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Alms and Charity: Virtues of Zakat: Part 22

Alms and Charity: Virtues of Zakat: Part 22



Following this discussion of the Qur’an’s unequivocal exposition of the eight groups of recipients for zakat, the issue of tamlik (the process of handing over the zakat to the recipient in person) must be examined. The Hanafi School, especially, has laid great emphasis on the issue, accentuating the necessity of giving the zakat in person.

For the recipients to dispose of the zakat as they wish, it is imperative that they possess full rights and ownership over it, as discussed above; but further, the zakat should be transmitted to the beneficiaries in person in order to guarantee that their needs are met without any outside interference. Otherwise, zakat’s essential purpose, to act as a bridge between social classes, might not be achieved, due to a preliminary infringement on the right of the recipient. Hence, many scholars have included tamliq as an inseparable prerequisite of zakat, obligating the benefactor or an authorized proxy to deliver the zakat personally. This ruling has beneficially resulted in the prevention of probable misunderstandings and infringements that might have otherwise occurred, as well as clearly having the practice in line with the Islamic spirit.

This requirement of personal transfer, according to the Hanafi School, is predicated upon the direct order to “Pay zakat!” Such a command can only be fulfilled by virtue of payment in person to the specified individuals and locations. To realize this task, it is acceptable to give the funds to the specified person, in question, or to the directors or supervisors of charity foundations because, according to Abu Hanifa, the originator of the Hanafi tradition of jurisprudence, the requirement of tamlik can simply be fulfilled by ensuring that the zakat will ultimately reach its recipients, as is the case with charity funds and foundations.

The words used in the verse in specifying the locations of disbursement are of further importance. While the Arabic preposition used prior to naming the poor, destitute, zakat collectors and muallafa al-qulub i s “li,” (“for”), the preposition employed before slaves, debtors, those working in the way of God and wayfarers is “fi,” (in). Some scholars, basing their view on the preposition “li,” have emphasized the requirement of personal transfer, but more importantly have stressed that zakat can only be given to individuals, thereby excluding all types of institutions.

However, it must be recalled that the other half of the recipients have been mentioned using the preposition of “fi,” which opens the door to there being other possibilities and aspects we must consider. For, otherwise, the verse would certainly have followed a consistent pattern and used the same grammar throughout. The groups denoted by “fi” are generally renowned for collective work which surpasses individual capabilities. The “way of God” classification, particularly, has a broad scope, encompassing a vast area of application and comprising of a cluster of categories—such as a soldier, student or pilgrim, just to mention a few. Bearing in mind the Prophet’s utilization of zakat funds in taking care of the needs of the Suffa (the gallant seekers of knowledge), the necessity of establishing foundations that provide an ideal environment for bringing up an exemplary generation whose basic needs are covered becomes manifest. Coercing the benefactor to strictly give his zakat directly to the poor instead would be tantamount to undermining charity foundations that could otherwise perfectly transfer the zakat to those in genuine need; moreover, such an approach spawns from a superficial understanding of the spirit of Islam.

As a fresh means of endeavor, current scholars are predominantly in agreement with regards to using zakat funds to establish and revive institutions of assistance. As strange as it may initially seem, even a brief moment of contemplation will divulge the plausibility of the emphasis which many scholars have placed on utilizing zakat to set up hospitals, laboratories, media organizations, financial institutions and, most importantly, educational institutions that will enlighten generations with Islam.

Investing zakat in this sort of a domain will, at the same time, provide the benefactor with visible fruits, in addition to the everlasting rewards awaiting him in the eternal abode. From this point of view, all institutions established to convey the revivifying Truth of God are essentially included in the category defined as being, “In the way of God;” and their restoration and reinforcement through zakat is indubitably an act of perpetual benefit. More precisely, those seeking to fulfill the obligation of zakat in the best possible way should assemble their funds in foundations which strive to implement and convey humankind’s ethical values, as exemplified by the Qur’an, so that they can use their financial means to participate in the valiant effort to serve humanity—unquestionably, the noblest of all services.

