Maaser vs. Zakat

Both Jews and Muslims are required to give an annual tithe.  In Judaism, it’s called “maaser,” and in Islam, it’s referred to as “Zakat.”  Somehow, I ended up on the Zakat list for some Muslim charity last year, and apparently they share their lists (or more likely, sell them) just as Jewish organizations do.  Which means that this year, I’m on four lists.

Both amuont are 10%, but they’re 10% of very different totals.  In Judaism, Maaser is a 10% after-tax line-item deduction on income.  In Islam, Zakat is a 10% assessment on net assets (with a personal exemption, to boot).  So for Judaism, it’s an Income Statement problem, and for Islam, it’s a Balance Sheet question.

I don’t know enough about how Islam view wealth or Zakat for that matter to come to any conclusions (although if I keep reading these solicitations, I may) but I’d like to throw out there as a working hypothesis that they represent different views of money.  A tax on income would seem to reflect a more dynamic view of wealth.  Someone may have a lot of assets, but either be unable to dispose of them, or may simply have a bad year.  Where a tax on assets – a property tax, if you will – may reflect a more static view of wealth, that it’s unlikely to evaporate (or sublimate) over the course of a year.

As I said, I’m not sure about this, and I’m open to proofs that I have it exactly backwards.  But I do think it’s an interesting difference.

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