Verses from Surah al-Tawbah 
In the Name of Allah, most Compassionate, most Merciful
111 Surely,112 Zakah (funds)113 are for the114 poor, the needy,115 those who are in charge thereof,116 those whose hearts are to be won over,117 for118 (release of the) bonded,119 those in debt,120 in the way of Allah121 and for the wayfarer122 ‑ a decree from Allah.123 And Allah is All‑knowing, All‑wise.124
111. When the hypocrites criticized the Prophet (saws) over the spending of the Zakah funds, Allah (swt) revealed this verse to say that after all His Messenger was not pocketing the Zakah funds himself. He was spending on the kind and class of people listed herewith (Ibn Jarir, Razi).
112. Razi points out – quoting poetical pieces in support – that the use of the textual article “innama” (translated here as “surely”) is indicative of the fact that Zakah sums have to be spent exclusively on one of the eight categories cited herewith.
113. There is no difference in opinion that although the term used here is “sadaqat” (which today means voluntary charity), it is “Zakah” (obligatory poor‑due) that is meant (Razi). In fact, adds Qurtubi, unless the context proves otherwise, whenever the term “sadaqah” is used in the Qur’an, the allusion is to “Zakah.”
Imam Razi also writes: In Zakah is a cure for the excessive love of wealth; which in its turn leads to forgetfulness of Allah (swt) and takes time off preparations for the Hereafter. In addition, wealth invariably leads to power. And power has its own allurement. Once a man has tasted power, he wishes more of it. The desire for more power leads up to seeking more of what brought it originally, viz., wealth. This leads a man into a vicious circle: more wealth, more power, more wealth, more power – there is no end to it. Zakah cuts open the circular course to weaken the love of power and wealth and introduce love of Allah. A third consequence of excessive wealth is arrogance. Allah (swt) said (96: 6): “Man rebels, that he sees himself self‑sufficient.” Zakah checks on this tendency. Again, wealth is a cause of envy. But when a man expends on Zakah, and the more wealth, the more he spends, he becomes lovable in the eyes of the people, who pray for his well‑being. He lives a life better than others. This is the meaning of Allah’s words (13: 17): “As for that which is beneficial to the people, it survives on the earth.” These are some of the advantages of paying out the Zakah. Conversely, of course, non‑payment will result in economic imbalance and increase in crimes.
114. The “lam” preceding “fuqara’” serves the functions of both “lam al‑takhsis” (denoting specificity) as well as “lam al‑tamlik” (denoting possession). See ‘Fiqh Notes’ below.
115. Differences prevailed between the scholars over the distinction between “faqir” and “miskin.” According to Ibn `Abbas, Hasan, Zuhri, Ibn Zayd and Mujahid, “faqir” is that destitute who does not ask whereas “miskin” is the one who asks. (Hence Imam Shafe`i’s position that they are one and the same: Qurtubi. That is, economically they are of the same class, except that one asks and the other doesn’t: au.). There are other opinions but this one is the preferred one. This is because unto the Arabs “maskanah” implies humility. We have the example of this usage in the following verse (2: 61): “Humiliation and wretchedness (maskanah) were stamped upon them.”
“Miskin” therefore, is that destitute who earns humiliation by stretching his hand before the people. This is supported by a hadith of the Prophet (saws) in which he said, “`Miskin’ is not one who can be turned back with a handout. Rather ‘miskin’ is one who does not ask. Read if you will (2: 273), ‘They do not ask the people importunately.’” This hadith has not been stated for distinguishing the two – the “faqir” and the “miskin.” In fact, the Prophet (saws) used the term ‘miskin’ in place of ‘faqir’ because of the closeness in meaning and application. Otherwise, what he meant is that there are two types of people in want. Now, which of them is a `miskin’ is determined by the verse that the Prophet (saws) quoted. It says (9: 60): “(Charity is) due to the destitute who are (wholly) preoccupied in Allah’s cause, (and hence) cannot travel in the land (in quest of providence). The ignorant supposes them prosperous on account of their restraint. (But) You can recognize them by their looks. They do not beg of men importunately.” [Note the use of the word “fuqara’” in this verse] – Ibn Jarir.
What Ibn Jarir means is that although the Prophet (saws) was not trying to draw a distinction between the two class of destitute people – the “faqir” and the “miskin,” but, it can be deducted from the verse he quoted that since “faqir” is one who does not ask, by implication, “miskin” is one who asks (Au.).
There isn’t any notable difference between the great majority however, that a “faqir” is more needy than a “miskin” and hence more deserving of Zakah. In fact, a “miskin” can own something such as, for example the “masakin” whose boat Khadir broke up. It was said (18: 79), “As for the boat, it belonged to poor people (masakin working) at sea…” (So, they were miskin, despite owning a boat). Further, the Prophet (saws) sought to be a miskin in his supplications, (while seeking to be spared “faqr” – Qurtubi), although he possessed a few means of life. He used to say: “O Allah, let me live the life of a “miskin.” Again, the Qur’an said (51: 19): “In their wealth is a share for the beggar and the destitute.” The textual word “mahrum” also gives us to believe that the destitute who begs is the “miskin” and the non‑begging destitute the “faqir” (Razi).
That said, interestingly, although the Hanafiyyah accept that “miskin” is one who asks, they conclude that he must be greater in need to be forced to ask (Al‑Arba`ah), and hence more deserving of Zakah (Au.).
