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Zakah or Zakat (Arabic: زكاة) is the Islamic charity tax. Muslims must pay 2.5% of their wealth to specified categories of poor people if their annual wealth exceeds a minimum level (nisab). Zakāt is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. The categories who receive this charity according to Sunni practice include:

  • The poor (those who do not have enough to cover their basic needs. This includes anyone of any religion or race)
  • The destitute (those with no property or income at all)
  • The collectors
  • People whose hearts are to be reconciled with Islam (Normally new Muslims or those close to becoming Muslim)
  • Freeing slaves
  • Debtors (to help those heavily indebted with paying their debts)
  • "In the Way of Allah" ( helping those fighting [jihad])
  • Travelers who find themselves in difficult circumstances

Shia Muslims have a different interpretation of Zakah, and a separate charity consisting of one fifth of earnings, the Khoms. The  Zakat, according to the Shia, is a tax on specific goods:  gold, silver, camels, cows, sheep, wheat, barley, dates, and raisins. Each type has its own "nisab," or a limit under which Zakat need not be paid.

Synonyms and alternate spellings: Zakah, Zakat,

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Encyclopedia of the Middle East

Note - This encyclopedia is a work in progress. It is far from complete and is being constructed and improved all the time. If you would like to contribute articles or expansions of existing articles, please contact news (at) mideastweb.org.  Suggestions and corrections are welcome. The concise version of this dictionary is at our Middle East Glossary.

Spelling - Spelling of words in Middle-Eastern languages is often arbitrary. There may be many variants of the same name or word such as Hezbollah, Hizbolla, Hisbolla or Husayn and Hussein. There are some conventions for converting words from Semitic languages such as Arabic and Hebrew There are numerous variant renderings of the same Arabic or Hebrew words, such as "Hizbollah," "Hisbulla" etc. It is not possible to find exact equivalents for several letters. 

Pronunciation - Arabic and Hebrew vowels are pronounced differently than in English. "o" is very short. The "a" is usually pronounced like the "a" in market, sometimes as the "a" in "Arafat."  The " 'A " is guttural.  " 'H "- the 'het ('Hirbeh, 'Hebron, 'Hisbollah') designates a sound somewhat similar to the ch in "loch" in Scots pronunciation, but made by touching the back of your tongue to the roof of your mouth. The CH should be pronounced like Loch, a more assertive consonant than 'het.

The "Gh" combination, and sometimes the "G," designate a deep guttural sound that Westerners may hear approximately as "r." The "r" sound is always formed with the back of the tongue, and is not like the English "r."

More information: Hebrew, Arabic

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