In my previous article “Bribery in Islam” I delved into just one aspect of this use: the use of Zakat as a bribe to non-Muslims for conversion or to influence them to act in a manner that benefited Islam in some way.
I was taken to task by the commentator who writes as “....” and whom I call “Dotty” for a number of omissions relating to other uses of Zakat and at the time I conceded that he had a point.
This article is to make good those omissions.
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The payment of Zakat (the Islamic “charity tax”) is obligatory in Islam – i.e. it is a religious duty in Islam. In fact it goes further than that: Zakat is one of the “five pillars of Islam” - in other words it is one of the five key acts expected of a faithful Muslim.
Of course payment of Zakat is only an external practice of Islam – thus it is an act of othopraxy. Strictly speaking it says nothing about the Imaan (“faith”) of the individual who could be “going through the motions”, but to suggest that as the norm would be harsh; most Muslims pay Zakat out of a genuine feeling of religious obligation thereby making it matter of orthodoxy and Imaan rather than one of orthopraxy and Islam.
Key verse relating to Zakat in the Koran is K.9:60
(Hilali-Khan): As-Sadaqat (here it means Zakat) are only for the Fuqara (poor), and Al-Masakin (the destitute) and those employed to collect (the funds); and to attract the hearts of those who have been inclined (towards Islam); and to free the slaves; and for those in debt; and for Allah's Cause (i.e. for Mujahidoon – those fighting in the holy wars), and for the wayfarer (a traveller who is cut off from everything); a duty imposed by Allah. And Allah is All-Knower, All-Wise.”
One has to say that many of these uses of the “charity tax” are apparently good and noble: such alms are to be given to the poor and destitute, to free captives/slaves, to pay off the debt of debtors (if incurred in a “good cause”) and to assist travellers who have fallen on hard times. The tax-collectors are to be given what is, as we shall see, in effect a wage from the tax - again not unreasonable, if someone spends their working days collecting tax, it's reasonable that they should be paid a “living wage” for doing so. Surely no-one could find such aims objectionable?
Then we find that there are two ignoble uses: for bribery (for full details see here or here) and “for Allah's cause” - i.e. the waging of Jihad against the Kaffir. Let me note that I am not restricting this Jihad to just sword-jihad (Maududi, see below, makes the point also) – one also needs funds for “hand-jihad” and “tongue-jihad” (aka “pen jihad”) - two elements of (broader) Dawah - which are also aimed at the non-Muslim. But the verse is quite clear: it is a legitimate use – indeed arguably a mandatory one – for some of the proceeds of Zakat to be put to both Dawah and sword-jihad.
However, to understand how Muslims have understood this verse over the ages we need to go further than a mere parsing of the Koran verse. I now turn to the Tafseers.
Tafseers are commentaries on the Koran. I shall consider eight Sunni Tafseers. The Sunni Tafseers are split between “traditional” and “modern” (19-20th century) sources. For further information on the individual commentaries see footnotes.
Due to the extensive discourses on this verse, I give only summaries of the various Tafseers used. I also omit the sections on bribery since these have been covered elsewhere.
al-Jalalayn is quite specific: to qualify for any alms from Zakat, you must be a Muslim. Also the Zakat must be divided equally between all the categories – thus it is obligatory to give support to jihad against non-Muslims. Another point here is that al-Jalalayn speak of alms being used “for slaves to be manumitted by contract”. This somewhat obscure sounding phrase refers to Muslim slaves (generally converts to Islam) who have entered into a contract by which they can literally buy their freedom from their master.
