WHO ARE THE RECIPIENTS OF ZAKAT?
he Qur’an has explicitly delineated the recipients of zakat with the verse, “Alms are only for the poor and the needy, and those who collect them and for those whose hearts are to be reconciled, and for the ransom of captives and debtors and for the way of God and for wayfarers” (Tawba 9:60). In conjunction with the subtlety of the words encompassed by the verse, scholars have put forward various interpretations regarding whether zakat should only be given to those counted among the enumerated eight categories per se; whether they should all receive zakat equally; or whether it would be enough to donate the zakat only to one group. The uncertainty concerning the eligibility for zakat of some institutions carrying identical features of one or more among these eight groups has also been examined. At this point, it is important
to put emphasis on each of these groups.
Right from the outset, scholars have found it difficult to place a clear-cut border between poverty and destitution. On occasion, the term “poor” denoted to those in need among the Muslim community, whereas “destitute” was the term given to the under-privileged among the non-Muslim minority. On still other occasions, regardless of t he difference in faith, while the destitute signified the deprived who had divulged their needs to the public, the poor were needy who, out of self-respect, would not disclose their needs, as described by the Qur’an: “…but you will know them by their appearance. They never beg of people with importunity” (Baqara 2:273). Though they endure all kinds of financial difficulty without making themselves known, it is imperative that these, too, be identified and given zakat in order to become effectively liberated from their financial oppression—though such identification predicates some form of research.
As long as each of the eight categories possess these prerequisites, it is maintained, they will have the right to procure their share of zakat, just like shareholders do in a business enterprise. A person is continuously eligible to receive zakat provided that his degree of poverty remains unchanged, or at least remains below the poverty standard.
A few scholars, headed by the Shafii school, observe the situation from a rather unique perspective, insisting that the ultimate reason why the categories of poor and destitute have been mentioned separately, though they virtually hold the same meaning, is a result of the boundless compassion of God upon those in need, accentuating that when required, they are entitled to two-eights of an overall share of zakat. Thus the needy, by virtue of being named twice, in other words, can be eligible to twice as much zakat as others.
It is utterly impossible to obtain harmony in a society where one portion of people spend money like there is no tomorrow, and the other portion are left to sleep on the street. Expecting the impoverished, who are incessantly struggling with turmoil and hardship, to foster gratitude and sympathy for the rich, who are immersed in a life of luxury, amounts simply to being oblivious about natural human inclinations. However, it is important that one not exploit the issue of poverty by despoiling the wealth that instigates another, different imbalance—like some dubious systems have done in recent history. As it does in all other aspects, Islam strictly recommends a balanced approach in this issue also. In the very beginning of the chapter of Rahman, a declaration of Divine Compassion, the Qur’an accentuates the importance of moderation and a balanced life, stressing that harmony between individuals can only be upheld through embracing the equilibrium between rich and all kinds of zakat recipients.
The destitute are the second group assigned by the Qu’ran to receive zakat. According to the majority of scholars, the term “miskin” or destitute denotes someone who, out of helplessness, takes care of his necessities openly through the publication of his need. Most of the time, such pitiful plights become manifest, simply from their deplorable living standards and their depleted states, inevitably making it amply evident to the public that they live in very disadvantaged circumstances. The Qur’an describes a destitute person as, “…a poor wretch in misery,” (Balad 90:16) illustrating the multi-dimensional aspect of their anguish.
Contrary to the prevalent meaning assigned to the term, according to the Noble Prophet, a miskin (destitute person) is not a person who walks around begging for money; more exactly, a destitute is one who while he is in need, his need is not taken note of and for this reason, he doesn’t receive any share of charity. By synoptically looking at the general structure of hadiths, we find that what the Prophet did was to correct a term wrongly used in society, an action corroborated by the Qur’an “…they never beg of people with importunity” (Baqara 2:273). During one instance, in fact, in returning proper meaning to the term, the Noble Messenger explained: “A destitute person is not a beggar who is banished with a couple of dates or one or two morsels. A destitute person is a model of dignity and purity.” And in the Qur’an, we find the purest form of corroboration: “They never obdurately beseech of people.”1
The late professor Muhammad Hamidullah made a rather original commentary on the issue, which was alluded to in a general fashion above. Destitute persons, according to Hamidullah, are those in need from among the Jewish and Christian minorities, a view that if accepted, would explain the policy promulgated by Caliph Umar in providing regular payment for the non- Muslim minorities. At any rate, this view is interesting to consider.
As it is understood both from the expressions used in the verse and the practice of the Prophet in this area, the organization regarding collecting and administering zakat should be managed from a single center. Even though an individual can fulfill his duty by personally locating and disbursing his own zakat, it must be remembered that Islam, at the same time, is religion of orderliness with a highly developed regard for community; therefore, it has not left on its own a duty that is a potential conciliator between members of a society.
The first application that comes to mind at this point is when the Prophet sent Muadh ibn Jabal to Yemen as a zakat collector, in addition to assigning him several other duties.2 Second, he also dispatched Ibn Lutaybiyya to the tribe of Bani Sulaym as a zakat collector, and concomitantly demanded a report upon Ibn Lutaybiyya’s return.3 As a third reference, the Prophet delivered a sermon to the Companions on behalf of a collector who had arrived with, as he called it, “additional gifts.” All of these instances corroborate the general understanding that during the time of the Prophet, zakat was collected from a single center.
Warning the official collectors against oppression and justice, the Prophet also issued a reminder to the public, advising them to be kind towards the collectors. Instructing Muadh to “take their zakat but avoid seizing their best possessions,”4 the Messenger had also recommended the public that they, “Send away the collectors in high spirits.”5 On the whole, the Messenger of God, in addressing those obligated with zakat, stated, “When a zakat collector comes to you, makes sure he leaves contented.”6 The idea, of course, was to encourage donors to understand the positive spirit in which giving should take place, in consideration of its high benefit for both themselves and the community. Yet again, we are witness to the brilliant balance established by Islam in all arenas.
So basically, a zakat collector is a person who officially, on behalf of the Government, devotes his time and effort towards the duty of collecting zakat. Therefore, and quite plausibly so, he needs a certain salary to make ends meet. In the precious words of the Prophet, “Till his return home, a zakat collector is like a ghazi (warrior), battling in the way of God.”7 Authorizing a warrior’s share of booty after battle, Islam thus necessitates a certain share for the collector, to be extracted from the gathered zakat. In fact, the Messenger of God denied the request to refuse payment, such as was made by the likes of Umar, rejoining: “Take it. If you have no need for it, then give it to somebody else.” Based on this, Umar, during his days as caliph, methodically allocated a certain share to all zakat collectors, irrespective of their wealth, and regardless of their requests to refuse such payments.
