Many people would describe Muslims as a generous community. Muslims are inspired by a great many faith teachings that promote generosity and charitable giving. It may come as a surprise, then, that the prescribed amount for giving in charity is quite small. Zakah is one of the essential religious practices, known as the Pillars of Islam. Zakah is a payment out of one’s wealth and is set at 2.5% of one’s savings after first taking away one’s living expenses. It can be seen as more of a charitable tax that must be paid, a small fraction of one’s wealth.
The Arabic word Zakah does not have a financial meaning, but rather a spiritual one. It means “to purify”. By paying zakah a person is purifying oneself and so, strengthening their faith and remembering that one’s wealth and opportunities in life come ultimately from God. The money goes to people in need or trapped by debt, and cannot go towards, say, building mosques. In this way it creates a greater sense of both equity and opportunity within a community. If someone suffers financial difficulties because of converting to Islam, zakah can be a form of community support.
The small prescribed amount also acts as an encouragement for Muslims to go much further and give a lot more, in many different kinds of ways. Muslims call this charitable giving Sadaqa, an Arabic word that stems from “sincerity” and which provides a very broad idea of giving encapsulating acts like sharing food, planting a tree, clearing pathways and, even smiling towards another person. Muslims are taught that wealth never decreases because of Sadaqa or charitable giving, and that giving away secretly and with sincere intentions is often better.