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Question: As Canadian Muslim I pay taxes to the government, which takes up a major portion of my income; it is my understanding that a portion of the taxes thus collected by the government goes to the poor and those who work to collect them; this being the case, can I consider myself as being absolved from the duty of paying Zakah?
Answer:

Payment of tax can never absolve a Muslim of his/her duty to pay the zakah, which is a divine mandate, while tax is a human institution.

Zakah is the third foremost pillar of Islam; it is enjoined by Allah upon the rich to pay a fixed portion of their wealth/income as an act of worship. It is due only upon those who possess wealth/income in excess of their essential needs as well as 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 have 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 it is subject to changes.

The hall-mark of zakah is that it is an act of worship; its validity is dependent on two essential pre-requisites, 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/her faith, expecting his/her rewards solely from Allah. A Muslim is also obligated to pay taxes due upon him/her in order to contribute his/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 strives to be a good citizen of the country he/she resides in. These two aspects are never conflicting; rather they are complementary.

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