Based on the above principle, some have maintained that a certain share of zakat should be allocated for all government employees. In the case of a government which is very successful in fairly collecting zakat by virtue of the better organization of its collectors, revenue will begin to infiltrate from all corners, and this will result in greater numbers of needy people receiving the benefits of such collections—from wheat, to barley, to all sorts of agricultural harvests, and barring the view of Abu Hanifa, including vegetables and fruits, also. Moreover, the collector, full of goodwill, will visit all enterprises, from crude-oil wells to mine shafts; he will oversee all hordes of grazing sheep and cattle; and he will diligently inspect every single item of wealth and treasure to make certain that not a single hungry mouth is deprived of his or her rights. Such altruistic officials, sacrificing their time and efforts for the good of the community, should obviously not be abandoned to beseech others for their own sustenance and, thus, must be allocated a payment from the collected zakat. Irrespective of the personal wealth of collectors, then, it is imperative that the Qur’an and Sunna are abided by and the all those who engage in this noble act are given zakat. This issue holds another dimension, too. Taking care of the needs and salaries of those employed in duties involving such large stakes will effectively discourage corruption, in addition to enhancing “employee motivation.” The espousal of this attitude by our predecessors is highly admirable, especially that of the Ottoman State, which owed its prolonged existence to its meticulous and judicious management of zakat collection.
The allotment of zakat to collectors effectively prevented them from condescending to bribery or other possible enticements, thus sturdily barring probable loopholes. The alternative outcome would almost certainly be insurmountably and pervasive corruption. Such is Islam and the precepts it propounds. It considers, on the one hand, the needs of the collector and by taking care of each such individual, elevates the collector from personal abasement; on the other hand, it instills in each collector the importance of living a just and prudent life in preparation for the Day of Judgment, rendering in practical terms the most critical aspects of Islam.
MUALLAFA AL-QULUB (THOSE WHOSE HEARTS ARE TO BE RECONCILED WITH ISLAM)
Another group deserving zakat are those whose hearts are on the grip of reconciliation with Islam. Depending on the intention of the various approaches, this group can be classified as follows:
Those who, although Muslim, do not yet have faith entrenched in their hearts.
Those non-Muslims whose hearts are attempted to be reconciled with Islam.
Those non-Muslims who harbour hostilities towards Islam, but whose aggression or resentment may be preventable.
The Prophet (upon whom be peace) indeed allotted zakat for all of the people in the above categories. As for the likes of Abu Sufyan, who had become Muslim but was yet to develop maturity in his belief, the Messenger ultimately won his heart—and countless others—by virtue of granting zakat copiously, a practice of generosity which effectively established a positive belief in the hearts of the recipients. Abu Sufyan, once he became a Muslim, fervently desired to join his son, Iqrimah, at the fierce Battle of Yarmuk during the time of Caliph Umar—his courageous aspirations affirming a deeply ensconced faith whose seeds were initially sewn with the gift of such benevolence.
When the Messenger of God gave 100 sheep to Safwan ibn Umayya, he accepted Islam with an ardor worth the expense of perhaps 10,000 sheep, and this offering simultaneously hastened his realization of a great and precious degree of faith, as verified by his subsequent words; “Out of all men, the Prophet was the one I was most infuriated with. On the day of Hunayn, however, he gave so much that he suddenly became my most beloved.”8 The recipients were so much touched by the kindness and generosity of the Prophet and came to the understanding that he was divinely led. They soon joined him and their lasting faith soon made them exemplary figures in the service of God. Another group consisted of some Bedouins who had given in to Islam, although a pure iman (faith) had not yet sunk into their hearts. To state it more explicitly in Qur’anic terms, they were saying, “we believe,” although they had only surrendered: The Bedouins say “We believe.” Say: “You do not; rather say ‘we profess Islam,’ for faith has not yet entered your hearts” (Hujurat 49:14).
This reference clearly accentuates the fact that iman, belief in God, is a divine gift, attained only through man’s investigation, identification and application of his belief in the inextinguishable Celestial Flame. As far as the Bedouins were concerned, they had only resigned themselves to the splendor of Islam, as their hearts were not mature enough then to fully come to grips with faith. Thus the Messenger of God was prudently allocating a share of zakat for them, in hope of decreasing their distance to the ideal faith. When Safwan ibn Umayya was given 100 sheep and 100 camels, for instance, he exclaimed to those around him, “By God! Hasten to submit to this man, for he has no fear of his wealth running out,”9 acknowledging the Prophet’s dependence on God, Whose treasures never cease. By receiving zakat, those on the border between belief and non-belief swiftly had their pendulum swung towards the most excellent direction, commencing to quench their hearts with the satiating fountain of faith.
Yet another group were the vanguards of polytheists reputed with sordid behaviors. Through offering these people zakat, the Messenger of God was effectively repelling their potential for harming the community, as well as laying the groundwork for their future acceptance of Islam. This is exemplified by the saying, “Do good t o whom you fear evil from.” It is an important strategy to predict probable harm and deflect it with good, as man is inherently a servant of goodness. Such an approach, time and again, disperses possible damage and destruction before it even begins to form and creates a fresh breathing space for Muslims, whereby accumulated wealth is utilized to convert evil into good, as man earnestly acts upon the obligations of his servanthood to God.
In the words of the Qur’an, “Vile women are for vile men, and vile men are for vile women” (Nur 24:26). Evidently, by virtue of integrating these muallafa al-qulub into the picture, the Messenger of God instigated a series of multi-faceted benefits. Through receiving zakat, these people providentially gained profoundness in their faith; those oscillating between belief and unbelief opted for the former; and the leaders among the unbelievers, influenced by the generous grant, laid down their guns, providing amnesty for Muslims living under their control. The issue additionally has a financial component. Although the Prophet granted wealth to the leaders of the community, this act of giving entailed returns of abundant proportions. Because they enjoyed the benefits of receiving zakat, unbelievers granted certain essential permissions and rights to the Muslims under their control, who were then better able to offer zakat themselves; thus, the relatively trivial amount given to the leaders afforded large populations of Muslims the means by which they could honor their obligation to give zakat flowing into the pockets of the destitute. By this means, Muslims still managed to guarantee the general welfare of any community of which they were a part. In addition, the practice proved to be advantageous for the Muslims in more ways: it gave them the opportunity of fulfilling their obligations as well as bestowing on them relative freedom and autonomy, in addition to enshrining basic values of righteousness in the name of Islam in whatever community, and whatever time, Muslims happened to be.
This situation lasted until the period of Caliph Abu Bakr. One day, certain people who used to receive a share of zakat at the time of the Prophet came to the Caliph asking for money. The Caliph consented to signing their document of eligibility, which they took to Umar, who was in charge of the treasury on that day. Who knows—perhaps Abu Bakr, an exemplary character filled with astounding mildness and compassion, simply wished to solve the matter without causing even the scantiest dissension within the caliphate. So he deferred the matter to Umar.
After receiving the document, Umar’s sharp gaze oscillated between the document and those who had brought it. Though it is impossible to illustrate exactly what went through his mind in that instant, looking at the ensuing events, it seems most likely that Umar ascertained that Islam had now fully realized its splendor and unbelief had been dashed against the rocks. In effect, Islam, increasingly consolidating its eternal impressions on the world, was now standing on its own two feet.
As Umar also knew very well, zakat depended on specific circumstances, namely the existence of a given situation and people who fit the criteria of “need” under such circumstances. Umar, evidently and rightly content that the Arabian Peninsula was now the strong domain of Islam, tore the document and responded to the letter-holders by saying, “This is unacceptable. Go and work! In the days when you were given zakat, Islam was not standing on its own feet; but now, it is majestic and has no need of you!” As the Muslim community was firmly established, such a group of potential tormentors failed to meet the definition of a group whose hostilities to be prevented. Thus, it was no longer a necessity to pay zakat to those holding a sort of position of power.
