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Updated on October 20, 2013

Obligatory give away as khums

'Khums' refers to a religious obligation for Muslims to contribute 1/5th or 20%of whatever they gain, earn or get as "ghanimtum", in accordance with the ruling of God as per Quran, after winning a military conflict or discovering a hidden treasure; for Allah, his messenger, relatives of prophet, orphans and poor people as charity.

Though it is regarded as one of the pillar of Islamic Governance, its application, scope and objectives are questionable with respect to the interpretation of the word 'ghanimtum' in Quranic verse 8:41 as well as the history and origin of 'khums', prior to Islamic era.

History and tradition of 'khums' seems to be in existence prior to the Islam era as it was supposedly introduced by Abdul Muttalib, the grandfather of the Prophet of Islam and it continued to be part of Islamic governing system after the revelation of Quranic verse 8:41. Abdul Muttalib is quoted to had a dream in which he saw tresure buried in or beside the well of Zamzam. He found the treasure and gave away 1/5th (khums) in the way of God and kept the remaining for himself. This tradition of giving away khums (1/5th) of the found treasure become a family custom and after the hijrah of Prophet Muhammad, it was incorporated in Islamic system. It is difficult to ascertain the authenticity of this quote except that it indicates that the first khums was given from buried treasure. After the revelation of 8:41, Muslims were ordered by God to give khums from spoils of war or booty of war and it become part of Islamic system.

The insight of 'Khums', seems to be controversial in its definition and application in Islamic jurisprudence as zakat, anfal (spoils and public resources), kharaj (income tax on agricultural land) and Jizyah (tax taken from religious minorities) are all obligatory annual contribution that should go to the institute of "Bayt-al-mall", (treasury house) for disbursement to help poor and needy people.

Contrary to khums, Zakat (poor due), Charity and Almsgiving are mentioned in Quran repeatedly to help poor and needy people but khums is mentioned specifically in two Quran verses i.e. verse 8;41 & 8:69; and it refers to the leftover 'ghanimtum', in a war.

Chapter (8) sūrat l-anfāl (The Spoils of War)

8:69 'So consume what you have taken of war booty [as being] lawful and good, and fear Allah. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.

It is the interpretation of the world 'ghanimtum', that is of concerns to Muslim Jurisprudence due to the varying meaning of the word "ghanima" that seems to have disputed the scope and objectives of khums. What God says in this regard can be seen by viewing the Quranic verse 8:41- surat al-anfal (the spoils of war), as given below

This verse is translated by renown scholars and some translations are given below to show what God commands, for Muslims to do, when they get something as ghanima.

Verse 8:41

Pickthall: 'And know that whatever ye take as spoils of war, lo! a fifth thereof is for Allah, and for the messenger and for the kinsman (who hath need) and orphans and the needy and the wayfarer, if ye believe in Allah and that which We revealed unto Our slave on the Day of Discrimination, the day when the two armies met. And Allah is Able to do all things.

Mohsin Khan: 'And know that whatever of war-booty that you may gain, verily one-fifth (1/5th) of it is assigned to Allah, and to the Messenger, and to the near relatives [of the Messenger (Muhammad SAW)], (and also) the orphans, Al-Masakin (the poor) and the wayfarer, if you have believed in Allah and in that which We sent down to Our slave (Muhammad SAW) on the Day of criterion (between right and wrong), the Day when the two forces met (the battle of Badr) - And Allah is Able to do all things.

Yusuf Ali: 'And know that out of all the booty that ye may acquire (in war), a fifth share is assigned to Allah,- and to the Messenger, and to near relatives, orphans, the needy, and the wayfarer,- if ye do believe in Allah and in the revelation We sent down to Our servant on the Day of Testing,- the Day of the meeting of the two forces. For Allah hath power over all things.

Shakir: And know that whatever thing you gain, a fifth of it is for Allah and for the Messenger and for the near of kin and the orphans and the needy and the wayfarer, if you believe in Allah and in that which We revealed to Our servant, on the day of distinction, the day on which the two parties met; and Allah has power over all things.

