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Zakāt on latent assets

November 10, 2011

Does the Mālikī madhhab instruct an Islamic leadership to forcibly take pecuniary zakātable assets from their owners?

Our classical Islamic literature is brimful of gems in the form of monothematic treatises, which cover nearly every specific facet of human existence.

Such an essential subject as zakāt and the rulings peculiar to it could not have provided an exception to the said authorial picture.

In addition to the general juristic compendiums, therefore, we come across such texts as Ahkām az-Zakāt, a concise yet adequately detailed book consecrated to the third pillar of Islam by one Mālikī savant from Sevilla in al-Andalus, i.e. Abū Bakr Muhammad b. ‘Abdillāh b. Yahyā b. al-Jadd al-Fihrī al-Lablī (d. 586 AH).

Wonderfully structured, it deals in every chapter with a different cluster of interrelated rules on the wealth-tax of Islam. The eighth such chapter concerns “[t]hose assets in respect of which the political leader sends tax collectors, and those other taxable assets in respect of which the owner’s word is accepted as true”.

He says the following at the inception thereof:

There is no disagreement as to the fact that zakāt on monetary assets which are subject to the wealth-tax is an affair entrusted to the trustworthiness of their owners, and that no person is dispatched to them (by the ruler so as to collect it from their hands). There is no harm, however, in the owner of such pecuniary assets being asked about the property he owns in that regard. Once such an inquiry has been made and he has provided his answer, his word is accepted, and he is not required to take any oath to vouchsafe for its veracity, in accordance with what is found on that mas’alah in Al-Mudawwanah, whether or not he is the target of suspicion that he is hiding some of those assets away.

A different view has been ascribed to Ibn al-Qāsim in what Ibn Muzayn has reported from him, namely, that the owner against whom accusations of untruthfulness have been leveled on this point should take a formal oath so as to clear himself of such allegations, unlike the owner who does not stand accused of the same. The proof adduced in support of this alternative juristic position is the interpretation given by Ibn ‘Abbās of His statement, Exalted is He: «You who have īmān! When women come to you as emigrants, submit them to a test» (Sūrah al-Mumtahanah: 10). In his said exegetical construction, Ibn ‘Abbās has been reported as stating what follows: When a woman used to migrate to al-Madīnah, she would be made to swear by Allah that she had not come out of her former place of residence because of aversion to her husband or as a fugitive from him, but that she had embarked on such step purely as a female emigrating to Allah and to His Messenger{C}{C} [Cf. Tafsīr at-Tabarī].

- Likewise, the political leader (Imām) does not dispatch to the people any person with the aim of demanding receipt of zakāt al-fitr from them: The discharge of such tax is remitted to the trustworthiness of those who are required to pay it, exactly as is the case with owners of monetary assets which are susceptible of zakāt being levied on them.

- As for livestock (which fall within the compass of the Islamic wealth-tax), the leader sends collectors (su`āt: literally, “striving runners”). The time for dispatching them to cattle owners is when the stars known as the Pleiades rise in the sky at the break of dawn, since that is the time when livestock gather around watering places. Ash-Shāfi`ī, though, holds the view that the proper time for sending such collectors is the month of Muharram in every lunar year. Mālik’s standpoint is the sounder of the two due to a dual reason: a) It is easier on the collector; b) It represents the practice (‘amal) followed in al-Madīnah”. 


As the abovementioned author asseverated, that is the unanimous position in the madhhab of the Imām of al-Madīnah.

Indeed, it is also the source position across the different jurisprudential schools of Ahl as-Sunnah.

The revered Shāfi`ī polymath from al-Basrah, one of the most prominent political scientists of classical Islam, i.e. Abu’l-Hasan al-Māwardī, stressed the same overarching principle in his seminal work Al-Ahkām as-Sultāniyyah (after which the Hanbalī judge Abū Ya`lā b. al-Farrā’ modeled his own identically-titled treatise). In the said book, al-Māwardī also paid close attention to the Hanafī views on the issues tackled in his text, not surprisingly given the dominant status of such other madhhab in his native ‘Irāq:

