Your questions need some elaboration:
Islam has been given
to the Ummah by the Prophet (sws) through the consensus of his companions
and through their perpetual practice and perpetual recitation in two forms:
1. The Qur’ān
2. The Sunnah
Whilst it is clear
what the Qur’ān is, by Sunnah is meant that tradition of the Prophet Abraham (sws) to which the Prophet (sws)
gave religious sanction among his followers after reviving and reforming it and
after making certain additions to it. The Qur’ān has directed the
Prophet (sws) to obey this Abrahamic tradition in the following words:
Then We revealed to
you to follow the ways of Abraham, who was true in faith and was not
among the polytheists. (16:123)
Zakāt and its rates have been given to us through this Sunnah and cannot be
changed. They have existed since the very beginning. Even Judaism and
Christianity, the divinely revealed religions which followed the Abrahamic
tradition and which preceded Islam, mention the same rates of Zakāt as are
upheld by Islam.
There are certain other premises about zakāt also which need to be understood
and which, I am afraid, seem to have disappeared in current times.
It is the only tax an Islamic government can impose upon its Muslim citizens.
Therefore, a person can only give it in his personal capacity if the government
is not collecting it. It is not merely a charity fund. It can be spent on the
collective needs of the people as well: The zakāt money can be used to pay the
salaries of government officials including the salary of the head of state, to
build all works of public interest, to cater for defence requirements and to
establish an Islamic system of insurance.
The notion that he zakāt money cannot be given to a sāhib-i-nisāb is totally
baseless. The following Qur’ānic verse spells out the heads under which the
zakāt fund can be expended:
is only for the poor and the needy, and for those who are ‘āmils over it,
and for those whose hearts are to be reconciled [to the truth], and for the
emancipation of the slaves and for those who have been inflicted with losses and
for [spending in] the way of Allah and for the wayfarers. (9:60)
A brief explanation of these heads
1) The Poor and Needy (Fuqarā
and Masākīn): The poor and the needy are the foremost recipients of
zakāt because they are the primary responsibility of the state. It must
cater for their basic needs like food, clothing, shelter, health and education.
2) The ‘Amils over Zakāt (‘amilīna ‘alayhā): Under this head, the salaries of all employees of
the government which run and manage a state can be paid.
3) Those whose hearts are to be
reconciled (Muallafatu’l Qulūb): Under this head come all forms of
political expenditure in the interest of Islam. There are may be many instances,
when the affection of certain influential people must be obtained, particularly
in border areas where their role can be decisive in the safety of a country.
During the time of the Prophet (sws) many tribes were given money under this
head to deter them from harming the newly founded Islamic State.
4) Slaves (Riqāb): The
institution of slavery was totally eliminated by Islam fourteen centuries ago.
From this particular head money was given to free slaves. Today, by analogy,
this head can be extended to include other recipients. For example, prisoners of
war and other prisoners who are unable to pay the fine imposed by the courts can
be freed by giving money through this head.
5) Those inflicted with losses (Ghārimīn):
Under this head, an Islamic system of Insurance can be established and all those
who are inflicted with economic losses can be compensated. Whether rich or poor
the real criterion is that their means of living and its role in the national
economy have been destroyed. People who have acquired a loan and are unable to
pay it back may also be helped from this money so that they may start afresh and
the society can benefit from their abilities.
6) In the Way of Allah (Fī
Sabīlillāh): Under this head, expenditures of all kinds which serve the
cause of Islam and the welfare of people like defence requirements, religious
propagation, educational institutions, mosques, libraries and hospitals can be
7) The Wayfarer (Ibn al-Sabīl):
This implies the welfare of the wayfarer. Circumstances often make a traveller a
needy person, in which case, his needs can be fulfilled from this head. Also
roads and bridges can be constructed.
As far as the nisāb (exemption) of zakāt is concerned, it only means that no zakāt can be collected below this amount. The
nisāb rate can be increased by an Islamic state if
required. Also, the actual yardstick in calculating the nisāb is silver
and not gold or both as is generally held. This misconception seems to have
arisen from the equation that existed between silver and gold (7.5 tolas of gold
= 52.5 tolas of silver) in the times of the Prophet (sws).