Where should Zakat be distributed?
Like a local community tax, and to best achieve its strategic purpose, Zakat should primarily be distributed locally i.e. in the country a person resides.
Islamic scholar Ingrid Mattson explains: “The local nature of Zakat distribution is emphasized repeatedly by early Muslim scholars, who discuss extensively the purpose and benefits of local distribution”. This is primarily because: our responsibility is local. Local distribution strengthens the sense of local community and those within a society know the best and most effective ways to cultivate the necessary socio-economic environment for Islam and Muslims to flourish.
There is a strong emphasis on distributing locally in the Sunnah and narrations of the Tabi’in.
Abu ‘Ubaid reports that ‘Umar wrote in his will “I ask my successor . . . to take from the peripheries of their wealth and distribute it among their poor.”
This was the practice during the time of ‘Umar himself. Sa’id bin al Musayyib says “‘Umar sent Mu’adh as Zakat officer to bani Kilab or bani Sa’d. Mu’adh went there, collected Zakat, and distributed all of it, leaving nothing. He came back in the same clothes that he went in.” (Kitab al-Amwal)
‘Umar was once asked what to do with the Zakat collected from bedouin Arabs. He answered, “By God, I shall render the sadaqah to themselves, until each of them becomes the owner of a hundred camels, male or female.” (al-Musannaf)
‘Imran bin Husain, a Companion, was appointed Zakat officer at the time of the Umayyads. When he returned from his mission, he was asked “Where is the money?” ‘Imran said, “Did you send me to bring you money?” I collected it the same way we used to at the time of the Messenger of God, and distributed it the same way we used to.”
Taus was appointed Zakat officer in one of the regions in Yemen. He was asked for his account by the governor and his answer was, “I took from the rich and gave to the destitute.” (Kitab al-Amwal)
Farqad al Sabkhi says, “I took Zakat due on my wealth to distribute it in Makkah. There I met Said bin Jubair, who said, ‘Take it back and distribute it in your hometown.'”
Sufyan narrates “Zakat was taken from al Riy to al Kufah, but ‘Umar bin ‘Abd al Aziz ordered it taken back to al Rayy.”
Abu ‘Ubaid says, “Scholars all agree that these reports mean people of every region have priority on their Zakat, as long as they still have anyone in need, or until all the Zakat is distributed.” He goes on, “If the officer transports collected Zakat while there still is need in the region from which it was collected, the government must return it to its region, as did ‘Umar bin ‘Abd al ‘Aziz, and as stated by Sa’id bin Jubair.”