Facing an unexpected situation, they promptly went to the Caliph, protesting, “Who is the Caliph, you or him? You sign the document and he tears it!” Abu Bakr simply replied, “If he liked, he would have been the Caliph,” delivering a deeply meaningful and concise response to a group who had made a habit of freeloading.
Consequentially, the practice of giving zakat to the muallafa al-qulub, ended by the matchless vision and intelligence of Umar, has since provided material for diverse interpretations. The truth is, the Companions, gathered soon after the event, reaching a consensus that a share no longer needed to be allotted to those whose hearts are attempted to be reconciled with Islam, owing to the simple fact that the need no longer existed. However, this was the reflection of the social structure in relation to that particular verdict, as the need to appease others in this way had apparently ceased.
Some have interpreted the above event as an abrogation or naskh of a verse by the ijma (consensus) of the Companions, which can only be labeled as a blatant misunderstanding. Although the abrogation of one verse by another, or a sunna act by another, is acceptable, the abrogation of a sunna act by a Qur’anic verse, or even vice-versa, has been an issue of dispute, where most scholars have maintained implausibility of either. Thus, even the Prophet’s words have no authority over the Qur’an, and it is thus utterly unthinkable for the Companions’ consensus to presume or exercise a similar authority. As a result, the Qur’an cannot be abrogated by methods of deduction such as ijma (consensus) or qiyas (analogy).
Debates as such reveal a lack of understanding of the intent of this decision. When arriving at their verdict, none of the Companions—including Abu Bakr or Umar—carried even the slightest desire to abrogate the Qur’an; rather, their verdict was simply an end shot of sincere and proper brainstorming, a discussion, such of which is strongly encouraged in Islam. It is worthy to note that among the eight groups of recipients, the muallafa al-qulub have no particular prerequisites; hence, whatever is applicable to them is also applicable for the other groups. In a society where the poor and the destitute cease to exist, for instance, the need to give these two groups zakat concomitantly ceases, as was the case during the era of Umar ibn Abdulaziz. During that time, nobody dared to claim, “Umar ibn Abdulaziz abrogated the Qur’an,” precisely because the events were unfolding exactly in concordance with the Prophet’s (upon whom be peace) glad tidings of many years before.
So, too, the issue of muallafa al-qulub, had unfolded along a natural course. As is the case today, however, many refer to Umar’s mentioned application when discussing those individuals a n d groups in various societies today who may nurture the intention of antagonizing the precepts of Islam. In fact, the new outcrop of such antagonists is entirely analogous to how the poor—who became increasingly hard to find during the caliphate of Umar ibn Abdulaziz — reemerged after the time of Umar ibn Abdulaziz. There were increases in debtors and even stranded traveler for that matter, individuals who only receive zakat provided that they exist. Therefore, those who claim that Umar abrogated a verse actually lack an adequate insight into the issue. Looking from the perspective of the Qur’an, the duty of zakat is not attached to certain individuals; rather, it is attached to certain needs, in so far as these reflected weaknesses of heart. Once these needs are taken care of, then these needs obviously no longer exist. Logically put: the attachment of the verdict to a certain cause necessitates the existence of that cause for its validity; therefore, the solution is pre-empted if the cause disappears, and then simply comes back into effect upon the future re-emergence of the need. Umar’s verdict was clearly an appropriate jurisprudential response to the changing times and a further reflection of the comprehensive and vibrant nature of the Qur’anic message, which remains vital and eminently applicable under the most extensive variations in both temporal and physical circumstances.
The reason for the extended discussion of this issue is to emphasize the necessity of reviving this practice as a contingency given the current need which is arising in societies around the globe, and most particularly in the secular west. In this day and age, in fact, we suddenly find ourselves readily able to identify a great many people who can easily fit into the category of muallafa al-qulub. If we can successfully revive the practice of giving generously of zakat to mollify potential aggressors and avoid potential hostilities, then we may perhaps appease volatile characters, effectively providing them the priceless opportunity to gain acquaintance with Islam—and thus allow Muslims all over the world greater freedom and safety to express the full dimensions of their faith. Moreover, by exercising an important point of jurisprudence in recognizing the existence of muallafa al-qulub in the present day, our aim to spread the Islamic message to the four corners of the world, to invite to Islam as we are strongly ordained to do, will be facilitated by the effective removal of possible impediments, personal or governmental, that stand in our way. This is an excellent opportunity, in fact, for so-called “modern man” to accomplish superb feats to inject the Islamic spirit into thirsty hearts. The view of Imam Qurtubi, a scholar of the Maliki school, concords: “At other times, those who are bordered by non- believers should also offer this fund lest they transgress the border,” This critical idea certainly deserves a special emphasis as the optimal framework for a contemporary approach to the full and peaceful existence of practicing Muslims in predominantly non-Muslim regions of the world.
As for today, there are many distinguished people, in educational, political, or socio-cultural arenas, who daily face the invitation to become the mouthpiece of others. The proper application of zakat under such circumstances, in line with the argument presented above, would ensure that their invaluable energies and capabilities do not become channeled towards causes devoid of scruples and deterring from righteousness, oppressing those who choose to practice their faith, both privately and publicly. For tragically, while these individuals generally set out to serve humanity and uphold virtue, they all-too-often become mere representatives of detrimental factions.
This approach would simply be an expression of familiarity with the true intent of the consensus of the great Companions on this subject, as well as with the Qur’an. For resuscitating the practice of giving zakat to the muallafa al-qulub would only lead us in the footsteps of Umar, who demonstrated so unequivocally the vibrant and effective nature of Islamic jurisprudence.
Slaves constitute one of the eight possible groups of recipients. As a basic principle, Islam is against the notion of slavery, desiring human to be liberated from all kinds of restraints through an assertion that their servanthood is only to God. The principles Islam has put forth have constantly paved the way for freedom, a value confirmed by many hadith concerning slaves, as the following exemplifies: “Feed them what you feed yourselves, clothe them what you clothe yourselves, do not impose on them duties they cannot bear, and treat them humanely.”10
The world, however, has never been home only to Muslims. At various stages of history, wars have been waged against those attempting to extinguish the light of Islam, and as an upshot and a primarily reciprocal procedure, there were many captives taken. This was really the prevalent practice of the warfare of the period, one equally upheld and perpetrated by all sides. Suddenly eliminating slavery on a global scale would involve innumerable intricacies and countless reforms; the best thing to do, insofar as Islam was concerned, was to treat captives with utmost kindness and consideration, in order to use the times of captivity as an opportunity not to exploit other human beings, but to warm hearts towards Islam.
Accordingly, and due to many benefits, a certain share of zakat was allocated to slaves and those in captivity. It will be of further benefit to lay special emphasis on the fact that slavery is not an institution inaugurated by Islam; in addition, from a global historical perspective, the birth of Islam coincided with a period wherein humans were sold as slaves and even free men were under the constant threat of enslavement as a result of sudden raids. Islam, always and ever a religion of pragmatic, applicable, and comprehensive solutions, resorted to combating this problem gradually, imposing at every chance the very principles which would bestow first inner, then outer, freedom to slaves. This is certainly in keeping with one of the most basic tenets of Islam, which is that everyone is as equal as the spikes on a comb and the only superiority which should be sought is in terms of piety.11 Here, then, are some of the key principles relating to slavery:
The emancipation of slaves in return for some work or their value (muqataba),
Emancipation by giving birth to the owner’s child (ummu walad),
Emancipating a slave to compensate for an unobserved vow,
Emancipating a slave as compensation for zihar (the forbidden practice whereby a husband draws a resemblance between his wife and his mother as a pretext for divorce), Emancipating a slave as compensation for unintentionally causing death.
