5 Pillars – Alms Tax for the Poor and the Needy

Required Tax for the Poor and Needy (zakat)

Islamic law requires Muslims to pay a tax, referred to as “alms” (zakat). This tax is usually a 2.5% tax levied on a person’s wealth and is distributed to charitable purposes in the Islamic community. There are more specific rules for farmers and livestock, etc. Zakat does not include charitable giving from kindness and generosity but is rather a systematic distribution of wealth to individuals, community projects, etc. Muslims believe that paying the required zakat is a good gift to help the poor, a helpful reminder of the temporal nature of wealth, a practice in self-discipline, and worship to Allah. In relation to Ramadan, Muslims often give to the poor out of the money they would normally spend on food during the thirty-day fast. This is not the zakat tax, but it speaks to the high priority Muslims place on caring financially for their community. Muslims as a whole are extremely communal, loving, and giving.

“Zakat is the compulsory giving of a set proportion of one’s wealth to charity. It is regarded as a type of worship and of self-purification.” – BBC

Interestingly, Sura 5:12 (chapter 5, verse 12) of the Qur’an misinterprets and twists God’s instruction to the Israelites regarding giving. Rather than the identity of God’s people resting on His covenant and His grace, the Qur’an records the twelve tribes as being required to pay the alms and say the prayers in order to be forgiven of sins.

“God received a pledge from the Children of Israel, and We raised among them twelve chiefs. God said, “I am with you; if you perform the prayer, and pay the alms, and believe in My messengers and support them, and lend God a loan of righteousness; I will remit your sins, and admit you into Gardens beneath which rivers flow. But whoever among you disbelieves afterwards has strayed from the right way.'” – Qur’an (Sura 5:12) Itani, Talal. Quran in English: Modern English Translation. (p. 44). Kindle Edition.

The Qur’an, while mentioning repentance for sins, expressly ads the requirement of performing prayers and paying the alms tax to the Muslim community.

“When the Sacred Months have passed, kill the polytheists wherever you find them. And capture them, and besiege them, and lie in wait for them at every ambush. But if they repent, and perform the prayers, and pay the alms, then let them go their way. God is Most Forgiving, Most Merciful.” – Qur’an (Sura 9:5) Itani, Talal. Quran in English: Modern English Translation. (p. 77). Kindle Edition.

What does the Bible Teach?

Ultimately, the Bible teaches us that giving to the Church community and to needy individuals should never be compulsory but always an act of love. In Colossians, Scripture reveals that the love of Christ will compel us to give to others. The same grace that provides atonement and forgiveness through the sacrifice of Jesus also enables us to give cheerfully and sacrificially: “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work” (Corinthians 9:7-8).

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. ‘Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.'” (Matthew 6:1–4)

Christians should never give out of expecting anything in return, but merely as worship to Christ and love for others. Imagined forgiveness, recognition from man, and government laws are poor motivators for cheerful giving! When we give out of the overflow of grace and love from Jesus, then our heart goes with our financial and material gifts. It is more than a mere transaction, but rather stewardship that brings glory to God. Likewise, Jesus also taught that we should obey the laws of the land and pay required taxes—just as He did (Matthew 22:15-22). There is no side-stepping the biblical instruction for Christians to respect political rulers and obey the established laws, so long as they do not go against God’s Word (Titus 3:1-2).

In The Gospel for Muslims, Thabiti Anyabwile and Mack Stiles point out the inseparable connection to good works and repentance that Muslims are trapped under. Over and again, Christ is reduced to less than He truly is and grace is replaced by requirements of good works. We must graciously show our Muslim friends that our good works are worthless to counteract the curse of sin in our souls, but that forgiveness from Christ will drive us to joyful obedience in loving others. Salvation is by grace through faith, but true faith (by God’s grace) will work itself out through good works (James 2:14-18).

“Muslims believe that good deeds are essential for earning salvation, being added to faith. But that’s not the gospel of the Bible. Adding anything to the cross of Christ is slavery to the law and makes Christ “of no value to [us] at all.” Depending on our righteousness alienates us from Christ and God’s grace (Gal. 5: 1–4).” – Thabiti Anyabwile

And, later in the book, Anyabwile points out:

“…we must make it clear that forgiveness from God comes by grace alone apart from any works on our behalf. Genuine conversion issues forth in good works and a changed life (Eph. 2: 10), but good works and a moral life do not earn God’s forgiveness or salvation.” – Thabiti Anyabwile

Prayer:

Lord Jesus, thank you for your free gift of grace and forgiveness. Thank you for loving us sacrificially and coming to our rescue through your sinless life, voluntary death on the cross, and glorious resurrection. I praise you for your goodness to me as a sinner, and I thank you that you don’t let me remain in sin and selfishness. Conform me more to your image every day. I know that you have made me righteous by your blood, and I am confident you will continually change my actions to reflect my new identity as your child.  Help me to love others around me, and give sacrificially to those in need—both Christian and non-Christian. Convict my heart when my actions don’t line up with your will and give me the Christ-like love it will take to build friendships with people that don’t yet know you. Help me to see them as who they really are — image bearers that you have died for and want to bring into your family through repentance and faith. Help me to visibly be defined by the love and fellowship that you have given me so that Muslims will see your goodness and glory!

Go & Do:

  • Find out where the nearest mosque is.
  • Do some research and learn more about Muslims in your area. Learn the demographics of Muslim people groups in your area so that you can better pray for them and be ready for engaging conversations with new friends.
  • Browse the IMB Global Research site for more info on a certain country or people group: https://grd.imb.org/
  • View the IMB Unengaged & Unreached People Groups map, and scan your state for pockets of concentrated peoples in your area. http://imb.maps.arcgis.com/apps/Viewer/index.html?appid=807928071960422291fd231a2dda7e4e

Subscribe to Email Updates


Resources:

The Gospel for Muslims: An Encouragement to Share Christ with Confidence – Thabiti Anyabwile

Zakat: Charity – BBC