Can Zakāh be Paid Early?

Summarized Answer

Yes, it is allowed to pay Zakāh early, especially when there is a good reason to do so such as during a disaster, famine, or disease epidemic when people are in immediate need of help.

The Importance of Zakāh

Zakāh has been mentioned in the Qur’an eighty-two times and has been mentioned alongside the performance of prayer in thirty-two instances, with wording such as “establish prayer and pay Zakāh…” These frequent reminders indicate how important of an obligation Zakāh is, so much so that it is even on par with the regular observance of prayer.

Allah has warned people that those who refuse to give in charity will be punished on the Day of Judgment: “…those who pile up gold and silver and do not spend it in the way of Allah should be given the news of a painful punishment [awaiting them]. A day [will come] when it will be heated in the fire of Hell and their foreheads will be burnt…”[1]

When is Zakāh Due and Can it be Paid Early

Zakāh is due when a person has owned the minimum amount [niṣāb] for an entire lunar year. As of Mar 25, 2020 the spot price per ounce on gold was $1,637.25, which means that the minimum amount for Zakāh this year is $4,911.75. If you had more than the minimum amount of money in cash, liquid investments, and sellable business goods one [lunar] year ago, and still have more than the new minimum amount then you must pay 2.5% of your entire wealth.

Many Muslims have recalculated their Zakāh cycle so that it falls in Ramaḍān, or another date. It is sinful to pay Zakāh late, the same way it is unlawful to not pray on time. However, it is allowed to pay Zakāh early, especially when there is a good reason to do so.[2] When there are people in immediate need due to a disaster, famine, or disease epidemic, it is not only allowed but recommended to pay your Zakāh early so the people who are in need can get help.

Imām Al-Mawṣilī [d. 683 AH] explained why it is permissible to prepay Zakāh for a year or even more than that as follows: The potential to discharge Zakāh begins when a person first possesses the minimum amount [niṣāb], even though it is not technically due until a year later. This is similar to the time of prayer, where the potential to pray begins as soon as the time enters, but actually becomes a requirement right before the time is over. Therefore, as long as a person met the minimum amount requirement, they may pay Zakāh before the due date. [See ʿAbdullāh Al-Mawṣilī, Kitāb Al-Ikhtiyār li Taʿlīl Al-Mukhtār, p. 135, Darul Ma`rifah, 2015]

Lastly, it is important to remember that Zakāh is only the minimum amount that a Muslim must give. Islam teaches Muslims to be generous and give much more charity [ṣadaqah] than just the minimum amount every year.

Misc Resources

To learn more about Zakāh, consider enrolling in: Islamic Law I: Essentials of Islamic Practice

To help kids appreciate the importance and purpose of Zakāh, here is a nice song from Noorart: Zakāh

[Shaykh] Mustafa Umar

Anaheim, CA – Mar 25, 2020

 

[1] Qur’an 9:34-35

[2][2] This is the opinion of the majority of Muslim jurists such as Abū Ḥanīfah, Ash-Shāfiʿī, and Ibn Ḥanbal. See Ibn Taymiyyah, Majmūʿ Al-Fatāwā, 25:85-86.

Islamic Guidance Pertaining to the Spread of Covid-19 [Coronavirus]

In the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful

On March 11th, 2020 the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic, affecting an exceptionally high proportion of the population over a wide geographic area. This declaration signaled that the original goal of containment to affected areas has now shifted to slowing down the spread of the disease in order to ease the burden on overstretched healthcare institutions. These healthcare institutions are now the key to reducing mortality among those who become afflicted. Since Covid-19 has a higher transmission rate than influenza, SARS, and MERS, ‘social distancing’ measures are being encouraged to slow the speed of the outbreak. Rather than infect a large number of people in one month, if disease incidence can be spread out over a longer period than hospitalizations are spread out and the chance of survival through proper healthcare is increased. . In the absence of a vaccine to prevent mass transmission and reduce morbidity, and the absence of direct cures, social distancing is the principal tool public health and state officials have at their disposal. Given these latest developments in our understanding of Covid-19 from a medical perspective, a Muslim must keep the following in mind:

