Khums is an Islamic tax that is equal to a fifth or 20% of the value of 7 items1 – most relevant amongst them being surplus income. With regards to the distribution of khums, there are two aspects to consider: 1) the legislative requirement for the distribution based on Allah (s)’s decree and the precedent of the Prophet (s) and the Imams (a) and 2) the translation of the legislature into practice.
1) What has been legislated as the use of khums?
Khums is proportioned into 2 equal parts: (1) Sehme Imam – the portion for Allah (s), the Messenger and the near relatives of the Messenger and (2) Sehme Sadaat – the portion for the orphan, the needy and the stranded traveler of the descendants of the Prophet (s).
As the representative of Allah (s) and the Messenger as well as a relative, the Imam of the time, would receive the Sehme Imam. The Sehme Sadaat would be distributed among the Sadaat, or the descendants of the Prophet (s).
2) How is the distribution of khums done in practice?
Distribution of Sehme Sadaat is easy to comprehend. Money is given to the orphans, needy and stranded travelers from amongst the Sayyids. These individuals are always changing on a yearly basis based on their circumstances. The Sehme Imam is the portion that is always meant for the use of the Imam of the time. He would use it for the betterment of the community. Once in a letter the 8th Imam (a) wrote with regards to khums, “…And the khums is a help to us in [promotion of] our religion, [upliftment of] our family, and our followers”. As such, the Imams would use the khums they receive for this purpose.
Today, during the time of ghaybah, the Imam (a) is not there to collect his part. So, who is responsible for the collection of Sehme Imam and what is done with it done during the time of occultation of our Imam (a)?
Since the Maraaji’ represent the Imam, the duty of collection and the allocation of the Sehme Imam goes to them. Note that the appointment of a deputy to represent the Imam – amongst their duties being to collect and distribute khums on the instruction of the Imam – was a practice established by the 6th Imam (a), that was continued by the other Imams all the way to the era of ghaybat sugra. Although the Maraaji’ are not appointed by the twelfth Imam (a) nor are they instructed on the distribution of khums by the Imam (a), they try their best to distribute khums in a way that the Imam (a) would be pleased with. The Maraaji’ have two key qualities which qualify them to be responsible for our khums: (1) knowledge of religion – to decide how to allocate the khums money in the right way, and (2) Taqwa and trustworthiness.
Today the Maraaji’ use the Sehme Imam portion of khums for the following causes: propagating religion, providing financial aid to the poor and needy Shia (ex. Those afflicted with a natural disaster), providing expenditure of religious establishments such as schools or mosques, and providing expenses of the religious scholars. It is through khums that our Maraaji’ can be financially independent and not have to rely on other organizations who could then have some form of control over them. Although we know that the Maraaji’ are adil (just), when the Maraaji’ are financially independent, no one can claim that their statements or fatwa are unjustly influenced by an organization or government.
In the aforementioned letter of the 8th Imam (a), he writes, Do not deprive yourselves of our prayers as long as you can because paying [the khums] is the key to sustenance, the forgiveness for your sins.
1 The 7 items that are taxable by khums are: surplus of income, legitimate wealth mixed with illegitimate wealth, mines and minerals, precious stones obtained by diving into the sea, buried treasure, the land sold to a dhimmi kafir and the spoils of war.
Rizvi, M. (2012, September 24). Khums, An Islamic Tax. Retrieved from http://www.al-islam.org/khums-islamic-tax-sayyid-muhammad-rizvi/distribution-khums#two-
Ahlul Bayt Digital Islamic Library Project. (2013, November 12). A Shi’ite Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://www.al-islam.org/shiite-encyclopedia/khums-one-fifth
Al-Seestani, A. (2013, January 24). Taqlid: Following a Mujtahid. Retrieved from https://www.al-islam.org/islamic-laws-ayatullah-ali-al-husayni-al-sistani/taqlid-following- mujtahid
Shirazi, N., & Subhani, J. (n.d.). Philosophy of Islamic Laws(A. Rizvi, Trans.). Islamic Seminary Publications.