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Alms and Charity: Virtues of Zakat: Part 23

Alms and Charity: Virtues of Zakat: Part 23



Zakat is a financial deed whose benefactors and recipients have unequivocally been specified. In addition to declaring all the eight eligible categories, the essential references of Islam— Qur’an and Sunna—have also identified the groups which are not entitled to zakat.

In enumerating the two deeds that are truly worthy of envy (not to be  understood  in its negative sense), the Prophet (upon whom be peace) includes the person who “constantly donates to where merited, to the point of insolvency,” an allusion to the inappropriateness of giving zakat or sadaqa to undeserving people or places.

Put in a nutshell, people ineligible to receive zakat can be enumerated as the rich; those who have the power and ability to work; and intimate relatives or progeny of the Noble Prophet (upon whom be peace). Let’s now scrutinize each of these categories in light of the respective evidence.

The rich

The rich are obliged to give zakat, not to receive it, as attested to by the hadith, “Sadaqa is not permissible for the rich (to receive);’’ equally, the Prophet’s advice to Muadh before dispatching him to Yemen attests: “It (wealth) is taken from the rich and given to the poor.”

In another hadith, the Prophet (upon whom be peace) forewarned, “A person who asks of others, despite possessing enough wealth for sustenance, will be brought on the Day of Judgment with his face scarred by his demands as if it had been scraped with nails.” In answer to subsequent inquiries about what could be considered “enough wealth,” his answer was “50 dirhams.” Furthermore, the Messenger unambiguously stated, “Sadaqa is not permissible for whoever is wealthy with the power to work.”

The general exclusion of the rich from zakat notwithstanding, there are some who have been identified as being eligible to receive it, as justified by the subsequent hadith, wherein the Prophet included certain among the rich in those eight categories: “Charity is not permissible for the rich, except for the following five: a warrior in the way of God, a zakat collector, a debtor, a person who buys the charity collected as zakat, and a rich person who receives from a poor the gift that was given to him as zakat.

Officially wealthy children or a female, regardless of whether or not they exercise authority over their possessions, are also ineligible to receive zakat, since a female with a wealthy husband or the child of a rich father is also classified as being rich because Islam has obliged the male—whether it be the father or husband—with the duty of providing her sustenance. By the same token, zakat cannot be given to the children under the financial protection of a wealthy guardian.

Those with the power to work

Islam does not condone supporting those who, although they possess enough ability and power, adamantly insist on leading a parasitical life; contrarily, the Qur’an praises and emphasizes personal effort and toil, as accentuated by the verse: “…and that each can have nothing save what he strives for” (Najm 53:39).

In a hadith overruling the eligibility of those with the power to work, the Prophet declared that “Sadaqa is not permissible for a wealthy person or for one with the power to work.” The Prophet extols personal effort in another hadith:

A man from among the Ansar (Medinan Companions) came to the Prophet (upon whom be peace) and begged from him. He (the Prophet) asked, “Have you nothing in your house?” He replied, “Yes, a piece of cloth, a part of which we wear and a part of which we spread (on the ground), and a wooden bowl from which we drink water.” He said, “Bring both to me.” He then brought these articles to him and he (the Prophet) took them in his hands and asked those present, “Who will buy these?” A man said, “I shall buy them for one dirham.” The Prophet said, “Who will offer more than one dirham?” Another man said, “I shall buy them for two dirhams.” He (the Prophet) gave these to him and took the two dirhams and, giving them to the Ansar, he said, “God and buy food for your family with one dirham, and with another buy an ax and bring it to me.” He then brought it to him. The Messenger of God fixed a handle on it with his own hands and said, “Go, gather firewood, sell it and meet me after 15 days.” The man went away, cut wood and sold it. When he had earned ten dirhams, he came to him and bought a garment with some of them and food with the others. The Messenger of God (upon whom be peace) then said, “This is better for you than that begging should come as a spot on your face on the Day of Judgment.”

Notwithstanding the view of some scholars who advise donors to give zakat to persons simply according to outward appearances because of the utter impossibility of knowing another’s status with certitude, many scholars are adamantly against giving zakat to a person who may be considered “an idler.” Ideally, it is perhaps better to initially offer them assistance via zakat, and thus give them an opportunity to stand on their own, an approach that will, in time, effectively discern between the hard workers and freeloaders.

Warring non-Muslims

Withholding zakat from those in active warfare against Muslims is a verdict that is established by both Islamic sources and logical thinking, in addition to the consensus of scholars. The Almighty has explicitly declared, “God only forbids you to make friends with those who have fought against you on account of your religion and driven you from your homes, or abetted others to do so” (Mumtahina 60:9). This clearly dictates the code of conduct to be embraced against those with obstinate hatred, who incessantly and publicly strive to thwart the splendor of Islam.

This is actually what common sense calls for, as lending financial support to those preparing to engage in hostilities would practically be tantamount to self-destruction. Even though such a donation might be considered to stimulate peace, this would certainly be a highly strategic decision, in need of meticulous planning and a great deal of preliminary thought.

