Zakat is one of the five pillars of Islam. Zakat in the traditional sense is considered charity money to be used on deserving Muslims. However, it can also be collected by a state institution and the state can determine how to spend the money. As ISIS has declared and project themselves a state, they can collect an institutionalized zakat.
“The donor is not required to give a certain portion of his zakat to deserving persons, but to contribute all of it to a fund which must be used for the uplift of the community. It was in this sense that the Prophet understood it, and when he assumed control over the government, he made zakat a state institution, appointing officials to collect it and directing his governors to do the same in distant provinces. Abu Baker, the first caliph, followed in the footsteps of the Prophet when he declared war against some of the tribes which had refused to send their zakat to the state treasury, adding: “Zakat is the right (of the state or community) in the wealth (acquired by an individual), and by Allah, if they refuse to make over even one lamb which they used to make over to the Prophet, I will fight against them” (Bu. 14:1)” (Ali, 1990)
Technically, ISIS isn’t breaking any rules as the taxes they collect go directly towards the expanding their Islamic state. The “deserving Muslims” aren’t the intended widows and orphans but instead are ISIS fighters. The video below talks about the strain that the ISIS’s zakat has on the populace in both Iraq and Syria. Based on captured ISIS accounting documents, the majority of their funds comes from zakat. However, where is the line drawn on how much or on what can be taxed? As the taxes increase and violence is threatened the obligatory tax starts to become extortion to western eyes. You can see that the real issue is when ISIS collects zakat from a populace that fails to recognize them as a legitimate state or fails to believe in their cause. Additionally, as the populace is over-taxed and revenue from outside sources diminishes, their zakat collection will slowly diminish as the populace will have little or nothing left to give. When the zakat runs out for ISIS, either the populace could suffer a violent end as there is no longer a need for them or the financial burden will cause the fighters to move on to other endeavors.
Ali, M. M. (1990). The Religion of Islam. Dublin, Ohio: Ahmadiyya Anjuman Isha’at Islam Lahore USA.
Image courtesy of the New York Times