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Zakah and its Uses

November 9, 2010 | 2

By: Dr Abu Shariq
(http://www.financeinislam.com)

Zakah has been an integral part of all prophetic religions. All of the prophets exhorted their followers to pay zakah.[1] The Old and New Testaments contain various verses that encourage the followers to spend on the welfare of the poor and needy.[2] Although Old and the New Testaments do not indicate any fixed heads of expenditure for zakah, the Quran has fixed it heads of expenditure of zakah which is mentioned in the following verse:

Alms are for the poor and the needy; and those employed to administer the (funds); for those whose hearts have been (recently) reconciled (to truth); for those in bondage and indebt; in the cause of Allah; and for the wayfarer. (Thus it is) ordained by Allah. (9:60)

By fixing the heads of expenditure of zakah Islam has minimized the possibility of misuse of fund from the rulers and individuals. The primary goal of zakah is to ameliorate the living conditions of the poor and the needy. In the above verse the priority has been given to poor and needy. This is inferred from the fact that the heads of the poor and the needy have been mentioned in the very beginning. According to the principles of Arabic usage the most important things are mentioned first.[3] The priority of the upliftment of the poor and the needy through zakah is also evident from Prophetic traditions (ahadith). In order to assess the role of zakah in human development, an analysis of its heads of expenditure is given below.

1. The Poor and the Needy

The first head of expenditure of zakah is the poor and the needy. In Islamic jurisprudence there are different opinions on the criteria of the poor and the needy. According to Hanafi jurisprudence following types of persons are eligible to benefit from zakah:

v Those who have nothing for their subsistence and basic necessities of life.
v Those who own a house, furniture, means of conveyance etc., but can hardly afford their daily needs.
v Those whose wealth is less than nisab (the minimum wealth on which zakah is payable).[4]

But according to Shafai, Hambali and Maliki jurisprudences that nisab wealth is not the criterion of richness and poverty. It depends on the condition whether a person is able to meet his basic requirements or not. On this criterion the poor and the needy are those who have no sufficient amount for their subsistence and their dependents. They have also not the opportunity of employment according to their status through which they can earn their living. In other words the person who has wealth more than nisab but is unable to meet his basic necessities and his dependents can be considered as the poor.

In Hanafi school of jurisprudence the person who has wealth equivalent to nisab cannot receive zakah. In other words the person who pays zakah cannot take it. According to Maliki, Shafai, Hambali schools of jurisprudence, if a person earns according to his need, he cannot avail of zakah whether he owns anything or not. If he is unable to earn according to his needs he will be eligible to take zakah even if he owns a furnished house and conveyance etc. According to Shafai and Maliki jurisprudence, richness and poverty will be determined on the basis of whether a person is able to manage basic necessities of life for him and his dependents or not.

In the light of the above discussion we can say that, according to a majority of the fuqaha (imams of Islamic jurisprudence), if a person has wealth that constitutes nisab or is more than that but is not enough to fulfill his basic needs and those of his dependents, can avail of zakah. This implies that a person can benefit from zakah only if he has no opportunity to work according to his qualification and status and earn sufficient amount to support his family.

From the above discussion it becomes clear that the purpose of zakah is to ensure such a living for the poor and the needy as is appropriate to the general standard of living. Islam does not compel its followers to sell-off their property to meet basic requirement of life but urges affluent people to come forward and provide them social security at the time of distress. Accordingly, in the distribution of zakah preference should be given to self respecting people over the professional beggars, as indicated in the Quran.[5] There are two types of the poor and the needy. First, those who can earn their livelihood like craftsmen, traders, farmers etc. but they have not enough resources to start work. They can be helped by zakah to make them self-reliant. Second, those who cannot earn their living due to some handicap like the blind, the elderly, widows and orphans. For this type of the needy, the financial assistance by zakah can be given annually or on monthly basis according to their exigencies and convenience.

Further, Islam takes into consideration natural requirements of man other than food, shelter, and clothing. Accordingly, students, researchers, and scholars can also be helped by zakah if they are unable to continue their work due to financial constraints. Similarly, those who cannot marry due to financial constraints can also be helped by zakah. In Islam the poor and needy have not been left at the volition of the affluent but provided an institutional arrangement of social security.

2. Administrators of Zakah Fund (Amilin)

The verse specifying the heads of expenditure of zakah, mentions administrators of zakah just after the poor and the needy. This shows that Islam prefers an organized system of zakah for social justice. The collection and distribution of zakah is the state’s responsibility, but in the absence of the Islamic state the Muslim society must have institutionalized system of zakah.

3. Muallafah al-Qulub

The main purpose of this head of expenditure is to help the men and women who have been weaned from hostility to Islam, who would probably be persecuted by their former associates, and require assistance until they establish new connections in their new environment. This head of zakah is relevant particularly in societies where Muslims are a minority. Some of the very prominent ulama hold that this head of expenditure can only be managed by an Islamic state.[6] But this is a matter open to ijtihad and Muslims can pick and choose from varied views of the independently thinking fuqaha, according to the suitability of the views to their environment.

4. Freeing of Slaves (Fi al-Riqab)

It is a widely held view that Islam stopped short of closing the door of taking slaves through war. The Quran mentions the model conduct for the Islamic state towards the war captives. The Quran says that they should either be released generously or for a ransom:

It is not fitting for a Prophet that he should have prisoner of war until he hath thoroughly subdued the land. Ye look for the temporal goods of this world; but Allah looketh to the Hereafter: And Allah is Exalted in might, Wise (8:67).