Visibly and unequivocally, Islam opened the doors to freedom wide open, constantly reiterating the multitudes of rewards entailed by the act of emancipating a slave, an act incessantly encouraged by God. Today, slavery in its full sense of the term does not exist although this is not to say that it will never come back into existence. Similar to the cause of muallafa al-qulub, and applying the same standard of jurisprudence, the reemergence of slavery would automatically resuscitate the practice of offering them zakat. Perhaps in this day and age, the issue may have switched to another level, or another forum. Even though physical slavery may have become obsolete, ma ny people now have their feelings, thoughts and intellects enslaved, and thus are in dire need of genuine emancipation. Providing them some zakat would presumably be a means of dispersing from their minds these ill thoughts, beneficially opening their mind to the reality of a relationship with their Creator.
In normal circumstances, zakat should be given to a person in debt, irrespective of the person’s prior wealth. Although in one way, debtors can actually be classified among the poor and destitute, the main difference is that their unfortunate state is presumably only temporary. By declaring, “Charity is not permissible for the rich, except for the following five: A warrior in the way of God, a zakat collector, a debtor, a person who buys the charity collected as zakat, and a rich person who receives from a poor the gift that was given to him as zakat,”12 the Prophet has pronounced the eligibility for zakat of a debtor, even if he is rich. On the account of Abu Said al-Hudri, a Companion during the time of the Noble Messenger had bought fruit, which were destroyed before he could offer their payment. Upon hearing this, the Prophet advised the others to lend him financial support. After the amassed total fell short of the required amount, the Prophet said to the creditors, “Take from what there is, for there is no more,” insisting on some additional understanding and compromise on their behalf.13 Falling into debt must never be seen as a method of receiving zakat or as a pretext for escaping it, practices strongly condemned by the Prophet and certainly subject to divine fury. The people declared by Islam as being eligible for zakat, in this case, are not those who are penalized for their avarice, but rather those who are going through rough patches while leading a planned and moderate life. The bottom line is that life is transient, man is expected to behave responsibly, and errors perpetrated in this fleeting life may lead to a devastating scenario on the Day of Judgment.
FI SABILILLAH (IN GOD’S WAY)
In line with the various connotations the Arabic term may suggest, “fi sabilillah” is basically the commitment to put aside all personal duties and dedicate one’s entire time to spend in the way of God. Initially, this involves seeking and learning the knowledge that brings happiness in this life and in the hereafter, and in time, may also require the removal of impediments that stand in the way of spreading God’s name to all corners of the world. It is exactly for this reason that a group courageously taking such an immense task is entitled to zakat, thereby encompassing the broader meaning of the term jihad, as all kinds of struggle offered with the sole aim of pleasing God.
Analyzing the issue from the perspective of the Prophetic Era, the Ashab al-Suffa (Companions that had dedicated their entire time to the pursuit of knowledge), whose numbers reached up to 400, throw more light on the issue as exemplary models, in terms of the duty they had accomplished. Enduring a variety of difficulties, they nevertheless remained incessantly alongside the Prophet, eager to realize his very command and imbibe from him pearls of wisdom. Having devoted themselves solely in this direction, they frequently suffered hunger, even facing, on occasions, the threat of falling unconscious. Abu Hurayra, an heroic example of this devotion, responded to certain criticisms that came in his direction by simply stating, “My brothers complain that I narrate too many hadiths. However, while my Ansar brothers (Medinan Muslims) were busy cultivating their lands, and my Muhajir brothers (Meccan Muslims) were engaged in trade, me and others alike were incessantly by the side of the Prophet, memorizing his words, “At the risk of fainting from hunger.”14 This illustrates the extent of the dedication and consequent hardship which devout followers encountered for the sake of serving the Qur’an and the Sunna—and also exemplifies the different manner in which believers struggled to support Islam. Of course, the Qur’an is far from quiet on such sacrifices, eternalizing their earnest devotions as follows, in a verse which was also critical to some of the earlier discussions:
Alms are for the poor who are restrained in the cause of God, unable to travel in the land. The ignorant man counts them among the wealthy because of their restraint. But you will know them by their appearance. They never beg people with importunity. And whatever good things you spend, surely God knows them well. (Baqara 2:273)
Despite of the difficulties they constantly faced, these Companions would not divulge their hardships, causing others to overlook them when they identified people in no need. Even though there still were a limited number of individuals who might have had a fairly good idea of their dire situation, it was impossible to know the full depth of suffering they concealed to establish the faith of Islam. To cut a long story short, the following account provides an excellent example by which to crystallize this description.
Said ibn Musayyab, one of the forerunners of the Tabiun generation (the praised generation who were acquainted with the Companions, though they did not see the Noble Prophet himself) who was the son-in-law of Abu Hurayra, tells the following story about his father-in-law, as the elder walking around gleefully in a linen robe:
Plunged in deep thought, he (Abu Hurayra) then turned to himself, muttering “Get over yourself, Abu Hurayra! You seem to have long forgotten the days when you would collapse from hunger and children would start treading on you, and others would hasten to you, conceiving it as an epileptic fit. Nobody would understand, bar the Prophet (upon whom be peace) and Jafar ibn Abi Talib, who would say ‘Come Abu Hurayra!’ where upon you would tag along with them. How many times you entered the home of the Honorable Prophet, satisfying your hunger with milk, presented by him!”15
Abu Hurayra, in fact, could not pursue anything else, conceiving this as the only path to revive one’s world and reach the eternal abode. Abu Hurayra’s desire and sensitivity in running to the need of the Prophet, and in memorizing every single word he uttered, was equally matched by his vigor in joining the armed forces, when required, where he confidently assumed the front ranks. Similarly, Abu Lubaba, and many others, displayed the same attitude.
Thus it was for the likes of these exemplary figures, that divine glorification was revealed. As conveyed, there were more than 100 Companions who, while prostrating in salat (prayer), would hold fast to their insufficient clothes to prevent an exposure of their private areas. As a matter of fact, all possessions and wealth had been abandoned in migrating from Mecca to Medina for the sake of God. The Prophet (upon whom be peace) nurtured a unique sensitivity for his Companions, and he would give them everything that came his way; and yet, especially in the early years of the faith, it still fell short of covering even their basic needs. He himself would endure days of starvation, to the point where he even tied a rock around his stomach to diminish his own feeling of hunger—and yet his soft heart could not bear the hunger of his Companions. So while he lived a life well below the standards of those around him, he displayed an unmatched sensitivity to the requirements of others.
