AI 54: For the Love of God and His Prophet

Selfish Zakat?

Filed under: Uncategorized March 24, 2014 @ 1:37 am

“they have whispered their dearest and most secret desires to the alms they tender: “I make you this offering so that God may grant me long life, prosperity and happiness…” “This donation is so that the Creator may remove all the difficulties I might encounter on my path…” (…) That’s what they say when they drop a coin or a little gift in the palm of your out-stretched hand.(…) Our hunger doesn’t worry them. They need to give in order to survive, and if we didn’t exist, who would they give to? How could they ensure their own peace of mind? They don’t give for our sake; they give for their own sake! They need us so that they can live in peace!”

– Aminata Sow Fall, The Beggar’s Strike


This quote from The Beggar’s Strike refers to one of the pillars of Islam, zakat, as a selfish act. According to the beggars, and in the context of the story, zakat is not intended to benefit the needy (the beggars); it is meant to benefit the donor. Apparently, by contributing a donation, the donors intend to have their wishes fulfilled and they can ensure a long life. By performing zakat, the donors are upholding righteous standards of Islam and ensuring their well being.


This perspective brings forth various questions: What is the intention of zakat? After having read this play, one cannot help but wonder whether certain believers practice zakat with selfish intentions. Contrastingly, is it wrong for people to perform zakat with their desires in mind? What is the purpose of zakat, and with what intention should one approach it?


In truth, zakat literally means “to purify”, and the Qu’ran refers to it in multiple verses. It is intended as a means to distribute the wealth, and the Qu’ran stipulates that one must give zakat to ensure salvation. The hadith extends this notion further, by dictating that God will not even listen to prayers of those who do not perform zakat and by explaining that those who do not give zakat will be held accountable on the Day of Judgment. By detailing these consequences, the hadith creates more justification for why the zakat should be performed, but the Qu’ran in itself establishes a link between zakat and salvation.  Thus it becomes clear that the needs of the donor are almost impossible to separate from the act of zakat, since one must perform the ritual to secure prosperity. But what about the needs of the receiver? Is it enough to perform zakat as a means to salvation, or should one also intend to benefit the receivers in doing so?


My artistic representation is meant to portray this notion by substituting money and coins with wishes. Like the beggars of the story who were intermediaries between the donors and God, receivers of zakat are also intermediaries. By receiving donations, one is almost receiving the wishes of the donors and making them known to God.  The coins represent trivial wishes, whereas the dollars represent grandiose wishes, establishing aquantitative element of zakat as well (amount of money is directly proportional to grandiosity of the wish).


I think it is important to consider both aspects of zakat, which are the benefits of the donor and the benefits of the receiver. As portrayed in my portrait, the skin color of both the donor and receiver are the same color. They are equal beneficiaries in the ritual of zakat.

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