hardship. His riches shall not save him when he perishes.

Truly upon Us rests the guidance and truly to Us belong the alpha and the omega.

- The Quran 92:5-13


Is there any reward for goodness - other than goodness?
- Quran 55:60

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