Zakah stands as the third pillar of Islam after testifying that there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is His final Messenger and offering Prayer. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) is reported to have said, “Islam is built upon five pillars: testifying that there is no true god except Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, performing Prayer, paying the zakah, making the pilgrimage to the Sacred House (Hajj), and fasting the month of Ramadan” (Al-Bukhari).

Zakah is one of the pillars of Islam, and it is a religious obligation with given characteristics, qualification, intention, recipients, etc. Taxes have different characteristics and uses. Payment of tax can never absolve a Muslim of his or her duty to pay the zakah.

Sheikh Ahmad Kutty, a senior lecturer and Islamic scholar at the Islamic Institute of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, states the following: Payment of tax can never absolve a Muslim of his or her duty to pay the zakah, which is a divine mandate, while tax is a human institution.

Zakah is the third pillar of Islam; it is enjoined by Allah upon the rich to pay a fixed portion of their wealth or income as an act of worship. It is due only upon those who possess wealth or income in excess of their essential needs and the taxes due upon them. Its main purpose is to help the poor and the needy. Taxes, on the other hand, are imposed by the government of the day in most regions primarily to defray the costs of governance and the costs of services provided to residents of the jurisdiction. Zakah is intended mainly to benefit the poor and the less privileged, while the benefits of taxation are enjoyed by all residents of a given area, and not merely the poor and the needy, as is the primary purpose of zakah.

Furthermore, Zakah has been divinely fixed in form and spirit; its purpose, form, specifics, as well as its recipients have all been determined by the Lawgiver, and as such, it is not subject to alteration by any human agency. Taxation, however, is entirely different; it is improvised and legislated by governments, again, to defray the costs of governance and the services it provides, and is subject to changes.

The hallmark of zakah is that it is an act of worship. Its validity is dependent on two essential prerequisites, both of which are integral to any prescribed act of worship in Islam: first, niyyah (intention to fulfill one’s duty to Allah); second, full conformity to the dictates of the Lawgiver. These can never be the case with the payment of tax to the government.

A Muslim, therefore, must give zakah in order to fulfill one of the foremost requirements of his or her faith, expecting the rewards solely from Allah. A Muslim is also obligated to pay taxes due upon him or her in order to contribute his or her share toward the general betterment of society and to pay for benefits and services provided by the government. A Muslim strives to be a good servant of Allah, just as he or she strives to be a good citizen of the country he or she resides in. These two aspects are never conflicting; rather they are complementary.