The Holy Quran has fixed eight categories of recipients in verse 60 of the Surah Taubah.
“The Sadaqat (prescribed alms) are (meant) only to be given to the poor, the needy, to those employed to collect them, to those whose hearts are to be won, in the cause of the slaves and those encumbered with debt, in the way of Allah and to a wayfarer. This is an obligation prescribed by Allah. Allah is All Knowing, Wise.” (60)
There is a consensus amongst the jurists that the disbursement of Zakah is solely confined to these eight recipients. The Holy Prophet was once asked by a Companion to give the latter Zakah. The Holy Prophet replied:
“Allah has not assigned the right to distribute Zakah to any Prophet or any body else. He Himself has ordered about it and has fixed eight categories (of recipients). If you qualify as being from amongst these, I will give you your right.”
In the following lines, each of these eight categories have been described briefly.
The eight categories of Recipients of Zakah
1, 2) The poors, the needy (Fuqara and Masakeen)
The Fuqara and Masakeen are extremely poor persons. The eligibility of receiving Zakah under this category is restricted to either of the following three kinds:
a. Those who do not own any property or assets at all, or
b. Those who do not own any property or assets in excess of basic necessity (For e.g. House, furniture and effects, personal clothing, servant, tools of trade), or
c. Those who own property in excess of basic necessity, but the excess is below the value of nisaab.
These three kinds of people can receive Zakah and they are also not obliged to pay it. However, it must be kept in mind that the above mentioned three kinds are different from the following two classes:
a. Those who own, in excess of basic necessity, property or assets on which Zakah is levied (such as gold, silver, cash, inventory) whose value after deduction of debts, equals or exceeds the value of nisaab. They are obliged to pay Zakah, and cannot receive it.
b. Those who own, in excess of basic necessity, property or assets on which Zakah is not levied (such as diamonds, land which is not purchased for trade, etc) which equals or exceeds the value of nisaab. They are not obliged to pay Zakah but at the same time, cannot receive it.
3) Collectors of Zakah (Al-‘Aamileen)
Al-‘Aamileen are those persons who are appointed by the Islamic State, or Muslim ruler, for the purpose of collecting Zakah. Zakah can be given to them as the salary for their efforts in collecting Zakah, even when they are Sahibun Nisaab or rich.
In regard to the rest of the seven categories of recipients, need is defined as a requirement and a rich person cannot be a recipient of Zakah. This is not the case with Al-‘Aamileen because the head of the Islamic State is responsible for the needs and welfare of the poor within his jurisdiction. He is therefore deemed to be their agent.
The Al-‘Aamileen, as employees of the head of state, are likewise agents of the poor and needy. It follows that the Zakah obligation is discharged as soon as the Zakah is paid by the Zakah payers to the Al-‘Aamileen. And the salary given to them is as if, given by the poors themselves. It is exactly like the case when a person, who is eligible to receive Zakah, hires an attorney and pays his fee from the Zakah he received.
4) Those whose hearts are to be won (Al-Mu’allafatu-Al-Quloob)
This category of recipients refers to the poor and needy Muslims (Fuqara and Masakeen) who are given Zakah for the express purpose of strengthening their hearts and making them more inclined towards the Islamic practices. Non-Muslims are excluded in accordance with the general principle that they do not qualify as recipients of Zakah.
5) The cause of (freeing) the slaves (Ar-Riqaab)
The word Riqaab is the plural of Raqabah, which literally means “neck”. In Arabic usage, it is taken as a whole person, therefore refers to a slave.
The majority of the jurists are of the view that the word Raqabah mentioned in the verse is confined to the Mokatab. Mokatab is that slave who enters into a contract with his master in terms of which, the latter undertakes to free him against payment of a fixed sum of money. The view of the majority of the jurists is for the reason that in paying Zakah, the recipient must be made owner of the Zakah property. In addition, Zakah cannot be paid as consideration for services rendered on the part of the recipient.
In the case of disbursing Zakah to free a slave, the master becomes the owner of the Zakah in return for the slave’s freedom. The slave himself cannot own property for want of legal personality. On the other hand, payment of Zakah to the Mokatab makes the latter owner thereof.