Through his efforts, Abu Hurayra achieved such proximity to the Messenger that more often than not, he would refer to the Prophet as his Khalil (Confidant), such that he would begin his explanations by saying, “My Confidant told me…” Or, “I went next to my Confidant.” Or, “I conversed with my Confidant…” and so on. By using this term, Abu Hurayra alluded to the ache and longing he experienced whenever he was away from the presence of the Prophet. In one of his many visits to the Prophet, he witnessed him offering salat while seated, showing signs of agony and distress. Immediately after the salat was finished, Abu Hurayra asked the Prophet why he offered his prayer sitting, only to receive this response: “Hunger; O Abu Hurayra!” Abu Hurayra, having witnessed such a heartbreaking scene, broke down in tears and the duty of consolation was, again, left to the Prophet, who uttered these words of gentle comfort: “Don’t cry, Abu Hurayra, because surely, the least torment on the Day of Judgment will befall the starved who have indeed already suffered its hardships.”16
Such was the attitude displayed by this great “Confidant.” While the Prophet endured a variety of hardships, it would obviously have been utterly unconceivable for Abu Hurayra and the other 400 friends – the Ashab al-Suffa – to opt for lives of pompous luxury. Affirming their faith in God granted them such an immense maturity that they were constantly on the lookout for opportunities where they could lend their services. So even while they lacked the basic necessities of the day—a horse to ride, a saddle, a flask to carry water in, or a loaf of bread, for example—they would still come to the Prophet, asking for opportunities by which they could serve in God’s cause and thus vehemently insisting, “Provide us with means, O Messenger!” Evidently, the Companions always sought additional opportunities by which they could support the growth of their faith community and offer themselves increasingly in the name of God. Of course, understanding the depth of service of his close Companions, the Honorable Prophet would give them support and suggestions, as well as anything material he could provide, in order to increase their benefits before God. On the sad occasions when he had nothing left to give, and he was starving himself, he would suffer the unparalled and additional agony of having to turn back a Muslim who was willing to do more for his faith but simply had nothing more to offer. The Qur’an’s depiction of the preparations in the lead-up to the Tabuk campaign draws attention to this profound and moving situation:
Nor (is there any blame) on those who came to you, to be provided with mounts, and when you said to them, “I am unable to provide you with mounts.” They returned with tears streaming from their eyes, grieving that they could find no means to contribute. (Tawba 9:92)
As mentioned earlier, it is unimaginable in any healthy community for the rich to indulge in luxury while there are those who, out of insufficient means, are deserted to their own starvation and despair. Therefore, mobilizing all financial means towards those who have dedicated their entire lives for a noble cause—and who shed tears not for their own discomfort, but only for their failures in finding the necessary means to give more—would ultimately revive their vanished hopes, instigating an immensely efficacious movement by which the rewards of overwhelming sacrifice would be jointly shared—and enjoyed—by all the benefactors. Within the broadest sense of the term, the invaluable groundwork would thus be laid for talented students and followers, germinating in them an enormous eagerness to become passionate servants in God’s way, and upholders of universal ethics. This is, after all, the essence and vision of Islam.
On the word of the Qur’an, the last group of recipients which is identified is that of wayfarers— individuals who become needy during travel, even if they are essentially rich back home. It has virtually become impossible, especially today, to avoid traveling, whether it be for work or to spread the word of Islam to all the ends of the world. The quest to travel in order to serve in God’s way; to provide a righteous example of faith in parts of the world with little or no exposure to Islam; or to resettle in different communities in order to directly invite others to Islam is, in effect, an excellent motive to establish funds, in concordance with the Qur’anic directive to accommodate the needs of travelers and those who lend their services to the mission of God.
This command is simultaneously a verification of how Islam attends to a person’s financial requirements while also decreeing the spread of good and the purge of evil—for including these altruistic souls as recipients of zakat allays their financial concerns and saves them from lagging behind in devoting their lives to the search for thirsty hearts eager to be quenched with the nectar of Truth.
The Messenger of God enunciated the rich among those who may occasionally be eligible to receive zakat while traveling (and thus in need of resources).17 The mention of travelers in the hadith is simply an elaboration of the Qur’anic command in relation to wayfarers. Therefore, though a person may possess enough wealth to donate zakat, he may also be eligible as a recipient, provided that he is in need during travels.
WHERE ELSE CAN ZAKAT BE GIVEN?
The essential aim of zakat is to cure all social diseases that stem from inequality in the distribution of wealth and, ultimately, create a tightly knit community resembling a robust building. Evidently, there exist certain institutions which are aimed at serving the exact purpose for which zakat is intended, and these tend to be well known within a community. Even though these institutions have technically not been mentioned among the other categories of recipients, they do receive zakat owing to their particular social aims and functions. These institutions, which are formed around the core concept of charity, have the power to reach out to the deprived, to ease their lives and, as discussed above, help avoid or discourage potential social strife.
In the words of the Prophet (upon whom be peace), a Muslim society is like one body where all parts join the agony of a single limb; viewed from this angle, reviving one certain part of society is commensurable to breathing new life into the entire organism. Espousing this kind of an impetus, each member of society is expected to become active. Actualizing God’s will in all parts of society will, in effect, terminate theft and other crimes connected to financial instability, graciously giving the community a brand new lease on life. While charity and aid foundations, scholarship funds and orphanages may, at first, give the impression of being excluded from the eight groups delineated by the Qur’an, they each fundamentally relate and encompass one or more of the specified recipient groups. The dictates of the Qur’an, in effect, are both general and unrestricted—the essence of a vibrant and comprehensive system of ordinances for life. Therefore, conditions like poverty, traveling, being in debt, or striving in the way of God are inherently deemed to generate the need for assistance, so that individuals in such conditions clearly achieve eligibility for zakat, and organizations which provide such targeted assistance must receive available funds in order to deliver the appropriate relief.
Illat, in Islamic terminology, means the basic reason for determining the permissibility or the impermissibility of an action, and it constitutes a crucial foundation of Islamic jurisprudence. Recall that as far as the muallafa al-qulub are concerned, they receive zakat as long as, or whenever and wherever, they exist and there is a need for warming their hearts towards Islam. The situation is similar for wayfarers, as discussed above; namely, zakat is only given to such a group as long as it exists—that is, as long as individuals fitting this description can be identified. Therefore, looking from this perspective, we can say that the very existence of institutions or foundations which serve the needs of any of the individuals defined, and which have as their primary intent and purpose the support of these groups, is sufficient reason for their entitlement to zakat.
IS PERSONAL TRANSFER (TAMLIK) A REQUIREMENT?
Following this discussion of the Qur’an’s unequivocal exposition of the eight groups of recipients for zakat, the issue of tamlik (the process of handing over the zakat to the recipient in person) must be examined. The Hanafi School, especially, has laid great emphasis on the issue, accentuating the necessity of giving the zakat in person.
For the recipients to dispose of the zakat as they wish, it is imperative that they possess full rights and ownership over it, as discussed above; but further, the zakat should be transmitted to the beneficiaries in person in order to guarantee that their needs are met without any outside interference. Otherwise, zakat’s essential purpose, to act as a bridge between social classes, might not be achieved, due to a preliminary infringement on the right of the recipient. Hence, many scholars have included tamliq as an inseparable prerequisite of zakat, obligating the benefactor or an authorized proxy to deliver the zakat personally. This ruling has beneficially resulted in the prevention of probable misunderstandings and infringements that might have otherwise occured, as well as clearly having the practice in line with the Islamic spirit.