as-Suyuti: states that “the destitute” may be Dhimmis (subjugated non-Muslims within the Muslim state). [Quite how this correlates to the deadly requirement for Dhimmis to pay the Jizya (Islamic head tax for Dhimmis) is not made clear.] He states that Zakat is only to be used for the categories in the verse. What is striking about his commentary is the lack of consensus within the authorities he quotes as to the precise meanings of the various categories and whether or not all should be supported equally or not. As-Suyuti quotes Muqatal who says that Zakat “to free the captives” applies to those with “a kitaba” which extends the applicability to Jewish, Christian and Sabian slaves of Muslims. He also states: “Ibn Abi Hatim transmitted that [the verse, (K.9:60)] is used as a proof that it is permitted to pay the [tax] agent even if he is wealthy, or a slave, a dhimmi or one of the family of the Prophet.” Thus as-Suyuti gives a clear exception to the “Muslim only” rule of al-Jalalayn (of which he was co-author!) for tax collectors. He writes: “(in the Way of Allah) Muqatal and Ibn Zayd say that this refers those who go on expeditions in the Way of Allah. Its generality is used as a proof by those who say that it should be paid even if there is wealth. Some say that it is spent on all that is connected to jihad: treaties with the enemy, building fortresses, digging ditches, providing weapons and provision, and paying spies, even if they are Christians. Some say that hajj is included in "the way of Allah" and so it can be spent on someone going on hajj.” giving more detail on this topic than al-Jalalayn.
Ibn Abbas considers that “the needy” refers to poor pilgrims (i.e. those on the Hajj or other Islamic pilgrimage), and states that Zakat is used “for the fighters for the cause of Allah” linking this closely to sword-jihad. He considers “wayfarers” to be “guests, the passer-by” (which implies they could be non-Muslims). Implicitly he supports the interpretation that says giving to all categories is mandatory.
Ibn Juzayy states that there are differences between the various Sunni schools (Maliki, Shafi'i, Hanbali and Hanafi) on whether or not all categories must be supported and whether they are always relevant or not. He writes: “(in the Way of Allah) i.e. jihad. From it money is given to the fighters, and from it war equipment is bought. There is disagreement about spending it to build forts and to form fleets.” A point here is that there is no disagreement about the mandatory use of Zakat for jihad. He describes “the wayfarer” as needy foreigners – again implicitly widening those eligible to include non-Muslims in this group. He is also less rigorous over the types of debt that can be defrayed by Zakat.
Ibn Kathir sees “the poor” as those being to ill to work for a living and “the destitute” as those who have too little to satisfy their needs. He gives the poor& needy first call on Zakat since “they have more need than the other categories, since their need is pressing and precarious.” He sees “freeing the slave” in two ways: an individual act of manumission (this is an expiation for several sins in the Koran) and as giving a slave zakat to help him buy his freedom. He also extends “those in debt” to cover those who use their own money in “solving disputes between people, those who guarantee a loan that became due, causing financial strain to them” as well as “those whose funds do not sufficiently cover their debts.” ibn Kathir parallels ibn Abbas re jihad. At no point in his exegesis does ibn Kathir mention non-Muslims as being recipients of Zakat.
Maududi extends the idea of freeing slaves to be something the Muslim state may do as well as the individual, but notes that this use is controversial. He writes: "The Way of Allah" stands for “Jihad in the Way of Allah”, that is, the struggle to eradicate the systems based on kufr and to establish the Islamic system in their stead. Therefore the Zakat Fund may be utilised... for procuring means of conveyance, equipment, weapons and other articles needed for Jihad, ...It should also be noted that there has arisen a misunderstanding regarding the "Way of Allah," for the early scholars usually use for Jihad the Arabic word as (ghazyah) which is synonymous with "fight". They, therefore, are of the opinion that Zakat Fund may only be used for the purpose of fighting. But Jihad in the Way of Allah is a much more comprehensive term than mere fighting in the Way of Allah. Jihad applies to all those efforts that are made to degrade the word of kufr and to exalt the Word of Allah and to establish the Islamic System of life, whether by propagating the Message of Allah in the initial stage or by fighting in the final stage of the struggle.” Like ibn Kathir makes no mention of Dhimmis or non-Muslims receiving alms, though we might interpret what he says about wayfarers as implicitly including them.
Qutb: “The surah makes clear that the ... distribution of charity... is all God’s decision, and it is He who determines which groups of people are entitled to receive a share... There can be no addition to, or reduction from, these groups by anyone.” which means that giving Zakat to all the categories is mandatory. Qutb parallels Maududi on slaves and extends the meaning of “for Allah's Cause” to mean “any activity which brings benefit to the Muslim community and serves the advancement of God’s cause may be included.” Apart from these variations he is in agreement with the majority of other writers.
