Zakat Eligibility of Islamic Organizations

Author: Dr. Hatem al-Haj
| Category: Current Events

All Praise Be to Allah, and May His Blessings and Peace Be on His Final Messenger 

In response to a question about the zakat (zakât, zakâh) eligibility of a non-profit organization whose purpose is to gather detailed information on the Muslim communities in the West, AMJA issued the following fatwa: 

The principle regarding the expenditures of Zakat is its limitation to the eight categories mentioned in the verse: 

{Zakat expenditures are only for the poor and for the needy and for those employed to collect [zakat] and for bringing hearts together [for Islam] and for freeing captives [or slaves] and for those in debt and for the cause of Allah and for the [stranded] traveler – an obligation [imposed] by Allah. And Allah is Knowing and Wise.} [Surah Al-Tawbah 9:60] 

However, some past scholars believed much can fall under the term “and for the cause of Allah,” and many contemporary scholars believe it includes protecting the interests of Islam and the Muslims, da‘wah, intellectual efforts, and any related projects that promote them. This was also the conclusion reached by the Islamic Fiqh Council in their 8th conference. Therefore, if the work done by this organization and others like it, which includes gathering detailed and beneficial information concerning Muslims and making them available to those involved in da‘wah, [and to] think tanks and policymakers, serves those objectives, then it is eligible to receive Zakat – according to this opinion. In conclusion, AMJA would like to remind all organizations which receive Zakat and [that] benefit from the charity of the importance of attentively adhering to the parameters set by the Shariah on receiving and spending Zakat in the correct fashion.

AMJA has issued other fatwas to the same effect. These fatwas have been used by many organizations seeking to collect funds through zakat. Such a “trend” in the community caused some sincere observers to be concerned about the change of the focus of zakat from fighting poverty to supporting different organizations. Some of the feedback we received was reasonable, but at times, people’s emotions made them lose objectivity or even transgress. Although I am a member of the Resident Fatwa Committee of AMJA, I write this article in my individual capacity. Its purpose is to clarify AMJA’s position and contribute to the discourse on the prudent application of this fatwa. 

I have divided this article into 4 segments:


    The zakat eligibility of da‘wah organizations and others defending the cause of Islam and Muslims 

    The difficulty of establishing stringent guidelines 

    Recommendations for Muslim organizations and individual donors


This is an issue that is loaded with emotions. Many people fail to see that zakat has eight categories of recipients, and that although fighting poverty is its primary purpose, it is not the only aim. Furthermore, while this discourse is bound to be “emotive-intellectual,” the use of rhetorical devices and logical fallacies should be avoided whenever possible. At least, they should not be intentionally used to score vain victories. We do understand that controversy regarding money and its distribution has been a fixture of human history. We also understand that people are affected by their intellectual milieu, and that our community in this part of the world leans to the “left.” We also remember how a great Companion like Abu Dharr (raḍiya Allâhu ‘anhu – rAa), who was not surpassed in sincerity by anyone, as described by the truthful one (al-Ṣâdiq, pbuh), fervently disagreed with the rest of the Companions about these issues. And while we agree with the rest of the Companions, we will always love and revere Abu Dharr and respect his motives. Having said that, I would also like to remind the reader that the first one to suffer from accusations of maldistribution of public money was none other than the Prophet (pbuh) himself – al-Ameen! There is the well-known hadith in which a proto-Kharijite person accused him of injustice. The following story, however, better demonstrates the complexity of the subject and its emotive aspect. It is long, but there may be more lessons to learn from it than from the rest of the article. 

The context of this hadith is that from the spoils (war booty) of the battle of Ḥunayn, the Prophet gave massive grants to those of the former enemies whose hearts he intended to win and to those whose faith was still questionable. 

