Message: Dear Sheikh,
I need some clarification with regards to understanding what is meant by the terms “poor” and “Needy” with regards to the laws of Zakat. For example, can zakat be given to someone who needs money to buy school books? or to buy a therapeutic bed? Or help someone pay their monthly household rent? or to help someone pay for academic studies? Are these people needy or poor? What about those who are working or receive financial aid from the gov’t etc. but their expenses are sometimes surplus to their income? And those who incur expenses of their own free will and then apply for zakat to pay it off?
Assalaamu Alaikum Wa Rahmatullah,
الجواب و بالله التوفيق
With respect to the words ‘poor’ and ‘needy’ in relation to being the recipients of Zakaah, they both refer to people who are in need, who do not have the means to fulfil their basic needs and necessities. Due to the fact that Allah has mentioned these as two separate categories who can accept Zakaah, Scholars have differentiated between the two words by saying a ‘Poor’ (Fafir – Fuqara) person is one who has little means and a ‘needy’ (Miskeen – Masakeen) person is one who has no means. This is an explaination of the two words given by many of the Hanafi Scholars. (Al Bahr-Ar-Ra’iq, Vol.2, Pg.240 – Qamoos Al Fiqh, Vol.4, Pg.456, Zam Zam Publishers, Karachi 2007).
The Shafi and Hambali Scholars are of the opinion that the ‘Poor’ (Faqeer) person is in more need than the ‘Needy’ (Miskeen) person. In other words, in their explaination, a ‘poor’ person is one who has no means and a ‘needy’ person is one who has little means. (Al Mughni, Vol.6, Pg323. Qamoos Al Fiqh, Vol.4, Pg.456, Zam Zam Publishers, Karachi 2007).
This explaination by these Scholars are only a semantic one, and does not bring about any change in the law, since the Quran has considered both to be needy who can receive Zakaah.
With respect to those who can receive Zakaah, the preferred view is that Zakaah can be given to one who is in need of the basic necessities of life for himself or his family members under his care and he does not have the means to fulfil those needs, (even if has the nisaab).
As such, with respect to the questions you have asked, if a person does not have a Nisaab, then he/she will be entitled to receive Zakaah. So, if this is the case with all the situations you asked about, then Zakaah can be given to those persons. When a person is qualified to receive Zakaah, the monies should be given to the individual, who will become the owner of it. It should be understood that when one falls into the category of ‘poor’ and ‘needy’ and is entitled to Zakaah (because he does not have the nisaab), then Zakaah will be given based on the fact that he is ‘needy’. One will not look at what are the personal needs of this person. What matters is that this person is entitled to receive Zakaah because he is needy (poor), and as such, Zakaah will be given to him to assist him in fulfilling the basic necessities of life.
If however, it is feared that the poor person may use the money (of Zakaah) for sinful activities and haram things, then one can find out about this, and give the person groceries or any other such items that are needed.
As for those who may possess a nisaab, but are still in need in order to cover important and essential needs, then Zakaah can be given to them to assist them in fulfilling these important and essential needs.
As such, Zakaah can be given to:
- Someone who needs money to buy school books when the person has this need and is unable to fulfil it.
- Zakaah can be given to someone who needs to buy a therapeutic bed when this is needed for curing or treating an illness and one cannot afford to purchase this. It cannot be given for one to buy this bed if there is no genuine need of treating an illness, and one simply wishes to have this bed to get the good effects that it produces on the body.
- Zakaah can be given to someone to help in paying the monthly rent, when one do not have the amount to fulfil this need, and such a house/apartment is rented to fulfil the basic need for one and his family, without exorbitance and extravagance.
- Zakaah can be given to help someone pay for academic studies, when the student himself is unable to pay it because he does not have a nisaab and has reached the age of puberty, or if the parents are unable to fulfil this need and they need help to do so.
All the above are people who have essential needs and do not have the means to fulfil them, hence, Zakaah can be given to them. It is to be understood that in all cases including the above, Zakaah must be given to the individuals who are in need. It must not be given to the cause.
If one is working or receives financial aid from the government but his expenses (in fulfilling his essential needs) are more than his income, then this person can accept Zakaah in order to fulfil such needs.
Those who incur expenses and have been forced by necessity to do so, and these expenses come on account of unavoidable situations, then Zakaah can be given to help such people. If however, these expenses did not come on account of a necessity and could have been avoided, and are not connected to one’s important and essential needs, then such people will not be entitled to receive Zakaah, when they have a nisaab, but simply need help to cover such expenses. If however, these people do not have a nisaab, then Zakaah can be given to them because they will then fall into the category of ‘poor and needy’, who are entitled to receive Zakaah.
And Allah Knows Best.
Mufti Waseem Khan.