As made palpable by the verse, the group in question refers to non-Muslims who have made a habit of callously attacking and assaulting Muslims—not to be confused with the minorities living in Muslim realms who, as verified by the consensus of the scholars, may at least be given supererogatory sadaqa if in need. It is a well-known fact that Caliph Umar had even allotted a salary from the treasury for an aged non-Muslim lady. Concurrently, this sort of benevolence is necessitated by the teachings Islam promulgates in the name of humanity. Exemplified by the muallafa al-qulub charity, heartwarming grants like these are providentially the means for many to bear witness to the positives of life, a scene that may well culminate in the precious result of the acceptance of Islam.

Intimate family members

A person cannot give zakat to those he is obliged to look after, who include his usul (origin and progeny), namely parents and children, but exclude the furu (other relatives). Giving zakat to parents or children will not realize the profound goal of zakat, causing wealth to continuously change only between the same hands, a procedure prohibited by the Qur’an: “…so that they will not become the property of the rich among you” (Hashr 59:7). Equally, this is equivalent to using zakat money to close a debt in that the sustenance of parents and children is commensurate with a debt awaiting payment.

Insofar as grandparents and grandchildren are concerned, scholars have opted for both sides of the issue, stemming from different categorizations as either usul or furu. While  some maintain their ineligibility due to their inclusion as usul, other scholars insist on their eligibility as furu, granting the responsibility on both occasions to the father.

As for giving zakat to other relatives, it is considered not only acceptable but commendable, and a means of strengthening community bonds through sila al-rahim (the reinforcement of relational ties). Thus it is said to acquire double the rewards, as attested to by the assurance of the Prophet (upon whom be peace) in the following hadith: “A sadaqa given to a destitute is one sadaqa, whereas a sadaqa given to relatives is sadaqa and sila al-rahim.” The Noble Messenger’s advice to Abu Talha and Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqas spawns from this exact approach, recommending to them, on behalf of the entire Muslim community, that it is much more appropriate to give priority in charity and alms to family and relatives, lest they become dependent on others.

The descendants of the Prophet

The progeny of the Noble Messenger, collectively known as Bani Hashim (the children of Hashim), are equally ineligible to be zakat recipients. Shafii, contrary to the opinions of Abu Hanifa, Malik, and Ibn Hanbal, further extends this boundary by similarly integrating the children of Abd al-Muttalib, the Prophet’s grandfather. So, accordingly, the Prophet’s (upon whom be peace) relatives comprise his own family, plus the families of Aqil, Jafar, Abbas, and Haris.

The Prophet had once appointed a man from the tribe of Bani Mahzun to collect charity, who had then asked Abu Rafi, a former slave emancipated byBani Hashim, to join him, so as to acquire a share of it. Upon hearing this, the Messenger proclaimed, “An emancipated slave of a tribe is a member of it, and certainly sadaqa is not held (allowed) for us.” When Hasan, the grandson of the Prophet, reached out to a date given in charity, the Prophet prevented him by saying, “You should know that we do not eat of zakat.”  Likewise, the Prophet (upon whom be peace) had said, “Time and again when I return to my abode, I come across a date fallen on my bed; and as soon as I seize the date for consumption, I drop it in fear it may be sadaqa.”

On top of prohibiting his family members and relatives from charity and alms, the Prophet (upon whom be peace) equally did n o t consent to them working as zakat collectors, a profession that entailed a compulsory receival of zakat. Nonetheless, he did authorize for himself and his family a portion of one-fifth of the gains of war that was entitled to him, in addition to the gifts he had received.

The eighth chapter of the Qur’an begins by emphasizing the basic principle that the gains of war belong to God and His Messenger, “They (the believers) ask you about the gains of war. Say: “The war-gains belong to God and the Messenger,” (Anfal 8:1) and then clarifies the how the gains of war will be distributed, “And know that whatever you take as gains of war, to God belongs one fifth of it, and to the Messenger, and the near kinsfolk, and orphans, and the destitute, and the wayfarer (one devoid of sufficient means of journeying)” (Anfal 8:41). This verse assigns one-fifth to God first, that is to public services by mentioning the people who represent these services: the Messenger, his near kinsfolk, orphans, the destitute and the wayfarer who does not have sufficient means to complete the journey. The remainder is distributed among the warriors.

The Messenger (upon whom be peace) devoted all his life to communicating Islam to others and to the service of the people. He was not in a position to provide for the poor among his kinsfolk. In addition, there were many other places or items of expenditure for which the Messenger had to pay as both a Messenger and the head of the state. The share assigned to him may, in some respects, be likened to the funds assigned for the special expenditure of heads of state.

It is a historical fact that the Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, spent his first wife Khadija’s wealth on the cause of calling to Islam, while he, his family and his kinsfolk lived as the poorest of all Muslims. They also spent all the shares of the gains of war that were assigned to them on Islamic services and the needy.

It has also been narrated that the Prophet would investigate the source of each gift and would then use it only if and when its legitimacy had been confirmed; if such could not be established, he simply transferred the alms or charity to others, or returned it back to the Bayt al-Mal (treasury).

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