The Importance of Paying Zakat
Dinar & Dirham
"Islam is based on five: testifying that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, establishing the prayer, paying the Zakat, the Hajj and the fast of Ramadan."
Zakat cannot be paid with a promise of payment
Zakat can only be paid with tangible merchandise, called in Arabic 'ain. It cannot be paid with a promise to pay or a debt, called in Arabic dayn.
From the beginning the zakat was paid with dinars and dirhams. Most significant is that the payment of zakat was never allowed in paper money during all the ottoman period right until the fall of the Khalifate.
Shaykh Muhammad Alish (1802-1881), the great Maliki Qadi, said that if you were to pay zakat with paper-money only its value as merchandise ('ayn), that is, its value as paper can be accepted. Therefore, its nominal value is irrelevant as payment of zakat.
"If the Zakat was obligatory by considering its substance as a merchandise, then the nisab would not be stipulated according to its value but according to its substance and its quantity, as is the case with silver, gold, grain or fruits. Since its substance [paper] is irrelevant [in value] in respect to the Zakat, then it should be treated as the copper, iron or other similar substances."
Fatwa of Shaykh Alish
Payment of Zakat is perfectly explained and regulated in the Islamic jurisprudence. For centuries when Islamic Law was enforced by a Caliph or an Amir, the Zakat was collected in gold and silver. When paper-money was being first introduced, during the last century by the colonial powers the traditional ulema rejected it as being opposed to Islamic Law. According to them paper money was to be treated as fulus or lower category of currency with limited used, basically just as small change. It is, for example, not allowed to make a qirad with fulus. Among those ulema, stands out the famous scholar of magrebi ascendance, Shaykh Muhammad Alish (1802-1881) who was the Shaykh of the Shaykhs of Maliki fiqh in the University of Al-Azhar in Egypt. He wrote in his Fatwa.
"What is your judgement in respect to the paper with the stamp of the Sultan that circulates like the dinars and the dirhams? Is it obligatory to pay Zakat as if it was a coin of gold or silver, or merchandise, or not?"
I responded exactly in the following way:
"Praise belongs to Allah and blessing and peace upon our Master Muhammad, the Messenger of Allah."
"Zakat is not to be paid for it, because Zakat is restricted to the flocks, certain type of grains and fruits, gold and silver, the value of rotational merchandise and the price of the goods withheld. What is referred previously does not belong to any of these categories."