Zakat is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. The New Oxford Dictionary defines zakat as “the obligatory payment made annually under Islamic law on certain kinds of property and used for charitable and religious purposes.”
Basically, zakat is the charitable payment that every Muslim must pay each year to help support the poor in the community. It is based on income and on property owned and investments. It is required for every adult Muslim to give in other times of the year: at Eid festival times they give food to feed the poor in the community. And most Muslims also give in support of their local masjid and perhaps their school associated with their mosque. But the zakat is totally separate and is required as a pillar of the faith. It is as important as believing in one God and believing in Muhammad as His prophet. We are told throughout the Qur’an to give in charity and this is the mechanism we use to do so. In this way we help take care of our own less fortunate brothers and sisters.
We believe that this directive came to us from God, and so we take it very seriously. There is a formula for calculating the zakat because it is based not only on income. It is based on all your resources, but care is taken that you yourself are not left needy. It is a fair amount based on your resources and is paid each year. Some people budget for it throughout the year so the whole sum does not come upon them at once. That is a smart way to do it, I think, because it makes you aware of the charity all year long. Usually the zakat is paid through the local masjid so the money is used in the local community to help the poor in the local area, although some people do pay their zakat to international organizations.
In summary, zakat is a very important part of the beliefs of islam and I hope people understand the concept better after reading about it.