Shafi elucidates that fact that the word “sadakat” (alms) is used for both the “obligatory alms” (fard sadakat or Zakat) and any (supererogatory) “voluntary giving” (nafl sadakat). He further states that the verse (9:60) refers to zakat and adduces several other Koran verses and Ahadith in support of his position. He further explicitly states that the “poor” and “destitute” must be Muslims in order to receive Zakat alms, though non-Muslims may receive voluntary alms. He also states that “that which was given to those employed to collect Sadaqat (prescribed alms) was really no Zakat as such. Instead of that, it was given to them as compensation in return for the service rendered by themon behalf of the poor recipients of Zakat. It is like a poor person making someone an attorney for his case and paying for his services from what he has received from Zakat funds.” Implicitly, then, such a tax-collector does not necessarily have to be Muslim in Shafi's view. He also states that using Zakat “for Allah's cause” - i.e. for Jihad or Hajj - takes precedence over all prior demands on Zakat funds, in other words this is the “best” use of Zakat in Shafi's eyes. He also quotes the Sahih hadith attributed to Mu'adh ibn Jabal by saying: 'Take it (Sadaqat) from the rich among them (Muslims) and disburse it back to the poor among them' thus limiting the possible recipients to Muslims alone.
Summarising: two of the eight writers (al-Jalalayn, Shafi) explicitly state that you have be Muslim to receive Zakat to alleviate poverty, Ibn Kathir, Maududi do so implicitly. All see a vital use of Zakat as being in support of Jihad to “degrade the word of kufr and to exalt the Word of Allah and to establish the Islamic System of life, whether by propagating the Message of Allah in the initial stage or by fighting in the final stage of the struggle” (Maududi). Only As-Suyuti states that the Dhimmi (the subjugated non-Muslims in a Muslim land) may receive from Zakat if destitute and that it may also be used to help “al-kitabi” slaves (Christians, Jews and Sabians) buy their freedom from their Muslim masters. Ibn Abbas sees “the needy” as referring to poor Muslims on the Hajj. Ibn Juzayy implies that non-Muslim “wayfarers” who become destitute may receive help from Zakat. Qutb extends Jihad to include anything beneficial to Islam. Shafi states that Zakat for Jihad takes precedence over all other uses.
On balance the “most correct opinion” from the Tafseers would be that Zakat money can only be used to support Muslims and that at least 1/8th must be given to support Jihad against non-Muslims, unless the requirements for supporting the poor and needy Muslims is overwhelming. An exception to the “Muslim only” rule may be non-Muslim “wayfarers” who have fallen on hard times, but the balance of opinion would make this discretionary rather than mandatory.
Voluntary alms may be used as the giver sees fit.
These are a mix of law books from both Sunni and Shia sources. For further details see footnotes.
(Sunni) “A summary of Islamic Jurisprudence”, Dr. Salih al-Fawzan: “The eight categories fall under two groups: the needy Muslims and those who support Islam when receiving Zakat...” (p. 362) which rules out the use of Zakat for non-Muslims in need. In pages 363-367 he discusses the lawful and impermissible uses of Zakat. Al-Fawzan goes through all eight categories in turn. He adds little to what we have learnt, but states that Zakat “spent in the cause of Allah [is] such as that given to warriors who volunteer in fighting in the cause of Allah ...[which] refers to the war against the enemies of Allah...” (p.364-5) In the final category al-Fawzan somewhat contradicts his earlier statement in that he widens giving to a “stranded traveller” to include “guests” who potentially could be non-Muslims, though he is equivocal about this. Al-Fawzan states it is permissible to give Zakat to just one of the eight categories (p.365) and if so desired to a single individual (p.366).