  1. Islam teaches that all diseases such as the Coronavirus [Covid-19] are tests from Allah and a natural part of life. Such diseases afflict whomever Allah allows them to afflict and they take the lives of whomever He has decided to bring to an end. Tests are a natural, albeit difficult, part of life and should not be surprising for any Muslim when they occur. Allah says, “We shall certainly test you with fear and hunger, and loss of property, lives, and crops. But [Prophet], give good news to those who are steadfast.” [Qur’an 2:155]
  2. Anyone who is afflicted with the illness, and is patient, will spiritually benefit from that test. The Prophet said, “Whatever trouble, illness, anxiety, grief, hurt or sorrow afflicts any Muslim, even the prick of a thorn, God removes some of his sins by it.” [Bukhārī #5641] Regarding illnesses leading to death, the Prophet was asked about the plague. He responded, “It is a torment with which Allah afflicts those whom He chooses, but He has made it a mercy for the believers. If a servant [of Allah] is afflicted with the plague and patiently remains in his town, realizing that he has only been afflicted with what Allah has determined for him, he will have the reward of a martyr.” [Bukhārī #5734]
  3. Islam requires us to both put our trust in Allah and utilize the means to protect ourselves when possible.
    1. The Qur’an teaches us, as told to the Prophet, “Say: Nothing will afflict us except what Allah has decided for us.” [Qur’an 9:51]
    2. Simultaneously though, we should take precautions by using medicine when ill, or quarantine when threatened with illness.
    3. During the lifetime of the Prophet, some people thought that using medicine may go against the concept of relying on Allah [tawakkul]. Those people asked, “Messenger of Allah, should we use medicine?” The Prophet replied, “Yes, you may use medicine.  Allah has not created any disease without also creating its cure, except one: old age.” [Abū Dāwūd #3855, graded ṣaḥīḥ by scholars] The Prophet clarified that the use of medicine is permissible and even encouraged, and that this does not violate the concept of trust in Allah.
    4. The Messenger of Allah said, “An ill person should not mix with healthy people.” [Muslim #2221b] The Prophet also said, “Avoid a [contagious] disease the way a person flees from a lion.” [Bukhārī #5707] Therefore, taking precautions to avoid the spread of infectious disease is something prescribed in Islam. Anyone testing positive for Covid-19 is not allowed to attend community events since they would be harming other people, and that is prohibited. The same applies for people who have traveled to the most affected areas such as China, Italy, Iran, and South Korea.
      1. Imam Ibn ʿAbdul Barr [d. 1071 CE] wrote: “Anything that would inconvenience one’s fellow worshipers in the mosque such as anyone afflicted with diarrhea… foul odor due to illness…infectious virus, or anything else that would inconvenience the public, it is permitted for people to keep such an individual away, as long as the ailment is present. Once the condition ceases, they may return to the mosque.” [At-Tamhīd]
    5. Caliph ʿUmar went to visit Syria when the plague of ʿAmawās broke out in 18 A.H. He sought consultation from his advisors on whether to return to Madīnah, the capital, or continue on. One of them said, “You left for the sake of Allah so this plague should not stop you.” Others advised the opposite. ʿUmar decided to return to Madīnah. Abū ʿUbaydah rebuked him, “Are you fleeing from the decree of Allah?” He responded, “Yes, I am fleeing from the decree of Allah to the decree of Allah. If you had camels and they entered a land with two sides, one fertile and the other barren, and you grazed them in the fertile area, wouldn’t you be doing that by the decree of Allah? And if you let them graze in the barren area, wouldn’t you be doing that also by the decree of Allah.”[1] ʿUmar’s statement demonstrates an excellent example of how to balance between relying on Allah and taking sufficient precautions.
    6. ʿUmar had also received advice from ʿAbdurraḥmān ibn ʿAwf who told him that the Messenger of Allah said, “If you hear that it (the plague) has broken out in a land, do not go to it; but if it breaks out in a land where you are present, do not go out escaping from it.” [Saḥiḥ Al-Bukhārī #5730, Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim #2219] This advice is perfectly in line with one of the underlying objectives of the Sharīʿah [Islamic Law], which is to preserve life.[2] Imam Al-Āmidī [d. 631/1233] wrote: “The rules [in Islam] have only been prescribed for the benefit of His servants. The fact that they have underlying purposes and wisdom is grounded in both consensus and reason.”
