Is There Any Concept of Zakat in Christianity?

“And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land, or of the fruit of the tree, is the Lord’s: it is holy unto the Lord.” 

Advertise on TMV

“And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land, or of the fruit of the tree, is the Lord’s: it is holy unto the Lord.” 

The brief answer: Yes and no.

All the religions of Heavenly Revelation (kutb al-samawiyah) certainly issue an unmistakable and defining clarion call — much clearer and far more resonant in the human soul than any philosophy or man-made law, ancient or since the prophets brought their divine messages — to care for the poor and those deserving of material and worldly enrichment from their conditions of poverty and constraint. (The Quran attests to this, as we shall see, insha’Allah.)

Yet there is nothing in what has reached us of the previous scriptures that compares with zakat in Islam as a diversified, obligatory giving of alms with these three characteristics:

(a)  It is imposed and urged on us as a defined religious obligation (wajib) from Allah in the Quran; and it is a major violation to fail to fulfill it, with grave consequences in this life and the Hereafter.

(b)  God Himself has designated the exclusive and limited “human” categories of its eligible, lawful recipients (that is, zakat is paid on material possessions only to individual people).

(c)  It has been meticulously specified and demonstrated to us by a human Messenger.

The Prophet Muhammad, Allah grant him blessings and peace, taught Muslims exactly what we are to pay zakat on, at what levels of abundance, its cycles of payment on our eligible wealth, and each wealth-type’s zakat rate. At the risk of repeating, he specified the following:

  1. The kinds of wealth (mal) from which zakat is due.
  2. The threshold (nisab) levels of each wealth-type we possess that necessitate its holder’s obligatory zakat payment from it.
  3. The yearly time (hawl) or point of gain (mahsul) specified for zakat’s required payment on its individual class of wealth.
  4. The amount of zakat owed on each wealth category enumerated as a ratio, or rate, from that kind of wealth.

(See How Is Zakat Calculated on Wealth?)

From what has come down to us as Christianity, the late Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qardawi, in his magisterial The Law of Zakat, notes the Biblical calls to charity are presented in four ways that differ in every essential measure from zakat:

  1. Its texts are presented as recommendations, not obligations.
  2. Not acting on these texts incurs no specified divine consequence of sin, loss, or punishment in this life or the Hereafter.
  3. It is left to the conscience of the adherent to give or not give charity.
  4. The amount and kinds of wealth from which charity is to be mandatorily given, and the categories of people eligible to receive it, remain unidentified. Nor is there a possible communal mechanism to enforce the giving and distribution of such a charity.

Did Jesus, peace on him, come with a command to give zakat?

Yes, indeed, and our proof comes directly from Allah’s witness. Mary, peace on her, reappears among her people carrying her new baby in her arms. Allah commands Jesus to speak from the cradle in defense of his blessed mother’s purity and to announce his prophetic messenger status and presence as the foretold Messiah of the Children Israel:

“He said: Indeed, I am the servant of Allah! He has given me the Scripture. And He has made me a prophet. And, thus, has He made me blessed, wherever I may be. And further, He has enjoined me to be ever observant of the Prayer, and to give the Zakat-Charity, as long as I am alive.” (Surat Maryam, 19:30-31)

The Quran does not specify the conditions of zakat as given to Jesus, peace on him, but there can be no doubt that zakat in whatever its divine particulars may have been was an original part of the message to the followers of Jesus, messenger of God. Note that it comes to him as a commandment from God, meaning it was an obligation.

Sheikh Al-Qardawi speaks the majority scholarly assumption when he says, not only of Jesus, but of all Allah’s prophets: “I cannot believe any Messenger of Allah has passed through the world without calling for the care of the poor, called zakat in the Quran” (Fiqh az-Zakat p.4).

First, not only regarding Christians, but concerning all People of the Scripture (ahl al-kitab), Allah tells us in the Quran:

“They were not commanded but to worship One God — making their practice of their religion pure and sincere to Him alone, being ever upright of heart — and to duly establish the Salat-Prayer and to give the Zakat-Charity. For that, indeed, is the upright religion.” (Surat Al-Bayyinah, 98:5)

Note again that this explicitly states that Allah made zakat an obligation on all the People of the Scripture, including not only Christians but the Jews before them, though its conditions are not specified here.

Christians, of course, emerged out of the Children of Israel as those among them who originally upheld Jesus as the Messiah-messenger of God in the great schism among the Jews that his coming catalyzed. So, they accept as part of their Bible (Book), the prior Revelation known to Jews as the Torah, called now, with some content variations, the Old Testament by Christians. And here is the famed Covenant the Children of Israel (thus becoming the People of the Covenant) took with Allah, as revealed in the Quran, which includes an explicit commandment to pay zakat:

“Now, behold! We took the covenant of the Children of Israel, commanding them: You shall worship none but God. And to your parents you shall be good — as well as to close relatives, and to orphans, and to the indigent. And you shall speak to people in a goodly way. And you shall establish the Salat-Prayer. And you shall give the Zakat-Charity. Yet, thereafter, all but a few of you turned away. And still, you forsake your covenant.” (Surat Al-Baqarah, 2:83)

