Part III: Charity (Az-Zakat)

Chapter 24

Persons Eligible for Zakat

         Before drawing a reliable and a comprehensive list of the persons who are eligible to receive Zakat, let us present some of the Verses of the Qur’an and Ahadith of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) which throw light on such persons.

Verses of the Qur’an

1.             ……But righteous is he who believes in Allah and the Last Day and the Angels and the scripture and the Prophets; and gives his wealth, despite love for it, to the kinsfolk and to the orphans and to the needy and the wayfarer and to those who beg and to set slaves free, …… – (2:177)

2.             Charity is for the poor who are straitened in Allah’s way and cannot move about in the land (for earning their livelihood). The man who does not know them thinks them, because of their restraint, free from want. You shall know them by their mark (faces): they do not beg of men with importunity. And whatever of good you spend, certainly Allah knows it well. – (2:273).

3.             The alms (the sadaqaahs or zakat) are only for the poor and for the needy, and for those who collect them, and for those whose hearts are to be reconciled, and to free the captives, and to free the debtors, and for the cause of Allah, and for the wayfarers. That is the duty imposed by Allah; and Allah is Knower, wise. – (9:60)

4.             Give to your kinsman his due and (also to) the needy and the wayfarer, and waste not your wealth in extravagance. – (17:26)

5.             And in their wealth, there is right for the beggar and the destitute.  – (51:19)


Ahadith of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)

1.             Ibn Abbas reported that the Holy Prophet sent Mu’az to Yemen saying: Certainly you will come across a people, the people of the Book. Call them to bear witness that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah. If they submit to that, teach them that Allah has made obligatory upon them prayer for five times a day and a night. If they submit to that, teach them that Allah has made obligatory over them Zakat which will be taken from the rich and will be given to the poor among them.  – (Bukhari and Muslim)

2.             Abdullah-bin-Amr reported that the Messenger of Allah said: Zakat is not lawful for the rich, nor for one possessing health and strength. – (Tirmizi, Abu Daud, Ahmad)

3.             According to Zaid-bin-Harith, a man came to the Prophet and requested him to give him something out of Zakat funds. The Prophet replied: Allah has not left the disbursement of Zakat money at the whim of a Prophet or a non-Prophet but has himself laid down its heads of expenditure, which are eight in number (in Verse 60 of Surah 9). Therefore, if you come under any of the prescribed heads, I shall certainly help you out of Zakat money. (Asaan Fiqh by M. Yusuf Islahi)

4.             Abdul Mottalib-b-Rabiah reported that the Messenger of Allah said: Surely these Zakat – they are indeed the impurities of men, and they are not lawful for Muhammad, nor for the family of Muhammad.  – (Muslim)

5.             Abu Hurairah reported that the messenger of Allah said: Maskeen (the needy) is not he who begs of the people and is given one loaf or two, or one date or two. Rather he is the one who does not have enough to satisfy his needs; who is neither recognized to be poor so that people may give him help, nor he stands up to beg.  – (Bukhari, Muslim)

6.             Ataar-bin-Yassaar reported that the Messenger of Allah said: Sadqah is not lawful for a wealthy person except for five: (1) He who is engaged in Jihad in the cause of Allah; (2) He who has been employed by the government to collect it; (3) He who stands surety for other and is asked to pay compensation; (4) He who has purchased Sadqah article with his money; and (5) He who has a poor neighbor who was given Sadqah and then that neighbor gifted that Sadqah thing to him. – (Malik, Abu Daud)

7.             Suleman-bin-Aamer reported that the prophet said: To give charity to a poor person carries one reward and to give charity to a (poor) relative carries two rewards: One reward of charity and one reward of kinship. – (Nisai, Tirmizi, Ahmad)

8.             Abu Hurairah has reported that Hasan-bin-Ali picked up a fruit out of the fruits given as Sadqah and started eating it. At this the Prophet said: Spit it out. Do you not know that we do not eat the things given in Sadqah? – (Bukhari, Muslim)

Heads of expenditure of Zakat Funds

         The Holy Qur’an prescribes eight heads of expenditure in respect of Zakat funds in verse 60 of Surah 9 (which has been presented above under the heading “verses of the Qur’an” at serial No. 3). These heads or items are:

1)            Fuqara: The poor

2)            Masaakeen: The needy

3)            Aameleen: The collectors or workers

4)            Mualafa-til-Qulub: Those whose hearts are to be reconciled

5)            Firiqaab: To free the captives

6)            Al-Ghaaremeen: Freeing or helping the debtors.