Abu Sa‘eed al-Khudri (rAa) narrated that when Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) distributed some grants to [the people of] Quraish and [among some] other Arab tribes, the Ansar [Anṣâr] did not receive anything from it [the booty], so they [were disappointed and] felt saddened. Some words started to go around about that, till one of them said: By Allah, the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) has met his [own] people (i.e., he has reconciled with them and forgotten about us). Sa‘d ibn ‘Ubâdah (rAa) came to the Messenger of Allah and said: O Allah’s Messenger, this group from among the Ansar are [feeling] sad within themselves about what you have done with the spoils which you have acquired… The Prophet asked: And how do you feel about this, O Sa‘d? He replied: O Allah’s Messenger, I am just one of them. The Prophet (pbuh) said: So, gather for me your people in this place… So Allah’s Messenger came to them. He praised Allah and glorified Him duly, then he enquired: O people of the Ansar, what have I heard about you, and about the sadness you have felt among yourselves? Didn’t I come to you while you were astray, then Allah guided you, and you were poor, and Allah enriched you, and you were enemies to one another, but Allah joined your hearts together? They said: Yes, and the greatest favors are from Allah and His Messenger. Then he said: Do you not answer me, O people of the Ansar? They replied: And by what can we answer you O Allah’s Messenger? Truly the greatest favors are from Allah and His Messenger. He (pbuh) responded:

أَمَا وَاَللَّهِ لَوْ شِئْتُمْ لَقُلْتُمْ، فَلَصَدَقْتُمْ وَلَصُدِّقْتُمْ: أَتَيْتَنَا مُكَذَّبًا فَصَدَّقْنَاكَ، وَمَخْذُولًا فَنَصَرْنَاكَ، وَطَرِيدًا فَآوَيْنَاكَ، وَعَائِلًا فَآسَيْنَاكَ. أَوَجَدْتُمْ يَا مَعْشَرَ الْأَنْصَارِ فِي أَنْفُسِكُمْ فِي لُعَاعَةٍ مِنْ الدُّنْيَا تَأَلَّفْتُ بِهَا قَوْمًا لِيُسْلِمُوا. وَوَكَلْتُكُمْ إلَى إسْلَامِكُمْ، أَلَا تَرْضَوْنَ يَا مَعْشَرَ الْأَنْصَارِ أَنْ يَذْهَبَ النَّاسُ بِالشَّاةِ وَالْبَعِيرِ، وَتَرْجِعُوا بِرَسُولِ اللَّهِ إلَى رِحَالِكُمْ؟ فَوَاَلَّذِي نَفْسُ مُحَمَّدٍ بِيَدِهِ، لَوْلَا الْهِجْرَةُ لَكُنْتُ امْرَأً مِنْ الْأَنْصَارِ، وَلَوْ سَلَكَ النَّاسُ شِعْبًا وَسَلَكَتْ الْأَنْصَارُ شِعْبًا، لَسَلَكْتُ شِعْبَ الْأَنْصَارِ. اللَّهُمَّ ارْحَمْ الْأَنْصَارَ وَأَبْنَاءَ الْأَنْصَارِ وَأَبْنَاءَ أَبْنَاءِ الْأَنْصَار . 

By Allah, if you wished, you could have said, and you would have been truthful in [saying] it and would have been believed, that: You came to us accused of being a liar but we believed you, and you came to us forsaken and we supported you, and you came to us as a refugee and we sheltered you, and you came to us poor and we aided you. Did you feel saddened, O Ansar, for a trifle of this worldly life that I used in order to reconcile the hearts of some people [to Islam], and entrusted to you your faith in Islam that Allah has given you? Would it not please you, O Ansar, that the people return to their homes with sheep and camels, and you go back to your homes with the Messenger of Allah? By He in Whose Hand is Muhammad’s soul , had it not been for the Hijra I would have been one of the Ansar, and if the people [altogether] take one way and the Ansar take another, I would take the way of the Ansar. O Allah, have mercy on the Ansar, and the children of the Ansar, and the children of the children of the Ansar!

[Upon hearing this] the people wept bitterly till they wet their beards, and they said: We are pleased with the Messenger of Allah as our share and fortune.

People have various psychological and ideological inclinations. It is absolutely fine for someone, who is so inclined, to give all of his zakat to the poor. This is true according to the majority. It is, however, unacceptable for people to condemn someone else who may decide to give some of his or her zakat for other purposes. We know, for example, that the Mâlikis and Ḥanbalis still consider the category of “those whose hearts are to be reconciled” to be applicable to non-Muslims. And while such expenditure should be done by the imam or his deputies (including major Islamic organizations in today’s circumstances), it is legitimate for individual Muslims to give their entire zakat of one year for this purpose. This money could be used to lobby policymakers or to support some of them for the interests of the Muslim community: not to usurp the rights of other communities, but to defend our own. 

