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ZAKAH: Debtors

Feb 7, 2020, 1:53 PM

People burdened by debts and unable to pay them are of several kinds: those who took upon themselves responsibility to discharge a debt; those who guaranteed debts of others and therefore, upon default, the debts have become their obligation; those who mismanaged their finances, those who borrowed money because they had to; or those who were involved in sinful acts and then repented, and who had to pay a fine for repentance. All of them may take sadaqah to meet their debts.

Anas reported that the Prophet, (SAW), said: “Asking for sadaqah is permissible only for the following three classes [of people]:

1. Those who are in abject poverty,

2. Those who have severe debts, 

3. Those who incurred it in the payment of blood money [on behalf of a relative or friend].” This is related by Ahmad, Abu Dawud, Ibn Majah, and at-Tirmizhi. The latter grades it has.

Muslim relates from Abu Sa’id al-Khudri that a man made a bad deal on fruit and then ran into heavy debt. The Prophet, (SAW), recommended: “Give him sadaqah.” Then the people gave him sadaqah. However, he still had some debt left over. Thereupon, the Prophet, upon (SAW), said to creditors: “Take what you get . . .”

As to the previously stated hadith of Qabisah ibn Mukhariq, in which he says: “I had a debt. I went to the Messenger of Allah, upon whom be peace, and asked him for help. He answered: ‘Wait until we have received funds for Sadaqah, then we will give some to you.’ “The expression hamalah in this hadith, as defined by the scholars, is to assume someone’s responsibility as one’s own in order to restitute a discord. In pre-Islamic times, whenever strife took place among the Arab tribes and blood was spilled, compensation was called for. In such a case, one of them would volunteer to meet the obligation until the strife had ended. Undoubtedly, this was a noble act for these people. When the Arabs would come to know that one of them had taken upon himself the responsibility (Hamalah) of someone’s debt, they would hasten to his help in the discharge of his responsibility. If such a person asked for help, it was considered an honorable act and not derogatory to his character. No conditions were stipulated. As for being qualified to obtain zakah in the discharge of such debts, it is not a precondition that the person who has assumed the debt on another’s behalf should be unable to pay it. In fact, he can still ask for zakah even though he is a man of means.

Sadaqah for the Cause of Allah 

Fee Sabil lillah means for the sake of Allah--that is, making use of knowledge and deeds to attain Allah’s pleasure. Most scholars understood this phrase as fighting for the cause of Allah. Part of zakah designated for the cause of Allah is given to volunteer fighters, especially those who are not on the payroll of the state, regardless of their financial status.

The hadith of the Messenger of Allah, stated elsewhere, also confirms it: “Sadaqah is not permitted to the rich except to the following five: the warrior (Ghuzi) for the cause of Allah . . . and so on.”

As to the pilgrimage (hajj, it does not fall under the zakah designated for the cause of Allah because it is an obligation for one who can afford it. Commenting on the issue, the authors of al-Manar say: “Spending of this portion on securing the routes of the pilgrimage and for providing water, food, and health services for the pilgrims is permissible if funds from other sources are not available.”

Included in the share designated “for the cause of Allah” are those spendings in the interest of the common good that pertain to both religious and secular matters. The foremost is the preparations for war, including buying arms, food supplies for soldiers, means of transportation, and equipment for warriors. However, the supplies for warriors are to be returned to the treasury after the war. This applies especially to inconsumable items such as weapons, horses, and so on. A warrior does not always possess such items, for he uses them in the cause of Allah only when necessary. This is not the case, however, with other recipients of zakah, such as zakah collectors, debtors, people who received money under the expense account “reconciliation of hearts,” and the wayfarers. They do not have to return the zakah, even if they are no longer entitled to it.

Also included in the expense account “for the cause of Allah” are projects such as establishing military hospitals, paved and unpaved roads, the extension of military (not commercial) railway lines, and the building of cruisers, warplanes, fortresses, and trenches. An important item in this category could be the preparation of Muslim missionaries and sending them to non-Muslim countries to spread Islam, just as non-Muslim missionaries are now spreading their religions in Islamic countries. Also falling under this heading would be school expenses to prepare adequate courses in religious sciences and in othear areas of public interest. Teachers involved in such programs should be given sadaqah as long as they continue to perform their assigned jobs without resorting to other means of income. Scholars who are rich should not be paid for their work, despite their obvious benefits to the people.

Sadaqah for the Wayfarer 

Scholars agree that a traveler stranded in a foreign land should be given zakah if he lacks the means to achieve his objectives. The extension of zakah is, however, tied to the condition that the journey must have been undertaken for Islamically acceptable reasons. Just what such a trip involves is open to question. The preferable opinion among the Shaf’iyyah is that sadaqah is given even when the traveler is taking the trip for sightseeing and pleasure. The wayfarer (ibn as-Sabil), according to the Shaf’iyyah, is of two kinds:

1. A person traveling within his own country, 

2. One traveling in a foreign country. Both of them are entitled to zakah, even though they could find someone to lend them the needed amount and they have enough resources in their own country to pay their debts. According to Malik and Ahmad, only the passer-by is eligible for zakah and not one traveling within his own country. Zakah is not to be given to the person if he can find someone to lend him the money he needs and if he has enough of his own money in his country to pay his debt.

To be continued 

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