While opting for this alternative, all benefactors must understand that giving zakat in person to the representatives of these institutions fulfills the requirement of tamlik and,  in actual fact, there is no difference between this method and that of giving it to an individual.

Included in Islam’s code of action, it must be recalled, is the strong recommendation to take precautions as circumstance demands and even keep and maintain disheartening forces at hand, as attested to by the verse, “Make ready for them all you can of force” (Anfal 8:60). Caliph Umar’s maintenance of 80,000 horses in two separate districts, while actively another 40,000 horses, is a testimony to his thorough understanding of the verse. For this reason, many scholars have included a soldier’s supplies and ammunition in the context of “in the way of God,” sanctioning the use of zakat funds to cover their entire needs. In this case, handing the zakat over to the responsible commander, instead of giving it to the soldier personally, will meet the requirement of tamlik. Thus, while the benefactor can feel at ease that he has realized his noble obligation of giving in the way of God, the commander or official who acts as a proxy will also bear the honorable task of flawlessly utilizing the money received, in the best possible way, to cover the necessities of the soldiers. Thus, depending on the sort of need, it may not be necessary to hand over the charity to the soldier himself; for instance, small supplies like food or clothes are best given directly to the soldier, whereas larger qualities are better given to the administrators.


The gathered zakat of a person, according to the Shafii school, must be distributed among at least three people belonging to any of the eight specified categories, as the wordings used for each is always plural, insinuating a multiplicity of persons. Hence, the zakat must be given to at least three different individuals, though it can certainly be given to more.

The majority, including the Hanafi scholars, insist that the plural wording used in the verse actually simply denotes the multiplicity of specific types, so that zakat could be paid to any individual belonging to any of the many categories, regardless of their numbers. According to this school, then, as well as being able to give the entire zakat to a single category, the benefactor may also present it to a single person or foundation. Expounding the categories of recipients, the verse leaves the freedom of choice to the benefactor. If we were to take the li preposition out of its symbolic context and understand it to pertain to each member of the specified categories, then inevitably, the donor would have  to  distribute zakat among every single person in each of these categories—clearly an impossible task in realistic terms.

In a nutshell, it will suffice to give the zakat to any single person or organization, provided that eligibility is established, and there is no need to impose any strictness or particular complications on what is, in fact, a simple task.


Insofar as social obligations and issues pertaining to economical life are concerned, Islam has given visible priority to relatives, as testified by God’s Command to His Messenger before embarking on the mission to spread His word, “And warn your tribe of near kindred” (Shuara 26:214).

The Noble Prophet, applying the monumental ethics and morals extolled by the Qur’an, clearly abided by the verse, commencing with his kin, continually warning them  upon  the slightest oscillation that their personal relationship with the Prophet would be of no avail if they were ever to lead a life outside the borders laid down by God.

When the verse, “You will not attain righteousness until you spend of what you love” (Al Imran 3:92) was revealed, the Prophet refused Abu Talha’s desire to donate his entire garden at “Beyruha,” advising him to distribute it among his relatives instead. On one occasion, when a female Companion conveyed the view of her husband and son concerning sadaqa, the Messenger of God declared, “Your husband, Ibn Masud, and your son have spoken the truth. The best charity you can ever offer is towards them.” This amplifies the importance of donating to kin. The Prophet, in a similar fashion, advised another relatively poor Companion to observe the following order in charity, “Start from yourself; if there is any leftover, give to your family; then to your relatives; then so on and so on (basically to everybody else).”

In another hadith, the Prophet (upon whom be peace) elaborates, “Sadaqa given to a destitute acquires one reward, whereas sadaqa given to relatives acquires two.”

Supplementary evidence can also be put forth to corroborate this systematic order of charity established by the Prophet. The basic issue, however, is simple: the natural sequence of lineage, as well as such institutions as charity and aid foundations, scholarship funds and orphanages around the donor, should be kept in mind, and observed equitably in the matter of zakat.


