Gift-giving: does it count as zakat?
Gift-giving is a highly commendable practice that was praised by the Prophet. He saw it as an effective means of fostering love. When a gift is received, it always evokes gratitude and is reciprocated either by a similar gift or by a favour to the giver. “Allah’s Messenger used to accept presents and used to also give presents in return” (Bulugh al-Maram, 959). The Prophet considered gift-giving to be very important and recommended it to every true Muslim.
The meaning of gift-giving is to strengthen love, therefore it must not be made in such a way as to incite bitterness. First and foremost, it is love between family members. Gifts are given to children and wives and brothers and parents. Chapter XVIII in Bulugh al-Maram quotes the Prophet as insisting on gifts being given equally to all the family members. If the father gives a gift to one son and neglects his other sons, such acts the Prophet did not look favourably upon.
The Prophet left some important commandments in respect of gift-giving, namely, gifts are not to be taken back, gifts are to be reciprocated, and not to be considered unworthy even if it is “the trotters of a sheep” (Bulugh al-Maram, 965), simply because gift-giving is not about augmenting one’s wealth, it is about augmenting one’s love, so anything conducive to this is welcome and anything that runs contrary is not.
Similarly, The Messenger of Allah insisted on exchanging presents because this “extracts grudge gently from your hearts” (Bulugh al-Maram, 964). “Whoever does you a favour, respond in kind, and if you cannot find the means of doing so, then keep praying for him until you think that you have responded in kind.” (Abu Dawood, 1672). Therefore, one of the most important elements of gift-giving is mutual gratitude, the recipient must do his utmost to thank the giver. If he has no other means to give thanks than invoking God’s blessing upon his benefactor, then he must reciprocate the gift thus. “Whoever has a favour done for him and says “May Allah reward you with good” Jazak Allahu khayran has done his utmost to thank him.” (at-Tirmidhi, 2035)
Since gift-giving is so important in strengthening love between family and neighbours, can it be credited as zakat? Unfortunately, the answer shall be no. Zakat as prescribed by the tenets of Islam is charity, and charity has a very important difference from gift-giving. It is a gift made without expecting reciprocation, to benefit a stranger and to ease his predicament rather than to bring forth his love. Both are important but both serve different purposes. Although both purposes deserve praise with Allah, charity comes first for it is one of the pillars of Islam and the only way to contribute your zakat. Forget neither, but be aware that with all the joy your gifts give to the family members and friends, they still lack the joy of faith expressed in zakat, and therefore, charity must always be on your mind as your regular duty to Allah and gift-giving should not take its place.