Equal Distribution Among Categories
When funds are plentiful and there are deserving people of all categories, then distribution must cover all of them. The distribution amongst the eight categories need not be equal, i.e. each group need not receive exactly one eighth of the total proceeds since the main criteria is need.
When funds are less, as when an individual payer distributes his/her own Zakat, then all of it may be spent on one category, since dividing such a small amount diminishes its effectiveness and would not enrich the recipients.
Furthermore, all funds may be given to one category, when necessary. Preference must be based on actual needs and public interest and not on personal opinions or prejudice. However, as the poor and the needy are the most important category, satisfying their needs is the main objective of Zakat. This objective is repeatedly mentioned in the Hadith of the Prophet (peace be upon him).
How Much Zakat to Give
The difference between jurists on this issue may be grouped into two major faculties. The first view is to give the maximum, sufficient enough to satisfy the essential needs, without determining any specific amount. The second view is to give a specific amount in whose determination jurists differ.
According to Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, the first view seems to be more consistent with the texts and objectives of Zakat. Two major opinions may be derived in this regard, i.e. to give what satisfies essential needs for the lifetime or only for one year.
Umar (RA) was once asked what to do with the Zakat collected from bedouin Arabs. He answered, “By Allah, I shall render the sadaqah to themselves, until each of them becomes the owner of a hundred camels, male or female.” (Al Mussannaf Abdur Razzaq)
In another incident, Umar (RA) declared “When you give, make [the recipient] rich.” (Al Amwal)
Intention When Discharging Zakat
The majority of jurists stipulate that intention is a pre-requisite for discharging of Zakat since it is an act of worship and all forms of worship require an intention.
Should Recipients Be Told it is Zakat?
When Zakat is distributed by individuals directly to the recipients, it is not required to reveal that it is Zakat, especially as many deserving of Zakat may hesitate to take it owing to their own doubt with regards their true eligibility. This is sometimes caused by the lack of education of Zakat. It is generally accepted that the intention need not be a verbal declaration and that it can be made in the heart.
Delaying the Payment of Zakat
Zakat may be delayed for certain legitimate reasons, such as when there is a lack of liquid funds, otherwise the delay or negligence in the payment of Zakat is not permitted and is in fact sinful.
Dispersement of Zakat in Kind
Muslim jurists who insist on payment in kind deliberate that Zakat is an act of worship and as such can only be done the very same way outlined in the Sunnah. Therefore, payment must be made with the same Zakat item. On the other hand, the Hanafi jurists and others allow payment in kind [by giving another type of item of like value] on grounds that it makes no difference in so far as relief to the poor is concerned. (Al Bahr, Vol. 2). Zakat can be given in kind or cash.
Transference of Zakat to Another Area
The general principle is that Zakat must be distributed in the same area where it is collected. The local poor and needy have a priority since the Zakat is collected from their neighbours, kith and kin.