The Distribution of Zakat
The Prophet (peace be upon him) is reported to have said: “Allah verily did not accept the judgment of a Prophet (peace be upon him) or anybody else in [the distribution of] Zakat, so He gave the Judgment on it. He divided it into eight parts.”
This Hadith refers to Surah Al-Taubah 9:60: “Sadaqah (i.e. Zakat) are for the poor, and the needy, and those employed to administer [the funds], and those whose hearts have been reconciled [to the truth], and for those in bondage, and those in debt, and in the cause of Allah, and for the wayfarer; [thus is it] ordained by Allah, and Allah is full of knowledge and wisdom.”
The Recipients of Zakat
There are eight categories of people to whom Zakat can be distributed. These have been identified as follows
The Poor (Al-Fuqara)
According to the majority of jurists, the poor are those who do not have any assets and have no means by which they can earn their living.
However, the Hanafi jurists defined the poor as those who have money lesser than the amount on which Zakat is payable (Nisab). The poor are worse than the needy in regard to satisfying their basic needs. However, some scholars hold the opposite view.
The Needy (Al-Masakin)
According to the majority of jurists, the needy are the people whose earnings do not cover their basic needs.
However, the Hanifi jurists identified them as ‘those who have no earnings at all’. The Hanafi and Maaliki jurists consider them to be more deserving of Zakat than the poor. However, the Hanbali and Shafi`i jurists put the poor as being more deserving of Zakat.
Actually, this dispute in categorization has no effect, since both the poor and the needy are among the categories entitled to receive Zakat.
Administrators of Zakat (Al-‘Amilina ‘Alayha)
This term applies to all those serving in the field of Zakat, including those responsible for collecting, storing, guarding, registering and distributing Zakat. They shoulder all Zakat related activities.
Reconciliation of Hearts (Al-Mu’allafate-Qulubuhum)
This term applies to people who have embraced Islam or who are inclined to it.
For those in Bondage (Fir-Riqab)
Zakat may be allocated to help Muslims free themselves of bondage.
Those in Debt (Al-Gharimin)
Zakat may be used to pay off debts, so long as these debts were not incurred in an act contrary to Islamic law.
In the Cause of Allah (Fi-Sabilillah)
Muslim jurists differ on who or what can be covered under this category, although most seem to agree that it can be used in the defence of Islam.
The Wayfarer (Ibn as-Sabil)
A wayfarer refers to a traveller who left his home for a lawful purpose and for whatever good reason does not possess enough money to return home, even if he is rich in his own country.
Your Questions Answered
Q: I know a person who is very ill, and they are currently abroad in an intensive care unit, and cannot afford to pay. Can I pay my Zakat to them?
A: The answer to your question depends on the financial circumstances of the person who is ill.
If they, or their family has the financial capacity to manage the bills of his stay in hospital then Zakat should not be given to him.
However, if they are unable to meet his expenses and he risks falling into debt or financial stress then it would be permissible to pay Zakat to him. Allah knows best.
Q: I understand that we can give Zakat to our relatives first who are poor and needy (e.g. in Bangladesh) and then give to other causes such as charity in Gaza. Can you also give a portion to your own community where you live in the UK?
A: In terms of where to pay and how much then simply aim to achieve a balance between eligible relatives, international crises and local causes. Maybe you can split your Zakat three ways, or give Zakat 50:50 locally, and to relatives, then give Sadaqah for the Gaza cause.
Q: My friend is facing financial difficulty, due to having to close down his business. He has debts to pay off. I know for sure that he is not Sahib-e-nisab (doesn’t have to pay Zakat, below the poverty threshold).
Can I give him my zakat, so he may pay off his debts? Can I give him my zakat without saying it is Zakat? Can I give him Zakat money but tell him that it is a loan? I know he will not repay me.
A: Yes you can give him Zakat without saying it is Zakat.
You should not really give it to him while stating it is a loan when in reality it isn’t. I appreciate why you might want to do this and that you’re saying he won’t be able to pay you back but you never know one day he may be able to pay it back and insist on doing so. Also, you don’t want to make him feel indebted to (in a literal sense) when in fact you don’t expect payment from him.
Q: Do recipients of Zakat have to be Muslim (or inclined toward Islam)? I presume donating to charities such as NSPCC and Amnesty International, therefore, is not counted as Zakat.
A: Yes, the majority of scholars hold the opinion that Zakat is to be paid by Muslims and received by Muslims.
Therefore donations to Amnesty International and charities such as this, whilst praiseworthy, should not be made from Zakat funds, rather this should be done with voluntary or sadaqah donations.