(Sunni) “The Reliance of the Traveller”, Ahmad Ibn Naqib Al Misri (d. 1368 A.D.). “Book” h deals with Zakat. Sections h8.7-25 deal with the distribution of Zakat. H8.7 states that 1/8th of Zakat must go to each category. H8.8-18 discusses the eight categories in similar terms to the foregoing, h8.17: “Those Fighting for Allah: The seventh category is those fighting for Allah, meaning people engaged in Islamic military operations for whom no salary has been allotted in the army roster (O: but who are volunteers for jihad without remuneration). They are given enough to suffice them for the operation, even if affluent; of weapons, mounts, clothing, and expenses (O: for the duration of the journey, round trip, and the time they spend there, even if prolonged. Though nothing has been mentioned here of the expense involved in supporting such people's families during this period, it seems clear that they should also be given it).” Note that this equates “fighting for Allah” with jihad and that al-Misri states this may be a prolonged campaign, h8.19 makes the point that someone who “qualifies” under two (or more) categories only has his needs met once, h8.20 says local needs should be satisfied first. H8.21 re-states the point that “Each category of recipients must receive an equal share, one-eighth of the total...” h8.22-23 details how Zakat should be given to relatives (i.e. not those you are obliged to support anyway!) and that is should be distributed according to need. h8.24 “It is not permissible to give zakat to a non-Muslim...” Since this statement is not contradicted in h8.25, then the the key point here is that no Zakat can ever go to a non-Muslim in Al-Misri's view.
(Shia) “Islamic Law Handbook of Islamic rulings on Muslim’s duties and practices”, Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Sadiq Husayni Shirazi. Pages 280-328 deal with Zakat. Pages 280-322 deal with the rulings on what is liable to Zakat and in what percentage/amount. Pages 323-325 detail the eight categories. There are some differences here in that the debt rulings are different – according ro Shirazi, you may use Zakat payments to reduce a debt owed by a poor man, as is his interpretation of “in the cause of Allah” - Shirazi sees this as meaning “This covers those projects and initiatives that are of general religious benefit such as building mosques, hawzah, or of worldly benefits to the Muslims.” rather than being for war against non-Muslims, although p.327-8 state that “If a war breaks out, ...[it] is obligatory to perform jihad “by the soul and the wealth”, and therefore in such circumstances, the wealthy should give freely to their utmost ability...” showing that sword-jihad still has a primary call on the purse of Muslims. p.325 “Criteria of those qualifying for Zakah: 1. It is mandatory for the receiver of the Zakah to be Ithna Ashari [or believer in the authority of the 12 Imams appointed by the Prophet].” In other words, only Shia Muslims can be Zakat recipients according to Sharazi.
(Shia) ISLAMIC LAWS (Taudhihul Masae'l) Ayatullah al Uzama Syed Ali al Husaini Seestani. Sections 1860-1998 cover Zakat. This work echoes the one above (Shirazi) and makes the same primary requirement: that the recipient of Zakat must be a Shia Muslim.
(Sunni) “Mukhtasar”, al-Quduri: In the section on “Zakah” al-Quduri states that the donor may give to as many or as few of the categories as he chooses. He writes “It is not permissible for one to give zakat to a dhimmi... or an unbeliever” Therefore al-Quduri also sees Zakat as only being for Muslims.
Summarising: All the Sharia books quoted state that Zakat alms are only for Muslims, Shia books limit this to Shias. The Sunni books state that Zakat is to be used for Jihad, including violence, against non-Muslims, (so non-Muslims “receive the benefit” of Zakat, but not in a way we would normally expect!) though they disagree as to whether an individual has to support Jihad. The Shia books, on the other hand, do not legitimate the use of Zakat for Jihad but do state that the wealth of the Muslims should be available in time of war (jihad).
Whilst aiding the “poor and destitute” are commendable actions it has to be realised that, according to these sources, the Muslim is only aiding other Muslims as far as Zakat is concerned. This makes Zakat very unlike typical western charitable giving (or even taxation) which is used to help the “poor and destitute” in non-Muslim Countries irrespective of their creed. (It does not matter for example whether you are Muslim or not in the UK, you get state welfare support in accordance with your need, not your creed.)