Those who may decide to avoid this position because of their religious conviction or benefit/harm assessment should not deny others the right to choose their own position and to make their own benefit/harm assessment. This is assuming that such a decision is based on textual proofs and legal principles, and not, for instance, on assessment using other criteria that vary with time, such as a risk–benefit ratio. In other words, it is imperative that we are not violating an established (i.e., not merely reported) consensus, specific to the issue at hand, that is not simply based on maṣlaḥah (securing benefit and removing harm). For if we deviate from that, an opponent can “deny” us the right to adopt our own position. Technically, in the legal context, inkâr (condemnation) is warranted when someone deviates from such consensus, and we must respect that. We are not by any means calling for the “deregulation” of the religion.

A more detailed discussion about the concept of the change of fatwa can be found in this article. However, it must be said here that the realization of the effective causes (manaṭât) of the legislation and its higher objectives is an ongoing exercise that should be deferred to those scholars most grounded in knowledge and most aware of the reality. Quoting text or traditional fatwas can be done by many. Understanding the manaṭât of the text is the responsibility and prerogative of the fuqahâ’. Realizing such manaṭât in changing realities is the work of those among them most aware of such realities. The Prophet (pbuh) said,

“يحْمِلُ هَذَا العِلْمَ مِن كُلِّ خَلَفٍ عُدُولُهُ يَنْفُونَ عَنْه انْتِحالَ المُبْطِلِينَ وتَأْوِيلَ الجَاهِلِينَ وتَحْرِيفَ الغَالِينَ”

“In every generation, their reliable authorities will steward this knowledge, rejecting the frauds of the false claimants, the interpretations of the ignorant, and the changes made by the extremists.” 

The zakat eligibility of da‘wah organizations and others defending the cause of Islam and Muslims 

The intent of this segment is to show that the position adopted by AMJA is a mainstream position among the contemporary scholars. Those who disagree with it should at least find it sâ’igh (excusable/defensible). This will not be a detailed analysis of the different positions, so I will not mention the evidences for the counter positions in detail. Such evidences can be sought in the books of fiqh. I will start by presenting a typology of the positions on this matter, followed by the evidences that were (or could be) cited in support of AMJA’s position. 

A typology of positions

There is usually a spectrum of positions in such controversial matters. However, for simplification, I will mention the main positions concerning the scope of the category of “for the cause of Allah.” I will also mention the other categories that can be invoked in support of the zakat eligibility of Muslim organizations defending the cause of Islam and Muslims. 

There are five main positions concerning the meaning of “for the cause of Allah” in the following verse outlining the eligible zakat recipients:

إِنَّمَا الصَّدَقَاتُ لِلْفُقَرَاءِ وَالْمَسَاكِينِ وَالْعَامِلِينَ عَلَيْهَا وَالْمُؤَلَّفَةِ قُلُوبُهُمْ وَفِي الرِّقَابِ وَالْغَارِمِينَ وَفِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ وَابْنِ السَّبِيلِ ۖ فَرِيضَةً مِّنَ اللَّهِ ۗ وَاللَّهُ عَلِيمٌ حَكِيمٌ

{Zakat expenditures are only for the poor and for the needy and for those employed to collect [zakat] and for bringing hearts together [for Islam] and for freeing captives [or slaves] and for those in debt and for the cause of Allah and for the [stranded] traveler – an obligation [imposed] by Allah. And Allah is Knowing and Wise.} [Surat at-Tawbah 9:60]

Position 1: It means the fighters for the cause of Allah. We may safely say that this is the position of the majority of earlier scholars. However, when we address positions 3 and 4, we will come to realize that many of them did not strictly limit it to fighters. 

Position 2: Diametrically opposite this first position, we have the position that it is the apparent meaning of the phrase: all the good causes of Allah (some have specified it as meaning all public interests of Muslims), including building and maintaining mosques and dams, shrouding the dead, teaching the Qur’an, supporting students of knowledge and missionaries, and so forth. This is the position reported by Imam al-Qaffâl from some jurists, and supported by imams like Qâḍi ‘Iyâḍ, al-Râzi, al-Kasâni (see details below), and al-Ṭeebi, and of the latter scholars, by al-Ṣan‘âni, Shihâb al-Deen al-Aloosi, and Ṣiddeeq Hasan Khan, and of the scholars who died after 1900, by al-Qâsimisi, Muhammad Râshid Reda, the grand sheikhs of al-Azhar, namely Musṭafa al-Marâghi, Maḥmoud Shaltoot, ‘Abd al-Majeed Saleem, and ‘Abd al-Ḥaleem Maḥmoud, and the grand mufti of Egypt, Muhammad Hasanayn Makhlouf, whose position became the standard position of Dâr al-Iftâ’. It is also the position chosen by Nadwat al-Iqtiṣâd al-Islâmi (Islamic Economic Forum), convened in Amman, Jordan in 1983 under the leadership of the late towering Ḥanafi fiqh scholar, Sh. Muṣṭafa Ahmad al-Zarqa. 

