Monday, 22 September 2008

A story about zakat

Zakat or almsgiving is quite a complicated subject in Islam. Verses in the holy Quran place zakat with almost equal importance with that of the daily prayers (solat) but unfortunately, not many Muslims see it as such.

During the month of Ramadhan, all Muslims are required to pay zakat fitrah, regardless young or old, rich or poor, bonded or free. The other form of zakat, called zakat harta (assets), is only obligatory if certain conditions are fulfilled. In Malaysia and indeed many Muslim countries in the world, the practice of paying zakat fitrah is in the form of cash as a substitute to a `gantang' of rice.

Since the administration of Islam falls under state jurisdiction, each state in Malaysia determines the value of this cash substitute. We therefore have different zakat fitrah rates for different states. For example, the fitrah in Johor this year is RM6.50 per person (last year RM5.00). In Kedah it is RM7.00, in Kelantan RM7.60 but in Selangor and Kuala Lumpur it is only RM5.20. It would seem that Muslims in the poorer states have to pay more than their brothers who live in the richer states. Sure doesn't seem logical to me.

Table of zakat fitrah from JAWHAR, Jabatan Perdana Menteri

So why this discrepancy and a significant one at that? Muslims in KL pay RM2.40 less that those in Kelantan. That's a 46% difference.

This issue of having a uniform zakat fitrah rate has been discussed by the various state religious councils for many years. From the look of things, I doubt that they would reach a consensus any time soon.

To understand why this non-uniformity exists, it is perhaps good to know the basis of how the zakat fitrah is calculated. The first aspect to consider is quantity. The requirement of zakat fitrah (zakat ul-fitri in Arabic) is based on Prophet Muhammad's hadith that states that one Sa'a of barley or dates be made as payment. Now, one Sa'a has been translated into one `gantang Baghdad' in Malaysia. But what exactly is a `gantang Baghdad' and what is its equivalent in modern terms?

Scholars are in disagreement on how much a gantang Baghdad equates to, but a common value cited nowadays is 2.7 kg. In Singapore, they have calculated it to be 2.3 kg. I have no doubt other Muslim countries have different figures too. In standard Malay, the gantang is principally a measure for rice. It measures volume rather than weight. Therein lies part of the discrepancy.

The next aspect to consider is the commodity itself. The original `barley' or `dates' in the Prophet's hadith have been interpreted to include the wide definition of `staple food or diet' (makanan ruji) of the general population. In Malaysia, this is of course, rice. But then, what type of rice is normally eaten by the average Muslim in Malaysia? Most state Islamic councils have adopted Beras Super Special Tempatan Gred A as the basis of calculation. Since the price of rice as determined by Bernas is not very much different from state to state, the huge difference in fitrah rates is still puzzling.

Zakat Fitrah poster by Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura

To add to the confusion, some states like Perlis and Terengganu (and Singapore too) have different classes of fitrah rates depending on the quality of rice that you normally eat. So if you consume the higher rice grades such as Beras Siam Wangi, then you are expected to pay the higher rate. A blog entry by Ibnu Hasyim has an interesting write-up on this subject that you can read here -> Zakat Fitrah Orang Kaya Sepatutnya RM13.50 Seorang.

It's not my intention to make all this sound too perplexing. It has been oft-said that Islam is a simple religion... it is only the people that make it difficult.

Which now brings me to the story that prompted me to make this post in the first place. It happened back during my student days in Sheffield, United Kingdom. I was with some friends at their house for the iftar. As we were waiting for the time to break the fast, one of my friends named Arazi, said that earlier in the day after Friday prayers, an Arab brother had approached him. Arazi was asked by the Arab whether he had any debts, to which Arazi said yes.

`He then shook my hand and gave me some money. The Arab brother said that this is zakat money for me', I remember Arazi saying.

This prompted some of my other friends to remark that they had debts too... and wondered why rich Arabs have not approached them to give zakat money. Hehehe... memang dah rezeki kau tu Arazi.

To my non-Muslim readers, let me just explain that last part. There are eight (8) categories of persons who are qualified to receive the zakat collections. Apart from the poor & needy, other qualified recipients include those who are in debt. Many Arabs interpret this literally and make it easy to comply with the many requirements of religion. Simple.