“Freeing slaves” is also commendable, but also reflects a slaving culture, but to be fair one in which slaves (if they become Muslim) may buy their own freedom and may receive either individual or state help to do so.
It is an ancient practice that tax-collectors were paid from the taxes they gathered and the same takes place in the case of Zakat. A minority of sources thus extend this use of Zakat to “salary” a Dhimmi tax-collector.
Again, helping those in debt is a noble endeavour, but again most sources limit this help to Muslims who are in debt. This is logical in that some of these same sources see the purpose of Jizya to be to pauperise non-Muslims, so there would be little point in; on the one hand, pauperising them with Jizya and, on the other, giving them “sufficient for their needs” from Zakat. Alternatively, the aim could be to show the Dhimmi how “generous” Muslims are – or at least reinforce the fact that the dhimmi's welfare is” in the Muslims' hands” so to speak.
Zakat used “in Allah's cause” is dedicated in Sunni Islam for Jihad, both in the narrow sense of “waging war on Allah's enemies” (non-Muslims) and in the wider sense that it “applies to all those efforts that are made to degrade the word of kufr and to exalt the Word of Allah and to establish the Islamic System of life, whether by propagating the Message of Allah in the initial stage [i.e. by hand and tongue/pen jihad] or by fighting [i.e. sword-Jihad] in the final stage of the struggle”. What this means is that Islamic “charity” is directly used to promote the killing of non-Muslims as well as all other efforts to subvert the non-Islamic world.
“Wayfarers” are seen in three ways: (1) Muslims on a pilgrimage (especially Hajj), (2) Muslims who are travelling from “A to B” and (3) “guests” (passing through), the latter two of whom have fallen on “hard times”. The latter is the most interesting in that “guests” of the Islamic state could well be non-Muslims. Therefore, it seems that some sources extend the use of Zakat to this particular class of non-Muslim, although the majority of sources who clearly rule on this category limit “wayfarers” to meaning “Muslim wayfarers”.
Whilst it would be somewhat unfair to say that under all circumstances “Zakat can only be given to Muslims” (though several sources do say exactly this), the exceptions to this rule are minor (either in application or view) thus the statement forms an entirely reasonable “rule of thumb”. It should be noted that “voluntary alms” can be given to non-Muslims, but that this is an act over and above any obligation to act “charitably”.
It is quite repugnant to find that provision of Zakat aid depends far more on creed than on need.
(It is worth noting that in several Pakistan floods affected Christian populations were largely “by-passed” by aid – including that given by foreign 'Christian' organisations – when such aid was distributed by local Muslim groups. Presumably, since their overall aid included Zakat and no one said “this is for the Christians”, they simply treated all the aid as Zakat. See here and here )
Worse, “Islamic charity” can be used for all forms of Jihad (tongue/pen, hand and sword) that are aimed at the non-Muslim in order to “degrade the word of kufr and to exalt the Word of Allah and to establish the Islamic System of life” - i.e. to undermine and subvert non-Muslim states and systems.
Particularly repugnant is the use of “Islamic charity” to support the killing of non-Muslims through sword-Jihad. Most charities try to alleviate suffering and prevent death, not increase suffering and cause death. It should be born in mind then, that of any donation to an Islamic charity some of the donation may well be used to support Jihad – including violence -“against the enemies of Allah”.
Thus the Islamic definition of “charitable aims” is inward-looking and narrow compared to comparable definitions of aims used by non-Muslim charities and, further, Islamic “charitable aims” include aims inimical and even lethal to non-Muslims.
A further point that emerges from the consideration of the uses of the “charity tax”, but one easily overlooked is this: in the Islamic tradition, Zakat payments are an individual religious obligation and perpetual – there is no point-in-time at which they cease (at least unless Islam itself totally died out) and in the Sunni tradition the use of Zakat for Jihad is also mandated; consequently, Jihad itself – including sword-Jihad – is, in the Sunni tradition, perpetually mandated against “the enemies of Allah” - i.e. non-Muslims and (as we see in so many Islamic terror atrocities) against the “wrong sort” of Muslim, be they Sunni “hypocrites”, Shia, Ahmadhi etc. Thus the legislation on Zakat ensures that Sunni Muslims will be waging sword-Jihad “until the end of time”.