“Assets on which zakāt is levied fall under one of two categories: i) Patent assets, and ii) latent assets. Patent assets comprise those assets which cannot be possibly hidden from sight, such as crops, fruit and livestock. As for latent assets, they consist in those assets which can be occulted from other people, such as gold, silver and trading stock. The governmental officer in charge of collecting the wealth-tax has no say in the zakāt on latent wealth. The owners thereof have a greater right than him to discharge it by themselves, unless the scenario is that they hand it over to the political authority freely and voluntarily, and he accepts it from them, whereupon he assists them in distributing that wealth among its rightful beneficiaries. A political governor in charge of collecting taxes and revenues only has a say in the zakāt on patent wealth. When it comes to that category, he commands the owners of such assets to hand them over to him”.


Coming back to the Mālikī ruling specifically, the unanimity of views which al-Fihrī al-Lablī had mentioned as per our quotation here above is indeed endorsed by the entire gamut of our dependable juristic writings, both classical and modern, within the said school of Islamic jurisprudence.

As we do not wish to overtax the reader unnecessarily, we shall only mention a few of them from either end of the historical spectrum:

In his magnum opus ‘Iqd al-Jawāhir ath-Thamīnah, which was the most direct inspiration for his fellow Egyptian Ibn al-Hājib’s Jāmi` al-Ummahāt, Ibn Shās had this to share with his readers (from the Book of Zakāt therein):

“If the political governor with jurisdictional competence over Islamic taxation is a just one both in collecting and distributing zakāt, the owner of a taxable asset, be it a monetary one or otherwise, is not entitled to personally attend to the duty of distributing it. Rather, he sends the zakāt which is due on pecuniary assets to the political leader (Imām). As for the zakāt on cultivated crops and livestock, the Imām sends agents to collect it directly.

The other view which has been put forward within the madhhab is that the zakāt on monetary wealth is left to its owners to distribute as well. Ibn al-Mājishūn propounded the under-mentioned differentiation: Leaving its distribution to their own choice and effort is in order when it comes to giving it to the poor and the destitute specifically. When, however, the need arises to distribute it among other classes of rightful beneficiaries, in order for independent reasoning to be exerted (ijtihād) in determining the best way to handle the matter, no one but the political leader (Imām) should be allowed to apportion shares of it to such different categories of lawful recipients'”.

In his magisterial writing Al-Mudhhab fī Dabt Masā’il al-Madhhab, the much lauded luminary from Gafsa, Ibn Rāshid, after detailing the rulings pertaining to the collector of taxable livestock and mentioning that, in the event that a Muslim community was devoid of any such officer, its affluent members should take out their zakāt on cattle after the lapse of a full lunar year, underlined the following in the section of his book consecrated to one of the key pillars of the Islamic wealth-tax, that is, “the person who receives the tax” (al-ākhidh), being the political leader (Imām) who happens to be fair:

“The owner of a taxable monetary asset hands the zakāt on it to such leader, who in turns sends one who directly collects the zakāt on crops and livestock. Such a collector has to be reliable and knowledgeable on the rules of zakāt. It has alternatively been said that the owner of a monetary asset does not hand the zakāt on it to any such just political leader (but distributes it himself)”.

As for Ibn al-Mājishūn, he said: “In the event that the allocation of the zakāt is to the poor and the destitute specifically, the owner does not hand it to the just leader for the latter to see to its distribution. If, on the other hand, the allocation is meant to be in favour of other classes of eligible recipients, such allocation ought to be reserved for the ijtihād of the political authority”.

In the scenario where the leader is bereft of justice, no zakāt is handed to him, and if a taxable owner does hand it to him voluntarily, without being coerced into doing so, he is not exonerated thereby from the duty to fulfill the obligation of zakāt whenever the inequitable leader he has given the tax to is unfair specifically in how he distributes it. When, instead, he hands it to him under duress, or such an unjust leader is at least fair in the way he distributes the zakāt, his obligation has been met. Two opposite views (= a) the obligation has been extinguished; b) it still stands) have been advocated whenever such kind of leader, who has compelled the owner to hand the zakāt to him, is unjust in the way he distributes it”.


