I recently came across an interesting fatwa from a ‘scholar’; A man asked if his wife could pay her zakah to his parents who were receiving food stamps and Medicaid. The ‘scholar’s’ response was that this was permitted.
I now had my own question – What exactly was this opinion based upon? As always, I looked to the Quran first.
In terms of evidence, the Quran has this verse in Surah At Tauba, (60), which categorises who can receive zakah:
إِنَّمَا الصَّدَقَاتُ لِلْفُقَرَاء وَالْمَسَاكِينِ وَالْعَامِلِينَ عَلَيْهَا وَالْمُؤَلَّفَةِ قُلُوبُهُمْ وَفِي الرِّقَابِ وَالْغَارِمِينَ وَفِي سَبِيلِ اللّهِ وَابْنِ السَّبِيلِ فَرِيضَةً مِّنَ اللّهِ وَاللّهُ عَلِيمٌ حَكِيمٌ
Indeed, the alms are for the fuqaraa’ and the masaakeen, and those who work in the collecting and distributing of the alms, and those whose hearts are to be won over, and for the freeing of human beings from bondage, and those who are over burdened with debts, and [for every struggle] in God’s cause, and the wayfarer: an ordinance from God – and God is All-Knowing, Wise.
*Note that the term ‘sadaqaat’ is used in the verse for ‘zakah’.
Most of the categories mentioned in the verse are easily understood. A lot of confusion however, is caused by the different opinions on the definition of ‘faqeer’ (the singular form of ‘fuqaraa’’) and ‘miskeen’ (the singular form of ‘masaakeen’) – you can find these opinions easily by searching online.
Allah (azza wa jal) makes clear the meaning of the word ‘faqeer’ in Surah Al Hashr, verse 8:
لِلْفُقَرَاء الْمُهَاجِرِينَ الَّذِينَ أُخْرِجُوا مِن دِيارِهِمْ وَأَمْوَالِهِمْ يَبْتَغُونَ فَضْلًا مِّنَ اللَّهِ وَرِضْوَانًا وَيَنصُرُونَ اللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ أُوْلَئِكَ هُمُ الصَّادِقُونَ
‘And for the fuqaraa’ of the emigrants, who were expelled from their homes and their money, seeking bounties from Allah and His pleasure, and helping Allah and His messenger. Those are the truthful.’
Here, the ‘fuqaraa’’ are clearly defined as those who had lost their homes and money. They did not have food, clothing or shelter – they were destitute. In today’s world, the homeless are destitute. Those in refugee camps are destitute. Those who cannot afford adequate food, heating and clothing are destitute.
Similarly, the story of Musa offers further proof of this definition. In Surah Al Qasas, verse 24, Musa describes himself as ‘faqeer’:
فَسَقَى لَهُمَا ثُمَّ تَوَلَّى إِلَى الظِّلِّ فَقَالَ رَبِّ إِنِّي لِمَا أَنزَلْتَ إِلَيَّ مِنْ خَيْرٍ فَقِيرٌ
‘So he watered for their flock for them, then he turned to the shade and said, ‘My Rabb, indeed I am destitute for any good you can bestow upon me’.’
If you read the verses preceding this one, Musa left his home suddenly, out of fear, after killing a man. He had left everything and had nothing – no food, money, home or possessions. Again, the English term ‘destitute’ comes to mind.
Now, to move onto the meaning of ‘miskeen’:
In Surah Al Baqarah, verse 184, Allah (azza wa jal) states:
أَيَّامًا مَّعْدُودَاتٍ فَمَن كَانَ مِنكُم مَّرِيضًا أَوْ عَلَى سَفَرٍ فَعِدَّةٌ مِّنْ أَيَّامٍ أُخَرَ وَعَلَى الَّذِينَ يُطِيقُونَهُ فِدْيَةٌ طَعَامُ مِسْكِينٍ فَمَن تَطَوَّعَ خَيْرًا فَهُوَ خَيْرٌ لَّهُ وَأَن تَصُومُواْ خَيْرٌ لَّكُمْ إِن كُنتُمْ تَعْلَمُونَ
‘Fast for a fixed number of days, but if any of you is ill or on a journey, the same number (should be made up) from other days. And as for those who can fast with difficulty, feed a Miskeen. So whoever pays the fidya, it is good for him. And that you fast is good for you if only you knew.’
There are other verses like this one where the word ‘miskeen’ is mentioned with food/feeding people. These verses include Surah Al Ma’un, 3, Surah Al Fajr, 18, Surah Al Insaan, 8 and Surah Al Muddathir, 44. These verses tell us a ‘miskeen’ is one who is in need of food. Feeding those who already have food would obviously not be charity! So, those who have to go to food banks are ‘masaakeen’. Those who have to choose heating their homes over eating are ‘masaakeen’.
So now we know that ‘Faqeer’ is one who is ‘destitute’ while ‘Miskeen’ is ‘one who is in need of food’, let’s go back to where this blog started – the fatwa…There are 8 categories of people who can receive zakah as defined by the Quran. If one believes his family member/relative/someone he knows is in one of those categories, can he choose to give his zakah directly to them?
The answer is in the verse from Surah At Tauba above. You can see that one of the categories of people who receive zakah is those who collect and distribute the zakah. The zakah at the time of the Prophet (ﷺ) was collected and distributed by an agency of people – individuals did not decide who their zakah was going to.
This is mentioned in this verse too, also in Surah At Tauba (58):
وَمِنْهُم مَّن يَلْمِزُكَ فِي الصَّدَقَاتِ فَإِنْ أُعْطُواْ مِنْهَا رَضُواْ وَإِن لَّمْ يُعْطَوْاْ مِنهَا إِذَا هُمْ يَسْخَطُونَ
And of them are some who accuse you concerning (the distribution of) the alms. If they are given part thereof, they are pleased, but if they are not given thereof, behold! They are enraged!
Furthermore, in ahadith, we also have relevant evidence:
Narrated Ibn Abbas:
The Prophet (ﷺ) sent Mu’adh to Yemen and said, “Invite the people to testify that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and I am Allah’s Messenger, and if they obey you, then teach them that Allah has enjoined on them five prayers in every day and night (in 24 hours) and if they obey you, teach them that Allah has made it obligatory for them to pay zakah from their property and it is to be TAKEN from the wealthy among them and GIVEN to the poor.”
(Sahih Al Bukhari, book 24)
The way of the religion is that Zakah is to be collected and distributed – it is not given directly to ‘potential’ recipients.
So, a person cannot decide if they should give their zakah to a family member or a friend in need. It should be given to an organisation so that the process is objective and fair. This way, the financial help goes to those most in need. Those that claim zakah can be given to family/directly to a recipient are opening the whole system of zakah to corruption – their claims are not based upon evidence.
It may be human nature to look for grey areas but, in the religion, there are none – it is black and white. The evidence is there, if we but look.