  4. The underlying principle for the proper reaction to an infectious disease such as Covid-19 is the statement of the Messenger of Allah, “Do not cause harm, and don’t get harmed [lā ḍarar wa lā ḍirār].” [Muwaṭṭa’ #1435] This general statement requires some interpretation. Guidelines provided by public health institutions are often general and require some level of interpretation to correctly ascertain the threat to individuals and society. An ethico-legal evaluation must weigh both scripture and scientific research in light of theological imperatives.
    1. Both preservation of the religion [dīn] and preservation of life are amongst the primary objectives of the Sharīʿah [Islamic Law].
    2. Hardship [mashaqqah] is often part and parcel of many acts of worship in Islam, such as fasting on long, hot days. When difficulty reaches a certain threshold, some rules may be relaxed, such as when an injured person is allowed to sit during prayer instead of standing, or when an ill person may skip fasting in Ramadan and make it up later.
    3. However, there is a difference between a concession [rukhṣah], where a rule is eased, and skipping an obligation due to absolute necessity [ḍarūrah]. Something prohibited may become allowed in dire circumstances, such as uttering words against Islam when being tortured, or even eating pork and wine when starving. These exemptions are explicitly mentioned in the Qur’an and come under the general wisdom mentioned in the verse, “Allah intends for you ease and He does not want to make things [unnecessarily] difficult for you.” [Qur’an 2:185]
    4. Islamic guidelines require scholars to accurately [as possible] weigh the benefits/harms in this life and the afterlife before issuing an exemption on any required act.
  5. Precautionary measures should be taken, or may be required, when there is a genuine threat of danger, and not a mere feeling of fear or panic. The threat assessment varies from one region to another and one person to another. A decision to suspend religious activities should be made after consultation with public health experts, and it must be consistent throughout a community to ensure it is neither excessive nor insufficient.
    1. Shaking hands with other Muslims is not a requirement in Islam. In fact, initiating a greeting is considered a recommended act. Only responding to greetings is required. Therefore, shaking hands with ‘high risk’ individuals is discouraged, or even frowned upon. A fist bump or a hand-over-the-heart greeting suffices to convey love, affection, and send peace [salām] on others.
    2. Friday Prayer [jumu`ah] is obligatory on adult males of sound mind who are neither sick nor traveling. In order for the obligation to be lifted from these individuals, there must be credible warnings by public health institutions that there is actual harm in holding these gatherings. Or alternatively, there is a legal ban on holding such gatherings. The distinction between a law and a recommendation is important to recognize, and laws and recommendations vary from region to region. In the absence or legal injunctions or credible warnings, those who are obligated to attend Friday prayer must continue to do so.
      1. Friday prayer does not need to be performed in a mosque. It can be in a park, an office, or elsewhere. A Friday sermon can be only a few minutes long and the minimum number of people required to attend [according to the Ḥanafī school] is four.
    3. While fear or concern does not have to reach the level of certainty, a highly probable fear or concern suffices to make exceptions or modifications to certain prescribed rules. Although the Covid-19 pandemic is being politicized, there is no reason to doubt the near-consensus of healthcare experts on the credible risk posed by the virus to the general public. People are at high risk for getting ill from the disease, and there are classes of individuals (elderly, immunocompromised, those with lung disease, and others) who have higher risk of death from the disease. This is not conjecture but based on international data. The WHO and CDC pronouncements are based on the best evidence we have at this time in light of a very fluid situation. The point is that they are being as careful and sound as possible. For example, the CDC has issued a clarification that there is little evidence to support using face masks to prevent catching the disease, though it minimizes risk to others if one is ill [and should be used if caring for people who have respiratory illness]. This, and other statements, demonstrate that they are unlikely to be accused of causing an unnecessary panic or having other foul motives.