7)            Fi-Sabeel-Allah: For the cause or in the way of Allah.

8)            Wab-nis-sabeel: For the wayfarers.

         Thus the Qur’an has mentioned in this verse a comprehensive list of those persons or heads on which Zakat funds or Zakat money is to be spent. Although some jurists hold that the heads of expenditure described in this verse are relevant only to the Islamic state which is duty bound to spend its Zakat revenues on these heads, yet it is commonly believed that these heads, (except two i.e. No. 3 and No. 4 above) are also relevant to those Zakat payers who give Zakat to the eligible persons themselves.

         Now let us discuss the above heads or categories of persons on which Zakat can be spent.

1 - The Poor: The word ‘faqir’ means a poor person who has no means or insufficient means to live on. The legists have held that the word faqir includes:

a)            All poor persons who need help to pull on.

b)            Incapacitated or physically disabled individuals who cannot earn.

c)             Helpless persons like orphans, widows, old and unemployed.

d)            Muhajireen or refugees who are forced to leave their homeland and their belongings under oppression or persecution and they seek refuge in another land.

e)            Students, teachers, preachers etc. who have dedicated their lives for the cause of learning and Islam and have no time or means to earn their livelihood.

f)              Persons who are overtaken by some calamity like flood, earthquake, war, storm, cyclone etc.

2 - The Needy: The word ‘Masaakeen’ which is plural of word ‘miskin’ is again not defined. It is a derivative of word ‘Maskanat’, which according to Syed Abul Ala Maududi, means humility, helplessness and disgrace. ‘Masakin’, infact, are those persons who are very needy and indigents. Having nothing with them to live on, they are forced to resort to begging in order to eat and cover their bodies. They are perhaps in a worse condition than the ‘fuqara’ because of their poverty and hardship. However, for practical purposes, the difference between ‘Faqir’ and ‘Miskin’ is not of much significance.

         Since the Qur’an mentions the ‘masakin’ in close proximity with near relatives and orphans, it has been held that close and near relatives who are poor and needy, enjoy preferential claim on one’s Zakat and Sadaqat. According to a tradition reported in Abu Daud, Hadrat Abu Hurairah asked the Messenger of Allah, which charity is the best? The Prophet(PBUH) said: “The charity of the needy. And begin with one who is a kinsman”. Again, it has been reported by Sulaiman-b-Aamer that the Holy Prophet said: “Alms to a poor man has one merit, merit of charity, but alms to a Kinsman has two merits, merit of charity and merit of connection” (Ibn Majah, Tirmizi, Nisai). If everyone looks after his poor relatives, poverty would be alleviated because every poor man has some relative who is rich.

3 - The Collectors: ‘Aamileen’ or collectors are those employees of the Islamic state who have been entrusted with the assessment, collection, management, preservation and disbursement of Zakat and keeping of its accounts. They fall under the category of the beneficiary of Zakat funds. So the salaries, allowances and the emoluments of state officials engaged in the administration of Zakat are a charge upon the Zakat revenues. It does not matter whether they are rich or poor.

         It would be very pertinent to point out here that the very fact of application of Zakat funds on the emoluments of Zakat collectors, establishes beyond any doubt that Zakat is a state levy and the Qur’an makes it an obligatory duty of the state to collect and administer it. It is not a private charity as some people hold it.

4 - Persons whose hearts are to be reconciled: This is the fourth head of expenditure of Zakat revenues. Zakat funds can be applied to benefit those persons whose hearts need reconciliation.

