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Islam - Religious Duty - Five Pillars

3. Almsgiving (Zakat)

Zakat means freewill offering and is the third pillar of islam. It consists of gifts to the poor, the needy, debtors, slaves, wayfarers, beggars, and charities of various kinds. The word zakat means "purification," suggesting that the act of sharing is a necessary prelude to making one's wealth and property pure.
In the early days of Islam zakat was considered to be a "loan to Allah," in the form of money or in kind. Religious officials collect zakat, put it into a common treasury and distribute it to the poor as charity and to mosques and imams for repairs and administrative expenses. 

Zakat is quite different from the tribute (the jizyat), collected from non-Muslims for political and military expenses. The zakat was once universally obligatory in Muslim lands. It is now common under Muslim governments for the zakat to be calculated at a per cent of the accumulated wealth of a man or his family at the end of each year and to be levied by the government. In non-Muslim countries, the collection and distribution of the zakat is undertaken by the Muslim community.

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