    4. There is historical legal precedent in exempting people from the Friday prayer for reasons which may be considered less severe than Covid-19 concerns. The Ḥanbalī legal scholar Imam Ibn Qudāmah [d. 1223 CE] wrote, “A man may be excused for not praying Friday prayer [jumuʿah]… because of rain that makes the clothes wet, or mud that causes annoyance or stains the clothes. It was narrated that Ibn ʿAbbās said to the caller of prayer on a very rainy day: ‘When you say: I bear witness that there is no god but Allah and I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, do not say ‘come to prayer’ but rather say ‘pray in your houses’. Some people found that strange, so he responded to them: ‘Are you surprised by what I just said? A person better than me did just that [referring to the Prophet].” [Al-Mughnī 1:366] Contemporary scholar Shaykh Ibn ʿUthaymīn explained this exception as follows, “In the past, people used to suffer because of mud, because the marketplaces had dirt floors, and when rain fell it became muddy and slippery, so it was very difficult for people to attend the mosque. If this happens, then he is excused. But nowadays, that does not cause any problem, because the markets are paved and there are no dirt floors.” [Ash-Sharḥ Al-Mumtiʿ 4:317] It may be legitimately argued that concerns about heavy rain, even in the past, are less severe than the current infection concerns in certain areas.
    5. Those who are at significantly higher risk of infection, such as the elderly and immunocompromised, may fall into the category of those who are ‘sick’ and be exempted from prayer, even in areas where the average adult male is not exempted. ‘Risk’ is relative, but there is room to err on the side of caution given the seriousness of the fatality rate of Covid-19 in the ‘high risk’ population.
    6. The five daily communal prayers may be performed alone or in a group. Although it is highly recommended to pray in a group, it is not required. However, given the current recommendations in many areas to prevent large gatherings, the daily prayers are usually much smaller gatherings than Friday prayer and may not be subject to the same cancellation precautions. Nonetheless, given the recommendation of ‘social distancing’ in many affected areas, there may be sufficient justification for reducing the number of group-prayers one engages in.
  6. Muslims must not only care for their own well-being but that of others.
    1. The Prophet said, “Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day should not harm his neighbor.” [Bukhārī #6018] This can be extended to the person who is physically next to you.
    2. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] has explained that Covid-19 has an incubation period of 1-14 days before common symptoms of fever, dry cough, or fatigue show up in infected patients. During this period, they have the ability to spread it to others through exposure to droplets from coughing/sneezing or by touching an affected surface and then touching the mouth, eyes, or nose. The assumed fatality rate of those infected is about 1%, but higher in those with co-morbidities and other diseases as mentioned above. Therefore, even though many people who are infected will not be significantly harmed by the disease, they can seriously harm by spreading it to others who are at higher risk. This fact must be taken into consideration by people who are less-at-risk.
  7. Muslims should benefit from the lessons that such tests teach us. Imam Al-ʿIzz ibn Abdussalam [d. 1262 CE] explained that a calamity has the following benefits:
    1. It leads people to sincerity and causes them to repent for their mistakes. Pain or suffering that brings people closer to Allah is not actually a calamity, but a blessing in the greater scheme of things.
    2. It is an opportunity to help others and gain immense reward.
    3. It is an opportunity to appreciate the blessings that people having been enjoying but neglected due to heedlessness.
    4. It gives people an opportunity to have their sins purified by being patient and responding in the correct way to the calamity.

