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Food Culture: Islam
Whoever is kind to the creatures of God is kind to himself
– Hadith of Prophet Mohammed
Mercy to Animals
Absolutely no killing is allowed as pilgrims approach Mecca, including even lice, ants, grasshoppers and mosquitoes. If a pilgrim sees an insect on the ground, he will gesture his friends to be careful to avoid treading on it. This example illustrates that while Islam is not generally viewed as a religion that promotes vegetarianism and kindness to animals, the Islamic tradition does have a lot to say about how people should relate to the animal world.
Indeed, there are numerous examples of Mohammed showing his compassion to animals. In his Story of Mohammed the Prophet, Bilkiz Alladin quotes the Prophet: “Show sympathy to others…especially to those who are weaker than you.” According to other biographical accounts, Mohammed has been quoted as saying, “Where there is an abundance of vegetables, hosts of angels will descend on that place.”
Zakāh (sometimes Zakāt/Zekat or “alms giving”), one of the Five Pillars of Islam, is the charitable giving of a small percentage of one’s possessions (surplus wealth, including food), generally to poor and needy Muslim individuals. Often compared to the system of tithing and alms, Zakāh serves principally as the Islamic welfare service to poor and deprived Muslims, although others are not excluded. The Islamic community has a duty to not only collect zakat, but to distribute it equitably as well.
Zakat is sometimes referred to as sadaqah and its plural, sadaqat. Generally, the sharing of wealth is called zakat, whereas sadqat can mean sharing wealth or sharing happiness among God’s creation, such as speaking kindly, smiling at someone, taking care of animals and the environment, etc.
Zakat or sadqah is therefore considered worship and is a means of spiritual purification. It is not seen as a tax burden but rather serves as socio-financial system of Islam by re-distributing the wealth among the poor and needy.
There is no disagreement among Muslims about the obligatory nature of zakat. It simply must be done. Throughout the Islamic history, denying Zakat equals denying the Islamic faith. However, the Muslim jurists differ on many details of zakat, each having their own opinion and arguments on matters such as frequency of distribution, exemptions, and the types of wealth that are zakatable. Some scholars consider all agricultural products zakatable, while others restrict zakat to specific kinds of products. Some consider debts zakatable while others don’t. Similar differences exist for business assets and women’s jewelry, as well as the disbursement of zakat.
Muslims fulfill this religious obligation by giving a fixed percentage of their surplus wealth. Zakat has been compared with such a high sense of righteousness that it is often placed on the same level of importance as offering Salat1. Muslims also see this act as a way of purifying themselves from greed and selfishness while protecting good business relationships. In addition, Zakat purifies recipients because it saves them from the humiliation of begging and prevents them from envying the rich. Because Zakat holds such a high level of importance in the culture, the punishment is severe for not practicing Zakat when possible. The 2nd edition of the Encyclopaedia of Islam states, “…the prayers of those who do not pay zakat will not be accepted.”
There are two categories of charity in Islam: obligatory and voluntary.
Who is entitled to receive Zakat?
Eight categories of individuals may receive the zakat, Noble Quran (9:60)
- The needy (Muslim or Non Muslim)- Fuqara’
- Extremely poor (Muslim or Non Muslim—Al-Masakin
- Those employed to collect—Aamileen
- Those whose hearts are to be won—Muallafatul Quloob
- To free the captives—Ar-Riqaab
- Those in debt (Muslim or Non Muslim—Al Ghaarimeen
- In the way of Allah—Fi Sabeelillah
- Wayfarers (Muslim or Non Muslim)—Ibnus-Sabeel
Footnote: 1. Ritual prayer (salat) which is performed five times each day: at dawn (al-fajr), midday (al-zuhr), afternoon (al-’asr), sunset (al-maghrib) and evening (al-’isha).
SOURCE: FOOD YOGA – Nourishing the Soul by Priya Vrata
Bibliography: Diet for Transcendence, by Steven Rosen
Purchase FOOD YOGA – Nourishing the Soul (eBook) $19.95
(Revised edition, now 380 pages)