Between these two ends of the spectrum lie the three other positions that considered this category a specific one but did not limit it to fighters. They added one or more of the following:

Position 3: It includes financing the wâjib hajj and ‘umrah for those who cannot otherwise afford to go. This is the authorized Ḥanbali position. It is also the position of the Companions Ibn ‘Abbâs, Ibn ‘Umar, and Ḥuẓaifah, and of al-Ḥasan of the Tâbi‘een, and others.

Position 4: It includes the students of knowledge. This is the position of many Ḥanafis, as in al-Zaheeriyah and Ḥâshiyat Ibn ‘Abideen. However, unlike the majority, the Ḥanafis qualify all the categories except the zakat collectors by need (al-ḥâjah), although Ibn ‘Âbideen cites a different position that excludes students of knowledge from this and permits zakat for those of them who own a niṣâb. The Maliki scholar, al-Ṣâwy, argued that they are eligible, according to Imam Malik’s madhhab, even if they are rich, because they are “mujâhidoon.” It is noteworthy here that the Shafi‘ees and Ḥanbalis consider those students of knowledge who are capable of earning eligible to receive zakat if they dedicate their time to the pursuit of learning. They do not extend the same right to those devoted to worship. They would still classify this as belonging to the category of the “poor.” It is obvious, however, that they are in different ways allowing the student of knowledge to receive zakat because of the ummah’s need for their knowledge.

Position 5: It includes all forms of jihad, including intellectual jihad through da‘wah, dispelling misconceptions, and defending the religion and its people through all legitimate means. This is the position chosen by AMJA in the fatwa above. It is also the position of the Islamic Fiqh Council, the second largest international fiqh assembly, as declared at their 8th conference. Notably, the decision passed with absolute majority. It is also the position of the following fiqh bodies: The Permanent Fatwa Committee of Saudi Arabia (KSA), the Fatwa Committee of Kuwait, the Kuwaiti Zakat House, the Kuwaiti Ministry of Endowments, and the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs in Egypt. It is also the position of the following notable contemporary scholars: the grand muftis of KSA, Muhammad ibn Ibrahim and ‘Abd al-‘Azeez ibn Bâz, Sh. Yusuf al-Qaradâwi, Sh. ‘Abd al-Kareem Zaydân, Sh. ‘Abdullah Nâṣiḥ ‘Ulwân, Sh. Muhammad Sulaymân al-Ashqar, Sh. ‘Umar Sulaymân al-Ashqar, Sh. ‘Abdullah al-Muṣliḥ, Sh. Ṣalâḥ al-Ṣâwy, among many others. It is important to mention here that all of the supporters of Position 2 would, a fortiori, support this narrower spectrum of eligible recipients. 

Is this category the only one invoked in supporting the zakat eligibility of Muslim organizations defending the cause of Islam and Muslims?

The short answer to this is “no.” We have scholars of the past and present who extended, via analogy, the category of zakat collectors to those serving the public interests of the community; they also cited textual evidence in support of their position. This was reported from Abu ‘Ubayd, and understood from the chapter headings of al-Bukhâri in his Ṣaḥeeḥ. Some scholars like ‘Iyâḍ and others understood it from the instance in which the Prophet (pbuh) used zakat money to pay for the blood money of a man of the Anṣâr about whose death the Jews were accused. In fact, Ibn Rushd pointed out how mainstream this position was when he stated, “Those who permitted it for the collector, even when wealthy, permitted it as well for judges and others like them whose services are of benefit to the Muslim public.”

It is also reasonable to pay students of knowledge who staff many of those organizations, for their dedication to learning and research, based on the large number of earlier scholars who allowed that, even if those students are capable of earning a living. 

