Zakâh Must Be Paid on the Same Wealth Year After Year
  • Wed, 01/01/2003
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There is a new and unprecedented idea circulating these days regarding the payment of Zakâh. This is a grave situation indeed, since Zakâh is one of the five pillars of Islam. Some people are claiming that once a person pays Zakâh on wealth that is in his possession, he never again has to pay Zakâh on that same wealth as long as he lives. Those that are making this claim are challenging others to bring forth evidence from the Qur'ân and Sunnah to the contrary.

In truth, the idea that once Zakâh is paid on specific wealth, then that wealth is exempted from Zakâh forever - this is the new idea that no one had ever understood from the evidence before. It was not understood by the Companions during the lifetime of the Prophet (peace be upon him) nor by anyone thereafter… at least not until now.

It is, in fact, a matter of juristic consensus (ijmâ`) that Zakâh must be paid on all wealth that remains with a person for a full year, even if the owner of that wealth paid Zakâh on it the previous year. Ibn Qudâmah said: "We do not know any disagreement therein, and whoever says something to the contrary is clearly mistaken." [al-Mughnî (4/73)]

It was related by `Ali that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: "If you have 200 dirhams and a year passes, then you must pay on it five dirhams. You do not have to pay anything for the gold you possess until it reaches twenty dinars. If you possess twenty dinars and a year passes, then you are liable to pay half a dinar." [Related by Abu Dâwûd and authenticated by al-Albânî in Sahîh al-Sunan] Nowhere in this hadîth does it say that this is only for the first year that the money is in your possession. Its wording is general for any money in your possession for a full year. Anyone making a claim to the contrary is the one who must furnish proof.

It was also related by `Abd Allah b. Mu'âwiyah that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: "Whoever does three things will feel the taste of belief: worshipping Allah alone, believing that there is no god but Allah, and paying Zakâh willingly and continuously every year." [Sunan Abu Dâwûd 1580 with an authentic line of transmission]

We can see clearly how the Zakâh is levied on the same wealth year after year if we consider the Zakâh on livestock.

In case someone might object to the idea that there is Zakâh on livestock, we must mention that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said that on the Day of Resurrection: "…camels will come to their owner in the best state of health they ever had in their worldly lives, and if he had not paid their Zakâh (in the world) then they would tread him with their feet. Similarly, sheep will come to their owner in the best state of health they ever had in the world, and if he had not paid their Zakâh, then they would tread him with their hooves and would butt him with their horns." [Sahîh al-Bukhârî] This hadîth shows just how serious the matter of Zakâh is and why it is important to make sure that we pay what is due from us.

In order to properly understand how Zakâh is levied on livestock, we must carefully read the document that Abû Bakr wrote to his appointee to Bahrain explaining in detail the payment of Zakâh on both livestock and money.

Anas b. Mâlik said: "When Abu Bakr; sent me to Bahrain, he wrote to me the following:
In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful. These are the orders for Zakâh that Allah's Messenger (peace be upon him) had made obligatory for every Muslim, and which Allah had ordered His Messenger to observe.

Whoever amongst the Muslims is asked to pay Zakâh according to what is described herein, then he should pay it to the Zakâh collector, and whoever is asked more than that should not pay it.

For twenty-four camels or less, sheep are to be paid as Zakâh; for every five camels one sheep is to be paid, and if there are between twenty-five to thirty-five camels, a single one-year-old camel is to be paid; and if there are between thirty-six to forty-five camels, one two-year-old camel is to be paid; and if there are between forty-six to sixty (camels), one three-year-old camel is to be paid; and if the number is between sixty-one to seventy-five, one four-year-old camel is to be paid; and if the number is between seventy-six to ninety, two two-year-old camels are to be paid; and if there are from ninety-one to one-hundred-and twenty, two three-year-old camels are to be paid; and if there are over one-hundred and-twenty, then for every forty camels (over one-hundred-and-twenty) one two-year-old camel is to be paid, and for every fifty camels (over one-hundred-and-twenty) one three-year-old camel is to be paid; and whoever has got only four camels, has to pay nothing as Zakâh, but if the owner of these four camels wants to give something, he can. If the number of camels increases to five, the owner has to pay one sheep as Zakâh.

As regards the Zakâh for sheep; if there are between forty and one-hundred-and-twenty sheep, one sheep is to be paid; and if there are between one-hundred-and-twenty to two hundred (sheep), two sheep are to be paid; and if there are between two-hundred to three-hundred (sheep), three sheep are to be paid; and for over three-hundred sheep, for every extra hundred sheep, one sheep is to be paid as Zakâh. And if somebody possesses less than forty sheep, no Zakâh is required, but if he wants to give, he can.

For silver the Zakâh is one-fortieth of the lot (i.e. 2.5%), and if its value is less than two-hundred Dirhams, Zakâh is not required, but if the owner wants to pay he can…

This description should make it perfectly clear that Zakâh is levied on the same wealth year after year. Otherwise, it would have needed to specify that only newborn animals and newly acquired livestock are to be counted. Nowhere does it make that qualification. A herd of animals does not get replaced annually. The animals live for many years in the herd, in fact a considerable number of years when we are dealing with camels. They only leave the herd when they are slaughtered, sold, or die. If Zakâh is to be levied on specific wealth in a person's possession only once, then only the new animals in the herd would have to be counted. This is clearly not the case.

When the Companions sent their tax assessors to the people to take the Zakâh on their livestock, they counted the heads of all cattle, sheep, and camels in their possession. Likewise, the following year, they counted all the heads of all the livestock again, including those animals that were counted in the previous year. They did not count only the heads of newborn animals and yearlings and enquire about which animals were newly purchased. Never has it once been mentioned that Zakâh was levied only on the livestock that was newly acquired or that was newly born. This would be the necessary procedure after the first year if Zakâh is to be levied on specific wealth only once. This means clearly that Zakâh was always being paid on the same wealth year after year.

There was no objection to this practice during the lifetime of the Prophet (peace be upon him) nor during the lives of those who came after him. This practice then continued unabated throughout the Muslim world wherever Islamic Law was implemented. It is a matter of consensus.

It is a newly concocted idea that once Zakâh is paid on specific wealth, then that wealth is eternally exempted from Zakâh for all of the years it remains in the same person's possession. All of the textual evidence about Zakâh is general. Nowhere is it specified by the provision that Zakâh is only due on wealth that has never had Zakâh paid on it before. The burden of proof falls on the shoulders of those people who are making such a claim.

We cannot go against the consensus of the Muslim nation from the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him) onwards, just because someone today has come up with a new idea, especially on a matter as important as one of the pillars of Islam.

Please note that there is no difference between money (gold and silver) and livestock in the obligation of paying Zakâh annually. Both are mentioned in the same document. The only difference is that collectors of Zakâh could only effectively count the heads of cattle and estimate the amount of agricultural produce. In the old days, there was no practical way to count all the gold and silver in a person's possession. They usually had to rely on the honesty and piety of the people in that matter.

We believe the problem today is that people are no longer living under Islamic Law and they have lost touch with the practical meaning of Zakâh. They only understand Zakâh in terms of money and, by misunderstanding the textual evidence, are coming up with misconceptions that have never been heard of before.