[Shaykh] Mustafa Umar

Endorsed by The Initiative on Islam and Medicine

 

Partial List of Sources Consulted

https://www.vox.com/2020/1/31/21113178/what-is-coronavirus-symptoms-travel-china-map

https://www.mathabah.org/avoiding-congregational-prayer-during-a-virus-outbreak/

https://www.amjaonline.org/declaration-articles/amja-declaration-on-corona-virus/

BBSI Interim UK Community Guidance for Coronavirus Pandemic, 12-3-2020

Fatwā Hawla Fīrūs Kūrūnā by Shaykh ʿAlī Al-Qurradāghī

[1] Muhammad Al-Khuḍarī Bak, The History of the Four Caliphs, p. 133.

[2] The five underlying objectives of the Sharīʿah are explained by scholars to be the preservation of religion, life, intellect, wealth, and lineage.

Halloween and Conformity

Introduction
Halloween is around the corner once again. It is the second largest holiday in the US after Christmas. Every year Muslims are compelled to make the difficult decision of whether to participate in the festivities of Halloween occurring around them or to simply ignore what people are doing with the hope that they will not be pressured by either their children or peers to conform. It’s not an easy situation to be in.

The modern ritual of Halloween contains many aspects of innocent fun and entertainment, especially for children: dressing up in costumes, getting candy from neighbors, and getting to carve pumpkins. Intrinsically, there is nothing wrong with any of these acts, which is why some Muslims participate in the rituals.

But there is another aspect of Halloween that revolves around witchcraft and black magic, evil and superstition. It is common to dress as witches, vampires, demons, zombies, and even Satan [or what people assume he looks like]. School classrooms and work offices are adorned with cobwebs and spiders. Some creative residents decorate their lawns with fake coffins and corpses or hang human skeletons from their doors.

Most people don’t stop to question why these things are associated with Halloween. But Muslims are not supposed to be like ‘most people’. Islam encourages them to think and question, reflect and criticize. Why are people doing that? Why do they dress up in costumes like this?
Where did the idea of going ‘trick or treat’ come from? Why are pumpkins mostly neglected throughout the year but become prevalent during Halloween season? Who came up with the game of ‘bobbing for apples’?

The Origins of Halloween
Researching the origins of Halloween reveals a lot of interesting history.[1] Halloween traces its history back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain [pronounced sow-in]. The Celts lived in and around modern day Ireland about 2000 years ago and celebrated their new year on November 1st. On the last day of the year [i.e. October 31st] they believed that dead spirits returned to the world, so their priests would light huge bonfires where people would make sacrifices to their gods.

Later, the Romans conquered the Celtic territory around 43 C.E. They were also pagans and had two festivals: one to commemorate the passing of the dead in late October and the other to honor Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit. These two celebrations were eventually merged with the day of Samhain.

Centuries later, the Catholic Church established a day to honor all the Christian martyrs who had been killed and called it All Martyrs Day [also known as All Hallows Day]. This was originally celebrated in May but was eventually moved to November 1st to displace the pagan day of Samhain that was still celebrated in the region. Later, another day was added called All Souls Day to include all dead people. The night before All Hallows was called All Hallows Eve and the name evolved to become Halloween. The pagan Celtic ritual about dead spirits mixed with the Catholic one about honoring the dead.

In colonial America, observing Halloween was originally very limited because the Protestant Christians wanted nothing to do with pagan rituals. In the second half of the nineteenth century, more immigrants from Europe began to migrate to America, many of them coming from Ireland due to the potato famine of 1846. These white immigrants brought the celebration of Halloween with them and it began to spread throughout the country. By the 20th century, Halloween became a little more sanitized and the religious and superstitious aspects of the day were mostly gone. The symbols of ghosts and witchcraft remained but were not widely believed in due to a change in American attitudes. Nonetheless, many neopagans and Wiccans still believe in and celebrate Samhain. Today, Halloween has become commercialized and rakes in about $6 billion every year in the US alone. A fourth of all candy sold throughout the year is purchased for Halloween celebrations.

