Eastern Art Online, Yousef Jameel Centre for Islamic and Asian Art

Ashmolean − Eastern Art Online, Yousef Jameel Centre for Islamic and Asian Art

The Five Pillars of Islam

A series of short films on the five pillars of Islam - the five duties obligatory for all Muslims - told through objects from Oxford collections.

Detail of a sitarah made for the Mosque of the Prophet in Medina, Egypt, 1791-1792


In this short film, the Yousef Jameel Curator of Islamic Art discusses the third of the five pillars of Islam: zakat, or almsgiving.



'Never will you attain the good [reward] until you spend [in the way of Allah] from that which you love. And whatever you spend - indeed, Allah is Knowing of it'. Thus reads verse 92 of surat al-Imran, the third chapter of the Qur’an, where charity and almsgiving are sanctioned as requirements for all Muslims. The word zakat, used to indicate the third pillar of Islam, literally means 'purity'. By giving to those in need, Muslims purify themselves of wealth and, by extension, of earthly attachments and desires. Giving to others also demonstrates gratitude towards God; by doing so Muslims are returning part of the bounty that God initially bestowed onto them.

The Qur’an specifies who the recipients of the zakat should be: 'your kin, orphans, the needy, the wayfarer, those who ask, and for the ransom of slaves…' [Qur’an: 2:177]. As well as providing guidance on whom to support, the verse also indicates that discretion should be shown when making a donation. Offers are normally presented through an authority in charge of collection and distribution. The correct proportion of wealth that should be given as zakat has been the subject of debate for centuries, although traditional consensus was to give about 10 per cent of crops, a portion of the excess of livestock and domestic animals, and two and a half percent of gold, silver, and merchandise per year.

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