It is also reasonable to pay the organizations who defend the legal rights of Muslims under the category of riqâb, based on the view that extends the meaning of this term to include freeing the captives and paying bail for the unjustly imprisoned.

As we said before, the Mâlikis and Ḥanbalis still consider the category of “those whose hearts are to be reconciled” operative and applicable to non-Muslims. Major Islamic organizations may use some zakat funds to lobby policy makers or support some of them to protect the legitimate interests of the Muslim community. Any research on the uses of this category in the Ḥanbali madhhab, for instance, would lead to this conclusion.

Evidences cited for the expansion of the category of “for the cause of Allah”

While it is extremely unlikely that all these scholars mentioned above and others would uphold a baseless view, it is still important to show their evidence if we are arguing for the defensibility of their position. Here are some. 

From the Qur’an

The Qur’an does not always use “fi sabeel Allah” (for the cause of Allah) to refer to jihad. A simple search would yield this conclusion. And with respect to spending in particular, there is also the following verse that infers that it is not restricted to that cause. Allah says, 

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِنَّ كَثِيرًا مِّنَ الْأَحْبَارِ وَالرُّهْبَانِ لَيَأْكُلُونَ أَمْوَالَ النَّاسِ بِالْبَاطِلِ وَيَصُدُّونَ عَن سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ ۗ وَالَّذِينَ يَكْنِزُونَ الذَّهَبَ وَالْفِضَّةَ وَلَا يُنفِقُونَهَا فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ فَبَشِّرْهُم بِعَذَابٍ أَلِيمٍ

{O you who have believed, indeed many of the scholars and the monks devour the wealth of people unjustly and avert [them] from the way of Allah. And those who hoard gold and silver and spend it not in the way of Allah – give them tidings of a painful punishment.} [Surat at-Tawbah 9:34]

According to the majority, one may give all of his or her zakat to any recipient. If “for the cause of Allah” here means only the fighters, all those who are not giving their zakat to fighters would deserve that severe torment. 

Allah says, 

فَلَا تُطِعِ الْكَافِرِينَ وَجَاهِدْهُم بِهِ جِهَادًا كَبِيرًا

{So do not obey the disbelievers, and strive against them with the Qur’an a great striving.} [Surat al-Furqān 25:52]


This verse can be cited by those who expand the concept of jihad to include intellectual jihad. 

From the Sunnah

The Sunnah also does not limit “fi sabeel Allah” (for the cause of Allah) exclusively to jihad. It is used in the context of a variety of good causes, including hajj and umrah, seeking knowledge, and even providing for oneself or one’s family. And with respect to spending in particular, the Sunnah also used the term to refer to other good causes. 

Umm Ma‘qil narrated: “When the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) performed the Farewell Pilgrimage, and we had a camel, Abu Ma‘qil dedicated it “for the cause of Allah.” Then we suffered from a disease, and Abu Ma‘qil died. The Prophet (pbuh) went out (for hajj). When he finished the hajj, I came to him. He asked: Umm Ma‘qil, what prevented you from coming out for hajj along with us? She replied: We resolved (to do so), but Abu Ma‘qil died. We had a camel on which we could perform hajj, but Abu Ma‘qil had bequeathed it “for the cause of Allah.” He (pbuh) responded: 

“فَهَلاَّ خَرَجْتِ عَلَيْهِ فَإِنَّ الْحَجَّ فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ”

Why did you not go out (for hajj) upon it, for hajj is in the cause of Allah? 

While the hadith indicates that the prevalent use of the phrase “for the cause of Allah” was for fighting, it shows, along with other texts, that it does not refer exclusively to that. 

Like the Qur’an, the Sunnah attests to the intellectual jihad being a form of jihad. Of these traditions is the Prophet’s (pbuh) saying, 

‏ “‏ جَاهِدُوا الْمُشْرِكِينَ بِأَمْوَالِكُمْ وَأَنْفُسِكُمْ وَأَلْسِنَتِكُمْ ‏”‏ 

“Use your property, your persons any your tongues in striving against the polytheists.”

From the Companions

As we said before, Ibn ‘Abbâs, Ibn Umar, and Huzaifah all considered hajj to be included in the category of “fi sabeel Allah” with respect to spending. The Ḥanbalis may argue that none of the Companions contested this opinion, showing that this type of spending is included by their (tacit) consensus in this category. Those who expand it further may argue that, by the consensus of the Companions, this category was not limited to the fighters. 

