Allah the almighty has stressed the need for upholding the institution of Zakaat repeatedly. In fact, wherever Quran has made a mention of the Salaat there is a mention of Zakaat as well. This speaks volumes about the importance of Zakaat. On first Ramadhan, in the second month of Hijra, Zakaat was made obligatory on wealthy Muslims. Literally it means purification. This is why some scholars say that Zakaat purifies the wealth.
Paying Zakaat is an obligation. Some people have compared it to a sort of tax, which the wealthy Muslims are supposed to pay for the welfare of a category of people mentioned in the Quran. However, some scholars say it is not tax but contribution for the welfare of the poor. These include the poor, the destitute, the widows, the orphans, a traveler who has no means to sustain himself, in the way of Allah, those in debt, those whose hearts have been made to incline to truth, for ransoming of captives and officials over them. The law with regard to this class has ceased to operate. The most revered Prophet (SAW) used to bestow Zakaat upon them as a gratuity to prevent them from molesting Muslims, and also to secure their occasional assistance. (Mishkat-ul-Masabhat).
The Zakaat cannot be paid to the tribe of Hashim (even now the descendants cannot take Zakaat), their slaves and servants also cannot receive zakaat as far as they are in the services of the Hashims, polytheists (whether bound by treaty or not), Husband to wife (according to Abu Hanifa), Parents however high in order, sons and daughters however low in the order. Zakaat cannot be paid to an Imam, for construction of a mosque, burial and expenses of the deceased. It cannot be utilized for construction of any building (not even Darul Alooms and orphanages), although it can be spent on books for orphans and the poor, their uniform, food etc.
The Zakaat becomes due not necessarily in the month of Ramadhan. It is to be given on money; wealth etc which the owner did not spend for one year. For example if a person has one lakh rupees in the month of Ramadhan and if he does not spend it till the next Ramadhan, he has to pay Zakaat. If the amount is spent before Ramadhan no Zakaat has to be paid. “Whoever acquires wealth, no Zakaat therein till a year passes over it”…..(Al Tirmidhi).
A Muslim, therefore, has to keep watch. The moment the hoarded wealth completes one year, Zakkat becomes due and must be paid without delay. If it becomes due in the month of Rajab, it must be paid immediately in the same month. One should not wait for Ramadhan.
Ulema have fixed Rs 25 for every one thousand rupees. Therefore, if a person has one lakh rupees and does not spend it for one year, he must pay Rs 2500 as Zakaat as and when it becomes due. Similarly the cost of the ornaments must be assessed and Zakaat calculated and paid accordingly.
Notwithstanding the importance of the institution of Zakaat, most of the Muslims do not pay it for one reason or the other. They give more preference to performing Hajj. Yes, performing Hajj is also an obligation for those who can afford it. But, the Hajj is the fifth pillar. To put it plainly, Hajj comes after Zakaat. Those who can afford Hajj must be in a position to pay Zakkat. And, if they do not pay it and prefer to perform Hajj, they are ignoring a more important institution and shall be questioned about it on the day of judgement.