This requirement of personal transfer, according to the Hanafi School, is predicated upon the direct order to “Pay zakat!” Such a command can only be fulfilled by virtue of payment in person to the specified individuals and locations. To realize this task, it is acceptable to give the funds to the specified person, in question, or to the directors or supervisors of charity foundations because, according to Abu Hanifa, the originator of the Hanafi tradition of jurisprudence, the requirement of tamlik can simply be fulfilled by ensuring that the zakat will ultimately reach its recipients, as is the case with charity funds and foundations.
The words used in the verse in specifying the locations of disbursement are of further importance. While the Arabic preposition used prior to naming the poor, destitute, zakat collectors and muallafa al-qulub i s “li,” (“for”), the preposition employed before slaves, debtors, those working in the way of God and wayfarers is “fi,” (in). Some scholars, basing their view on the preposition “li,” have emphasized the requirement of personal transfer, but more importantly have stressed that zakat can only be given to individuals, thereby excluding all types of institutions.
However, it must be recalled that the other half of the recipients have been mentioned using the preposition of “fi,” which opens the door to there being other possibilities and aspects we must consider. For, otherwise, the verse would certainly have followed a consistent pattern and used the same grammar throughout. The groups denoted by “fi” are generally renowned for collective work which surpasses individual capabilities. The “way of God” classification, particularly, has a broad scope, encompassing a vast area of application and comprising of a cluster of categories—such as a soldier, student or pilgrim, just to mention a few. Bearing in mind the Prophet’s utilization of zakat funds in taking care of the needs of the Suffa (the gallant seekers of knowledge), the necessity of establishing foundations that provide an ideal environment for bringing up an exemplary generation whose basic needs are covered becomes manifest. Coercing the benefactor to strictly give his zakat directly to the poor instead would be tantamount to undermining charity foundations that could otherwise perfectly transfer the zakat to those in genuine need; moreover, such an approach spawns from a superficial understanding of the spirit of Islam. As superbly stated by Bediüzzaman Said Nursi, swords have now been replaced by letters, and the vitality of knowledge has gained even a fresher meaning; thus, the heroes carrying the standards of truth, spreading God’s message across the globe, those who have sacrificed their entire lives for the arduous pursuit of knowledge, must be sheltered, through supporting and revitalizing the foundations and institutions that provide a supportive environment for these outstanding heroes. In short, by virtue of offering zakat to the representatives of these institutions, a person will fulfill the obligation of zakat and, in actual fact, taking the current times and situation into particular consideration, will thus undoubtedly do so in the wisest of all ways.
As a fresh means of endeavor, current scholars are predominantly in agreement with regards to using zakat funds to establish and revive institutions of assistance. As strange as it may initially seem, even a brief moment of contemplation will divulge the plausibility of the emphasis which many scholars have placed on utilizing zakat to set up hospitals, laboratories, media organizations, financial institutions and, most importantly, educational institutions that will enlighten generations with Islam.
Investing zakat in this sort of a domain will, at the same time, provide the benefactor with visible fruits, in addition to the everlasting rewards awaiting him in the eternal abode. From this point of view, all institutions established to convey the revivifying Truth of God are essentially included in the category defined as being, “In the way of God;” and their restoration and reinforcement through zakat is indubitably an act of perpetual benefit. More precisely, those seeking to fulfill the obligation of zakat in the best possible way should assemble their funds in foundations which strive to implement and convey humankind’s ethical values, as exemplified by the Qur’an, so that they can use their financial means to participate in the valiant effort to serve humanity—unquestionably, the noblest of all services.
While opting for this alternative, all benefactors must understand that giving zakat in person to the representatives of these institutions fulfills the requirement of tamlik and, in actual fact, there is no difference between this method and that of giving it to an individual.
Included in Islam’s code of action, it must be recalled, is the strong recommendation to take precautions as circumstance demands and even keep and maintain disheartening forces at hand, as attested to by the verse, “Make ready for them all you can of force” (Anfal 8:60). Caliph Umar’s maintenance of 80,000 horses in two separate districts, while actively another 40,000 horses, is testimony to his thorough understanding of the verse. For this reason, many scholars have included a soldier’s supplies and ammunition in the context of “in the way of God,” sanctioning the use of zakat funds to cover their entire needs. In this case, handing the zakat over to the responsible commander, instead of giving it to the soldier personally, will meet the requirement of tamlik. Thus, while the benefactor can feel at ease that he has realized his noble obligation of giving in the way of God, the commander or official who acts as a proxy will also bear the honorable task of flawlessly utilizing the money received, in the best possible way, to cover the necessities of the soldiers. Thus, depending on the sort of need, it may not be necessary to hand over the charity to the soldier himself; for instance, small supplies like food or clothes are best given directly to the soldier, whereas larger qualities are better given to the administrators.
SOME ISSUES CONCERNING THE PLACES OF DISBURSEMENT
CAN ALL OF ONE’S ZAKAT BE GIVEN TO A SINGLE PERSON AT ONCE?
The gathered zakat of a person, according to the Shafii school, must be distributed among at least three people belonging to any of the eight specified categories, as the wordings used for each is always plural, insinuating a multiplicity of persons. Hence, the zakat must be given to at least three different individuals, though it can certainly be given to more.
The majority, including the Hanafi scholars, insist that the plural wording used in the verse actually simply denotes the multiplicity of specific types, so that zakat could be paid to any individual belonging to any of the many categories, regardless of their numbers. According to this school, then, as well as being able to give the entire zakat to a single category, the benefactor may also present it to a single person or foundation. Expounding the categories of recipients, the verse leaves the freedom of choice to the benefactor. If we were to take the li preposition out of its symbolic context and understand it to pertain to each member of the specified categories, then inevitably, the donor would have to distribute zakat among every single person in each of these categories—clearly an impossible task in realistic terms.
In a nutshell, it will suffice to give the zakat to any single person or organization, provided that eligibility is established, and t he r e is no need to impose any strictness or particular complications on what is, in fact, a simple task.
CAN ZAKAT BE GIVEN TO CLOSE RELATIVES?
Insofar as social obligations and issues pertaining to economical life are concerned, Islam has given visible priority to relatives, as testified by God’s Command to His Messenger before embarking on the mission to spread His word, “And warn your tribe of near kindred” (Shuara 26:214).
The Noble Prophet, applying the monumental ethics and morals extolled by the Qur’an, clearly abided by the verse, commencing with his kin, continually warning them upon the slightest oscillation that their personal relationship with the Prophet would be of no avail if they were ever to lead a life outside the borders laid down by God.
When the verse, “You will not attain righteousness until you spend of what you love” (Al Imran 3:92) was revealed, the Prophet refused Abu Talha’s desire to donate his entire garden at “Beyruha,” advising him to distribute it among his relatives instead. On one occasion, when a female Companion conveyed the view of her husband and son concerning sadaqa, the Messenger of God declared, “Your hus band, Ibn Masud, and your son have spoken the truth. The best charity you can ever offer is towards them.”18 This amplifies the importance of donating to kin. The Prophet, in a similar fashion, advised another relatively poor Companion to observe the following order in charity, “Start from yourself; if there is any left over, give to your family; then to your relatives; then so on and so on (basically to everybody else).”19
In another hadith, the Prophet (upon whom be peace) elaborates, “Sadaqa given to a destitute acquires one reward, whereas sadaqa given to relatives acquires two.”20
Supplementary evidence can also be put forth to corroborate this systematic order of charity established by the Prophet. The basic issue, however, is simple: the natural sequence of lineage as well as such institutions as charity and aid foundations, scholarship funds and orphanages around the donor should be kept in mind, and observed equitably in the matter of zakat.