It is clear that Halloween is a day that has evolved over time, incorporating many different elements and cultures, mostly pagan, into it. The practice of dressing up in costumes originated from the fear of ghosts roaming the earth on Halloween. The Celts believed that if someone wore a scary mask or costume then the ghosts might not recognize them as humans.

To prevent ghosts from coming inside their homes, they use to leave food outside for roaming spirits to eat. The food also served as a ‘treat’ for the good ghosts from their deceased family members. The Catholic Church tried to displace this practice by encouraging people to give out ‘soul-cakes’ so people would pray for the dead instead. During the All Souls Day celebrations in England, poor people would go from house to house begging for food and families would give them some if they promised to pray for their dead ancestors. Over time, the twin practices of leaving treats for ghosts and begging for soul-cakes merged to become ‘trick-or-treating’. The ‘trick’ was added when people began threatening others that if they do not give some ‘treat’, a ‘trick’ will be played on them through some mischievous act.

The ‘jack-o-lantern’ originated from the practice of carving scary faces into turnips or pumpkins and leaving them outside the house to scare away ghosts. The game of ‘bobbing for apples’ came from the festival of the Roman deity Pomona, whose symbol is the apple. There were many other customs and superstitions associated with Halloween that have died out with the passage of time.

Symbolism and Secularism
Since Halloween has mostly become a secularized festival in the West, some Muslims argue that there is nothing wrong with adopting it. Knowing the history of Halloween and the origins of the symbols that are still associated with the day, we must be more cautious.
When the Christian ʿAdī ibn Ḥātim accepted Islam, he went to go visit the Prophet Muhammad with a golden cross around his neck. The Messenger of

Allah pointed to his necklace and told him, “ʿAdī, throw this idol away.” It is important to reflect on this statement. ʿAdī had already accepted Islam, which meant that he had already abandoned the idea that Jesus is divine. For him, the cross around his neck was only a symbol now. Maybe he liked the way it looked or had become accustomed to wearing it as a fashion piece. Prior to accepting Islam, that cross symbolized belief in Jesus being God and having died for the sins of all people. The moment ʿAdī accepted Islam, the cross that he was wearing immediately ceased to have this meaning, which is why he continued to wear it. Nevertheless, the Prophet made it clear to ʿAdī that this cross was still considered an idol because of what it symbolized, and must be discarded entirely.

Likewise, despite the secularization of many symbols that were once antithetical to Islam and its core message, the advice of the Prophet should continue to resonate with us. Muslims should be proud that they have the insight to trace rituals and customs back to their origins, and ascend beyond the blind conformity of imitating whatever cultural practices and rituals exist in their society. Halloween is a ritual that is yet to be purified of its pagan and satanic symbols and elements. Until this is done, Muslims should be weary.

There is nothing wrong with ordering a pumpkin spiced latte from the local café that only serves this drink around Halloween. Likewise, leaving out some candy to prevent your neighbor’s children from becoming disappointed might be a wise move, depending on where you live, but Muslims should generally avoid observing Halloween as a day of celebration. Instead, they must develop alternatives to where children have fun, get [healthy] treats, get to wear costumes, and carve out fruits. However, these alternatives need to be stripped of their pagan elements. The Muslim community will continue to wait in anticipation for those creative individuals to arrive who can introduce these alternatives. In the meantime, the corporations who profit from Halloween will continue to develop the holiday in whatever direction will gain them the most profit, without any concern for what symbols are promoted or what impact they have on people.

Muslims must remember that it is okay to be different. Halloween has evolved over time and theoretically has the potential to be stripped of its pagan symbols and made into a purely secular holiday. But until it is, we should discard the superstitious pagan symbols and replace them with something better.

[1] See http://www.history.com/topics/halloween/history-of-halloween, last accessed 10-29-15; Also see Nicholas Rogers, Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002).

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