Allah has mentioned in the Qur’an where to spend your charity and (has outlined) those who deserve to receive the obligatory charity, (which is all) based on His knowledge, wisdom, justice and mercy.
إِنَّمَا ٱلصَّدَقَٰتُ لِلْفُقَرَآءِ وَٱلْمَسَٰكِينِ وَٱلْعَٰمِلِينَ عَلَيْهَا وَٱلْمُؤَلَّفَةِ قُلُوبُهُمْ وَفِى ٱلرِّقَابِ وَٱلْغَٰرِمِينَ وَفِى سَبِيلِ ٱللَّهِ وَٱبْنِ ٱلسَّبِيلِ ۖ فَرِيضَةً مِّنَ ٱللَّهِ ۗ وَٱللَّهُ عَلِيمٌ حَكِيمٌ
“The Charity (i.e. the Obligatory Zakat) is only for the Fuqara’ (poor), Al-Masakin (indigent), those employed to collect (the funds); and in order to attract the hearts of those who have been inclined (towards Al-Islam), in order to free the captives; (it is) for those in debt; for Allah’s cause, and for the wayfarer (cut off from everything); a duty imposed by Allah. Allah is All-Knower, All-Wise” (At-Tawbah:60)
He has also restricted the zakat to these eight categories of people and clarified that giving zakat to these categories is obligatory. Therefore it is not permissible to ignore this obligation, spending our charity to other than the abovementioned. That is because Allah is aware of the best interests of His slaves and He is the Most Wise, the One who places things in their appropriate locations. As Allah said:
أَفَحُكْمَ ٱلْجَٰهِلِيَّةِ يَبْغُونَ ۚ وَمَنْ أَحْسَنُ مِنَ ٱللَّهِ حُكْمًا لِّقَوْمٍ يُوقِنُونَ
“And who is better in judgement than Allah for a people who have firm Faith”(Al-Mai’dah:50)
By Shaykh Saalih Al-Uthaymeen
The Eight Categories of People Entitled to Receive the Zakat are:
1 & 2. The Poor and Destitute
3. The Caretakers of the Zakat Money
4. Attracting the hearts of those inclined towards Al-Islam
5. To free the slaves
6. Those who are overburdened with debt
7. In the Path of Allah
8. The Wayfarer
The First and Second categories: “The Poor and Destitute”
They are those who do not have what is sufficient for them and their dependents. They do not have any savings, a permanent sufficient salary, a running business, and they do not have a compulsory support from any one. So these people are in need of support and help. The scholars said they should be given from the Zakat money enough to suffice them and their dependents for the period of a year. If a poor person needs help from the zakat money to get married, it must be granted to him. Likewise, a student of knowledge who needs some of the zakat money to get some books must be helped. And the one who works, but does not make enough to cover his needs must also receive some help from the zakat money enough to cover their needs, because he (and all the aforementioned) are needy people.
As for the one who has enough to cover his needs, it is not permissible to give such an individual from the zakat money even if he asks for it. Rather, he should be admonished and warned against asking for something which he does not deserve to receive.
It is narrated from ‘Abdullah bin Umar رضي الله عنه that the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه و سلم said:
“One of you will continue to ask until he meets Allah with a boney face without any flesh covering it”(Collected by Al-Bukhari)
Likewise, on the authority of Abu Hurayrah رضي الله عنه he reported that the Prophet صلى الله عليه و سلم said:
“The one who asks the people for help while having what is enough, he is only asking for a coal of fire. Therefore let him ask for more or desist from doing so.”(Collected by Muslim)
Likewise it is also narrated by Hakim bin Hizan رضي الله عنه who reported that the Prophet صلى الله عليه و سلم said:
“Surely this wealth is sweet green foliage (i.e. very delightful). Whoever controls it with a generous heart then it will be blessed for him, but whoever holds it with selfishness then it will be deprived of blessings, Thus he will eat but will not be satisfied. And the upper-hand is better than the lower-hand” (Collected by Al-Bukhari and Muslim)
It is also narrated by Abdur Rahman bin ‘Awf رضي الله عنه that the Prophet صلى الله عليه و سلم said:
“A slave will not open a door to begging except that Allah will open for him a door to poverty.” (Narrated by Al-Imam Ahmad. Al-Albani graded it to be authentic due to other texts, as found in Sahih At-Targhib)
If an unknown person comes with an appearance of a rich man asking for zakat, it is permissible to give him after informing him that the rich does not have a portion from it, likewise the strong man who is able to cover his needs. This is because two men came to the Prophet صلى الله عليه و سلم asking him for zakat money, and he looked at them and saw the signs of richness on them. So he said:
“If you will I will give it to you but know that: the rich and the strong who is able to work and cover his needs do not have a portion from the zakat money”(Narrated by Ahmad, Abu Dawud, and An-Nasai. Al-Albani graded it to be authentic in Sahih Abu Dawud and Sahih An-Nasai)
3) “The Caretakers of the Zakat Money”
They are those who are given the authority by the ruler to collect the zakat money, preserve it, and give it away to the poor. These people should be given their portion from the zakat money according to their efforts even if they are rich, As for the individuals who give zakat on behalf of some individuals, they will be not considered under this category. If a person volunteered to distribute the zakat money with honesty and sincerity he will share the reward with the giver. As it is narrated by Al-Bukhari from the narration of Abu Musa Al-Ash’ari رضي الله عنه that the Prophet صلى الله عليه و سلم said:
“The trustworthy Muslim treasurer who executed sincerely what he is commanded with in full, by giving it to the needy even though they are not the donors, should be given some help from the money of the donors and not from the zakat money” (Collected by Al-Bukhari)
4) Attracting the Hearts of those Inclined toward Al-Islam (i.e. those who are weak in faith or even the disbelievers who it is desired that they will embrace Al-Islam)
The Zakat money should be given to them in order to bring their hearts closer to Al-Islam, increase their faith, or to be safeguarded from their criminality if they are criminals, as long as it is known that giving them the money will stop them from their criminality.