IN OUR DAY, WHAT ARE THE BEST PLACES TO GIVE ZAKAT?
The most virtuous act can differ according to place and time. A cer tain act, appropriate at one time, may lose its status in another. During a time, for instance, the most virtuous act was hijra (the abandoning of the home country and all possessions and migrating for God and His Prophet), an immense sacrifice whose virtues have been announced by the Prophet (upon whom be peace). Hijra, in its full sense of the term, then meant the display of a Muslim’s perseverance in the face of non-believers and his efforts, both individual and collective, to reinforce Islam. At other times, however, upon being asked to identify the most virtuous acts, the Honorable Prophet gave alternative responses, like salat performed on time, struggling in the way of God, or upholding high morals—implying that certain acts may outshine others depending on the person, time or place.
From the very beginning, scholars have put focus on the need to establish what constitutes the most virtuous place for disbursement, with some believing that it would be best to offer it to all the eight groups at once, with others laying more emphasis on some groups over others. Be that as it may, the bottom line is that the state of virtue differs according to various cases and needs, thus the underlying factor in divergent scholarly interpretations should be sought according to the particular conditions at the time, and place, in which one lives.
At this point, it will be of immense benefit to highlight certain aspects which are helpful in determining the most ideal places for disbursement. The essential consideration, as always, is that with the assistance of zakat, social and economical deficiencies should be repaired. Obviously, it is also important that zakat not be senselessly frittered away; on the contrary, all efforts should be coalesced in the mission to patch up social wounds. Uniting all efforts by collecting every single drop into one gigantic basin will providentially provide the means for the mental and intellectual enlightenment of aspiring minds, as well as satisfying the appetite of those hungry for Truth.
Indeed, it is great to give to the poor or destitute; and it is also highly commendable to reach out to students, who are themselves prone to becoming victims of insidious movements and falling into the destructive traps of sinister ideologies. Thus, today’s Muslims need to seek to utilize their zakat for the common good, in the name of securing a future for Islam. Effectively lending full support to well-founded institutions and organizations which strive to create, for these students, prosperously blissful and harmonious environme nt s , will ensure their development into constructive and productive characters who are able to assume their own responsibilities for the perpetuation of zakat and the health of new generations and communities. Indubitably, our most vital duty is to provide a haven for a generation on the edge of becoming devoid of thought and values and to construct an inner spirituality in them, assuring them a place as architects of the future. Establishing educational institutions which are home to remarkable teaching remains one of the best ways to accomplish this ideal—and thus the relative advisability of mobilizing zakat funds for such a purpose becomes self-evident.
It must always be kept in mind that each period of time harbors its own unique problems and priorities, as exemplified by the Noble Prophet’s alternating emphases on acts like pilgrimage, kindness to parent, salat offered on time, and many other financial or physical demonstrations of faith—all of which all are undoubtedly highly virtuous. Thus, the concept of striving efficiently in the way of God must be re-examined, keeping the current state of world affairs close at hand. For the Arabic term jihad (striving) encompasses every kind of struggle and effort which is exerted in the way of God. As a result, even cultural activities may be considered to be striving in that they are essential pursuits which bind the community of believers to one another and result in substantial and permanent social effects and impressions.
At this point in human history, we face the enemy in ignorance—an adversary which can only be crushed through a resuscitation of knowledge of God, or gnosis. Thus, reminding ourselves and others about belief, enjoining good, and forbidding evil all become critically incumbent duties on all Muslims. We must all reach the important realization that the world today is in desperate need of sound Islamic teachings, perhaps more than it has ever been. In the words of Bediüzzaman Said Nursi, if we had been perfectly successful in representing Islam’s essentials and ideals, the members of other affiliations would have entered the fold of Islam in masses by now. It is unfortunate but true that our failure to truly communicate the beauty of Islam—both explicitly, in our words and teachings, and implicitly, in the models of humanity we present as ourselves—has been equally matched by the seeming apathy of much of the world in seeking the path to salvation. If Muslims sincerely aspire to solve this problem, they must establish and bolster such foundations and foster and nurture our future, most especially the youth. And this will only be accomplished through collective and concerted efforts to channel the bulk of resources towards the proper education of the younger generation.
WHO CANNOT BE GIVEN ZAKAT?
Zakat is a financial deed whose benefactors and recipients have unequivocally been specified. In addition to declaring all the eight eligible categories, the essential references of Islam— Qur’an and Sunna—have also identified the groups which are not entitled to zakat.
In enumerating the two deeds that are truly worthy of envy (not to be understood in its negative sense), the Prophet (upon whom be peace) includes the person who “constantly donates to where merited, to the point of insolvency,”21 an allusion to the inappropriateness of giving zakat or sadaqa to undeserving people or places.
Put in a nutshell, people ineligible to receive zakat can be enumerated as the rich; those who have the power and ability to work; and intimate relatives or progeny of the Noble Prophet (upon whom be peace). Let’s now scrutinize each of these categories in light of the respective evidence.
The rich are obliged to give zakat, not to receive it, as attested to by the hadith, “Sadaqa is not permissible for the rich (to receive);’’22 equally, the Prophet’s advice to Muadh before dispatching him to Yemen attests: “It (wealth) is taken from the rich and given to the poor.”23
In another hadith, the Prophet (upon whom be peace) forewarned, “A person who asks of others, despite possessing enough wealth for sustenance, will be brought on the Day of Judgment with his face scarred by his demands as if it had been scraped with nails.” In answer to subsequent inquiries about what could be considered “enough wealth,” his answer was “50 dirhams.”24 Furthermore, the Messenger unambiguously stated, “Sadaqa is not permissible for whoever is wealthy with the power to work.”25
The general exclusion of the rich from zakat notwithstanding, there are some who have been identified as being eligible to receive it, as justified by the subsequent hadith, wherein the Prophet included certain among the rich in those eight categories: “Charity is not permissible for the rich, except for the following five: a warrior in the way of God, a zakat collector, a debtor, a person who buys the charity collected as zakat, and a rich person who receives from a poor the gift that was given to him as zakat.”26
Officially wealthy children or a female, regardless of whether or not they exercise authority over their possessions, are also ineligible to receive zakat, since a female with a wealthy husband or the child of a rich father is also classified as being rich because Islam has obliged the male—whether it be the father or husband—with the duty of providing her sustenance. By the same token, zakat cannot be given to the children under the financial protection of a wealthy guardian.
Those with the power to work
Islam does not condone supporting those who, although they possess enough ability and power, adamantly insist on leading a parasitical life; contrarily, the Qur’an praises and emphasizes personal effort and toil, as accentuated by the verse: “…and that each can have nothing save what he strives for” (Najm 53:39).
