Zakâh on monetary savings is only due after it has remained in our possession fro a full year. However, the majority of scholars are of the opinion that we can pay the Zakâh on our savings before it becomes due. For instance, to benefit from the blessings of the month of Ramadan, it is common for people to pay Zakâh on all of their savings during that month, even on wealth that they have recently earned.
When there is a crisis or disaster, and people are in desperate need of assistance, this is a time for Muslims to consider paying their Zakâh early, in order to provide that assistance when it is most acutely needed.
Scholars have differed as to the permissibility of paying Zakâh bepfre it becomes due. Most scholars have permitted it. Others have regarded it as disallowed. In this article, we will explore both of these opinions along with the evidence that supports them.
Opinion 1: Permissibility of Paying Zakâh Early
This is the view of the majority. It was held by many of the earliest jurists, including `Atâ', Sa`îd b. Jubayr, Ibrâhîm al-Nakha'î, al-Dahhâk, al-Hakam b. `Utaybah, Ibn Abî Laylâ, al-Hasan al-Basrî, al-Hasan b. Sâlih b. Hayy, al-Zuhrî, and al-Awzâ`î.
The ruling of permissibility has been adopted by the Hanafî, Shâfi`î and Hanbalî schools of thought.
The following evidence is presented to support this claim:
1. Alî relates that al-`Abbâs asked Allah's Messenger whether the charity can be paid early, before it becomes due. Allah's Messenger (peace be upon him) gave him permission to do so. [Sunan al-Tirmidhî (614), Sunan Abî Dâwûd (1383) and Sunan al-Nasâ'î (1785)]
This is a good (hasan) hadîth, declared as such by hadîth scholars, including al-Albânî.
This hadîth has been cited as evidence by the majority of scholars who permit paying Zakâh early.
In some narrations it even reads “Indeed, we have taken from al-`Abbâs last year the Zakâh of this year.” [Sunan al-Dâraqutnî (2/124)] However, al-Bayhaqî says about this narration: "There is a gap in transmission between Abû al-Bakhtarî and `Alî , but this meaning has been narrated by Abû Hurayrah in a hadîth that is established."
2. Abû Hurayrah relates that he Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “As for al-`Abbâs, it (his Zakâh) is upon me and the likes of it with it.” [Sahîh al-Bukhârî (1468) and Sahîh Muslim (983)]
This is the authentic narration that confirms what is mentioned above that al-`Abbâs paid double Zakâh (the likes of it with it), paying two years together.
3. Al-Nâfi`î relates that Ibn `Umar and others used to pay Zakâh al-Fitr two or three days before `Id, though this Zakâh becomes due on `Id morning. [Sahîh al-Bukhârî (1415)]
Al-Shâfi`î argues that this establishes the permissibility of paying Zakâh before it becomes due.
This ruling is in conformity with a general axiom of Islamic Law, as explained by al-Sarakhsî and Ibn Rajab. The principle in operation here is that for acts of worship that have a prescribed time for them, a distinction is to be made between timeframes that are the cause of the act of worship becoming obligatory and those that are conditions for the act of worship being obligatory.
The times for prayer – like the arrival of dawn for the Fajr prayer – are the causes for those prayers becoming obligatory. Therefore, if someone offers the Fajr prayer before dawn, the prayer is invalid.
By contrast, the condition that savings must be in possession before Zakâh is due upn them is a condition for obligation. It is not the cause of Zakâh being obligatory. The cause of the obligation is having in one's possession of sufficient wealth.
Also, Zakâh and its various legal rulings have been prescribed by Allah for the benefit of the poor, and in consideration of those who possess wealth as well. Permitting the payment of Zakâh before it becomes due provides added benefit for the poor while not bringing any injury to the interests of the rich who wish to pay early. In fact, the option to pay early can make things easier for wealthy people to more easily manage and account for their wealth.
Opinion 2: Prohibition of Paying Zakâh Early
This opinion was narrated from al-Hasan and Rabî`ah. It is the ruling that has been adopted by the Mâlikî school of thought. It is also the opinion of such prominent jurists as Dâwûd al-Zâhirî and Ibn al-Mundhir.
They argue that if someone pays Zakâh on monetary savings before a year passes, then it does not count as Zakâh and must be paid over again upon becoming due.
They present the following evidence to support this claim:
1. Ibn `Umar relates that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: "There is no Zakâh upon wealth before it remains in its owner's possession for a year." [Sunan al-Tirmidhî (572) and Sunan Ibn Mâjah (1292)]
A similar narration is related by `Alî: "There is no Zakâh upon wealth before it a year passes." [Sunan Abî Dâwûd (1573)]
The scholars who use this hadîth as evidence that it is incorrect to pay Zakâh early argue that the language of the Prophet's statement negates Zakâh in its entirety.
However, this interpretation is questionable. It is quiet easy to understand that the hadîth negates one's obligation of paying Zakâh before the wealth remains in one's possession for a full year. It does not negate the permissibility of doing so.
2. Mâlik also argues that the person who pays Zakâh early is no different than a person who offers the Zuhr prayer before the Sun begins to descend from its zenith.
Al-Hasan al-Basrî said the same thing: "Just like prayer has a time, Zakâh has a time. Whoever offers prayer before its time must repeat the prayer. Likewise, whoever pays Zakâh before its time must do so over again."
Essentially, they are making an analogy between prayer and Zakâh, since both are acts of worship. However, this analogy is questionable, since the comparison does not hold. Acts of worship like prayer and fasting deal exclusively with the right of Allah upon his worshippers. The timeframes appointed for these acts of worship are therefore not discernable to our human intellects.
By contrast, paying Zakâh – though certainly an act of worship – also involves the rights of the poor and the welfare of the rich. It is permissible for a person to waive his own right to something in the interest of someone else. In this case, the wealthy person is waiving the right to retain the wealth and granting it to the poor early.
From what preceded, it seems that the stronger point of view – with respect to the textual evidence as well as with respect to theoretical and legal considerations – is that it is permissible to pay one's Zakâh before it becomes due.
It is certainly permissible to pay one's Zakâh early by up to a full year (by paying two years together), since this is the maximum time mentioned in the texts. None of the texts mention that paying a year in advance is a maximum limit, just that is what al-`Abbâs did. Therefore, we would say that it is permissible to pay even more in advance, if there is a need for it, since once the principle of paying in advance is established as valid, then the matter of time is open, depending on the need and the circumstances.
And Allah knows best.