Q: What is the poverty line in Shariah?
A: The Hanafi school have used the Zakat Nisab as the margin and threshold to distinguish between the poor and wealthy. Therefore, a poor person is one who does not own any Zakatable assets nor surplus assets which equates to the Nisab.
The Maliki, Shafi’i and Hanbali schools have not used the Zakat Nisab to distinguish between poverty and affluence as far as receiving Zakat is concerned, rather they have made Kifāyah (sufficiency) the distinguishing factor. Therefore, whoever possesses sufficient wealth and assets for himself and his dependents for a given period is wealthy. Whoever does not own sufficient money and assets for himself and his dependents for a given period can receive Zakat according to this opinion.
The Maliki, Shafi’i and Hanbali school differ in the time frame to assess sufficiency. The Maliki and Hanbali school have a time frame of one year. So, a needy person is he who does not currently own and possess sufficient essentials of life to get him through the next 12 months. The Shafi’i school have a broader understanding of sufficiency and consider life expectancy, geographical location and other variables when calculating what is sufficient for a person .