         According to the jurists and scholars of Islam, following classes of persons are included in ‘Muallefa-tul-quloob’:

a)            Infidels and enemies of Islam whose active hostility needs to be reconciled or neutralized as they can be harmful to the cause of Islam.

b)            People converted to Islam whose faith is still weak and there is apprehension that they would relapse into infidelity if they were not provided financial assistance.

c)             Persons in the enemy camp who can be made allies and helpful to Islam through the payment of pecuniary benefits.

d)            If the Muslims are not allowed to preach and practice their religion and are tyrannised and oppressed in any land, payment could be made from Zakat fund if it would help in removing these restrictions. (Encyclopedia of Islam)

         Whether this head of expenditure still exists or not, the Jurists have no unanimous view. According to the Hanifi school of thought, this head of expenditure stands abolished after the death of the Prophet (PBUH). They quote the incident which happened during the reign of Hadrat Abu Bakr. It is stated that some tribal chiefs wanted Hadrat Umar to testify the document which Abu Bakr had signed regarding their share, but he refused to do so and tore off this document saying that Islam had grown stronger and was no longer in need of their help. Imam Shafii, however, holds that ‘fasiqs’ (Muslims who are weak in their faith) can still be paid from Zakat funds but not the infidels. However, some other legists hold that the provision of law is there in the Holy Book and it can be invoked in case of need by the Islamic state.

5 - Freeing of captives: Slavery has been a great curse for humanity and Islam took many steps to remove this curse. Islam not only gave rights to the salves but also encouraged the affluent believers to purchase the slaves and set them free. An important charge on the Zakat revenues is to help the slaves in getting their freedom.

         An Islamic state can help the slaves in two ways i.e. it can either purchase the slaves with Zakat funds and can set them free or it can give considerable financial assistance to those slaves who have concluded deeds of manumission with their masters and are paying them price for their freedom.

6 – The Debtors: Another important charge on the Zakat fund is to help the debtors in paying off their debts. The debtors who  are to be helped from Zakat are those who do not possess wealth worth Nisab over and above their debt. In other words, if these debtors pay off their whole debt from their own means, they are left with an amount less than the minimum level which attracts Zakat.

         According to the Jurists, only following categories of debtors are to be helped in discharging their debt obligations:

a)            Those who incurred the debts for genuine needs e.g. for buying necessities of life, for wedding their daughters.

b)            Those who incurred the debts by helping other people e.g. by standing surety for others, by bringing about peace between combatants or by composing feuds between hostile tribes.

c)                               Those who made every effort to discharge their liabilities of debts by affecting all possible means but failed.

         However, those debtors who incurred the debts for indulging in luxuries, or for unlawful acts like gambling or drinking, or for extravagance, would not be helped by the Islamic state.

7 - The Cause of Allah: Fi Sabil Allah means in the way of Allah or for the cause of Allah. This is the seventh head of expenditure of Zakat funds. This head of expenditure is very wide and the allocation of funds made under this head covers all acts of piety and virtuous deeds. Generally speaking, Zakat funds under this head can be applied to the following acts:

a)            Imam Abu Yusuf says that those persons who cannot join the Muslim army for Jihad on account of poverty can be helped from Zakat funds. Such persons can be provided travelling expenses, conveyance, weapons, etc. So they can be enabled to participate in Jihad by the state which would finance and equip them out of Zakat revenues.

b)            According to Syed Abul Ala Maududi, the phrase Fi Sabil Allah connotes struggle in the way of Allah, i.e., struggle aimed at eliminating the secular system and establishing the system of Islam. So funds can be allocated to the cause of this struggle from the Zakat revenues.

c)             Those pilgrims who cannot perform pilgrimage on account of poverty, though they have left their homes for this purpose, can be helped under this head.

d)            Another category of beneficiaries of Zakat funds under this head, according to Jami, are poor students and those persons who have learnt the Qur’an by heart.

e)            Hospitals and medical aid centers can be maintained to provide relief to sick and wounded, especially to the poor patients.

f)              Educational institutions can be established to provide education to those who cannot otherwise afford it.

g)            Charitable institutions, orphans houses, social work centers etc. can be established or financially assisted.

8 - The Wayfarers: Ibn-ul-Sabil is the traveler or wayfarer. Expenditure for the relief and welfare of the travelers is another charge on the Zakat revenues of an Islamic state. Funds allocated under this head can be used for the following purposes:-

a)            The wayfarer, though he may be rich at his home, can be helped financially provided he needs such assistance to complete his journey.

b)            Facilities and comforts may be provided to the wayfarers such as meals, rest houses, baths, etc.

c)             Roads and bridges can be built and their repair or maintenance can be undertaken.

d)            Means of communication, traffic and transport can be improved.

