What is my Zakat?
Apparently, I do not have to pay a zakat this year. I inserted my financial numbers into two different calculation charts, and, no zakat for me. In fact, the numbers came up negative. Which is rather alarming, because that means I am in the first category for being given a zakat: I am poor. A poor person is one who is identified as being without the basic nisaab, or exemption amount, which, in Canada, is currently $448.48. I'm a bit embarrassed by that because, well, I don't feel poor. And I don't live a poor life, though perhaps from time to time, a cash challenged one.
Which brings me to the central point of the zakat: wealth purification
Wealth here is identified as having excess cash/gold/silver/investments/stocks/savings accounts (there's an idea!)/grain/camels/loans due/etc. It does not include your house or furniture or paintings or musical instruments or anything that you need to live or work. It is about having a stash somewhere above and beyond what is needed to live your life. I don't have any of that.
Which brings me to the second part: purification. The zakat is an obligation. It may be called a tax, or charitable giving, or a taxed charitable giving, but the reasons behind it run deep. It is an outward sign of an inward devotion to the ways of Allah. And the ways of Allah specify that all Muslims are children of God, and it pleases God, for his children to look after one another. And in particular, those of God's children that are needing some extra help.
This sounds much like an outward action reflecting the two shahadas of the Christian faith, which succinctly break down to: Love God, love people. Or, as I have heard said, "Love God. Love others. And then do whatever you want." The truth, of course being, that if you fulfill the first two obligations, everything that you do after that will be graced, compassionate, and filled with wonder.
Is there anything like the zakat in the Christian tradition?
The Christian tradition does not have a specific instruction on the exact amount that is to be given for the care of others. Though coming out of the Jewish tradition, there is always the idea of the tithe in the mix - a tenth of all one's goods was to be given yearly to the temple and the upkeep of the Levite tribe. The tithe is mentioned throughout the the Tanak. It was an obligation by all Israelites to support the tribe of Levi, who kept up various obligations to God and looked after the poor - orphans, widows and foreigners specifically (Deuteronomy 26: 12, 13) - at least in theory. And, beyond the tithe, there is also the encouragement to be generous with our neighbours.
Intention, Intention, Intention
Underlying all five pillars in Islam is a desire to focus on Allah. And this would be true also, of the matter of the tithe in the Jewish faith, and by extrapolation, in the Christian faith. But Jesus, as always, pushes the envelope way past the legality of giving the first tenth of all your goods for the purposes of worshiping God and looking after those in need. Jesus, as expressed throughout the Gospel telling of his storytelling and admonishments, wants to look deeply at a person's intention.
And then, there are the many encouragements to be generous, and cheerful in one's generosity, though without specifics to the specific amounts to be given.
My experience and understanding of zakat, charitable giving, tithing and generosity
According to the rules of zakat, I have no obligation to give any money to anyone because the zakat is calculated on monies I have after such time as my own needs and obligations have been met. But I live squarely in the Christian ethos, so, I have different obligations. And if I understand both the Jewish and Christian understanding of what we call 'tithes and offerings - the first is a percentage of all we have and the second refers to additional giving - I am to work not from my excess but from ground zero.
So. I tithe to my church - in my case, as a minister, whatever church I serve at the time. And I tithe to another ministry I support. These are monthly amounts that come out of my bank account every month irregardless of my wealth - which, apparently, I don't have - I think I am still trying to work that one through. Does the total amount that I give on a regular basis amount to 10% of all my income? No, it does not. It is an amount that my husband and I feel comfortable giving on a regular basis given all the other giving that we do.
But this is not at all where any real giving comes to for me. And in a way, for me, that is the fun of it. Because in the Christian tradition, we are not 'people of the book', as are the Jewish people and the Islamic people. We are people of the way. I am a person of the way. And the way is the way of love. And my devotion is to the way of love as I am instructed to live it out - which, just for the record here, can be difficult.
Here is my story of trying to listen, trying to be a person of the way. I stumble so often. But every once in awhile, it comes out right. The key is listening. And then, being obedient to the call. And, to tell the truth, it is more interesting to me as a way to live than complicated calculations that arrive at a number removed from the actual living out of my life.
With the zakat, there is the idea that once this amount is paid, the rest of one's wealth is purified.
As a person of the way, I am supposing, that it is my life that is to be purified, and my wealth, at least by measuring the way for the zakat is only a part of that.
What I like about the zakat is that it is an imperative.
What I don't like about it is that it is an imperative.
I prefer the way of wandering to the way of exactness. But one risks the danger of being lost as a wanderer. So, I am supposing one way will appeal to one person and one way to another. For those who require exactness in their practice of giving, the zakat is perfect. I am not so exacting. So I am well placed in the Christian tradition.