Zakat, or almsgiving, is one of the five pillars of Islam, along with prayer, fasting, pilgrimage. However, there are some differences between Shia and Sunni practices in this practice.
In Shi’a jurisprudence, almsgiving is a religious obligation imposed on people having a certain level of financial resources. These resources include gold, silver and cash, and agricultural products like grains and dates. A Muslim calculates Zakat individually based on their income for that year. Then, the money collected from all the individuals is given to those who qualify for it according to Islamic laws, including those eligible to receive Zakat as mentioned above and those living in extreme poverty or hardship whose necessities of life must be met from the Zakat funds.
In Sunni jurisprudence, almsgiving is encouraged but not compulsory, and one calculates Zakat as a percentage of savings and reinvested capital and agricultural products like grains and dates. As in Shi’a Islam, individuals must pay this themselves; however, there are broader Sunni criteria which include those whose necessities of life must be met from Zakat funds, such as people who own less than seven ounces of gold or whose annual wealth does not exceed over $4094 (1300 dinars). Members of Zakat councils often spend unpaid hours calculating others’ zakat payments. This includes taking stock dividends, donations to charity and gifts to family members, among other things. An alternative to this method is to pay 2.5% of any sum over £625.
As there are differences between Shia and Sunni practices, Zakat distribution varies also.
In Iran, for example, the state takes money from people with high income or large capital reserves beyond a certain amount, which is called Hosseiniyeh Ershad-e Hojjatiyeh (Islamic Guidance House). The zakat funds collected by the government then go directly to the poor through this foundation. On the other hand, Sunnis collect their own Zakat at mosques and designate individuals who receive it according to criteria different from Shi’a Muslims; for example, recipients must be Sunni Muslims, not Shia Muslims like in Shia Islam. The Sunni way of distributing Zakat enables it to be distributed in just one day to several thousand people. This method is practical when collecting thousands of zakat dollars simultaneously, especially for an entire nation or country. However, in Shi’a Islam, this completes only two years since the collection begins.
Although Shia and Sunni Muslims agree on the obligation of paying Zakat to support those in need, they differ in significant ways on how these funds are collected and distributed between different recipients.
Zakat money in Shia Islam goes to individuals who deserve it according to Islamic laws, which include those who qualify for Zakat as mentioned above, like poor people struggling financially; needy students; Imam Mahdi (a hidden imam who will return to restore justice at the end of time) and other Muslim leaders. Whereas Sunni Zakat goes to poor people first who are Sunni Muslims, then other individuals who qualify if they are not Sunni, including Shi’a Muslims.
Another difference is that Shi’a Islam requires the payment of Zakat to be done once each year. In contrast, in Sunnah Islam, it may be paid every year or at least once in two years because its collection begins twice a year through mosques designated collectors. There are also differences in how much one should pay as Zakat between Shia and Sunni’s practices making it about 1/40 for Shias to 1/80th for Sunnis of their total income after necessary expenditures have been met.
According to Shi’a laws, Zakat funds in Iran are collected from people with high capital reserves beyond a certain amount, Hosseiniyeh Ershad-e Hojjatiyeh (Islamic Guidance House). The zakat funds collected by the government then go directly to the poor through this foundation. On the other hand, Sunnis collect their own Zakat at mosques and designate individuals who receive it according to criteria different than Sh’ias do; for example, recipients must be Sunni Muslims, not Shia Muslims like in Shia Islam.
The main difference between Zakat in Shiite and Sunni is that Shiites pay Zakat individually each year while Sunnis pay in groups every two years or even annually.
Paying Zakat is highly advised in the Quran, but there are differences among denominations regarding how much one must pay. On the other hand, both Shia and Sunni Muslims agree on the obligation of paying Zakat to support those in need.