Chahya said...

Tq for the info on zakat.
Hope u dont mind me "stealing" the zakat table from yr post :)

Patricia said...

I've always wondered about what zakat was all about. And interesting point, about KLites paying less. One would imagine they'd need to pay the most!

Yes, I think all religions are simple in essence. It is the implementing of the rules - that's when it gets complicated and confusing.


hanitha said...

assalamualaikum wrth...
kabare? dh lamer i tk menyinggah kat blog u nie..wef 1st sept i dh tuko ke bhg lain, n tempat tu plak ader masalah internet tk ble la baca posts2 u...but last week everything dh bole dh..ala, salah configuration je ( ntah, kite pon tk tau ape ke bendanya tu ehehehhe)
n dh ble la baca all your posts cumer tk sempat bg komen.. but today, 22 sept, singgah blog kickdefella, bukak bhg comments, n walla!!! i baca satu komen dpd oldstock ,n sentuh about politics n questions he has for pak lah, i wonder, is that u d oldstock that i kenal from his blog that got nothing about politics at all..n biler klik je kat id u, trus masuk ke blog u..ooooo....follow gak psl politics ek... take care bro..

Oldstock said...

Salam Chahya,

No prob. The table is from Jabatan Wakaf, Zakat Dan Haji (JPM). I've added a link under the table.

I first became interested in this issue of different rates of fitrah after reading a post in Fauziah Ismail's blog about her paying RM5.20 for her zakat fitrah in KL. In Johor, I paid RM6.50. So I googled zakat fitrah and found that table.

Oldstock said...

Hi Pat,

Zakat in its simplest form, is intended to cleanse or purify. Overall, it can be seen as an economic aid for the whole Muslim community by sharing one's good fortune for the benefit of other members of the community who are in need.

You still looking for your earlier `missing' comment, Pat? I'm interested to know what you wrote :-)

Oldstock said...

Alaikum salam Hanitha,

Yup, that's me who commented in Kickdefella's blog. There's one and only Oldstock in Malaysian blogosphere!

Memang I sengaja tak nak post pasal politik sangat dlm blog ni. I think there's more than enough so-po blogs out there. So I limit myself to just commenting on other people's blogs on current political issues.

I'm sure from my comments, you can guess where I stand... heheheh...

hanitha said...

wasalam bro, yup, i know where u stand and i strongly support u bro...samer la sabo..nk beraya ngan PM baru, ehem ehem sapo lagik DSAI. InsyaALLAH

Fauziah Ismail said...

Salam Oldstock
I thought it reflects the cost of living in the states concerned but Kelantan is higher than Johor.
I wonder what criteria was used in determining the rate.
If it is used for a good cause and that distribution is done accordingly, I don't think any Muslims would mind paying the amount.
Furthermore, it is 'wajib" for us to fulfill this obligation.

Oldstock said...

Salam Fauziah,

I was at the zakat office of the Majlis Agama Islam Johor two days ago to settle some zakat harta. As I was waiting to be served, it crossed my mind that MAIJ should publish the details of zakat collection and distribution, so as to be transparent.

I seem to recall an announcement that was made about this, so when I got back home, I ran a google search. Sure enough, some time back, YB Zainal Abidin Osman, the Exco in charge of Religious Affairs announced in the State Assembly that last year, Johor collected RM73.3 million in zakat. This is an improvement of 34% over the previous year's collection of RM54.73m.

The MAIJ website at also has some details on how the distribution was made among the various asnaf. I believe MAIJ is moving in the right direction in having this information published.

Nurie said...

So far di Saudi ni takde orang kutip zakat di masjid mcm kat Msia, my hubby said his arab frens told him, he can simply give his zakat to any needy people or those in the 8 categories per your post. mcm garu kepala la jugak, rasa mcm err..betul ke nih...Lagi pun sini kan susah nak cari orang susah! Nevertheless, stimes we can find people minta sedekah masa kat traffic light. One friend recently pay his zakat to the guy yg basuh kereta kat parking lot, telling him, this is my zakat for this year. Yelah, actually there is no excuse to say you cannot pay zakat becoz of tis or tat kan!

Oldstock said...


Thanks for your informative comment. Betul jugak tu... macam mana nak cari orang susah kat Saudi tu kan?