By Hebah Al-Disi and Joel Addams
As a young Muslim girl living in Jordan, Hebah Al-Disi was taught from an early age by her father to appreciate Zakat, the Islamic charity-tax similar to tithes and offerings in other religions.
During the last days of Ramadan one year, she accompanied her father in giving Zakat to a poor family. After a half an hour driving, they reached a poor area in the suburbs of Amman, Jordan. They parked their car and continued the trip on foot because there was no street to the apartment of the family.
"Here we are, Hebah," announced her father. He pointed to a very small, one-room apartment. "This is the place."
He knocked, and a young girl opened the door, peered out, and ran inside calling to her mother, "Some people came to visit us! I think they are Zakat donors!" The girl's mother soon appeared with a wide smile on her face.
"Please, please come in," the woman said. The young, bright eyes around the room made it clear that the young girl was not an only child. Two boys and two girls were being raised by this widowed woman in extremely meager circumstances. After the woman made sure that they had come for Zakat, she whispered almost to herself, "The feast is the day after tomorrow and I thought that the Zakat donors had forgotten us this year. Oh thanks be to God! The children need new clothes, shoes, toys, and good food during the three days of the feast."
Hebah's father gave the woman a sum of money, as the whole family asked God to purify and increase their visitors' wealth.
Zakat, the Islamic religious tax, is paid annually by Muslims around the world, usually during the month-long fast of Ramadan. Zakat is the fourth pillar of Islam and is considered as important as regular prayer, fasting and pilgrimage to Mecca.
Every Muslim -- male or female -- must pay the Zakat at different rates on crops, harvests, herds, gold and silver, cash, profit from business and on investments. With different rates on different possessions, Zakat can become as complex as the United States Tax Code. For example, gold and silver, if worn regularly as jewelry, need not be taxed. However, if the same gold or silver jewelry is not worn regularly or could be considered an investment, then it receives the 2.5 percent Zakat tax.
Muslims do not consider the annual tax a burden, though it is required in Islam. Zakat is a form of charity, a tax and a tithe. But it is also an expression of kindness and a spiritual investment. In this light, Zakat is comparable to financial donations given in the Judeo-Christian religions.
The universality of financial donations from followers of most religions serves many purposes. One such purpose for Zakat, like Christian tithes, is the purification of the giver's property and the fostering of goodwill and love for one's neighbor in need.
Literally, Zakat means "purification" in Arabic, and the Quran speaks regularly of paying the Zakat in order to purify the donor's heart as well as the donor's possessions. Every Muslim realizes that giving to the poor is not only a generous gesture by the donors; it is a Muslim's responsibility as a recipient of God's blessings.
Some Muslim countries have incorporated the Zakat into their state budgets. Countries such as Pakistan, Sudan and Saudi Arabia have formalized Zakat into a tax-like system. Others Muslim countries, and those Muslims living in non-Muslim countries such as the United States, are free to pay Zakat directly to those who are in need. While in Jordan, the Al-Disi family paid their 2.5 percent directly to such a family.
This Ramadan season, the Al-Disi family, now living in the Salt Lake Valley, did the same.
Hebah Al-Disi, the young girl described in the opening paragraph of this column, now is a student at LDS Business College in Salt Lake City. Joel Addams is a graduate student of the School of Oriental and African Studies in London and currently teaches professional writing and writing composition at the University of Utah, Weber State University and LDS Business College.