Of the five fundamentals of Islam, Zakat occupies the second position (after the shahada), the first being prayer. This word is derived from the verb ‘Zaka’, which means: ‘It (a plant) grew.’ The second derivative of this word carries the sense of purification, e.g., ‘Qad aflaha man zakkaha (he is indeed successful who purifies himself). Spending the wealth for the sake of Allah purifies the heart of man of the love of material wealth. The man who spends offers that as a humble gift before the Lord and thus affirms the truth that nothing is dearer to him in life than the love of Allah and that he is fully prepared to sacrifice everything for His sake. There is no burden of obligation on one who receives Zakat, but a sense of thankfulness and gratitude on the part of the giver, since has been enabled by the recipient to discharge his obligation that he owes to Allah and society. Zakat is paid on surplus of wealth that is left over after the passage of a year. It is thus a payment on the accumulated wealth. Leaving aside animals and agricultural yield, Zakat is paid at almost a uniform rate of 2 ½%.
The minimum standard of surplus wealth over which Zakat is charged is known as ‘Nisab’. It differs with different kinds of property, the most important being nearly 21 OZ in case of silver and 3 OZ in case of gold. The Nisab of cash is the same as that of gold and silver. Twenty percent of buried treasure, i.e. wealth that does not imply exertion of effort in collecting it; as for agricultural crops that require labour to gain, Zakat would be 10% and it is known as `Ushur (tenth). If the land is irrigated by artificial methods, one-twentieth part of the yield is to be paid as Zakat. Should the land producing the yield be in need on constant labour and catering, then the owner is bound to pay one-fortieth of the produce. There is no Zakat on less than five camels, but if the person pays it out of his own sweet will that would be a voluntary act of charity. Upon five camels the Zakat is one goat, provided they subsist upon pasture throughout the year, because Zakat is due only upon such camels as live on pasture and not upon those which are fed in the house with fodder. One goat is due upon any number of camels from five to nine, and two goats on any number from ten to fourteen. There on any number from fourteen to nineteen and four upon any number from twenty to twenty-four and upon any number of camels from twenty-five to thirty-five, the Zakat is a ‘Bint-al-Makhaz’, that is, a camel’s yearling colt.
No Zakat is due upon fewer than forty goats and upon forty goats that feed for the greater part of the year upon pasture, there is due, at the expiration of the year, Zakat of one goat. One goat is due on thirty cows. As for horses, no Zakat is due on them in the light of the Holy Prophet’s guidance.
The objects and persons on whom Zakat is to be spent are included in the following verse: "The alms are only for the poor and the needy, and for those employed in connection therewith, and for those whose hearts are to be reconciled, and for the (freeing of) slaves, and for those in debt, and for the cause of Allah, and for the wayfarer – an ordinance from Allah. And Allah is All-Knowing, Wise." [9:60]