6) Debtors (Gharimeen)
The word Gharimeen is the singular of Gharim. It means debtor. The verse refers to a specific type of debtor, i.e. the one who is poor. A debtor can only be said to be poor and thus eligible to be the recipient of Zakah if his net assets (the difference between his assets and liabilities) is below nisaab.
7) The way of Allah (fi Sabilillah)
All interpretations narrated by the Sahabah1 and Tabi’een2, regarding the word fi sabilillah, have expressively defined this word as either for Mujahideen or for pilgrims of Hajj. Imam Ibne Jarir and Imam Ibn e Kaseer, who restricted themselves to interpret the verses of the Holy Quran in the light of Ahadeeth, have particularized the word sabilullah with those Mujahideen and pilgrims of Hajj who do not have enough resources to perform their respective deeds.
On the other hand, some Muslim Jurists such as Allama Kasani,3 have generalized the interpretation and extended the meaning of sabilullah to all good acts enjoined by the shariah. However, these Jurists have specifically described that the recipients must be poor and needy persons. Therefore, the jurists are unanimous on the point that Zakah cannot be spent on projects that would promote the interests of and be beneficial to the Muslim Community e.g. building of hospitals, roads, bridges and the like.
8) Wayfarer (Ibn-us-sabil)
This category refers to a traveler who, despite being wealthy at his place of residence, is in need during his journey. It is permissible to give such traveler Zakah to the extent of his needs. It is not permissible for such traveler to take Zakah in an amount which exceeds his needs and requirements. It is preferable for such traveler to borrow funds if he is able to do so than to accept Zakah.
Some Important rules relating to the recipients of Zakah
• If someone owns cash, trading assets, gold and silver equivalent to the value of 612.36 grams of silver, he/she is considered as wealthy in Shari’ah, hence not eligible to receive Zakah.
• If someone owns, in excess of basic necessity, an asset or property on which Zakah is not levied (such as diamond, vacant land – not for commerce) and the excess is equivalent or above the value of 612.36 grams of silver, he is also considered as wealthy in Shari’ah. He cannot receive Zakah but at the same time, is not obliged to pay Zakah.
• If one has cloths or crockery that are not used for years but for once or twice, then these cloths or crockery will be considered as an excess of basic necessity. Hence if its value is equivalent or above the value of nisaab, the owner cannot receive Zakah.
• The house in which one lives, the household furniture, servants, personal clothing and a motor vehicle, all are basic necessities. The owner of all these assets will not be considered as wealthy, no matter how expensive the assets are. Rather he is entitled to receive Zakah, if he does not have any zakatable asset equivalent to the value of nisaab.
• If a person has given some of his houses on rent and he does not have any assets on which Zakah is levied, he can receive Zakah.
• If a person has 20,000/- Rs. and he is indebted of 20,000/- Rs., he can receive Zakah. If, in the above case, he is indebted of less than 20,000/- Rs., then if the balance is equivalent or above to the value of nisaab, he cannot be given Zakah. And if the balance is less than the nisaab, he can be given Zakah.
• Zakah cannot be given to a minor child of a rich person because such minor is deemed to be rich by virtue of the wealth of his father. If the child is major and needy, Zakah may be given to him irrespective of the financial standing of his parents.
• Zakah can be given to a minor child whose father is not rich, but his mother is rich and wealthy because, a minor child is not considered rich by virtue of the wealth of his mother.
• Zakah can be given to a poor woman whose husband is rich. Similarly, it is permissible to give Zakah to a poor person whose child is rich.
• There is consensus of the Muslim jurists that it is not permissible to give Zakah to non-Muslims. Other forms of voluntary charity (sadaqah naafilah) may be given to them.
• Zakah cannot be given to the children of Banu Hashim. These are descendants of the Prophet’s family (i.e. the descendants of Hazrat Ali هنع للها يضر, Hazrat Ja’far هنع للها يضر, Hazrat Aqeel هنع للها يضر, and Hazrat Harith ibn Abd Ul Muttalib) and are commonly known as Sayyids.