Zakat the world’s first social security system


Dr. Forqan Uddin Ahmed :

Zakat is one of the five pillars of Islam. This is the basis of Islamic economics. When zakat is paid, the rights of the poor are realized from the wealth of the people. As a result, it is halal and holy.

Zakat also eliminates class inequality, reduces the poverty rate in the society and increases the number of affluent people. In that sense, zakat means to increase. According to Shariah, if the wealth of a Muslim is sufficient enough to meet the necessary expenses of himself and his family in a year and the wealth remains in his possession for the year, he is to donate certain amount from the accreted surplus to purposes sanctioned by the Shariah. Such a donation is called zakat. According to Islamic law, it is obligatory for rich people to pay zakat.

The system of zakat has been introduced in Islam mainly to form an egalitarian society. In order to ensure that wealth does not remain in the hands of the rich in the society and so that an economically non-discriminatory society is established, the order has been issued to pay Zakat. Because if wealth accumulates in the hands of a handful of people in the society, then the number of poor people will increase, social and economic inequality and instability will increase. As a result, an imbalance will be created in the society. That is why zakat has been made obligatory on the rich. It is not a favor or any grace to the rich. Rather it is a right that the poor deserve from the rich. In Surah Az-Zariyah, Allah says, “The poor and the deprived have a right to their wealth.” (Ayat 19)

In time of Caliph Omar bin Abdul Aziz, there was no poor person in the Arab world to receive zakat. But in the present society, in the name of paying zakat, a huge demonstration is going on. The culture of giving sari, lungi or clothes by the rich people in the name of zakat by gathering hundreds and thousands of people is not acceptable in Islam. In Islam there is no such thing as ‘zakat sari’, ‘zakat lungi’ or ‘zakat cloth’. These are nothing but show off and promote themselves in the media of rich people in the present society. This is neither the collection of zakat by the giver of zakat, nor the redemption of the wants of the recipient. On the contrary, it increases the misery of the poor and helpless, increases the number of injured and killed poor people.

Such zakat does not change the fate of the poor, nor does it change the image of the society.
So such the culture of giving zakat to show people should be eliminated. In such zakat the main purpose of Islam is misunderstood. It is to be remembered that Zakat is not a custom; it is a sign of faith of a believer as it is mentioned in the Quran, “Truly, those who believe, and do deeds of righteousness, and perform As-Salat (Iqamat-as-Salat), and give Zakat, they will have their reward with their Lord. On them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.” (Surat: Al-Baqarah, Ayat: 277). Zakat can be used as an alternative approach to poverty reduction and capacity building for the poor to be more productive, thereby contributing more to the economy.


The success of Zakat in reducing poverty depends on the methods used for distributing funds in a particular society. In countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, Egypt, and many other Middle Eastern countries, distribution of Zakat funds has been institutionalised through government and non-government organisations. Recipients of Zakat funds have been benefitting from the institutionalised system. Besides individual and household poverty alleviation, Zakat funds can be used to promote infrastructural development, agriculture, and farming which are the main sources of income for many in our country. It may help to create employment opportunities by establishing small cottage industries for the less fortunate people, and create opportunities for common people to sell their goods at the local market. It may also ensure good governance and social justice in a particular society.

Zakat in Islam is an important instrument for establishing social justice. However, in Bangladesh, the majority of wealthy Muslims are not well aware of this issue and reluctant to pay Zakat in an appropriate way. It is limited to giving cheap clothes to the poor in the form of sari and lungi, and a few bucks without any proper measure of business revenues and assets, liquid funds or savings, and gold or silver reserve at the basic rate of 2.5 percent. The collection and distribution of Zakat funds are yet to be effective, thanks to the lack of proper Islamic knowledge among the Muslim population and also because the system hasn’t been institutionalized publicly and privately.

The zakat system is the first social security system in the world. Zakat has been provided in Islam to make helpless, poor, oppressed and backward people of the society prosperous and self-reliant by freeing them from poverty and economic misery. Therefore, zakat is the key to social security and economic safeguard of the poor.

The only way for overall development of society and establishment of a non-discriminatory society through establishment of social equality and justice is a zakat-based economy. If zakat is given in a specific way according to the rules of Islam and not just in an unscientific and un-Islamic way to show people, then the purpose of zakat will be successful and it will help in establishing a society of long lasting, equality and justice without any discrimination.

(The writer is former Deputy Director General, Bangladesh Ansar and VDP).