What are the categories on which zakaah must be spent?
Praise be to Allaah.
There are eight categories on which zakaah must be spent, which Allaah has explained clearly.
“As-Sadaqaat (here it means Zakaah) are only for the Fuqaraa’ (poor) and Al Masaakeen (the poor) and those employed to collect (the funds) and to attract the hearts of those who have been inclined (towards Islam) and to free the captives; and for those in debt and for Allaah’s Cause (i.e. for Mujaahidoon — those fighting in a holy battle) and for the wayfarer (a traveller who is cut off from everything); a duty imposed by Allaah. And Allaah is All-Knower, All-Wise”
QURAN: [Surah al-Tawbah 9:60]
These eight are the categories who are entitled to zakaah and to whom it must be paid.
1 & 2) Fuqara and Masaakeen
The first and second are the fuqara’ and masaakeen (the poor and needy). They should be given zakaah to meet their needs. The difference between the fuqara’ and masaakeen is that the fuqara’ are in greater need; one of them cannot find enough to suffice himself and his dependents for half a year. The masaakeen are better off than the fuqara’, because they can find half of what will suffice them or more. These people should be given zakaah because of their need.
But how can we evaluate need?
The scholars said: They should be given what they need to suffice them and their families for one year, because when the year has passed, zakaah will become due again. We can give in the form of food and clothing, or we give him money with which to buy what suits him, or we give him tools with which he can make things, if he is good at that, such as a tailor, carpenter or blacksmith and so on. What matters is that we give him what will suffice him and his family for one year.
3) Zakaah Collectors and Distributors
The third are those who are involved in the collection and distribution of zakaah. They are the collectors who collect it from those who have to pay it, and the ones who divide it among those who are entitled to it, and those who record it, and so on.
But how much of it should they be given?
The amount of Zakkah given to them should be according to their efforts. If it so happens that those who are employed to administer the zakaah are poor, they may be given zakaah for their work, and be given whatever will suffice them for one year because of their being poor. They are entitled to zakaah on two counts – because of their work in administering it and because of their poverty, so they should be given zakaah for both reasons.
4) To attract the hearts of those who have been inclined towards Islam
The fourth is: “to attract the hearts of those who have been inclined (towards Islam)”. These are people who may be given zakaah in order to open their hearts towards Islam, either a kaafir who we hope will become Muslim, or a Muslim to whom we give in order to strengthen his faith, or an evil man to whom we give zakaah so as to ward off his evil from the Muslims, and other cases in which it is in the Muslims’ interests to attract their hearts.
The fifth category of those who are entitled to zakaah is: slaves. The scholars explained this in three ways:
(i) A mukaatib or slave who has entered into a contract of manumission to buy himself from his master for a sum to be paid later. He may be given enough money to fulfil this contract with his master.
(ii) A slave who may be bought with zakaah funds and set free
(iii) A Muslim prisoner who has been captured by the kuffaar; the kuffaar may be given zakaah funds to ransom this prisoner. This also applies to kidnapping: if a kaafir or Muslim has kidnapped a Muslim, there is nothing wrong with ransoming this person with zakaah funds, because the purpose is the same, namely releasing a Muslim from captivity. This applies if we are not able to force the kidnapper to release him without using this money, if the victim is a Muslim.
6) Those who are in debt
The sixth is: those who are in debt. The scholars divided debt into two categories: debts incurred to bring about reconciliation, and debts incurred because of need. With regard to debts incurred to bring about reconciliation, they gave the example of a case where there is a dispute, conflict or war between two tribes, and a man of good will, standing and honour comes and reconciles between these two tribes, incurring expenses for which he takes responsibility. So we should give this man money from zakaah, in appreciation of his great effort which has put an end to enmity and hostility and bloodshed among believers. He should be given zakaah regardless of whether he is rich or poor, because we are not giving it because he is in need, rather we are giving it because he has brought about reconciliation, which serves the common interest.
The second category of debtors is the one who is in debt on his own account, who took a loan either to meet his own needs, and he did not have money. His debt may be paid off from zakaah funds so long as he does not have any wealth that could be used to pay off the debt.
7) For Allaah's Cause
The seventh is: “for Allaah’s Cause”. What is meant here is jihad for the sake of Allaah and nothing else.
The one who is fighting for Allaah’s Cause is the one who is fighting so that word of Allaah will be supreme.
The scholars said: “for Allaah's cause” includes a man who devotes his time to seeking Islamic knowledge. He may be given zakaah for whatever he needs of maintenance, clothing, food, drink, accommodation and books of knowledge that he needs, because Islamic knowledge is a kind of jihad for the sake of Allaah.
The eighth is: wayfarers, i.e., travellers who are cut off from everything and have no money. Such a traveller may be given enough zakaah to enable him to reach his homeland, even if he is rich in his own country, because he is in need. In this case, we do not say that the traveller has to borrow money and pay it back, because in this case we would be imposing a debt on him. But if he chooses to borrow and pay it back, and not take the zakaah, then it is up to him. If we find a person who is travelling from Makkah to Madeenah, and he loses his money (and supplies) and does not have anything, but he is rich in Madeenah, then we should give him just enough to help him reach Madeenah, because this is what he needs, and we should not give him any more than that.
Now that we know the eight categories to whom zakaah may be given, zakaah should not be spent on other interests, whether public or private. Based on this, we should not use zakaah to build mosques, repair roads, build libraries and so on, because when Allaah mentioned the categories of those to whom zakaah may be given, He said (interpretation of the meaning):
“a duty imposed by Allaah. And Allaah is All-Knower, All-Wise”
i.e., these categories have come as an obligation from Allaah. “And Allaah is All-Knower, All-Wise.”