Zakat: Islam’s Missed Opportunity to Limit Predatory Taxation

32 Pages Posted: 8 Apr 2019 Last revised: 10 May 2019

See all articles by Timur Kuran

Timur Kuran

Duke University - Department of Economics

Date Written: April 8, 2019


One of Islam’s five canonical pillars is a predictable, fixed, and mildly progressive tax system called zakat. It was meant to finance various causes typical of a pre-modern government. Implicit in the entire transfer system was personal property rights as well as constraints on government—two key elements of a liberal order. Those features could have provided the starting point for broadening political liberties under a state with explicitly restricted functions. Instead, just a few decades after the rise of Islam, zakat opened the door to arbitrary political rule and material insecurity. A major reason is that the Quran outlines the specifics of zakat as they related to conditions in seventh-century Arabia, without making explicit the underlying principles of governance.

Keywords: Zakat, Islam, taxation, predation, governance, property rights, poverty

JEL Classification: N25, N45, O43, O53, K34, H13

Suggested Citation

Kuran, Timur, Zakat: Islam’s Missed Opportunity to Limit Predatory Taxation (April 8, 2019). Economic Research Initiatives at Duke (ERID) Working Paper No. 284, Available at SSRN: or

Timur Kuran (Contact Author)

Duke University - Department of Economics ( email )

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Box 90097
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