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The purpose of this article is to provide guidance for Muslims on three topics that present challenges vis-à-vis zakat payments, especially when large amounts of money are involved.

(1) Zakat on US based Retirement Accounts

With regards to zakat on money, the Sharia stipulates three conditions: The minimum zakatable amount (niṣāb) defined as the current dollar (or other local currency) value of 85 grams of 21 karat gold, the passage of one lunar year (al-ḥawl), and complete ownership (al-milk al-tāmm). It is the later that is critical to define vis-à-vis retirement accounts.

(2) Paying Zakat on Women’s Jewelry

Another reoccurring question is whether zakat is owed on women’s gold and silver jewelry, or not. The reality is that this is not an agreed upon position in Islamic law. The Hanafis consider this jewelry zakatable, while the Shafi’s do not. Regardless of the legal reasoning behind these differing opinions (not the focus of this article), the issue is one of legitimate legal difference (ikhtilāf). This teaches us not all issues are singular and we are blessed with a plurality of opinions, all concurrently valid and legitimate. During such a situation we are reminded of the legal maxim, “when one is confronted with a situation in which there is a legitimate difference of opinion, one is allowed to follow the opinion that allows.” The Shafi’s allow women to possess gold and silver jewelry without having to pay zakat on them. Therefore, it is permissible for someone to follow this opinion. If someone, however, comes from a background that is dominated by the Hanafi position and they are used to paying zakat on jewelry, there is of course nothing wrong with continuing this practice as it is in the poor’s best interested; taking more zakat money allows for greater distribution. The point being that there is not simply one opinion regarding zakat on women’s jewelry and women should be given the option to choose the opinion that is most compatible with their situation and lifestyle.

(3) Giving zakat money to Islamic institutions.

In the Quran 9:60, Allah lays out the eight categories to whom zakat is payable. One of these categories, fī sabīl Allah (in the cause of Allah), allows zakat money to be given to those fighting a legitimate armed conflict against those attacking the Muslims. Legitimate armed conflict, i.e. a legitimate jihad, means that the a duly constituted nation/government has formally declared war against another nation/government to defend its sovereignty. There are other factors to define a legitimate jihad in Islamic law and I will suffice with this brief description so as not to leave the reader under false assumptions. The reason this is one of the recipient categories of zakat distribution is because it is not always a given that a particular nation/government has a professional army. Therefore, at times of emergency, it is necessary to equip troops quickly to defend the state, hence the use of zakat money.

Conclusion

While this short article addresses the three aforementioned zakat related topics, I also want to address how some of these issues are misused and applied to modern zakat calculators. My first two conclusions, therefore, will summarize the impact of the first two topics vis-à-vis online zakat calculators, while my third conclusion will more generally address the topic of supporting Islamic institutions through zakat donations.

Reflections on Islam, life, and wellness. www.makingsenseofislam.com

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