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Scholars have divided property into two categories: hidden (kept at home, such as money, gold, and silver) and property kept in the open (e.g., animals and farm products). During the Prophet’s lifetime and that of the caliphs, zakat was collected by officials appointed for that purpose. There was even a special zakat fund in the state budget. In later times, the state began to collect zakat on the property in the open and let the owners of hidden properties take care of it by themselves.

Muslims or Muslim communities must find a good, preferable way to collect zakat in the absence of an Islamic authority and distribute it properly, as mentioned in 9:60. They are:

  • Poor people who do not earn enough to keep themselves and their families alive.
  • The destitute who cannot meet their basic needs.
  • Zakat collectors.
  • Those whose hearts, due to their weak Islam, need to be reconciled or strengthened for Islam; whose hearts can be swayed toward Islam; or those whose evil against Islam and the Muslims could be avoided.
  • To free Muslim prisoners-of-war and emancipate slaves.
  • To help those who are overburdened with debt.
  • To support those who exalt God’s word, strive for God’s cause (mujahidun), and provide for students and pilgrims.
  • Travelers, either at home or abroad.

The recipients of zakat are mentioned in the following verse:

The prescribed alms are meant only for the poor and those in destitution (although, out of self-respect, they do not give the impression that they deserve help); those in charge of collecting and administering them; those whose hearts or friendship and support are to be won over for God’s cause, (including those whose hostilities might be prevented thereby); to free those in the bondage of slavery and captivity; to help those overburdened with debt; and in God’s way (to exalt God’s word, to provide for students and help pilgrims); and for the wayfarer (in need of help). This is an ordinance from God. God has full knowledge of everything, All-Wise. (9:60)

Zakat is distributed among the recipients according to their need and priority, assigned to those in greater need, or according to circumstances. But zakat is not voluntary charity given to please the poor or needy; rather, it is spent to eradicate poverty, provide capital for the needy in order to save them from their need, to fill the gaps between classes, or to prevent such gaps from appearing in society.

Senturk, Omer Faruk. “Charity in Islam” Tughra Books Press. January 2007