10 Nov Alms and Charity: Virtues of Zakat: Part 11
WHEN WAS ZAKAT DECREED OBLIGATORY?
It is a known fact that because the main area of religious focus during the Meccan period was the elucidation of the fundamental articles of faith, the jurisdictional decrees of Islam were predominantly made obligatory in the Medina Period. As an example of this, though zakat was touched on in some of the chapters revealed early in the Meccan Period, it was emphasized during the second year of Hijrah (Emigration) as an act of obligatory significance.
In some of the Meccan chapters, the term zakat actually refers to physical and spiritual purification, in addition to its technical meaning, as evidenced in particular instances when the relations between previous prophets and their peoples are described. For instance, the phrase, “they give zakat,” is a highlighted attribute of the believers in some of these passages. It is further illustrated in another verse that property invested in interest based on hopes of gaining profit will in no way increase; in contrast, zakat that is offered just for the sake of God becomes a perpetual source of prosperity. In an additional Meccan verse, the polytheists are condemned for their common characteristic of refraining from giving zakat and denying the hereafter.
Again, another Meccan verse, after elaborating about agricultural crops and fruits, advises to “Eat from its fruits when the seasons arrive, pay its due in harvest time and do not waste;” the effect is to establish a firm foundation for ushr, with an additional discernment between charity and dissipation.
Jafar ibn Abi Talib’s reference to salat and zakat in his sermon to the Negus during the Abyssinian asylum of the Muslims holds extreme significance in respect to the preliminary spiritual preparation which Muslims were subjected to during the Meccan Period. Although zakat and salat are predominantly mentioned together within the same phrases in the Qur’an, as far as the Meccan Period was concerned, these quite simply provided spiritual and psychological grounding for Muslims, as they awaited further enunciations and pronouncements in regards to the definition of other compulsory acts.
It is strikingly clear that the Qur’an utilizes a gradual, scaffolded method in encouraging Muslims to embrace zakat, as it so often does when inviting humankind to follow the path it sets out for believers. The term zakat is granted growing significance as it is first used in numerous contexts and references in order to attract attention; then further highlighted as a common practice of the pious nations of the past; then decreed as a necessary deed for Muslims such that its evasion is viewed as a discerning attribute of unbelievers.
This type of step-wise, graded implementation of fundamental principles is a pivotal strategy of the Qur’an’s distinctive and highly effective method of invitation. Through such a presentation, the Qur’an anticipates and overcomes the deep-seated and insidiously immoral habits of humankind while gently and consistently endorsing critical acts of belief like salat, zakat, and sawm (fasting). In actual fact, this method of teaching is an expression of God’s boundless mercy towards His creation, and His full knowledge of human, their material world, and their weaknesses.
The lessons of the Qur’an, then, avoid any sudden coercion compelling human to assume a hoard of responsibilities that might be perceived as unattainable merely by virtue of their relative intensity. Instead, it presents these responsibilities gradually, in installments which are relatively to understand and make, educating human through a process that can only be described as an exhibition of God’s perpetual and boundless benevolence.