David has responded to questions 2-4 together. So his response is repeated for these questions.
Tzedakah rejects the notion that the body’s well-being is less important than that of the soul or spirit. A medieval midrash put it this way: “There is nothing in the world more grievous than poverty. All sufferings are on one side, and poverty is on the other.”* That may explain why the Haggadah first offers an invitation to “those who hungry” and only then invites those in need of celebrating the festival. The prophets repeatedly inveighed against those who worried about ritual, but ignored caring for the needy. On Yom Kippur, a day when Jews fast — and “afflict” our souls, as the Bible says — we read the words of Isaiah:
“Is such the fast I desire, a day for people to starve their bodies? No, this is the fast I desire: . . . to let the oppressed go free, to break off every yoke. It is to share your bread with the hungry, and to take the wretched poor into your home; when you see the naked, to clothe him and not to ignore your own kin” (Isaiah 58:5-7).
Maimonides (1135-1204) described eight levels of tzedakah, the lowest ranging from giving reluctantly, to giving when asked, to knowing the recipient, to giving anonymously, etc. The highest level involves providing an individual with a gift, a loan, a position in a partnership or helping an individual find employment so he or she will become independent. For scriptural proof of this last point he brought a verse from Leviticus (25:35): You shall strengthen him, be he a stranger or a settler, he shall live with you. “Which means,” said Maimonides, “strengthen him in such a manner that prevents him from falling into want.”* An authoritative 16th century code sets forth the norms of giving: Ideally 20 percent of one’s wealth with 10 percent being average and less being stingy.*
Some persons and denominations suggest tithing, i.e., giving a tenth of one’s income. Most churches simply take up a collection rather than have set membership fees. The weekly collection covers regular needs (e.g., salaries, maintenance of the buildings and needs of the congregation) and support for various agencies and endeavors (e.g., needs of impoverished peoples).
The fundamental norm may be discerned from the letters of the Apostle Paul. Paul sought support for the poor, especially for the followers of Jesus in Jerusalem, from his various churches (see 2 Corinthians 9:6-15, Romans 15:25-27 and Galatians 2:1-10). He praised the Corinthians for their generosity, and reminded the Galatians that when the “pillars” of the early community—James, Cephas [Peter] and John affirmed Paul’s mission to the Gentiles, “They asked only one thing, that we remember the poor, which was actually what I was eager to do” (Galatians 2:10).
It is one of the great ironies—and heresies—of our time that many Christians have fallen under the spell of the “Prosperity Gospel”: Wealth is a blessing from God, God will bless Christians with financial gain, and those who give their money to church causes will in turn reap financial reward.
Zakat is two and a half percent of a person’s annual net income, defined as the total income minus expenses. For example, a person who has a yearly net income of $1,000 after personal and business expenses are subtracted shall give Zakat of $25 to the poor and needy.
Zakat can be given to the poor and the needy, and those employed to administer the [funds]; for those whose hearts have been [recently] reconciled [to Truth]; for those in bondage and in debt; in the cause of Allah and for the wayfarer: [thus is it] ordained by Allah, and Allah is full of knowledge and wisdom (9:60). However, money given to one’s parents or children is not regarded as Zakat, because providing for them is a basic responsibility. Zakatmay also be spent on general social needs such as building schools and clinics for the poor and supplying clean water. A donor may give Zakat directly to the needy or give it to a charitable agency to distribute according to the rules of Islamic Law.
Zakat Al Fitr is collected at the end of Ramadan every year and distributed to the poor before the celebration of Eid al Fitr, a Muslim festival at the close of Ramadan. It could be distributed by the local Masjid – mosque – or given directly to the poor and needy. The objective of this collection is to make it possible for everyone to celebrate the end of fasting with joy, food and a smile.
In keeping with the adage “charity begins at home,” Sadaqah can be given to any one and may start with parents and other loved ones. The Qur’an says: “True piety does not consist in turning your faces towards the east or the west – but truly pious is he who believes in God, and the Last Day; and the angels, and revelation, and the prophets; and spends his substance, however much he himself may cherish it, upon his near of kin, and the orphans, and the needy, and the wayfarer, and the beggars, and for the freeing of human beings from bondage; and is constant in prayer, and renders the purifying dues; and [truly pious are] they who keep their promises whenever they promise, and are patient in misfortune and hardship and in time of peril: it is they that have proved themselves true, and it is they, they who are conscious of God” (2:17).
Sadaqah can be spent on any aspect of human well-being. It is best offered anonymously. Although the Qur’an recommends spending generously, there is no limit on such giving. There are many examples of great generosity in Islam. The Qur’an promises great rewards for those who make charitable donations.
Many Muslims who give Zakat do not claim tax deductions. Many who do claim deductions anonymously return that amount to charity. Zakat al Fitr is rarely claimed, while Sadaqah usually is.