From the Language

The apparent meaning of this phrase in the language is “for the cause of Allah.” It includes all good causes that draw us closer to Allah. This has been acknowledged by linguists and exegetes (mufassireen) alike.

It was argued that when there is no clear takhṣeeṣ (specification) of the meaning of the verse in the Revelation, language, or ‘urf (common usage), its general purports should be upheld. 


One may argue that analogy has no place in rulings on acts of worship. However, this, while somewhat true, is not an absolute principle. Any student of fiqh knows they applied to comprehensible rulings in the sphere of worship as well. There are examples mentioned above. Ibn Rushd’s statement about the fuqahâ’ widening the scope of “the collectors” via analogy is one.  

Rational evidence 

Most of the struggle in our times is intellectual, and enormous resources are needed for da‘wah and dispelling misconceptions about the religion. ِAdditionally, in the current era, countries have standing armies, and they are not soliciting zakat for them. 

We often hear people say that we need homegrown scholars who understand the realities of our nascent Muslim community in the West, in general, and North America, in particular. I have found that many of the “foreign” muftis truly  appreciate the needs of our communities, including the imperative to establish institutions that serve the interests of the religion and its followers, and they agree that zakat money may be used to secure such great need. For example, you will find the fatwa agency of Bayt al-Zakat al-Kuwaiti, one of the most active in researching this area of the law (and largely conservative in its opinions), making several distinctions between Muslim majorities and minorities, allowing the expenditure of zakat for da‘wah – and even for the building of mosques within the context of the latter.

Those who argue that money will be diverted from fighting poverty may be overestimating the trend of supporting Islamic organizations from zakat money. We have no reliable statistics or studies to support such a claim. Even if the money that was typically sent from Muslim communities in the West to their fellow Muslims overseas is now partly diverted to fund legitimate local causes, this may be a result of the changing demographics of the community. We have more members of the faith now who are native to the West. They may have fewer ties to the majority-Muslim “homelands,” and they may also have greater interest in establishing thriving organizations. Many earlier emigrants did not even want to buy graves in their new countries because they always planned to “go back home.” 

The fact that voluntary charity by the community is not sufficient to support all of its essential needs is acknowledged by most leaders of these communities. Zakat money has contributed greatly to the goals of serving the common interests of Islam and Muslims. This is attested to, even by those overseas, observing from a distance. How could we blame someone for giving a portion of their zakat to the organization they believe brought them back to Islam or to practicing it? We must understand that da‘wah is the best way to “cultivate donors.” What we need to do is not to contest this “concession,” but rather to remind Muslim organizations and donors of the importance of zakat and other forms of charity and appropriate zakat stewardship. 

I hope that people who read this segment will find that the judicious expansion of the category of “fi sabeel Allah” (for the cause of Allah) to include all forms of intellectual struggle is supported by the ẓawâhir (apparent meanings) of the texts, and has been upheld by scores of notable ‘ulamâ’ of the past and present, and that if someone chose another position as râjiḥ (weightier), they should be able to find this one as sâ’igh (defensible/excusable). This would mean refraining from inkâr (condemnation) of it and of those who uphold it. 

The difficulty of establishing stringent guidelines 

Some people expressed concern about the brevity of AMJA’s fatwa and the lack of guidelines. I must begin by saying that the fatwa committee of AMJA would have provided a more detailed answer to the question if it were putting forth an unprecedented position. It is not. It is a position that has been largely mainstreamed by fiqh bodies, fatwa agencies, and individual scholars. While there is extensive research on the subject, often times, their fatwas were as “brief” as AMJA’s, or even briefer. Excessive regulations, unless warranted and supported by evidence, can cause more harm. People must be trusted to some extent in the phase of application. This applies to many areas of the law. Giving women a list of colors they cannot wear would be fraught with arbitrariness, lack of evidence, and inconsistency. Telling them to avoid colors that bring attention to them can be justified with much more ease. The extreme regulation of things that are meant to be left to the conscientiousness of humankind causes atrophy of that faculty. 

Guidelines (even arbitrary ones) by the recipient organizations are welcome. Stringent or exclusionary guidelines cannot be established by a mufti or a fatwa agency because the following legal principles may be invoked against them. 

