Zakat (mandatory charity) is the third pillar of Islam. Muslims are required to pay Zakat annually if they possess sufficient financial resources. Each individual who possesses the Nisab (minimum amount of wealth needed for Zakat to become obligatory on a person) has to set aside a fixed portion (2.5%) of their wealth for the poor. This compulsory act of alms-giving serves to ensure the welfare of the needy and vulnerable sections of society. Islam has given unique rights to the poor in Islam. Muslims must assist and empower them due to their obligation. Otherwise, those who are in need would be voluntarily aided by some, while many others would opt to withhold their wealth due to selfishness and greed.
Zakat has a lofty status in Islam as a pillar of faith and an act of worship. In fact, Allah regularly mentions it alongside prayer in the Quran. This gives believers a strong incentive to seek the pleasure of Allah by supporting the poor. Moreover, poor-due purifies our wealth, cleanses us of negative qualities, and instills care for the weak in our hearts. It leads to harmony between different segments of society, preventing the spread of resentment and despair. Society is more balanced as a result. There are eight categories of people who are eligible to receive Zakat.
Al-Fuqara (The Poor)
They have the greatest need for Zakat, for they suffer from immense poverty. They don’t have the resources to even meet their basic needs for half a year. Therefore, it is critical to support them with an adequate amount of poor-due. We should give them enough charity for them to be able to fulfill their needs for a year until they can be given charity again.
Al-Masakin (The Needy)
They are those who are also facing struggles to make ends meet but to a lesser extent than the poor. Their requirements will be lower than those of the poor because their condition is relatively less troubled. Thus, they should be given the amount of Zakat they require to make do until it is time for the next cycle of poor-due.
The collectors of Zakat
These are the people who the rulers have tasked with collecting and handing out the payments of Zakat. Their noble role in the distribution of Zakat involves them first collecting poor-due from those who are liable to pay it. They are then responsible for taking care to disburse it to only those who deserve it. These people are entitled to receive Zakat for their efforts, regardless of their financial status. However, if they happen to be poor, we can give them additional Zakat on account of their poverty, in case they require it to get by for a whole year.
New Muslims and those who are inclined towards Islam
This Zakat’s purpose is to encourage people who may have recently accepted Islam to embrace the religion wholeheartedly. In such cases, it aims to strengthen the faith of the newcomers to the Deen. The aim is to ensure they don’t get discouraged and disheartened by the challenges reverts tend to face. Furthermore, it is permissible to give this charity to someone who may be considering accepting Islam. Indeed, it may succeed in bringing their hearts closer to Islam, convincing them of its truthfulness.
Freeing slaves and captives
A slave can enter into a contract to buy his freedom from his master. This contract means he has to pay a certain amount of money to his owner. It is permissible to provide him with Zakat to enable his payment of the fee that guarantees his freedom. On the other hand, slaves can also be bought directly using Zakat funds and then granted freedom. The freeing of slaves is either rare or non-existent in today’s world, where slavery has more or less ceased.
A Muslim may be held captive as a prisoner by disbelievers, or he may have been kidnapped. We can utilize Zakat assets to pay his ransom and have him freed, as long as that is the only way to attain his freedom.
For the Debtors
We can use Zakat to pay off debts, related to both reconciliation and need. A man may reconcile between two conflicting parties, incurring debts due to his honorable act. His debt can be repaid using Zakat, irrespective of his financial status, as his noble act benefitted the community. A person who is unable to repay his debt after taking a loan for his needs can also be backed with Zakat to repay his debt.
For the cause of Allah
Zakat can be given to those who are performing Jihad (fighting for the sake of Allah). They can receive Zakat money for assistance. Another way of utilizing Zakat is to arm the fighters with weapons, equipment, etc. A person can also give Zakat to those committed to seeking Islamic knowledge, aiding them in their noble mission.
Zakat for the stranded travelers
A traveler may be stranded and penniless. Hence, we can give Zakat that suffices him until he reaches his own country. We can still give Zakat even if he is wealthy in his original country, and we shouldn’t ask him to repay it. All the above-mentioned 8 categories of people who can accept Zakat are testimony of Allah’s flawless wisdom.
Knowing who you can give Zakat to is an integral part of Islam because Zakat is one of the five pillars. We must give Zakat on our accumulated wealth annually if it surpasses the stated requirement. Moreover, it is preferable if we give Zakat directly to one of the eight categories mentioned above. Giving Zakat has plenty of societal benefits. Hence, we should make sure that we give the stipulated amount promptly every year. If we fail to do that, we have failed to fulfill one of the five pillars that form our religion’s core base. It is a serious matter that we all must focus on.