Therefore, when ye meet the unbelievers (in fight), smite at their necks; at lenth, when ye have thoroughly subdued them, bind (the captives) firmly: therefore (is the time for) either generosity or ransom: until the war lays down its burden. (47:4)

Islam took various measures for uprooting the system of slavery. Apart from exhorting Muslims towards generous treatment and voluntarily freeing of slaves, it has fixed a permanent head of zakah to be used for securing freedom of slaves. In modern times this head of zakah can be spent in securing the release of innocent people unjustly captivated by the government. A special beneficiary of the head under discussion can be Muslims minorities living amid hostile majorities.

5. The Indebted (Gharimin)

Islam encourages Muslims to give interest free loans to their fellow humans. At the same time it urges creditor to grant time to debtor until his economic condition becomes better. In Islam waiving off the debt is the most admirable act of virtue on the part of creditors.[7]Moreover, Islam has fixed one of a head of zakah for debtors, alive or deceased. If a person cannot pay his debt by his own earning he will be helped by zakah fund. Islam does not ask the debtor to sell off his property to pay off his debt but ensures the payment of the debt through zakah. The debtor can be the owner of all basic amenities of life. The only condition is that the debtor must have taken debt for basic necessities sans extravagance. Some scholars are of the opinion that interest free loans can be given by zakah for making the small-time but, most often, skilled debtors self reliant so as to pay off their dues. In this way, they hold, the benefits of this head of zakah can be multiplied in favour of future candidates. This arrangement of paying debt on behalf of debtor saves him from dishonour and the assurance of recovery reinforces the social practice of charitable loaning.

Some ulama include among the beneficiaries of this head, persons who become debtors in the process of making compromises between two conflicting parties/tribes. In modern context, those engaged in social work can be treated as beneficiaries of this head of zakah if they, in the process of their work, turn into debtors.

6. In the way of Allah (Fi Sabilillah)

Literally, fi sabilillah means in the way of Allah. It is a Quranic term used largely in the context of defense. The prominent meaning of this word, according to the Quranic usage and applicable also in the context of the verse concerning heads of expenditure of zakah, is jihad.[8]

7. Wayfarer (Ibn as Sabeel)

The system of zakah also takes into consideration ad hoc needs of individuals. The Quran invariably encourages people for globetrotting for various purposes.[9] As the wayfarers may face various problems during their journey, the Quran, at many places, urged Muslims to take care of wayfarers or travelers’[10] and also fixed a head of zakah for them. From this head the funds can be used for the construction of musafir khanas (inns) and providing other facilities to travelers.

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[1] Quran: 2:83; 19:54-55; 21:73; 98:5

[2] Whoso stoppeth his ears at the cry of the poor, he also shall cry himself, but shall not be heard. (Proverbs 21: 13-14)
He that hath a bountiful eye shall be blessed; for he giveth of his bread to the poor. (Proverbs 22:9)
He that giveth unto the poor shall not lack: but he that hideth his eyes shall have many curse. (Proverb 28: 27)
If there be among you a poor man of one of thy brethren within any of thy gates in thy land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not burden thine heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother. But thou shalt open thine hand wide unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need, in that which he wanteth. (Deuteronomy 15: 7-8)
He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise. (Luke 3:11)

Then said he also to him that bade him, When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, neither thy kinsmen, nor thy rich neighbour; lest they also bid thee again, and a recompense be made thee. But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind: And thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just. (Luke 14: 12-14)
Give to them that asketh thee, and for him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away. (Matthew 5:42)

[3] Al-Qardawi; Yusuf (1998): Fiqah al-Zakah. Idarah Dawatul Quran, Mumbai, p. 367.

[4] Ibid. p. 369.

[5] (Charity is) for those in need; who, in Allah’s are restricted (from travel) and cannot move about in the land, seeking (for trade or work). The ignorant man thinks, because of their modesty, that they are free from want. Thou shall know them by their (unfailing) mark. They beg not importantly from all and sundry (2:273).

[6] This view is corroborated even by Yusuf al-Qardawi, the celebrated author of Fiqh al-Zakah. He includes, among the beneficiaries of the head of muallafah al-qulub: (i) those who, if granted gifts, may embrace Islam and their tribe or community may also follow suit, (ii) Muslim leaders whose community has yet not accepted Islam. Gifts can be granted to them from the zakah fund with the expectation that nobles and chieftains of their community may also embrace Islam, (iii) Influential Muslims whose cooperation is required for the collection of zakah. By utilizing their influence on the community it would be easy to collect zakah. In this situation money can be granted to them from zakah fund, (iv) Muslims living in areas bordering a non-Muslim hostile state. They can be granted money from zakah so that they can protect the Islamic state from the enemy state.

This articulation of the head of muallafah al-qulub, to say the least, is old-fashioned and irrelevant in modern, secular settings.

[7] If the debtor is in difficulty grant him time till it is easy for him to repay. But if you remit it by way of charity, that is best for you if ye only knew (2:280)

[8] Al-Qardawi, op. cit. pp. 432-39.

[9] Other traveling through the land seeking Allah’s bounty (73:20)

Say: “Travel through the earth” and see how Allah did originate creation; so will Allah produce later creation. (29:20)

Travel through the earth and see what was the end of those who rejected truth (3:137).

Go ye forth, (whether equipped) lightly or heavily, and strive and struggle, with your goods and your persons on the cause of Allah. (9:41)

Pilgrimage thereto is a duty men owe to Allah, those who can afford (3:97).

[10] Quran 17:26; 2:177; 2:215; 8:41; 29:29; 30:38; 59:7.

Source: http://www.financeinislam.com/article/10/1/554

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