Separating between equals and the a fortiori argument 

Many of the arbitrary guidelines laid down by organizations for public assurance cannot be demanded by fatwa agencies because they are legally (and sometimes rationally) incoherent, separating between equals or prioritizing for no good reason what is less important. When we say that giving da‘wah to others is part of intellectual jihad, some may say that preserving one’s capital takes priority over making profit; thus, financing Islamic schools from the zakat funds, to protect the deen of our offspring, should take priority over da‘wah, when such schools cannot otherwise survive. This is why the fatwa agency of the Kuwaiti Ministry of Endowments, Sh. ‘Abd al-Ḥaleem Mahmoud, Sh. Yusuf al-Qaradâwi, and others argued that zakat may be given to finance them.   

Giving da‘wah to Muslims in a small village in Egypt may not look like a form of “intellectual jihad.” But da‘wah to those Muslims at risk of losing their religion because of societal pressures or non-Muslim missionary efforts may be an eligible cause, and that is why the fatwa agency of Bayt al-Zakat al-Kuwaiti ruled that da‘wah among Muslim minorities would be eligible for zakat under the seventh category: “fi sabeel Allah.”

The same or more could be said about building a masjid in a town or neighborhood of an indigenous community when it could not otherwise be built. It can always be argued that masâjid should be built from the crème of the crop of our wealth, not from the impurities we seek to cleanse ourselves of by paying zakat. But what if they cannot be built? This is exactly what Sh. Shaltoot argued when he said that a mosque should not be built from zakat money except when it cannot otherwise be built, in which case it is permissible. This is AMJA’s position as well.

The means to wâjib are wâjib and the means take the rulings of the ends

Another way to phrase it is “that which is necessary for the fulfilment of wâjib is wâjib.” Of course, this principle applies when such means are attainable by the mukallaf (responsible) agent. This principle can make the distinction between buying desks and chairs and paying researchers a risky one. That is why the Permanent Fatwa Committee of KSA allowed the use of zakat money by da‘wah organizations in the UK for buying a building and maintaining it, as well as paying its electricity bills, and so forth.

If one says that zakat money may be used to support orphans, but it cannot be used to build orphanages, this argument may be invoked against them. That is why Bayt al-Zakat of Kuwait allowed its use for the building of orphanages, particularly for Muslim minorities. 

Recommendations for Muslim organizations and individual donors 

Based on the foregoing, there are a few guidelines to keep in mind.  

Recommendations for recipient organizations

(Organizations may have their own additional guidelines to demonstrate to themselves and others their good stewardship of the zakat money.)

Here are some that are most obvious. 
When an organization has several activities, they should direct their zakat money to those that are eligible, if they desire to follow one of the middle positions, 4 and/or 5. 

Organizations should be transparent about their finances. Those who will earn the people’s trust are those that achieve the expected level of transparency, particularly in a country like the USA where there are established ethics of transparency concerning the conduct of non-profit organizations. 

Zakat money should not be used for anything extravagant or unwarranted. When in doubt, avoid using it. Nothing is like safety. The objective is to defend the cause of Islam and Muslims, and while the means to wâjib are wâjib and the means take the rulings of the ends, it is particularly indicated in such controversial matters that we do not widen the scope of the means or consider the most distant means to be zakat eligible. No fixed rules can be placed here because of the infinite scenarios, but our conscientious stewardship of zakat money is essential. 

Organizations that use zakat money should have an objective mechanism to evaluate the salaries of their employees and avoid any conflict of interest. If they desire to abide by the one Ḥanafi position, for instance, that gives zakat only to those who are needy, including students of knowledge/researchers, they may give them what is enough to keep them above the poverty line. Traditionally, niṣâb was considered to represent that line. If the organizations follow the position of the majority, they will pay their employees at market value, not more. Of course, such value is commensurate with their training and skills. 

Over-decorating the mosques is disliked. “Charitable donations, even voluntary donations, should not be used to adorn the mosque except for a small amount that is customarily considered acceptable, that will not distract the worshippers, and which is not considered extravagant.” 

Our mosques should be built using the purest of our wealth, not zakat money. The only exception is in indigenous communities or small towns where a mosque cannot otherwise be built. A mosque that is in debt can receive zakat money to pay off its debt.

