#Article (Archive)

ZAKAH: Who Has Priority In The Distribution Of Zakah

Feb 21, 2020, 3:37 PM

The distribution of zakah to those who are eligible, as mentioned in the ‘ayah from at-Taubah, can now be classified as under:

The poor (fuqdra’); the needy (rnasakm); the administrators of zakah (‘amildna ‘alaiha); those whose hearts are to be won over (mu’allafatu qulubuhum), slaves (ar-riqab); those in debt (gharimun) the wayfarers (abna’ as-Sabil); the warriors (rnujahidln). 

The jurists differ over the distribution of zakah among the preceding eight groups of people.

Ash-Shaf’i and his followers hold that if a distributor of zakah happens to be the owner of the property (or the agent), then there is no share of the collectors in it. In that case, it becomes obligatory to distribute the sum collected among the remaining seven categories. If other categories are for some reason ineligible for their share, it will be distributed among those still eligible. It is not permissible to disregard any category if it meets the conditions for eligibility. Ibrahim an-Nakha’i says that if the amount of zakah received is large, then it is possible to divide it among the different categories. However, if it is small, it is permissible to place it into one category. Ahmad ibn Hanbal holds that the division of zakah has a priority but that it is permissible to give it all to one category. Malik maintains that the distributor of zakah should make an effort to investigate those who are in need. He should distribute it according to the immediate condition of the needy and poor people. Thus, if he sees in certain years that the poor need more, they should be given priority. If he sees in another year that the wayfarers are more needy, he should distribute it among the travelers. The Hanafiyyah and Sufyan ath-Thauri thought that the zakah payer can choose the categories he wished to distribute the zakah to. This is related by Huzhaifah and Ibn ‘Abbas. Al-Hasan al-Basri and ‘Ata’ ibn Abi Rabah base their opinions on it. Abu Hanifah holds that the distributors of zakah may give it to one person under any of the eight categories.

Why the Scholars Differ 

According to Ibn Rushd: “The cause of their differences lies between the literal and the intended meaning. The literal meaning determines the classifications, but the intended meaning shows that priority should be given to the needy according to the immediacy of their needs since the aim [of the institution of zakah] is to eliminate poverty. The enumeration [of the categories] in the Qur’an is meant to distinguish the different kinds--that is, the people eligible for zakah, and not necessarily their grouping. The first interpretation is the literal one while the second is the intended interpretation.” AshShaf’i builds his case on the hadith of as-Suda’i which is related by Abu Dawud. A man came to the Prophet, upon whom be peace, and asked for zakah. The Messenger of Allah, upon whom be peace, said: “Allah has not left the matter to the judgment of a prophet nor to others. He has laid the rules for it--that is, He has classified [the beneficiaries] into eight categories. If you fit into any of these, I will give you your due.”


The Preference Of The Majority Opinion Over That Of Ash-Shaf’i 

The author of ar-Rawdah an-Nadiyyah says: “Distributing all of the zakah to one group is more benefiting to the realization of the word of Allah.” In brief, one may say that Allah made zakah applicable only to the eight specifically mentioned categories. Spelling out these categories does not mean that the zakah has to be distributed among them equally or even that it has to be divided among them. The intended meaning, however, is that the categories of sadaqah are similar to various groups of people who are eligible for it. Thus, one who is obligated to pay anything to any category of sadaqah and gives it to a person in a parallel group is considered to be fulfilling what Allah commanded him to do. Contrary to this, if one divides his zakah due into the acknowledged eight categories, if all eight exist, then that would not only be contrary to the practice of the Muslims throughout history, but it would cause hardship to the payer of zakah. For example, if the collected zakah were meager, it would be of no benefit to any designated category--even if it was of one kind, to say nothing if it was of numerous kinds. To endorse such a practice would be tantamount to counter what the Prophet, upon whom be peace, did when he permitted the payment of a penance (kaffarah) from the charity collected for Salmah ibn Sakhr. Obviously, the hadith of as-Suda’i cannot be used as evidence.

There is not a single case in the entire corpus of hadith literature which could be used to make the distribution of zakah to all groups of people obligatory. Using the hadith of Mu’azh as evidence that the Prophet, upon whom be peace, instructed him to take zakah from the rich Yemenites and give it to their poor will not be of much help because it does not establish that the zakah was distributed to all the groups. Nor is the hadith of Ziyad ibn al-Harith as-Suda’i valid in this regard because in its chain of narrators is ‘Abdur-Rahman ibn Ziyad al-’Afriqi, whose credibility has been questioned by many scholars. Assuming that this hadith is valid for the point under discussion, the meaning of the division of zakah into parts is its distribution according to the apparent meaning of the Qur’anic ‘ayah and what the Prophet, upon whom be peace, had in mind. Assuming that the division of zakah itself is intended, the distribution has to be done according to the specified categories. In this case, any transfer of the share of one group to another, even if the group concerned was for some reason non-existent, will not be permissible. Such an approach will be contrary to the consensus of Muslim scholars. If we accept that, then the deciding factor for the sadaqah’s distribution is the leader’s wish rather than, and not the specific categories of eligible people. Thus, there is no evidence that makes division obligatory, and it is consequently permissible to give some sadaqah to those eligible people and some to other groups. Indeed, when the leader collects all the sadaqat from his people and all eight categories are eligible to receive them, each group has the right to claim its share. However, he does not have to divide the collected sadaqat among them equally or distribute it without any distinction, for he can give any amount to any group or groups that he wants to, or he can give some without giving the rest if he thinks it is in the interest of Islam and its people. For example, if the sadaqah was collected and then a jihad was announced, meaning that it would become necessary to defend the territory of Islam against the unbelievers, the leader can give some or all of it to the deserving warriors. This also applies to other concerns if the interest of Islam necessitates it.

People Forbidden for Zakah 

We have discussed so far the distribution of zakah and the categories of people eligible to receive it. Now we will talk about those who are forbidden to receive it. They are:

A: Unbelievers and Atheists 

The jurists agree that unbelievers and atheists are not to be given zakah. In the hadith which says: “Zakah is taken from the rich and given back to the poor,” “the rich” refers to rich Muslims while “the poor” indicates poor Muslims. Ibn al-Munzhir said that all scholars agree that the free non-Muslim subject (Zhimmi) is not entitled to zakah. Exceptions to the rule are those people whose hearts are leaning toward Islam. However, it is permissible to give a zhimmi from the nonobligatory charity (Tatawwu’). Alluding to the characteristics of the believers, the Qur’an says: “And for His love, they feed the indigent, orphan, and captive” (ad-Dahr: 8... This is also supported by the following hadith: “Be kind to your mother.” The woman in this case was an unbeliever.

TO be continued