Among the five pillars of Islam, zakaat is the third pillar of Islam, shahadah and salat being the first and second respectively. All the five pillars of Islam are interconnected and very important if understood in its right essence. But unfortunately they have lost its spirit and vibrancy thus they are reduced to insignificant canonize rituals.
The root of the word زكاة - Zakah / Zakaat is ز ك و - It basically means to grow, upright, to develop, it increased, or augmented, produced fruit, it thrive, grew, develop, pure in heart, to be fit.
As Zakah [الزَّكَاةَ] is a feminine noun which alludes to a process pertaining to balanced growth, and development. The object or the by product of salah is zakah [mental development] better known as tazkiya nafs [تزكية نفس] in Islamic parlance, it can also be inferred as purification of self by eliminating the ego or decluttering of mind. Lexically zakah means growth, thrive, increase and develop but when it comes in the context of nafs it also mean to purify / develop and clean it from ego. The biggest enemy of growth is ego. It has nothing to do with 2.5% charity per annum done by the traditional Muslims.
In Quranic context the term tazkiya encompasses two meanings: one is to cleanse and purify from egoistic thoughts, while the other is to improve and develop towards the growth to near perfection by being able to lower our attitude with those who are lowly [ارْكَعُواْ مَعَ الرَّاكِعِينَ]. Technically zakat also conveys the sense of modesty and humbleness while climbing the ladder of growth. The book Quran emphasis more on growth of self with purity of intention and deeds rather than growth of the state by collecting / imposing taxes irrespective of the method to achieve it. Stagnation at one place is the enemy of growth so progressive thoughts with right knowledge is must for growth of oneself.
The word zakaat comes from the same Arabic verbal root which the traditionalist assume that if given in charity it purifies and increases individuals wealth. But we disregard that man's true wealth is his own thoughts which one must always keep clean and keep on developing. Generally we give more importance to material wealth and ignore our peace and happiness, the backbone of mental health and the main topic of the book Quran. Nobody is denying the importance of existential or material world, everyone knows its worth but the book Quran does not discuss this topic at all. The topic / subject of the book Quran is related to human spirit and soul.
The process of tazkiya nafs / zakaah finds its origin in the Quranic command -
2:110 وَأَقِيمُواْ الصَّلاَةَ وَآتُواْ الزَّكَاةَ وَمَا تُقَدِّمُواْ لِأَنفُسِكُم مِّنْ خَيْرٍ تَجِدُوهُ عِندَ اللّهِ إِنَّ اللّهَ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ بَصِيرٌ
And install / fix the process of connection [salat] and bring into existence the process of growth / development [Al-Zakaah] and whatever you sent forth is for your nafs / psyche from goodness, you find it with the system of consciousness [Allah], indeed Allah is Seer with what you do.
The verse 2:110 clearly states that the Quranic terms Salat and Zakat are for growth and development of our own NAFS it is not for establishing just and fair society on Earth by paying taxes or giving charity to poor or feeding orphans.
23:4 وَالَّذِينَ هُمْ لِلزَّكَاةِ فَاعِلُونَ
And those who makes an effort towards / for mental development / growth [zakaat]
Lets see the usage of زكو as form II imperfect verb in some verses
2:151كَمَا أَرْسَلْنَا فِيكُمْ رَسُولاً مِّنكُمْ يَتْلُو عَلَيْكُمْ آيَاتِنَا وَيُزَكِّيكُمْ وَيُعَلِّمُكُمُ الْكِتَابَ وَالْحِكْمَةَ وَيُعَلِّمُكُم مَّا لَمْ تَكُونُواْ تَعْلَمُونَ
Just as We have pendent [hanged / suspended] in you all a rasul [messenger with a calm, sedate, pendent low voice / utterances] from you all continuously pursuing / obligates upon you all Our signs and continuously developing / purifying you all and continuously teaching you all the script and wisdom and continuously teaching you all that which you would have never known.
3:164 لَقَدْ مَنَّ اللّهُ عَلَى الْمُؤمِنِينَ إِذْ بَعَثَ فِيهِمْ رَسُولاً مِّنْ أَنفُسِهِمْ يَتْلُواْ عَلَيْهِمْ آيَاتِهِ وَيُزَكِّيهِمْ وَيُعَلِّمُهُمُ الْكِتَابَ وَالْحِكْمَةَ وَإِن كَانُواْ مِن قَبْلُ لَفِي ضَلَالٍ مُّبِينٍ
Allah did confer a great favor on the believers when He raised-up in them a rasul from their own souls/nafs/selves, continuously pursuing / obligates upon them the signs of Allah, continuously purifying / developing them, and continuously instructing them the script and wisdom, while they were far from acceptance, certainly they were in clear error.