It is clear from above translations that most of the scholars have translated the word 'ghanimtum', as whatever a Muslim takes or gets as 'spoil of war', or 'booty of war'. However, this meaning of the word 'ghanimtum', appears to be main cause of disagreement between Shia and Sunni jurisprudents, regarding the scope and objectives of verse 8:41 and application of khums in Islamic financial system.

If the word "ghanimtum" is taken to represent 'spoil of war' or booty of war then the question arises, whether it only refers to the spoil of war or one can extend its meaning to include every thing one can gain such as income, capital/industrial gain, gifts, inheritance etc. irrespective of time frame or how many times in one calendar year? . Scholars seems to have put 'khums', to represent following categories

  • "Spoil of war" or "War booty"
  • Gain, profit or surplus of income from all sources including wealth left over at the end of a year,
  • Income from agricultural, farming, livestock, industry, trade or any other source of income

Now reviewing these against the Quranic verse 8:41, one may conclude that it specifically relates to the 'spoil of war or war booty', without mentioning time frame to accept 'khums', to a repetitive obligation annually, bi-annually or once in a life time or only when some one gets booty of war or hidden treasures.

Other earning and gain should not fall in this category as there is no mention of period or time duration to make it an integral part of Islamic financial system as is being advocated by some jurists who advocate that all earning and gain, fall within the domain of 'ghanima' and hence khums at 20% should be paid on all earning/income or gain but it lacks the time frame for which khums should be considered applicable only on gain specified in 8:41.

To evaluate further this issue, one may see, in what context the verse 8:41 was revealed & what God says in verse 8:39-40 with respect to war with the disbelievers and the "ghanimtun", captured at the end of the war.

8:39 'And fight them until there is no more Fitnah (disbelief and polytheism: i.e. worshipping others besides Allah) and the religion (worship) will all be for Allah Alone [in the whole of the world]. But if they cease (worshipping others besides Allah), then certainly, Allah is All-Seer of what they do.

8:41 'You should know that if you gain any spoils in war, one-fifth shall go to GOD and the messenger, to be given to the relatives, the orphans, the poor, and the traveling alien. You will do this if you believe in GOD and in what we revealed to our servant on the day of decision, the day the two armies clashed. GOD is Omnipotent.

Both 8:39 and 8:41 relates to war situation and "the day the two armies clashed" in 8:41 also support the view that the word 'ghanimtum', refers to the spoil of war or the booty of war. Even in 8:69 the believers are told to rejoice in what they gain from war. Hence it would be more appropriate to conclude that the world 'ghanimtum' means the 'spoil of war'.

Based on above explanation, it does not make sense to consider 'Khums' as an annual taxation to be given away at 1/5th or 20% of all gain or income, received by a Muslim, as assumed necessary by some Muslims. It seems appropriate to consider khums at 1/5th to be applicable to spoil of war, booties or hidden treasures etc. rather than using it as a blanket cover, over every financial gain in terms to salaries, business income, income through trades, agricultural outputs and other incomes.

Now some may advise to refer to the hadiths of the prophet for better understanding of this issue as there are cases where Quran points to a ruling in one verse and the details are learned from hadiths, as in case of prayers but in this case I do not find much in terms of hadiths that is explicitly clear in defining the scope of 'ghanimtum' and its applicability on gain, profit or accumulated wealth on which khums has to be given. Conspicuously, the verse is explicitly clear to be applicable on 'spoils of war or booty of war', and does not include other type of income or gains as relates to zakat.

Contrary to those scholars who believe that khums is obligatory on any business profit or surplus including profit from business, trade, treasures, mines, service etc. to support Islamic financial system, I would say that we should consider khums, zakat and other obligatory donation to help poor and needy as God had explicitly called for, rather than considering the interpretation of those who have modified the interpretation to address their vested interest. Besides these donation are supposed to go to the treasury of an Islamic government who is in non-existence throughout the world. just like the doctrine of Zakat, God has not set the rate of annual contribution but our scholars have set it 2.% to 14% on various source of earning without having a central distribution system.

It should be the prerogative of an individual to decide what he/she consider is appropriate with respect to khums and act accordingly. If one can contribute khums at 20% of all earning, no one is stopping them but it won't be fruitful to establish or sustain an existing welfare Muslim Society that does not exist anywhere in the world.

Mohammad Ashraf,

Winnipeg Canada


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