The picture we have illustrated so far is echoed by the major Mālikī texts which have seen the light of day in recent times, such as Dr. as-Sādiq al-Gharyānī’s Mudawwanah al-Fiqh al-Mālikī and al-Habīb b. Tāhir’s Al-Fiqh al-Mālikī wa-Adillatuh. The latter maintains that it is obligatory to hand the zakāt on all types of wealth to a just ruler (though only in respect of livestock is a sā`ī, if the community has any, sent to collect it, whereby the zakāt becomes due upon his arrival), whereas an owner withholds it from an unjust ruler and causes the taxable asset to elude his grip. He adds that, inasmuch as the political authority has jurisdiction in Islam over any person obliged to pay the wealth-tax, in his absence it is sufficient for such person to intend stepping into the leader’s shoes. He thus formulates that intention (niyyah) at the stage of factually fulfilling the duty attaching to his surplus wealth.


I once heard a Muslim alleging that proof of the contrary ruling that a leader directly takes from owners of taxable assets all categories of wealth which are subject to zakāt is found in the elucidation of the Qur’ān by the nobly majestic Andalusian commentator Ibn ‘Atiyyah, to wit, his celebrated Al-Muharrar al-Wajīz.

That position is however untenable:

  • Firstly, Ibn ‘Atiyyah’s explanation of the meanings of Allah’s Book is no juristic manual which is used by Mālikis to extract the judgments of the fiqh on the different masā’il of life, nor did the said mufassir ever intend or declare it to be one;
  • Secondly, it would be odd that such a great scholar would contradict the agreed on position in the madhhab, or that such a position which has withstood the passing of centuries, as we have observed, should be cast aside in favour of an isolated counter-view, assuming hypothetically that it existed;
  • Thirdly, Ibn ‘Atiyyah never stated in his aforesaid Tafsīr that he was adopting a different ruling. All he said was that Allah’s statement in āyah 103 of Sūrah at-Tawbah («Take zakāt from their wealth to purify and cleanse them and pray for them») generically necessitated “that the political leader (Imām) should take charge of the collection and the discretionary distribution of the zakāt”. That is indeed so with regard to the distribution of it by a ruler endowed with equity, and the collection by him of patent wealth, in addition to his taking (indirect) receipt of latent assets from their owners and assisting them in apportioning them among their qualified recipients. Ibn ‘Atiyyah, in such terse half-a-line broad observation, made no claim whatsoever that he was traversing the whole juristic terrain of the mas’alah, including the differentiation between classes of wealth and qualitative types of rulers, and Allah knows best.


  • There is a difference between patent assets of wealth (amwāl zāhirah) and their latent counterparts (amwāl bātinah). Gold, silver and analogically treated monetary funds on which zakāt is levied form part of the latter class of assets.
  • As regards the former category, i.e. the owners of such visibly apparent wealth, they directly hand it over to an injunctive sā`ī dispatched by the political leadership of the Muslims consonantly with the Prophetic practice. When it comes to the latter category of owners, whose assets consist in latent property, they calculate the zakāt on them by assessing their own selves, and, especially in the absence of well-founded suspicions that they are attempting to evade the obligation of the Islamic wealth-tax, wholly or partly, their word is accepted. At best, they are politely asked to specify the extent of their surplus wealth, which can then be voluntarily handed to the representative (‘āmil) of the political authority as being the taxable amount owing and payable on their latent wealth. The distribution, in the madhhab, is entrusted to a leader if he is just, though some jurists hold a different view or restrict the ruling only to the discretionary allocation of zakāt shares to other than the poor and the destitute (the Imām alone being allowed to oversee the apportionment of such different shares), whereas, for the Shāfi`iyyah, the ruler can assist the owners to carry out that distribution task at their behest.
  • In accordance with one of the learned Mālikiyyah of this age, the sharīf Shaykh ‘Alī Laraki (al-‘Irāqī), the Sharī`ah in no way can or does countenance the idea of a costly and oppressive fiscal apparatus which interrogates or intimidates owners of surplus money at their homes. There is no tax police in Islam.

Recent Comments
Said Bak - November 11, 2011 11:18 AM
Very enlightening. Jazakum Allahu khayran!
Said Bak - November 11, 2011 11:19 AM
Very enlightening. Jazakum Allahu khayran!
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