In another verse of the Quran, Allah reveals in more detail that His part in upholding the covenant of the tribes of Israel is contingent on fulfilling its five-part contract, paying the prescribed zakat being the second of these conditions:

“For truly God had previously taken the solemn covenant of the Children of Israel. And We raised up from among them 12 leaders. And God said to them: Indeed, I am with you. Assuredly, if you but duly establish the Prayer and give the Zakat-Charity and believe in My messengers and uphold them and lend to God a good loan by spending in His cause, I shall most surely absolve you of your misdeeds. And I shall most surely admit you into Gardens beneath which rivers flow. But whoever among you disbelieves after this shall have truly strayed from the even way.” (Surat Al-Ma’idah, 5:12)

In fact, Jesus, the Nazarene (Al-Nasiri, that is, a son of the city of Nazareth (Nasira)) by his own Christian-reported claims in the Gospel (the New Testament), came to reinstitute and augment the Law of the Torah, as any succeeding Messenger of God appearing as part of an established faith-community would. (Faith-communities, or religions, if you will, are brought into being by newly revealed Heavenly Books and the messengers who bear them. Jesus’ Revelation from Allah was the Injil, or Evangel.) And, as we have seen, that Law includes the zakat commandment:

“Think not that I am come to destroy the Law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the Law, till all be fulfilled.” (Matthew 5:17-20 King James Version (KJV)

Christians continue to identify themselves as a faith following from the way of Abraham and his descendant prophets, moreover. Allah says of Abraham, his son Ishaq (Isaac), and grandson Ya‘qub (Jacob):

“And We made them exemplary leaders, guiding to faith by Our command. For We made them prophets and revealed to them Our commandments bidding the doing of good works, and the establishment of the Salat-Prayer, and the giving of the Zakat-Charity. Thus, to Us alone did they offer worship.” (Surat Al-Anbiya’, 21:73)

Of Abraham’s first son, also, our forefather Isma‘il (Ishmael), Allah says:

“And mention also in the Book, O Prophet, the tiding of Ishmael. Indeed, he was ever true to his promise. And he too was a messenger and an eminent prophet. He used to enjoin his family with the Salat-Prayer and the Zakat-Charity. Thus, to his Lord, he was ever pleasing.” (Surat Maryam, 19:54-55)

Do the Old and New Testaments have texts that support zakat?

Yes, but these are not necessarily explicit about zakat. Yet one who is familiar with Allah’s exhortations to zakat, and sadaqah as a commanded voluntary charity (remembering that zakat in the Quran is often explicitly termed sadaqah, meaning the obligatory yearly zakat), and with the many teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, God grant him blessings and peace, about zakat and sadaqah will recognize the same spirit in them of zakat and the sadaqah-charity’s divine truth.

From the Old Testament:

“Whoso stoppeth his ears at the cry of the poor, he also shall cry himself, but shall not be heard.” (Proverbs 21:13)

“A gift in secret pacifieth anger, and a bribe in the bosom, strong wrath.” (Proverbs 21:14)

“He that hath a bountiful eye shall be blessed; for he giveth of his bread to the poor.” (Proverbs 22:9)

“He that oppresseth the poor to increase his riches, and he that giveth to the rich, shall surely come to want.(Proverbs 22:16)

“Rob not the poor, because he is poor: neither oppress the afflicted in the gate: For the Lord will plead their cause, and spoil the soul of those that spoiled them.” (Proverbs 22:22-23)

If thou hast nothing to pay, why should he take away thy bed from under thee?” (Proverbs 22:27)

“He that giveth unto the poor shall not lack; but he that hideth his eyes shall have many a curse.” (Proverbs 28:27)

“If there be among you a poor man … thou shalt not harden thine heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother: But thou shalt open thine hand wide unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need, in that which he wanteth. Beware that there be not a thought in thy wicked heart … and thine eye be evil against thy poor brother, and thou givest him nought; and he cry unto the Lord against thee, and it be sin unto thee. Thou shalt surely give him, and thine heart shall not be grieved when thou givest unto him: because that for this thing the Lord thy God shall bless thee in all thy works, and in all that thou puttest thine hand unto. For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land. (Deuteronomy 15:7-11)

From the New Testament:

(The Gospels of the New Testament, from which these quotes come, are something like the reports of sira, the biographical accounts of the mission of, in this case, Jesus, peace on him. He is cited as the one speaking to people here):

“Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.” (Luke 6:38)

“But rather give alms of such things as ye have; and, behold, all things are clean unto you.” (Luke 11:41)

“Then said he also to him that bade him, When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, neither thy kinsmen, nor thy rich neighbours; lest they also bid thee again, and a recompence be made thee. But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind: And thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just.” (Luke 14:12-14)

“Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth.” (Luke 12:33)

“And he looked up, and saw the rich men casting their gifts into the treasury. And he saw also a certain poor widow casting in thither two mites. And he said, Of a truth I say unto you, that this poor widow hath cast in more than they all: For all these have of their abundance cast in unto the offerings of God: but she of her penury hath cast in all the living that she had.” (Luke 21:1-4)

“Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret Himself shall reward thee openly.” (Matthew 6:1-4)

“And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward.” (Matthew 10:42)

“But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?” (1 John 3:17)

Do Christians give a percentage of their wealth to the poor?