5) To Free the Slaves
Those who have to deal with their masters to free themselves from slavery. It is permissible to give them from the zakat money in order for them to free themselves from slavery. This also includes freeing the Muslim captives, in the hands of the enemy.
6) Those who are overburdened with debt
They are of two kinds:
The 1st: The one who carries the burden of reconciling between the people. This individual deserves to be given from the zakat according to his effort in order to encourage him to continue this wonderful job that is needed in the society to preserve the unity of the people, reconciling between them, eradicating the enmity and rancor from the society.
It is narrated by Qabisah Al-Hilali who said:
“I have carried the burden of reconciling between the people. So I came to the Prophet صلى الله عليه و سلم asking him about the ruling regarding that and he said to me: “Stay with us, if somebody brings his zakat we will give you a share from it.” Then he said “O Qabisah! Verily begging is impermissible except in one of these three occasions: A man who has carried the burden of reconciling between the people until he becomes poor, it is permissible for him to take from the zakat money until he is no longer in need of it and then he mentioned the rest of the narration. (Collected by Muslim)
The 2nd: The one who carries a burden of debt upon himself and is unable to pay it. This individual deserves to receive money from the zakat enough to pay off his debt. (Instead of giving the money to him) one may pay his debt directly to the one he owes using the zakat money without giving the money to him, because the goal is to pay his debt.
7) In the Path of Allah
Those who work on the path of Allah and strive hard so that the word of Allah will be victorious, not those who strive for their pride, their race, or tribe to become victorious. The one who fights in the path of Allah must be given from the zakat money what is sufficient for him to buy the materials that he needs for his work, including weapons and ammunition. This is in order that they can defend and protect the religion of Allah from the enemies and to help the religion of Allah to be victorious.
[As a side note, it should be noted the scholars of Ahlul Sunnah have spoken out against groups such as (ISIS, ISIJ, Al Qaeda and all other terrorist groups). Shaykh Muhammad bin Haadee have stated they are only callers to Fitna (disorder and mayhem). And that which they call Jihad, is in reality disorder and mayhem. Whether they like it or not we say it loudly it is disorder and mayhem.
We ask Allah the Exalted to save our children from them. [Read more] ]
8) The Wayfarer
This is the traveler who got stuck in the middle of his journey, due to lack of provisions. This individual must be given from the zakat money what will cover his trip, even if he is rich (back home in) his country. However (it is important to note that) it is not permissible for (a person) to carry few provisions while on a journey if one’s intention are merely to receive zakat money when his provision are exhausted. Because this is a form of deception and we are forbidden from that.
Also it is not permissible to give zakat money to the disbeliever except if there is hope that he will accept Al-Islam
Likewise, it is not permissible to give the zakat money to the individual who has a business, industry, or skill, except if he is among those who work on the zakat committee, is amongst those who go out for jihad, or is from those who dedicated their time to reconcile between the people.
Also, the zakat money must not be given to replace another obligation with it. Therefore you should not take from the zakat money to feed your guest because this is a separate obligation that must be carried with (other) money.
Likewise, you cannot give your wife, your children, or relatives whom you are responsible for (from the zakat money) because it is a must on you to spend on them (regardless).
However, it is in fact permissible to spend the zakat on your wives, your parents, or your relatives if it is being used for things outside of your obligatory responsibility, such as to pay one of their debts that they are not able to fulfill.
Likewise, it is permissible for one to give the zakat to his poor relatives who (he is not responsible for) if they do not have enough to spend on their dependents.
