UNDERSTANDING THE CALCULATION OF THE NISAAB OF ZAKAAH
By Mufti Waseem Khan.
The term nisaab refers to the maximum amount of wealth (in savings) a person should possess in order for him to give the compulsory charity, known as Zakaah. It should be understood that during the time of the Prophet (S.A.S) the use of gold and silver coin was prevalent. Hence, while stipulating the nisaab, the Prophet (S.A.S) used the gold and silver coins. He stipulated that if a person had silver coins then his nisaab will be 200 pieces and if he possessed gold coins, his nisaab will be 20 pieces. When either currency reached its respective nisaab, it was compulsory to pay 21/2% of his savings when one year had passed over it.
As time passed and the usage of gold and silver coins became replaced with the medium of exchange, which is commonly known as ‘Money’ (represented by paper notes), the early Fuqahaa (Jurists) had to calculate the weight of gold and silver which were equivalent to the nisaab specified by the Prophet (S.A.S). Twenty gold pieces worked out to be 2.8 troy ounces of gold, while two hundred silver pieces worked out to be 19.7 troy ounces of silver. Being out of general use, these measurement (2.8/19.7 troy ounces) then became the standard nisaab of gold and silver. As such, if a person possessed only gold then he had to pay 21/2% of the total value when it weighed 2.8 troy ounces or more. Similarly, if a person possessed only silver, then he had to pay 21/2% of the total value when it weighed 19.7 troy ounces or more. It is worth mentioning that during the time of the Prophet (S.A.S) and afterwards the value of the two hundred silver coins (Dirhams) were equal in value to the twenty gold coins (Dinaars). As such, a person at that time could have used 200 dirhams as his nisaab or 20 dinaars (since both were equal in value). In other words, 19.7 troy ounces of silver were equivalent to 2.8 troy ounces of gold at that time. However, when the value of the above mentioned amount of silver started to differ from the value of gold, it became necessary to identify which of the two values Muslims should use for the calculation of Zakaah.
Taking the guidelines of the teachings of the Prophet (S.A.S) into consideration, as well as the fact that the Messenger of Allah (S.A) did specify a nisaab in silver, which afterwards became lower then gold, the early Fuqahaa (Jurist) of Islam concluded that the Nisaab of silver should be used since it is in accordance to the blessed teachings of the Prophet (S.A.S); it is more beneficial to the poor and needy; and it is more precautious in one’s religious affair.
In this regard, the Mazhab of Imam Abu Hanifah clearly clearly states,
‘The nisaab which should be used is that one which is more beneficial to the poor, as such, whichever nisaab is reached from gold or silver, then that will be a person’s nisaab. If a person’s savings/merchandise is fulfilled/reached/met with one of the nisaab and not the other, then the one which it reached will be deemed as his nisaab.’
This statement and explaination is one which has been written, preached and propagated by the Hanafi Jurists as well as other Mazhabs, and many of the pious predecessors from the time of Imam Abu Hanifah until present, and can be found in the most authentic books of Hanafi Fiqh such as Hidaayah, Shaami, Nihaayah, Bahr Raaiq, Alamgiiri etc.
Based on this guideline, the latter and cotemporary Hanafi Scholars as well as many other Scholars have adopted silver for calculating nisaab, since due to its lower value, it will be reached before the nisaab of gold, which is higher. In using this nisaab, more people will be able to give Zakaah (which is a minimum of 21/2%) and will therefore be more beneficial to the poor. It is also a means of being precautious in one’s religious duty.