Abu Dawud Book 14, Number 2526: Narrated Anas ibn Malik: The Prophet said: “... jihad will be performed continuously since the day Allah sent me as a prophet until the day the last member of my community will fight with the Dajjal (Antichrist)...”
Tafseer Al-Jalalayn: “Tafsir of the two Jalals” is a classical Sunni tafsir of the Quran, composed first by Jalal ad-Din al-Mahalli who died in 1459 A.D. and then completed by his student Jalal ad-Din as-Suyuti who died in 1505 A.D.
As-Suyuti, died 1505 A.D. Religious scholar, juristic expert and teacher, and one of the most prolific Arab writers of the Middle Ages. Also co-wrote Tafseer al-Jalalayn. *
Tafseer Ibn Abbas, died 687 A.D. – was a companion of Mohammed. Although no extant reference to his original Tafsir dating to his lifetime exists, the “Tafseer of Ibn Abbas” was compiled in ~617 A.H. / 1215 A.D. This Tafseer may be pseudo-epigraphical in that it is also attributed to Muhammad al-Firuzabadi 1328 A.D. –1414 A.D. And it is quite likely that in fact neither of the above mentioned are the true Authors. All of that said, the Tafseer ibn Abbas or “Tanwīr al-Miqbās min Tafsīr Ibn 'Abbās” to give it its full title is still an accurate reflection of orthodox Sunni Koran interpretation.
Tafseer ibn Juzayy: (1321 – 1357 A.D.) Written in Al-Andalus (Moorish Spain). *
Tafseer Ibn Kathir, (1301 - 1373 A.D.) Lived in Syria. His “Tafsir ibn Kathir” is, perhaps, the pre-eminent classical Sunni commentary on the Koran.
Maudidi (1903-1979). 20th century Islamist thinker, instrumental in the formations of Janmaat-e-Islami and the Muslim Brotherhood. His Tafsir is widely read throughout Asia.
Shafi. (1896–1976) was a Hanafi Islamic scholar and Sunni mufti from India. During his life he served as the Grand Mufti of India, and later Pakistan. He authored “The Ma'ariful Quran” (“the wisdom of the Koran”) a Tafseer originally in Urdu now widely translated. This work is also attributed to Usmani, due to it's revision by Muhammad Taqi Usmani.
Sayyid Qutb (1922-1966). His work “In the shade of the Koran” is a leading modern commentary. Qutb is considered as one of the 20th century's most influential Islamic thinkers. He was a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood.
- “Tafsir al-Jalalayn.” Jalal al-Din al-Mahalli & Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti (Trans. Feras Hamza), 2007 Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought, Amman, Jordan.
- “Tanwir al-Miqbas min Tafsir Ibn 'Abbas”, attributed to: Abdullah Ibn 'Abbas or Muhammad al-Firuzabadi. (Trans. Mokrane Guezzou), 2007. Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought, Amman, Jordan
- “Tafsir ibn Kathir”, Alama Imad ud Din Ibn Kathir (concise version).
- “Tafhim al-Qur'an.” Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi.
- “Maariful Quran.” Maulana Mufti Mohammed Shafi. (Revised and also attributed to: Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani), 1995-2004. Darul Uloom Karachi, Pakistan.
- Tafsir Surah at-Tawbah. Pdf collection of Tafsirs on this key Sura. (Source used for *.)
- “A Summary of Islamic Jurisprudence”, Dr. Salih al-Fawzan, Al-Maiman Publishing House, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, 2005.
- “Islamic Law Handbook of Islamic rulings on Muslim’s duties and practices”, Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Sadiq Husayni Shirazi. Fountain Books, 2008. ISBN 1-903323-39-8
- “Taudhihul Masae'l” by Ayatullah al Uzama Syed Ali al Husaini Seestani, pdf version.
- “The reliance of the Traveller”. Pdf version.
“Mukhtasar”, al-Quduri, in English translation, pdf version.