Also, it is permissible for the wife to give her zakat money to her poor husband in order for him to pay his debt and cover some of this needs. This is because Allah has given a general description of those who deserve the zakat. Therefore whoever falls under this description is entitled to receive the zakat. Therefore no one should be excluded except with a clear text or the consensus of the scholars.
It is also reported in Sahih Al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim from the hadith of Zaynab Al-Thaqafiyyah, the wife of Abdullah bin Mas’ud رضي الله عنه that the Prophet صلى الله عليه و سلم commanded the women to give charity. So she came to the Prophet صلى الله عليه و سلم and asked him saying:
“O messenger of Allah! You have indeed commanded us to give charity and I have some ornaments that I want to give away in charity, but Ibn Mas’ud claimed that he and his children deserve this charity more than anyone else.’ Then the Prophet صلى الله عليه و سلم said: Ibn Mas’ud has said the truth. Your husband and your child deserve your charity more than anyone else.'”(Collected by Al-Bukhari and Muslim)
It is also narrated by Salman bin Amir رضي الله عنه that the Prophet صلى الله عليه و سلم said:
“Giving charity to the poor is a charity and giving it to your poor close and distant relatives is a charity along with keeping the ties of kinship.” (Collected by An-Nasa’i, At-Tirmidhi, Ibn Khuzaymah, and Al-Hakim. Al-Hakim said its chain is authentic)
(Note): It is not permissible to pardon a poor person who is indebted to you, with the intention that (you are fulfilling your obligatory Zakat duty), because zakat is take and give. As Allah said:
خُذْ مِنْ أَمْوَٰلِهِمْ صَدَقَةً تُطَهِّرُهُمْ وَتُزَكِّيهِم بِهَا وَصَلِّ عَلَيْهِمْ ۖ إِنَّ صَلَوٰتَكَ سَكَنٌ لَّهُمْ ۗ وَٱللَّهُ سَمِيعٌ عَلِيمٌ
“Take Sadaqah (alms) from their wealth in order to purify them and sanctify them with it, and invoke Allah for them. Verily! Your invocations are a source of security for them, and Allah is All-Hearer, All-Knower” (At-Tawbah: 103)
Also, the Prophet صلى الله عليه و سلم said:
“Verily Allah has obligated on them the giving of charity, which must be taken from the rich from amongst them and given to the poor.” (Collected by Al-Bukhari and Muslim)
Discharging of a debt owed to you by a poor person is not considered taking and giving, because a debt is absent money that cannot be spent. Therefore it cannot be replaced with debt. This is because debt is of less value than the money that is available in your possession. For that reason replacing the zakat with debt is like replacing that which is superior with that which is inferior or replacing good with bad.
If an individual tries his best to give the zakat to those he thinks are worthy of it, but it ends up (with those who not deserve it), his zakat is still valid because he feared Allah to the best of his ability. And Allah does not place a burden on a soul which it cannot bear.
It is reported in Sahih Al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim from the narration of Abu Hurayrah رضي الله عنه who said the Prophet صلى الله عليه و سلم said:
“That a man swore by Allah that he will give charity to the right person. So he ended up giving his charity to the rich. (At that point) the people complained saying: ‘his charity was given to the rich.’ So he said: ‘All praise is due to Allah.’ Somebody came to him and said: ‘Perhaps that rich man will learn from your generosity and be generous like you.’ And in the narration of Muslim, it says, it was said to him: ‘But as for your charity, it is accepted.'” (Collected by Al-Bukhari and Muslim)
Also, it is narrated by Ma’nu bin Yazid رضي الله عنه who said:
“My dad used to give our dinars as charity. So (one day) he gave them to a poor man in the Masjid. So I arrived at the Masjid and the dinars were given to me by the (poor) man as a charity. So I came home (to my dad) with the dinars. My dad said: ‘By Allah I did not intend to give this charity to you.’ So I raised this complaint to the Prophet صلى الله عليه و سلم. So the Prophet صلى الله عليه و سلم said: ‘O Yazid yours is what you have intended. And O Ma’nu yours is what you have taken.'” (Collected by Al-Bukhari)
O My brothers! Know that zakat will not be accepted except if it is placed where Allah commanded for it to be placed. Therefore try you best, may Allah have mercy on your all, and be eager to place that zakat in its right places in order that you will not be held accountable before Allah, and in order that your wealth will be purified. By doing that you have executed your Lord’s command and your charity will be accepted.
May Allah grant us success. And all praise is due to Allah, Lord of the Worlds. And may peace be upon our Prophet Muhammad, his family members, and all his Companions.
[Taken from Sittings During the Blessed Month of Ramadhaan by Shaykh Saalih Al-Uthaymeen].