The Old Testament includes more than 30 verses that command or reference an obligatory zakat-like charity translated as tithing, from the English word “tithe,” meaning “a tenth part.” It comes into English from its Germanic roots, though today “tithe” is used only in its religious usage.

For example, there is the command in the Old Testament Book of Leviticus:

“And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land, or of the fruit of the tree, is the Lord’s: it is holy unto the Lord.” 

And if a man will at all redeem ought of his tithes, he shall add thereto the fifth part thereof.

And concerning the tithe of the herd, or of the flock, even of whatsoever passeth under the rod, the tenth shall be holy unto the Lord.” (Leviticus: 27:30-32)

Part of this resembles the 10% zakat rate in Islam on naturally watered crops at time of harvest.

A more extensive tithing instruction occurs in the Old Testament Book Deuteronomy:

“Thou shalt truly tithe all the increase of thy seed, that the field bringeth forth year by year. And thou shalt eat before the Lord thy God, in the place which he shall choose to place his name there, the tithe of thy corn, of thy wine, and of thine oil, and the firstlings of thy herds and of thy flocks; that thou mayest learn to fear the Lord thy God always. 

And if the way be too long for thee, so that thou art not able to carry it; or if the place be too far from thee, which the Lord thy God shall choose to set his name there, when the Lord thy God hath blessed thee: Then shalt thou turn it into money, and bind up the money in thine hand, and shalt go unto the place which the Lord thy God shall choose: And thou shalt bestow that money for whatsoever thy soul lusteth after, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatsoever thy soul desireth: and thou shalt eat there before the Lord thy God, and thou shalt rejoice, thou, and thine household,

And the Levite that is within thy gates; thou shalt not forsake him; for he hath no part nor inheritance with thee.

At the end of three years thou shalt bring forth all the tithe of thine increase the same year, and shalt lay it up within thy gates: And the Levite, (because he hath no part nor inheritance with thee,) and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, which are within thy gates, shall come, and shall eat and be satisfied; that the Lord thy God may bless thee in all the work of thine hand which thou doest.” (Deuteronomy, 14:22-29)

The Old Testament command is tied up with the designated Levite priest class, said to be descendants of the Prophet Aaron, on him be peace. They did not receive land shares to farm, as they were designated as ministers of the rites of the Temple and were forbidden certain inheritance. The tithe, in part, was dedicated to their sustenance.

Tithing seemingly occurred in three measures, year after year: the first for the priests of the Temple just mentioned; the second for the tither and his people, to be taken and eaten at its holy site designated by God or remitted in money; and the third dedicated to the poor.

But there is considerable and ongoing controversy over this concept among Christians, though overwhelmingly, both Catholics and Protestants do not believe it is an obligation on them, but a Mosaic Law bound to the ancient Jews. (Even among Jews the obligatory charitable practice of tithing, from the Hebrew root anglicized as maaser (maʿăśēr, you may see the comparable Arabic root for “ten,” ‘ashara in it) is debated and mostly not mandatorily practiced as a result of restrictive technical precinct and communal legal rulings.)

Though a great majority of Christians in a 2003 study reportedly believed in tithing, less than 3% regularly practiced it, 1.2% of Catholics and 2.6% of Protestants. The Catholic Church repurposed tithing about the time of the Prophet, on him peace, as alms owed to the Church. Some five centuries later, under massive Church and lay tithe abuses, Pope Gregory VII outlawed tithe ownerships.

Protestant, pastor-centered churches, under considerably more financial pressure to support themselves and their ministers with typically much smaller congregations than Catholics, pressed the mandatory nature of tithing for their congregations through the 20th Century. This has greatly waned in recent decades, though church tithing as 10% of income is still very much encouraged in some churches.

Explaining why Christians do not have to follow the Biblical tithing command, one contemporary protestant Christian Bible commentator said:

“Do I have to tithe?” The short answer is – No, you don’t have to do it. God isn’t a tax collector, nor does He demand your obedience.”

So, while the Bible commands the giving of a 10th of at least one’s harvest and flocks (some say this includes other forms of income, as well) and has exceedingly strong and moving calls for the faith-necessity of helping the poor, the needy, the financially burdened, and the wayfarer — all zakat categories in Islam — Christians do not practice an obligatory charity concept like zakat, which requires the payment of set percentages of designated kinds of wealth when they reach established quantities in our possession. Nor is zakat’s payment made ultimately to institutions, like mosques, or for Muslim authorities or functionaries. Rather, zakat is paid on wealth to the eight human categories of needful and deserving people that Allah alone has specified.

All praise is for Allah, who has with Islam taught us how to perform the ancient rites of His original divinely revealed religion for Adam and all his descendants.

(See Why Muslims Pay Zakat)

Advertise on TMV



Advertise on TMV