Q: People everywhere try to reduce their tax payments. Whenever they have a chance to make some tax-free earnings, they would not hesitate to take it. This is due to the importance of money in our lives. Sometimes people translate zakat as ‘poor tax’ or ‘charitable tax’, etc. Can you elaborate in the light of Islam?
A: This is a mistranslation because ‘tax’ is universally viewed as a burden, while zakat is a payment that is conducive to growth. It is an investment placed with God and it yields rich returns, as God rewards every good action. The very name, zakat, is derived from a root, zaka, which signifies growth. Yet people who do not have a strong sense of faith tend to look at it as tax and they try to withhold it, if they can.
The Prophet (pbuh) warned against withholding zakat, using different ways of expression. He showed us that whoever withholds zakat will come to regret his action on the Day of Judgment, because zakat is a duty on the rich. At the same time, it is a rightful claim of the poor granted by God.