Muslims recognize that all wealth and bounties in this life are blessings from God, and certain duties and responsibilities are required in return. In Islam, it is the duty of the wealthy to help those who are poor and destitute.
Giving in charity is emphasized again and again in the Qur'an, often hand in hand with prayer. “And be steadfast in prayer and regular in charity. And whatever good you send forth for your souls before you, you shall find it with Allah, for Allah sees well all that you do” (Qur'an 2:110).
While charitable giving is always encouraged in Islam, wealthier members of the community are specifically required to pay alms. This practice is known as zakat, which comes from an Arabic word for “purify” and “grow,” for you purify your own wealth by sharing with others and allowing their wealth to grow.
Zakat is paid at the rate of 2.5 percent of remaining wealth after the deduction of expenses. In areas without a Muslim governing body to collect the zakat, each Muslim individual is responsible for ensuring that the amount is paid to deserving recipients.
As specific religious alms, zakat is set aside for certain categories of people:
The poor and the needy
Those employed to collect and distribute zakat
Converts to Islam (who risk being disowned by their non-Muslim families)
Slaves (so they may purchase their freedom)
Those in debt
Those who are struggling in Allah's cause
The wayfarer (stranded traveler)
Zakat is required to be paid only by individuals who have wealth over a certain minimum amount (the equivalent of several ounces of gold). Income that is used to meet expenses, such as food and housing, does not figure in the calculation of zakat. Only wealth that remains after meeting one's own family expenses is considered.
In addition to zakat, voluntary alms (called sadaqah) can be given at any time, in any amount, to anyone. The Qur'an repeatedly encourages Muslims to give to the needy and care for orphans. In addition, Muhammad often said that even the smallest of good deeds can be considered charity, from simply showing a smile to someone to removing a harmful thing from the road. Even planting a tree, from which people or animals might one day eat, is considered charity.