Islamic scholars interpret both Zakat and Sadaqaa as charity. And whatever instruction Allah Almighty has given in the Quran in the following verse for Sadaqaat they attribute it to Zakat.
9:60 Indeed, the charities [Sadaqaat] are for the poor, and the needy, and those who work to collect them, and those whose hearts have been united, and to free the slaves, and those in debt, and in the cause of Allah, and the wayfarer. A duty from Allah, and Allah is Knowledgeable, Wise.
17:26 “You shall give the relatives ‘haqahu’ (his due), as well as the needy and the homeless yet do not squander wastefully.”
But, first of all, why would Allah Almighty use two different terms if they mean exactly the same thing? It does not make sense. Secondly, the Arabic language also does not support it.
Zakat comes from the root Z-K-W, meaning
Zay-Kaf-Waw = it increased/augmented, it throve/grew well/flourished/prospered and produced fruit, it was/became pure, purification, goodness/righteousness, lead/enjoy a plentiful/easy/soft/delicate life, put into a good/right state/condition, alms, poor-rate/due
Sadaqaa comes from the root S-D-Q, meaning
Sad-Dal-Qaf = to be truthful, true, sincere, speak the truth, establish or confirm the truth of what another has said, verify, keep faith, observe a promise faithfully, fulfill, speak veraciously, hold anyone as trustworthy. sadaqa fi al-qitaali – to fight gallantly. tsaddaqa – to give alms. sidqun – truth, veracity, sincerity, soundness, excellence in a variety of different objects, salubrious and agreeable, favourable entrance, praise. saadiqun – one who is true and sincere, one who speaks the truth. saadiqah – perfect woman. sadaqat (pl. saduqaat) – dowry. siddiiq – person who is trustworthy, sincere. saddaqa – to confirm, verify, fulfil. asdaqu – more true.
Therefore, all the words that are derived from this root will have these two meanings (truth and power) embedded in them. Siddeeq is one who proves his trust and belief by his actions.
As-Sadaqatu is anything that is given in the way of Allah Almighty voluntarily to prove one’s promise and belief in Him as opposed to Zakat, which is purification of the Acts (Amal) and whatever given by Allah such as health and wealth.
Therefore, Sadaqqa has a different purpose in Islam than Zakat and both cannot be equated with each other.
What is the difference between Zakat and Sadaqaat?
The use of the word “Haqq” in 6:141 and 17:26 confirms that the act of Zakat is obligatory, but when we come to the Sadaqaat (general charity) we find it is only advocated by Allah that we should be charitable as much as we can but it is not compulsory.
The following are the main differences between Zakat and Sadaqaat:
First: Zakat is payable whenever income is received while the Sadaqaat, being a general act of charity, is not tied to any time.
Second: Since the Zakat is paid when income is received then it must be paid out of that income, usually paid in cash, while as the Sadaqat is not timed to a received income and thus it can be paid in any form (money, food, clothes … etc). It must also be said that in special cases, like a farmer who harvests a crop, the Zakat may be paid in the form of the crop itself, but these are special cases. The majority of people receive their income as cash/cheques.
Third: The distribution of Zakat is different in the Quran from the distribution of Sadaqaat:
The recipients of the Zakat are outlined in 17:26. In this verse, we have the word ‘Haqahu’ which means their decreed right, and which indicates that Allah is speaking about the obligatory Zakat, and they are: The relatives, the needy and the homeless.
In 2:215, we get a more detailed list of the recipients who are already outlined in 17:26. So the main group of “the relatives” in 17:26 is divided into the “parents and the close ones” in 2:215. Also, the “needy” in 17:26 is split into the “orphans and the needy” in 2:215. These are not extra recipients since the parents are included under “relatives” and also the orphans are among the “needy”.
Some scholars have indicated that the Zakat should only be paid to Muslim recipients, however this restriction has no Quranic reference. The recipients of the Zakat (outlined in 17:26) could be of any faith or creed.
In contrast, the distribution of the Sadaqaat is outlined in 9:60, where the word ‘Sadaqaat’ is used, and the recipients are in the following order: the poor, the needy, the workers who collect the Sadaqaat, the new converts, to free the slaves, to those burdened by sudden expenses, in the cause of Allah and to the homeless.
We note from the above that the recipients of Zakat are not identical to the recipients of Sadaqaat.
Fourth: Allah does not tax the believer twice on the same income. We are already obliged to pay Zakat whenever we receive income (6:141), so if we are obliged to also pay a Sadaqa that means we would be taxed twice on the same source.
Fifth: We read in 6:141 how we must pay the Zakat upon receiving income. This indicates that it is a direct payment from us to the recipients. However, when we read 9:58, and how some people have criticized the distribution of the Sadaqaat by the prophet, we can see that the Sadaqaat have been collected (into a fund, or safe, etc) then it is distributed by whoever is in charge. This is also confirmed with the decree that the ones who collect the Sadaqaat should have a share in it. As a result, the Zakat is paid directly to the recipients while the Sadaqaat may be collected then distributed. We see many Islamic institutions today (mosques and Islamic organisations) doing just that by setting up collection box’s for Sadaqaat.
Why are the recipients of Zakat and Sadaqat not exactly the same?
As we have seen, the distribution of the Zakat, which is detailed in 17:26, is obligatory since the Zakat itself is obligatory. However the words that describe the distribution of the Sadaqat (9:60) are given as a guide only and they are not obligatory. An act which is voluntary cannot have an obligatory method of distribution.
So in principle we must give the zakat to the recipients in 17:26, but our Sadaqat can go to anyone we like. We may wish to give a Sadaqa to someone who is not outlined in 9:60, and that is well within our rights. If we do not have any particular recipient in mind and we wish to give to charity then we are advised to follow the guide lines in 9:60.
We note that the recipients of the Sadaqat in 9:60 do not include the parents or relatives. Allah, the Most Wise, knows that the parents and relatives will be already looked after through our zakat, but since there are many more needy people in the world than all our relatives put together, then any additional charity we are able to give (Sadaqat) should go to the needy people, the homeless and so on.
To conclude, the payment of the Zakat is a “fard” (obligation) on all believers who receive an income. It must be distributed according to 17:26 and must be paid as soon as the income is received.
Sadaqaat is not obligatory but is encouraged by Allah, it can be paid at any time, and in any form (money, clothes, food) and it is the law of Allah that whoever collects it must distribute it in accordance to the details in 9:60.