Getting to Know Allah

Allah's Charity Is Not All It Seems

Charity (Zakat), the third of the Five Pillars of Islam, is also about worshipping Allah in an indirect sort of way: do it “for Allah’s Sake” and, like the other four forms of worship you observe, you will be rewarded. Allah does not expect His proudest creation to do the right thing unless a reward is in the offering. Altruism, in the Koran, is never assumed, even where charity is concerned.

2:272 You (Muhammad) are not responsible for guiding them. Allah guides whom He wills. And whatever good you spend is for yourselves; for you do not spend except for Allah’s Sake. And whatever you spend will yield good returns (it will be fully rewarded). And you shall not be wronged.

To spend for “Allah’s Sake” is also to spend “in the Way of Allah.”

2:262 Those who spend their wealth in the Way of Allah, and then do not follow what they spend with taunts and injury, their reward is with their Lord. They shall have nothing to fear and shall not grieve.

Who gives charity and then injures the recipient?

2:263 A kind word and forgiveness are better than charity followed by injury. Allah is Self-Sufficient and Forbearing.

How not to practice charity.

2:267 O believers, spend (as charity) of the good things you have earned and from what We bring out of the earth for you. Do not turn to the vile and spend from it. For you, yourselves, would not accept it except indulgently. Know that Allah is Self-Sufficient, Praiseworthy.

Exceptionally, M. Pickthall is clearer on the concept:

2:267 O ye who believe! Spend of the good things which ye have earned, and of that which We bring forth from the earth for you, and seek not the bad (with intent) to spend thereof (in charity) when ye would not take it for yourselves save with disdain; and know that Allah is Absolute, Owner of Praise.

Charity is charity: the more, the better. A rich man making a public donation usually encourages other wealthy individuals to do the same, and therefore it is considered a good thing by most people. This begs the question as to why Allah preferred that donations be kept secret.

2:270 And whatever expense you spend and whatever vow you vow are known to Allah. The evil-doers shall have no supporters.

2:271 To give alms publicly is commendable; but to keep it secret and give it to the poor is better for you, and will atone for some of your sins. Allah has knowledge of what you do.


The war on unbelievers was generating a tremendous amount of wealth, which Muhammad controlled (see Jihad in the Koran: “The Booty,” Boreal Books). You could have expected the needy to descend on his abode in Medina in droves looking for a handout. God’s spokesman obviously anticipated this and issued dissuading hadiths, such as the following where the poor just had to hope that the wealthy became aware of their needs and gave without their asking.

Narrated Abu Huraira:

Allah's Apostle said, "The poor person is not the one who goes round the people and ask them for a mouthful or two (of meals) or a date or two but the poor is that who has not enough (money) to satisfy his needs and whose condition is not known to others, that others may give him something in charity, and who does not beg of people."

Bukhari 24.557

Allah requesting that charity be given in secret may have been His way of shielding His spokesman from having to disclose how much of his wealth he actually gave to the poor and destitute.


Revelation 2:271 made it easier for the rich to say they have given in private when they have done no such thing. That said, Allah promises to reward both the one who gives in private and the one who does so in public.

2:274 Those who spend their wealth day and night, in private and in public, will be rewarded by their Lord. They have nothing to fear and they shall not grieve.

Alms were part of the war effort, and those most entitled to your charitable donations in this regard were the poor fighting to extend Allah's Dominion.

2:273 [Alms is] for the poor who are held up [fighting] in the Way of Allah, and thus cannot travel in the land. The ignorant think they are rich because they are too proud [to beg]. But you can recognize them by their mark. They do not importune people for alms. Whatever good you spend is known to Allah.


Allah instinctively appreciated the strategic value of helping people in need to recruit for His Cause—an understanding of the persuasive power of giving that was not lost on the Islamists who, during the catastrophic flooding in Pakistan in 2010, disrupted aid from Western countries while facilitating the distribution of inadequate contributions from Islamic regimes; or in Somalia, where Allah’s militants stopped food shipments from Western nations from reaching famine-ravaged portions of the country.


You will not be reprieved from performing charity after you are dead. The Compassionate does not grant reprieves.

63:10 Spend freely from what We have provided for you, before death overtakes each one of you. Then he will say: “Lord, if only you would reprieve me for a short period, so that I may give in charity and be one of the righteous.”

63:11 Allah will not reprieve a single soul when its term comes. Allah is Fully Aware of what you do.

That the obligatory charity that is the Zakat was a form of extortion in Muhammad’s time is evident in Moududi’s explanation as to why the following verse was sent down.

49:6 O believers, if a sinner brings you a piece of news, make sure you do not cause some people distress unwittingly, and so regret subsequently what you have done.


Most of the commentators have expressed the view that this verse was sent down concerning Walid bin 'Uqbah bin Abi Mu'ait. Its background is this: When the tribe of the Bani al-Mustaliq embraced Islam, the Holy Prophet sent Walid bin `Uqbah to collect the zakat from them. When he arrived in their territory, he became scared due to some reason and without visiting the people of the tribe returned to Madinah and complained to the Holy Prophet that they had refused to pay the zakat and had even wanted to kill him. On hearing this the Holy Prophet became very angry and he made up his mind to dispatch a contingent to punish those people. In the meantime, the chief of the Bani al-Mustaliq, Harith bin Dirar (father of Juwairiyah, wife of the Holy Prophet), arrived at the head of a deputation, and submitted: "By God, we did not at alI see Walid; therefore, there could be no question of refusing to pay the zakat and wanting to kill him … At this, this verse was sent down.

Allah Himself admits that the Zakat was not so much a charity but an “alms-tax”—and not paying your taxes is usually not an option. 

2:277 Verily, those who believe, do good works, perform the prayers and give the alms-tax, shall find their reward with their Lord. They have nothing to fear, and they shall not grieve.

Those who fail to pay “the alms-tax” on taxable goods will wish they had when they meet the Ultimate Collector.

Narrated Abu Huraira:

Allah's Apostle said, "On the Day of Resurrection the Kanz (Treasure or wealth of which, Zakat has not been paid) of anyone of you will appear in the shape of a huge bald headed poisonous male snake and its owner will run away from it, but it will follow him and say, 'I am your Kanz.'"

The Prophet added, "By Allah, that snake will keep on following him until he stretches out his hand and let the snake swallow it."

Allah's Apostle added, "If the owner of camels does not pay their Zakat, then, on the Day of Resurrection those camels will come to him and will strike his face with their hooves ..."

Bukhari 86.89

After the death of Muhammad, the first of three brutal civil wars, the War of the Apostates, was fought—in part, over his successor Abu Bakr’s demand that the Arabs now pay him the Zakat.

Narrated Abu Huraira:

Abu Bakr said, "By Allah! I will fight whoever differentiates between prayers and Zakat as Zakat is the right to be taken from property (according to Allah's Orders).

By Allah! If they refused to pay me even a kid they used to pay to Allah's Apostle, I would fight with them for withholding it."

Umar said, "By Allah: It was nothing, but I noticed that Allah opened Abu Bakr's chest towards the decision to fight, therefore I realized that his decision was right."

Bukhari 84.59

Many believers considered the Zakat a contribution to the Prophet’s successful attempt to Islamisize (sic) the Peninsula by force that ended with his passing, and for that they were slaughtered in the thousands. At the battle of Yamama, which put an end to the first civil war and led to the compilation of the first Koran (see Shared Prophets: “The First Korans,” Boreal Books), an estimated 7,000 people—mostly believers whom Abu Bakr considered apostates for refusing to pay him the obligatory charity—were surrounded and shown no mercy.