The most virtuous act can differ according to place and time. A certain act, appropriate at one time, may lose its status in another. During a time, for instance, the most virtuous act was hijra (the abandoning of the home country and all possessions and migrating for God  and  His Prophet), an immense sacrifice whose virtues have been announced by  the  Prophet  (upon whom be peace). Hijra, in its full sense of the term, then meant the display of a Muslim’s perseverance in the face of non-believers and his efforts, both individual and collective, to reinforce Islam. At other times, however, upon being asked to identify the most virtuous acts, the Honorable Prophet gave alternative responses, like salat performed on time, struggling in the way of God, or upholding high morals—implying that certain acts may outshine others depending on the person, time or place.

From the very beginning, scholars have put focus on the need to establish what constitutes the most virtuous place for disbursement, with some believing that it would be best to offer it to all the eight groups at once, with others laying more emphasis on some groups over others. Be that as it may, the bottom line is that the state of virtue differs according to various cases and needs, thus the underlying factor in divergent scholarly interpretations should be sought according to the particular conditions at the time, and place, in which one lives.

At this point, it will be of immense benefit to highlight certain aspects which are helpful in determining the most ideal places for disbursement. The essential consideration, as always, is that with the assistance of zakat, social and economic deficiencies should  be  repaired. Obviously, it is also important that zakat not be senselessly frittered away; on the contrary, all efforts should be coalesced in the mission to patch up social wounds. Uniting all efforts by collecting every single drop into one gigantic basin will providentially provide the means for the mental and intellectual enlightenment of aspiring minds, as well as satisfying the appetite of those hungry for Truth.

Indeed, it is great to give to the poor or destitute; and it is also highly commendable to reach out to students, who are themselves prone to becoming victims of insidious movements and falling into the destructive traps of sinister ideologies. Thus, today’s Muslims need to seek to utilize their zakatfor the common good, in the name of securing a future for Islam. Effectively lending full support to well-founded institutions and organizations  which strive to create,  for these students, prosperously blissful and harmonious environments, will ensure their development into constructive and productive characters who are able to assume their own responsibilities for the perpetuation of zakat and the health of new generations and communities. Indubitably, our most vital duty is to provide a haven for a generation on the edge of becoming devoid of thought and values and to construct an inner spirituality in them, assuring them a place as architects of the future. Establishing educational institutions which are home to remarkable teaching remains one of the best ways to accomplish this ideal—and thus the relative advisability of mobilizing zakat funds for such a purpose becomes self-evident.

It must always be kept in mind that each period of time harbors its own unique problems and priorities, as exemplified by the Noble Prophet’s alternating emphases on acts like pilgrimage, kindness to parent, salat offered on time, and many other financial or physical demonstrations of faith—all of which all are undoubtedly highly virtuous. Thus, the concept of striving efficiently in the  way of God must be re-examined, keeping the current state of world affairs close at hand. For the Arabic term jihad (striving) encompasses every kind of struggle and effort which is exerted in the way of God. As a result, even cultural activities may be considered to be striving in that they are essential pursuits which bind the community of believers to one another and result in substantial and permanent social effects and impressions.

At this point in human history, we face the enemy in ignorance—an adversary which can only be crushed through a resuscitation of knowledge of God, or gnosis. Thus, reminding ourselves and others about belief, enjoining good, and forbidding evil all become critically incumbent duties on all Muslims. We must all reach the important realization that the world today is in desperate need of sound Islamic teachings, perhaps more than it has ever been. In the words of Bediüzzaman Said Nursi, if we had been perfectly successful in representing Islam’s essentials and ideals, the members of other affiliations would have entered the fold of Islam in masses by now. It is unfortunate but true that our failure to truly communicate the beauty of Islam—both explicitly, in our words and teachings, and implicitly, in the models of humanity we present as ourselves—has been equally matched by the seeming apathy of much of the world in seeking the path to salvation. If Muslims sincerely aspire to solve this problem, they must establish and bolster such foundations and foster and nurture our future, most especially the youth. And this will only be accomplished through collective and concerted efforts to channel the bulk of resources towards the proper education of the younger generation.

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