“Al mal” in zakat al mal means whatever is acquired for its benefit and has a monetary value. However, for the purpose of this article we will limit the meaning of it to the zakatable items. The most popular and common zakat asset people are familiar with is wealth. Wealth is normally acquired in the form of money. As for gold, silver, goods and stocks, they are equivalent to money or “al mal” and have their own zakat rules as well.
What do I need to know about giving zakat al mal?
There are a few conditions that you need to fulfil before you can calculate and give your zakat.
1. The most common zakatable assets from which zakat is calculated are five:
- Gold and silver. The equivalent for it today is cash money.
- Underground treasures (ore and precious metals) also called ركاز rikaz. Today, oil is the most common form of rikaz.
- Business inventory (commodities and goods) in modern transactions, stocks are the most common business assets.
In this brief explanation we will limit our discussion to the most common zakatable asset: money.
2. All the money you have in your possession should reach a minimum amount called نصاب nisab or threshold. This is to ensure that zakat is not taken out of your income, instead it’s taken out of your savings or what we call excess wealth.
The nisab is the market value of 85g of gold at the time of calculating the zakat. On the day this post was written the market value of 85g of gold was $4675. Once your money reaches this amount or above, you should then mark that day on your calendar.
3. After reaching the nisab ($4675) or above, you need to monitor your wealth throughout the year. It does not matter how much your money grows. What matters is that it does not fall below the nisab. Otherwise if it does, then the zakat calendar year is broken, and once you reach the nisab again you ought to restart counting for the year again. Once a full year passes while you are in possession of your over the nisab weath, you are then required and obligated to give zakat. It is always recommended that you mark your zakat due date on a memorable month or day such as Ramadan or the first day of the new hijri year.
How is Zakat calculated?
According to the sunnah of the Messenger of Allah, the amount of zakat that you owe on your excess wealth is 2.5%. Whatever amount you have in your possession for a full year, you will need to give zakat from that entire amount.
If you had $5000 for the first time in March of 2019, then you owned a nisab. You will need to mark your calendar for March next year to pay zakat. If your money fluctuated throughout the year like it went up to 8k and then down to 6k and continued to go up and down it should be fine. You don’t have to worry about it. As long as it does not go below the nisab, by the end of the zakat year i.e. March 2020, then you will need to calculate your money and pay 2.5%.
For this example let’s assume that in March 2020 the money you had in your possession was $10000. 2.5% of that is $250. This is how much zakat you owe. It does not matter which month of the zakat calendar year you earned that money. As long as it was within the zakat year then you add it to the entire zakatable amount. So for instance if your money remained at $5000 from March 2019 through January 2020 and then you earned another $5000 in February 2020, by March you pay zakat on the entire amount which is the $10000 not just the first $5000. And if you had $20000 for the most of the year, then a month right before zakat was due you lost $15000, then you owe zakat on the remaining amount if it was still above the nisab, i.e. the remaining $5000 only.
What if I owe debts and have to pay bills?
Your zakatable money should be free of any immediate debt that could bring it down below the nisab. The immediate debt is the bills you owe for the month your zakat becomes due. Even if you’re on a long term payment plan for a large amount of debt such as mortgage, student loan or 18 months furniture payment plan, you only need to deduct the monthly payment or the amount you plan to pay off as part of your immediate debt.
Example: Let's say you had $10000 in your possession by the end of your zakat year. However, you had $700 rent for that month, $500 car payment and $800 credit card payment. The sum total is $2000. In this case your zakatable amount will be $10000 minus the $2000. You only pay zakat on $8000 which is still above the nisab.
If your debt for that month grows big enough to bring down the zakatable amount you own below the nisab then you do not pay zakat for that year. For instance, if your bills for that month came out to $7000, and we deduct that from the $10000 you have, then you are only left with $3000. This is below the nisab of $4675 and you do not owe zakat on $3000.
Who should I give my zakat al mal to?
Allah Almighty mentioned in the Quran eight categories who are eligible to receive zakat. In Surah at-Tawbah we read:
۞ إِنَّمَا ٱلصَّدَقَـٰتُ لِلْفُقَرَآءِ وَٱلْمَسَـٰكِينِ وَٱلْعَـٰمِلِينَ عَلَيْهَا وَٱلْمُؤَلَّفَةِ قُلُوبُهُمْ وَفِى ٱلرِّقَابِ وَٱلْغَـٰرِمِينَ وَفِى سَبِيلِ ٱللَّهِ وَٱبْنِ ٱلسَّبِيلِ ۖ فَرِيضَةًۭ مِّنَ ٱللَّهِ ۗ وَٱللَّهُ عَلِيمٌ حَكِيمٌۭ
“Alms-tax is only for the poor and the needy, for those employed to administer it, for those whose hearts are attracted ˹to the faith˺, for ˹freeing˺ slaves, for those in debt, for Allah’s cause, and for ˹needy˺ travellers. ˹This is˺ an obligation from Allah. And Allah is All-Knowing, All-Wise.” 9:60
These eight categories are:
1- The poor, one who begs and asks around and whose need is so obvious to others.
2- The dignified needy, one whose need is not obvious to others but does not go around asking.
3- The zakat collectors, those who are employed to administer the zakat in collection and distribution.
4- Those whose hearts are inclined to the faith, Muslims and non-Muslims.
5- Freeing slaves.
6- Those who are in debt due to their financial commitment to others.
7- For Allah’s cause.
8- For the wayfarer and needy travelers.
In the past there used to be a special department in the society to collect the zakat and give it to the poor. Today, people give zakat to many organizations and to their Islamic centers and they will carry the duty to deliver it to the rightful recipients.