9:103 خُذْ مِنْ أَمْوَالِهِمْ صَدَقَةً تُطَهِّرُهُمْ وَتُزَكِّيهِم بِهَا وَصَلِّ عَلَيْهِمْ إِنَّ صَلاَتَكَ سَكَنٌ لَّهُمْ وَاللّهُ سَمِيعٌ عَلِيمٌ
Hold from their inclination truthfulness, to purify / clean them mentally, and continuously grow / develop them with it, and closely follow upon/on them. Indeed your connections are tranquility for them and the system of consciousness [Allah] is hearing / listening, knowledgeable.
91:9 قَدْ أَفْلَحَ مَن زَكَّاهَا
Indeed he succeed who continuously increase / grow / develop it
From the above verses I inferred that the contextual meaning of the word Zakaat is to increase, grow, develop and purify the self / nafs / soul rather than giving 2.5% charity.
98:5 - وَمَا أُمِرُوا إِلَّا لِيَعْبُدُوا اللَّهَ مُخْلِصِينَ لَهُ الدِّينَ حُنَفَاءَ وَيُقِيمُوا الصَّلَاةَ وَيُؤْتُوا الزَّكَاةَ ۚ وَذَٰلِكَ دِينُ الْقَيِّمَةِ
And they were not commanded except that the service is exclusively for Him is the right submission / obligation [Deen] the system of consciousness [Allah], and the process of installation of Salat and bringing up Zakat that submission / obligation is instilled / fixed forever.
UNDERSTANDING THE WORD آتُواْ WHICH OFTEN COMES BEFORE THE WORD ZAKAAT:
The word zakah/zakaat - الزَّكَاةَ often comes repeatedly together with the word الصَّلاَةَ - salah "Waaqeemoo alssalata waatooalzzakata", this alludes that the growth [zakah] of our mental faculty depends upon our quality of connection [salat] with our inherent script [Al-Kitab], after the perfect connection [salat] we receive the guidance from our knowledgeable consciousness [Rabb]. The process of connection [salat] is not at all easy, it needs 24x7 dedication.
We have seen how the word zakah and its derivatives lost their contextual spirit because our translators were more interested in keeping intact the traditional beliefs rather than understanding the basic meaning of this word within its context. Generally al-zakah is assumed as charity or tax on our annual income because of the grossly misunderstood word آتُواْ - The meaning of this word is also a victim of wrong beliefs. The popular meanings of the word آتُواْ used by various translators are - give, pay, contribute, spend, but none of these meanings represent its true essence. The word is آتُوا second person masculine plural (form IV) imperative verb, the basic meaning of its root is - came to him, brought, present. Form four verb is used when anything or self is transformed, for example the verb form I فَأْتُوا [bring /produce] becomes [آتُوا] - begot / give birth / bring into existence in form iv verb - 2nd example 'form I' [أَمِنَ] 'trust' is transformed into verb 'form IV' it becomes - يُؤْمِنُونَ 'believes' this signifies form IV connotation.
The word آتُواْ is a form IV imperative verb so it will mean bring into existence or begot or give birth and it does not signify to give or pay charity. The basic meaning of the root اتى is came to him, brought, begot. When this simple word is mistranslated as give, pay contribute, it is natural that the masses will be forced to believe that the word zakah has something to do with the payment of wealth and money to the cause of poor.
It is a big misconception among Muslims that they feel Islam is all about performing rituals like uttering Kalimah, punctuality in prayers, paying charity, fasting and going for pilgrimage. This is because our teaching of Islam is not based on the understanding from the the book Quran but from culture and outside influences. The message of the book Quran must be valid for all sects of Muslims but sectarian made Hadith a compulsory document to understand the book Quran. We understand Islam by copying our parents and scholars and they learn Islam by copying their parents, scholars and culture. No one makes an effort to understand Islam directly through the original document of Islam, that is the book Quran or applying their common sense. The tragedy with the book Quran is that it is just confined to singing competitions and other liturgical activities. No efforts are made to dig its original message. Everyone is interested in confirming only their own beliefs rather than understanding the book Quran purely on the merits of its own language and context. The meaning of many classical Arabic words of the noble Quran are purposely fixed in order to justify the "sacred beliefs" of forefathers or of various school of thoughts thus also destroying the meaning of the surrounding words as well. The theologians have destroyed the entire interpretation of the book Quran just to get validity or endorsement for their fixed beliefs from certain Quranic verses.
My intention is to keep the articles simple and short for the masses, nevertheless researchers can go in details to verify/check all the verses related to articles.