         Mr. S.A. Siddiqi, in his book ‘Public Finance in Islam’, writes: “Indeed the provision for wayfarers in the Quranic verse has been responsible for the widest possible traffic in the Islamic world during the medieval ages when communications were difficult and travelling uncomfortable and hazardous”.

List of Persons who deserve Zakat

         After having reproduced the verses of the Qur’an and Ahadith of the Prophet and after having a detailed discussion on verse 60 of Surah 9 of the Qur’an which is considered an authority on expenditure of Zakat funds, we are now in a position to draw the list of persons who deserve Zakat.

         So following is the list of persons who deserve to receive Zakat or who are eligible for Zakat:-

1)            The poor and needy relatives deserve Zakat, rather they have a prior right. According to a Hadith, to give charity to a poor relative carries two merits and if he happens to be a neighbor also, then it carries three merits – one of charity, one of relation and one of neighbourhood.

2)            The poor and needy neighbours are eligible. To give Zakat to a poor neighbour carries two merits or double reward as compared with giving to a poor person.

3)            All the poor and the needy persons who beg or who do not beg but they are unable to cater to their basic human needs such as food, clothing, lodging, education or healthcare.

4)            All those poor persons who are engaged in Allah’s cause such as preaching, teaching, Jihad, etc. and have no time to earn their livelihood. They do not beg nor look to be poor, but they are really needy and poor. Students, teachers, preachers, Mujahideen come under this category. They or their families in their absence may be helped.

5)            Incapacitated, sick or physically disabled persons or old persons who cannot earn and there is no one who earns for them.

6)            Helpless persons like orphans and widows who have neither any wealth nor any source of earning.

7)            Unemployed persons who have not been able to find a job despite the best efforts made by them in this behalf.

8)            Refugees and immigrants who are forced to leave their homes and their belongings under oppression or persecution or in war and they seek refuge in another land.

9)            Persons who are overtaken by some calamity like flood, famine, earthquake, war, storm, volcanic eruption, epidemic, cyclone, etc.

10)         Slaves, bondwomen, captives, prisoners who are helpless and needy. They can be set free with Zakat fund or they can be provided for basic needs or they can be given money of Zakat to pay for their freedom. Families of the prisoners can be helped with Zakat.

11)         Debtors can be helped out of Zakat funds provided they incurred the debt for their genuine needs and have failed to return it despite best efforts.

12)         Those persons can be helped with Zakat money who incurred debt by standing surety for others.

13)         Travelers and wayfarers can be financially helped or can be provided food, lodging and entertainment with Zakat money if they are left with no money and need the help, although they may be rich in their homes and may be paying Zakat on their wealth.

14)         Zakat can be spent to attract to Islam those persons who are inclined towards Islam but do not accept it because of financial constraints.

15)         Those persons who are newly converted Muslims and there is danger they would revert to their previous religions if they are not financially assisted.

16)         Charitable institutions, educational institutions, hospitals, dispensaries, orphan houses, organizations helping physically distorted persons or helping children or widows.

17)         Jihad or defence fund of an Islamic state, donations out of Zakat may be made to it. Food and weapons may be provided to warriors or the families of the warriors may be helped.

18)         Education of poor and helpless children is another item on which Zakat can be spent. They can be provided fee, books, uniform, hostel expenses, etc or scholarships can be provided to them on monthly basis.

19)         Money of Zakat can be spent in the way of Allah in Jihad against poverty, ignorance and disease and social evils. It can be spent in struggle for independence of Muslims or for establishment of Islamic government.

         To conclude, Zakat can be given to all those Muslims who are not liable to pay Zakat and who have no sufficient means to provide for themselves the basic human needs like food, clothing, shelter, education, healthcare etc. Zakat can be given to these deserving persons either in cash or in kind or in the form of provisions like food articles, clothes, medicines, etc.

         If you live in an Islamic country and the government has made adequate arrangement for collection and disbursement of Zakat in accordance with Islamic injunctions, you should pay your Zakat to it and forget all worries with regard to finding out the deserving persons yourself for your zakat.

List of those who do not deserve

         We have already made the list of ineligible persons in chapter No. 21 at serial No. 9.


Copyright (c) Dr. Muhammad Sharif Chaudhry. All rights reserved. For more information, please contact at alshaufi(at)yahoo(dot)com