Difference between the terms "khum" and "zakat" with respect to the Sharia and how they would be applicable to the Iranian population; whether payment of khums or zakat is a legal obligation for all citizens under Iranian law [IRN39007.E]

According to al-Islam.org, khums apply to most Muslims and the term "literally means 'one fifth or 20%'" (22 July 1997). However, "[i]n Islamic legal terminology it means 'one fifth of certain items which a person acquires as wealth, and which must be paid as an Islamic tax" (ibid.).

A zakat, according to The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World, is an obligation that constitutes one of the five pillars of Islam; however, it "is more than merely a financial transaction [as it] connotes a path toward purity ... material responsibility, and an enhanced sense of spirituality" (Esposito 1995b, 366). Furthermore, the concept "defies a simple definition,"

[a]lthough it it has commonly been defined as a form of charity, almsgiving, donation, or contribution, it differs from these activities primarily in that they are arbitrary actions. Zakat, by contrast, is a formal duty not subject to choice. It compels believers to disburse a specific amount of their wealth; and it conditions their identity as Muslims on their willingness to adhere to this fundamental precept of Islam (ibid.).
Zakat is an integral part of formal Islamic systems, affecting community development, society, and economy.... Insofar as the disbursement of zakat funds is concerned, it finances the consumption expenditure of the poorest groups of society (ibid. 368).

Shi'a Muslim scholar Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi noted that "[k]hums and zakat come under the [category of "taxes which Islam has made obligatory"] and, therefore, [they] should never be looked upon as an act of charity. Rather, it's a duty, an obligation which must be fulfilled whether one likes it or not" (al-Islam.org 22 July 1997).

The difference, according to a Sunnah interpretation available on Islamzine.com, is that zakat and khums involve different types of property (7 July 1999). According to a Shi'a interpretation, khums are an Islamic tax applied on profits or a surplus of income, "legitimate wealth which is mixed with some illegitimate wealth," mines and minerals, precious stones, treasure, "spoils of war" and land purchased by a non-believer (al-Islam.org 22 July 1997). "Illegitimate" in this sense refers to that "acquired by the means not permitted in the shari'ah, for example, usury, gambling or liquor business" (ibid.). On the other hand, a zakat is a tax on wheat, barley, dates, raisins, gold, silver, camels, cows sheep and "as an obligatory precaution, upon the wealth in business" (ibid. 17 July 1997). Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi further noted that because it is a tax limited to nine items, zakat need not apply to all Muslims, whereas khums applies to most believers (ibid. 22 July 22 1997).

According to Shi'a Grand Ayatollah Imam Muhammed Shirazi, a second difference is with respect to the amount of tax applied under the two systems, since, for khums the rate is one fifth or 20 per cent, but, "zakat tax rate ranges from one-out-of-one-hundred to one-out-of-forty" (Shirazi.uk.org 10 July 2001). Al-Islam.org provides a table specifying the various taxable rates depending upon item and quantity owned by the Muslim individual (17 July 1997).

Neither zakat nor khums are among the forms of Iranian taxes listed in a 2002 article published in the Iranian-daily Mardom Salari (24 Feb. 2002). An article published in the University of Pennsylvania Journal of Constitutional Law argues that under Ayatollah Khomeini, "people were required only to pay taxes to support the poor, not the state" (1998). A footnote reference to this quote notes that "[t]he Shias are expected to part willingly with one-fourth of their surplus worldly goods, zakat, and one-fifth of their surplus liquid cash, khoms, each year, to meet the needs of the poor and the needy" (ibid.).

The Research Directorate was unable to find further reports suggesting that the application of zakat or khums was obligatory under Iranian state law. The collection and distribution of khums and zakat are handled by leading religious scholars (mujtahids) (IECOC Dec. 1998; Columbia Encyclopedia 2001). Further, as implied by information attributed to 1999 Iranian Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs, Dr. Hussein Namazi, these payments are independent of the state:

the minister said that according to the view of the late Imam Khomeini and the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Khoms and Zakat (statutory Islamic levy on specified items to be used for Muslims' welfare) are two subjects that have nothing to do with taxes and the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs does not intend to interfere in payments that are solely related to seminaries and Maraje Taqlid (supreme ulama that are sources of emulation). He also said that the late Imam believed that these two topics should maintain their independence and should not be dependent on the government. (New Round of Economic Surveys; Economic & Commercial Monthly 22 Dec. 1999).