Those mosques that use zakat money to support their da‘wah program should be truly active in reaching out to non-Muslims and Muslims who are distant. These funds should not be used to simply support a halaqah for the regular masjid community. 

Islamic schools that decide to accept zakat money should have the wealthy pay full tuition. This will largely funnel the zakat money toward those already deserving of zakat because of their need. 

All organizations that are capable of gradually weaning themselves from dependency on zakat money should attempt to do that, so as to avoid controversy. They should diversify their sources of income and, most importantly, develop awqâf for long-term stability. 


Recommendations for donors

Abu Hurairah (rAa) narrated: 

The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said: “A man (from amongst the people before you) said: ‘Indeed! I will give in charity.’ So he took his adaqah out and placed it in a thief’s hand. In the morning the people were talking (about this incident) and saying: ‘Ṣadaqah was given to a thief last night.’ The man said: ‘O Allah! Praise be to You. I have given adaqah to a thief. Indeed, I will give in charity!’ So he took his adaqah out and placed it in a prostitute’s hand. In the morning the people were talking (about this incident) and saying: ‘Ṣadaqah was given to a prostitute last night.’ On hearing this, the man said: ‘Praise be to You, O Allah! I gave adaqah to a prostitute. Indeed, I will give in charity!’ So he took his adaqah out and placed it in a rich man’s hand. In the morning the people were talking (about this incident) and saying: ‘Ṣadaqah was given to a rich man last night.’ The man said: ‘O Allah! Praise be to You (for helping me) give charity to a thief, a prostitute, and a rich man.’ Then he had a dream in which he was told that his adaqah to the thief might result in his refraining from theft, his adaqah to the prostitute might help her abstain from immorality, and his adaqah to the rich man might help him pay heed and spend from what Allah had bestowed upon him.” 

I decided to start with this hadith despite it not directly serving the purpose of this segment, because moderation is always good, even in preaching. There is no need to cause unwarranted anxiety. People need to learn about Allah’s fairness and mercy. Having said that, it is still the obligation of the donor to be thoughtful in giving their zakat. 
As a donor, I should learn about the cause I am supporting and the organization I am patronizing. I would favor transparent organizations that are truly and effectively defending the cause of Islam and Muslims. 

Also, according to the Shâfi‘ees, zakat must be equally divided between the eight categories of recipients. If one category cannot be found, then it should be equally divided between the remaining seven. While we uphold the position of the majority, it must be said that it would be favorable to include several categories in your giving of zakat. 

Moreover, the first two categories mentioned in the verse above about the recipients are the most deserving. They should never be neglected. They are the only ones mentioned in the hadith of Mu‘âdh where the Prophet (pbuh) said to him, 

“‏ … فإنْ هُمْ أطاعُوا لذلكَ، فأعْلِمْهُمْ أنَّ اللَّهَ افْتَرَضَ عليهم صَدَقَةً تُؤْخَذُ مِن أغْنِيائِهِمْ فَتُرَدُّ في فُقَرائِهِمْ‏”‏ 

“…and if they obey you, tell them that Allah has made the payment of Zakat obligatory upon them. It should be collected from their rich and distributed among their poor.” [Al-Bukhâri and Muslim].
Finally, the affluent people of this ummah must be reminded of the virtue of voluntary charity. In fact, all of us must remind ourselves of that virtue. 

“فَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ مَا اسْتَطَعْتُمْ وَاسْمَعُوا وَأَطِيعُوا وَأَنفِقُوا خَيْرًا لِّأَنفُسِكُمْ ۗ وَمَن يُوقَ شُحَّ نَفْسِهِ فَأُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الْمُفْلِحُونَ”

“So fear Allah as much as you are able and listen and obey and spend in charity for the benefit of your own soul. And whoever is saved from the stinginess of their soul – it is those who will be the successful.” [At-Taghābun 64:16]

وصلى الله على محمد والحمد لله رب العالمين.

Dr. Hatem al-Haj

Dr. Hatem holds a PhD in Comparative Fiqh from Al-Jinan University in Tripoli, Lebanon, and a Master’s Degree in Islamic Law from the American Open University, graduating from both with the highest distinction. He is board-certified in Pediatrics and Pediatric Hospital Medicine by the American Board of Pediatrics.    Dr. Hatem works as a Pediatric Hospitalist.  He was the Dean ...
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