In a hadith overruling the eligibility of those with the power to work, the Prophet declared that, “Sadaqa is not permissible for a wealthy person or for one with the power to work.”27 The Prophet extols personal effort in another hadith:
A man from among the Ansar (Medinan Companions) came to the Prophet (upon whom be peace) and begged from him. He (the Prophet) asked, “Have you nothing in your house?” He replied, “Yes, a piece of cloth, a part of which we wear and a part of which we spread (on the ground), and a wooden bowl from which we drink water.” He said, “Bring both to me.” He then brought these articles to him and he (the Prophet) took them in his hands and asked those present, “Who will buy these?” A man said, “I shall buy them for one dirham.” The Prophet said, “Who will offer more than one dirham?” Another man said, “I shall buy them for two dirhams.” He (the Prophet) gave these to him and took the two dirhams and, giving them to the Ansar, he said, “God and buy food for your family with one dirham, and with another buy an axe and bring it to me.” He then brought it to him. The Messenger of God fixed a handle on it with his own hands and said, “Go, gather firewood, sell it and meet me after 15 days.” The man went away, cut wood and sold it. When he had earned ten dirhams, he came to him and bought a garment with some of them and food with the others. The Messenger of God (upon whom be peace) then said, “This is better for you than that begging should come as a spot on your face on the Day of Judgment.”28
Notwithstanding the view of some scholars who advise donors to give zakat to persons simply according to outward appearances because of the utter impossibility of knowing another’s status with certitude, many scholars are adamantly against giving zakat to a person who may be considered “an idler.” Ideally, it is perhaps bet ter to initially offer them assistance via zakat, and thus give them an opportunity to stand on their own, an approach that will, in time, effectively discern between the hard workers and freeloaders.
Withholding zakat from those in active warfare against Muslims is a verdict that is established by both Islamic sources and logical thinking, in addition to the consensus of scholars. The Almighty has explicitly declared, “God only forbids you to make friends with those who have fought against you on account of your religion and driven you from your homes, or abetted others to do so” (Mumtahina 60:9). This clearly dictates the code of conduct to be embraced against those with obstinate hatred, who incessantly and publicly strive to thwart the splendor of Islam.
This is actually what common sense calls for, as lending financial support to those preparing to engage in hostilities would practically be tantamount to self-destruction. Even though such a donation might be considered to stimulate peace, this would certainly be a highly strategic decision, in need of meticulous planning and a great deal of preliminary thought.
As made palpable by the verse, the group in question refers to non-Muslims who have made a habit of callously attacking and assaulting Muslims—not to be confused with the minorities living in Muslim realms who, as verified by the consensus of the scholars, may at least be given supererogatory sadaqa if in need. It is a well-known fact that Caliph Umar had even allotted a salary from the treasury for an aged non-Muslim lady. Concurrently, this sort of benevolence is necessitated by the teachings Islam promulgates in the name of humanity. Exemplified by the muallafa al-qulub charity, heartwarming grants like these are providentially the means for many to bear witness to the positives of life, a scene that may well culminate in the precious result of the acceptance of Islam.
Intimate family members
A person cannot give zakat to those he is obliged to look after, who include his usul (origin and progeny), namely parents and children, but exclude the furu (other relatives). Giving zakat to parents or children will not realize the profound goal of zakat, causing wealth to continuously change only between the same hands, a procedure prohibited by the Qur’an: “…so that they will not become the property of the rich among you” (Hashr 59:7). Equally, this is equivalent to us ing zakat money to close a debt in that the sustenance of parents and children is commensurate with a debt awaiting payment.
Insofar as grandparents and grandchildren are concerned, scholars have opted for both sides of the issue, stemming from different categorizations as either usul or furu. While some maintain their ineligibility due to their inclusion as usul, other scholars insist on their eligibility as furu, granting the responsibility on both occasions to the father.
As for giving zakat to other relatives, it is considered not only acceptable but commendable, and a means of strengthening community bonds through sila al-rahim (the reinforcement of relational ties). Thus it is said to acquire double the rewards, as attested to by the assurance of the Prophet (upon whom be peace) in the following hadith: “A sadaqa given to a destitute is one sadaqa, whereas a sadaqa given to relatives is sadaqa and sila al-rahim.”29 The Noble Messenger’s advice to Abu Talha and Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqas spawns from this exact approach, recommending to them, on behalf of the entire Muslim community, that it is much more appropriate to give priority in charity and alms to family and relatives, lest they become dependent on others.
The descendents of the Prophet
The progeny of the Noble Messenger, collectively known as Bani Hashim (the children of Hashim), are equally ineligible to be zakat recipients. Shafii, contrary to the opinions of Abu Hanifa, Malik and Ibn Hanbal, further extends this boundary by similarly integrating the children of Abd al-Muttalib, the Prophet’s grandfather. So, accordingly, the Prophet’s (upon whom be peace) relatives comprise his own family, plus the families of Aqil, Jafar, Abbas and Haris.
The Prophet had once appointed a man from the tribe of Bani Mahzun to collect charity, who had then asked Abu Rafi, a former slave emancipated by Bani Hashim, to join him, so as to acquire a share of it. Upon hearing this, the Messenger proclaimed, “An emancipated slave of a tribe is a member of it, and certainly sadaqa is not held (allowed) for us.”30 When Hasan, the grandson of the Prophet, reached out to a date given in charity, the Prophet prevented him by saying, “You should know that we do not eat of zakat.”31 Likewise, the Prophet (upon whom be peace) had said, “Time and again when I return to my abode, I come across a date fallen on my bed; and as soon as I seize the date for consumption, I drop it in fear it may be sadaqa.”32
On top of prohibiting his family members and relatives from charity and alms, the Prophet (upon whom be peace) equally did n o t consent to them working as zakat collectors, a profession that entailed a compulsory receival of zakat. Nonetheless, he did authorize for himself and his family a portion of one-fifth of the gains of war that was entitled to him, in addition to the gifts he had received.
The eighth chapter of the Qur’an begins by emphasizing the basic principle that the gains of war belong to God and His Messenger, “They (the believers) ask you about the gains of war. Say: “The war-gains belong to God and the Messenger,” (Anfal 8:1) and then clarifies the how the gains of war will be distributed, “And know that whatever you take as gains of war, to God belongs one fifth of it, and to the Messenger, and the near kinsfolk, and orphans, and the destitute, and the wayfarer (one devoid of sufficient means of journeying)” (Anfal 8:41). This verse assigns one-fifth to God first, that is to public services by mentioning the people who represent these services: the Messenger, his near kinsfolk, orphans, the destitute and the wayfarer who does not have sufficient means to complete the journey. The remainder is distributed among the warriors.
The Messenger (upon whom be peace) devoted all his life to communicating Islam to others and to the service of the people. He was not in a position to provide for the poor among his kinsfolk. In addition, there were many other places or items of expenditure for which the Messenger had to pay as both a Messenger and the head of the state. The share assigned to him may, in some respects, be likened to the funds assigned for the special expenditure of heads of state.
It is a historical fact that the Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, spent his first wife Khadija’s wealth on the cause of calling to Islam, while he, his family and his kinsfolk lived as the poorest of all Muslims. They also spent all the shares of the gains of war that were assigned to them on Islamic services and the needy.
It has also been narrated that the Prophet would investigate the source of each gift and would then use it only if and when its legitimacy had been confirmed; if such could not be established, he simply transferred the alms or charity to others, or returned it back to the Bayt al-Mal (treasury).
Senturk, Omer Faruk. “Charity in Islam” Tughra Books Press. January 2007.
- December 16, 2013
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