In one case where the payment of khums was enforced by the Iranian Revolutionary Court where it "ordered a professor of economics ... to pay 43m rials in the form [of an] Islamic tax (khoms)" (Iran Daily 22 Nov. 2001). The Research Directorate was unable to find other similar cases, or reports of state-officials enforcing payment of either khums or zakat in Iran.

Non-Muslims are exempt from these taxes but would instead be subject to jizyah, which is a tax levied on dhimmis [those "protected monotheists under a contract of obligation" (Esposito 1995a, 377)] for protection by that state (ibid.; Shirazi.uk.org 10 July 2001). Another interpretation understands jizyah is "paid ... in return for being exempted from the zakat ... [and] ought to be proportional" (Esposito 1995a, 378).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


al-Islam.org. 11 November 2000. "Ahlul Bayt Digital Library Project." http://www.al-islam.org/info/main.shmtl [Accessed 15 May 2002]

_____. 22 July 1997. Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi. "Khums (The Islamic Tax)." http://www.al-islam.org/beliefs/practices/khums.html [Accessed 14 May 2002]

_____. 17 July 1997. Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi. "Zakat (Part I of II)." http://www.al-islam.org/laws/zakat1.html

Al-Islam.org is a website established by the members of the Ahlul Bayt Digital Islamic Library Project with the objective to "digitise and present on the Internet quality Islamic resources ... with particular emphasis on [the] Twelver Shia Islamic School of thought" (11 Nov. 2000).

Columbia Encyclopedia. 2001. Sixth edition. "Shiites." http://www.bartleby.com/65/sh/Shiites.html [Accessed 20 May 2002]

Esposito, John L. 1995a. Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World. Vol. 2. "Jizyah." London: Oxford University Press, pp. 377-378.

_____. 1995b. Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World. Vol. 4. "Zakat." London: Oxford University Press, pp. 366-370.

Iran Daily [Tehran]. 22 November 2001. "Farsi Press Watch." (FBIS-NES-2001-1122 22 Nov. 2001/WNC)

Islamic Educational Center of Orange County (IECOC). December 1998 Islamic Discourse. No. 4. "What is Khums?" http://www.iecoc.org/id/issue4/khums.html [Accessed 20 May 2002]

Islamzine.com. 7 July 1999. "Application of Islamic System of Zakat." http://www.islamzine.com/pillars/Zakat.html [Accessed 15 May 2002]

Mardom Salari [Tehran]. 24 February 2002. Zivar Hatamizadeh and Alireza Gheibi. "Taxation in Iran." Hosted by NetIran.com http://www.netiran.com/Htdocs/Clippings/DEconomy/020224XXDE01.html [Accessed 15 May 2002]

New Round of Economic Surveys; Economic & Commercial Monthly. 22 December 1999. No. 145. "Iran's Taxation System." Hosted by NetIran.com http://www.netiran.com/Htdocs/Clippings/DEconomy/991222XXDE02.html [Accessed 15 May 2002]

Shia News [Rugby, UK]. 18 December 2001. "Ayatollah Muhammad Shirazi Passes Away." http://www.shianews.com/hi/europe/news_id/0000335.php [Accessed 16 May 2002]

Shirazi.org.uk. 6 February 2002. "Brief Biography of Grand Ayatollah Imam Muhammad Shirazi." http://www.shirazi.org.uk/AUTHOR3.htm [Accessed 16 May 2002]

_____. 10 July 2001. Grand Ayatollah Imam Muhammad Shirazi. The System of Islamic Government. http://www.shirazi.org.uk/THE%20ISLAMIC% 20SYSTEM.htm [Accessed 15 May 2002]

Grand Ayatollah Imam Muhammad Shirazi was born in Iraq and "is the Religious Authority, or Marje', to millions of Muslims" (Shirazi.org.uk 6 Feb. 2002). His obituary published in Shia News described him as "one of the most prominent scholars, and the leading Marje' of the Shi'a world" (18 Dec. 2001).

University of Pennsylvania Journal of Constitutional Law. 1998. Vol. 1, No. 2. Neil Shevlin. "Velayat-E Faqih in the Constitution of Iran: The Implementation of Theocracy." http://www.law.upenn.edu/conlaw/issues/vol1/num2/shevlin.htm [Accessed 15 May 2002]

Additional Sources Consulted

Class, Politics, and Ideology in the Iranian Revolution

The Encyclopaedia of Islam

The Encyclopaedia of Religion

Iran After Khomeini. 1992. Praeger, New York.

IRB Databases

Internet sites including

Aalulbayt Global Information Center

Amnesty International


Find Law

Human Rights Watch

Iran Hansa

Islam City Online

Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting

Islam Online

World Law

World News Connection

Search engines