As to who is a destitute to begin with, once again various opinions prevail. Most scholars have said that whoever possesses 40 Dirhams is not a destitute. Dara Qutni has even a hadith to this effect. In any case, it is reported by Abu Da’ud that the Prophet (saws) said: “Charity is not lawful unto the rich and able‑bodied, capable of work” (Qurtubi). In simpler words, adds Mufti Shafi`, faqir and miskin are those who do not have anything in excess of their very basic necessities of life. A house, furniture, utensils are included in basic necessities. Anybody who has something in addition to these basic necessities is not qualified to receive Zakah funds. Another way to put it is to say that anyone who is not himself obliged to pay Zakah and is not able‑bodied or cannot work for himself (for one reason or another), is eligible to receive Zakah.
The above said, since the term “miskin” is often misunderstood, the following might help. Rashid Rida quotes Ibn `Arafah through Fairozabadi: “If the maskanah be because of poverty, then the person is eligible to receive Zakah: he is a miskin cum faqir. But, if his maskanah is due to other reasons, and not poverty then he isn’t eligible. For, (miskin is also one who is extremely humble), so that the people say, “The miskin was badly treated by so and so,” or, “they did wrong to the miskin,” although the man concerned could have been financially well off.” Miskin then, can also be a quiet, mild, gentle and genteel person who can take a lot without reacting agitatedly. Perhaps it is in this sense that the Prophet (saws) would pray: “O Allah allow me the life of a miskin, the death of a miskin and raise me up (on the Day of Judgment) among the masakin” (Au.).
116. It is those who are hired by the government for the collection, accounts, distribution and other such purposes that are meant. They must be Muslims (Au.).
Citing the example set by ‘Umar ibn al‑Khattab, Zuhri and Ibn Zayd have said that (it is not the one‑eighth of the whole that will be necessarily spent on the collectors and distributors or accountants employed thereof, rather: au.), they will be paid in accordance with their services. This is the preferred opinion (Ibn Jarir).
Further, Ibn Kathir adds, the kinsfolk of the Prophet (saws) can be neither given out of Zakah funds nor employed (at cost) for the purpose. This is in view of the hadith in Muslim which reports that ‘Abdul Muttalib b. Rabi‘ah and Fadl b. ‘Abbas went up to the Prophet (saws) seeking to be employed for the collection of Zakah. He told them, “Charity money is not fit for Muhammad and his kinsfolk. They are dirt off (the hands of) the people.”
117. Under this head, funds may be paid to those who are on the border, hesitating about their Islam, or, are yet to set their feet firmly, even if they have crossed the borders and come into the fold of Islam, or, even if they are entirely on the other side, it is believed that a hand‑out will win them over to the Islamic cause (Au.).
Majid quotes a Christian historian: “These ‘costly presents’ in the case of half‑hearted converts ‘wrought effectively,’ and ‘in most cases a genuine conversion followed in time.’”
According to Yahya ibn Kathir, in his time the Prophet (saws) paid out under this definition to Abu Sufyan, Al‑Harth b. Hisham, Safwan b. Umayyah, Suhayl b. ‘Amr, Hakim b. Hizam, Aqra‘ b. Habis, ‘Abbas b. al‑Mardas, and others. He gave them in the hope of winning them to Islam. The dividends paid off. Safwan b. Umayyah for instance said after receiving the money, “The Messenger of Allah gave me in a state when he was the most hateful in my sight. But he kept giving until he became the most beloved of the people to me” (Ibn Jarir).
Qurtubi adds: Of those the Prophet (saws) gave, belonging to this category was Hakim b. Hizam, who lived 60 years of his life as an unbeliever and 60 years as a believer (Huwaytab b. ‘Abdul ‘Uzza was a second known case). It is reported that a few years later Hakim spent off in charity all that he had ever received from the Prophet (saws) out of the Zakah funds.
Ibn Kathir writes that the above report is both in Muslim and Tirmidhi and adds that to some the Prophet (saws) gave in order to strengthen him in his religion. For instance he gave a hundred camels each to the Quraysh leaders (who had already embraced Islam) saying (Bukhari and Muslim), “Some times I give a man while another is dearer to me. That I do because I’m afraid that otherwise the man will fall headlong into Hellfire.”
Zuhri in fact said that the Prophet (saws) gave out of these funds even to those Jews and Christians who had newly converted to Islam. He was asked if they could be given even if they were rich? He said yes in reply (Ibn Jarir).
However, Hasan, ‘Amir, and even ‘Umar ibn al‑Khattab believed that those days had passed. No more should those whose Islam is coveted be given. When ‘Uyayna b. Hisn went up to ‘Umar, (he refused to give him). Instead, he recited the verse (18: 29): “The Truth is from your Lord. So let him who will, believe, and let who will, disbelieve.” It is said that ‘Uthman and ‘Ali also did not allot these kind of people any share. This happens to be the opinion of Imam Abu Hanifah, and Shafe‘i too (Manar). But others have maintained that this category remains forever until the end of the world. This however is the correct opinion since the Prophet (saws) gave the Makkans after the fall of Makkah when he didn’t need their services, rather, purely hoping to win them to Islam (Ibn Jarir, Razi, Ibn Kathir). Ibn al‑‘Arabiyy has said that the situations when the kind of people whose Islam is coveted my arise in the future, and therefore, the rule will remain in force. After all, hasn’t the Prophet (saws) said, “Islam began as a stranger and will become a stranger again” (Qurtubi).
118. The introduction of “fi” (on “al‑riqab”) seems to emphasize the greater need of the latter four categories since (despite the “lam” preceding earlier), a “fi” was added. – Zamakhshari, Shafi`.
119. There is no difference of opinion that any slave who has entered into a deal with his master over his emancipation, might be helped out of the funds. But differences in opinion prevail over whether slaves could be outright purchased and set free with the funds. Some saying yes, others saying no. The problem here is that the Zakah funds have to be handed over to a recipient. Now, in this case, the amounts cannot be handed over to the master of a slave, since he doesn’t deserve it. And, if handed over to the slave, the amount becomes the master’s by default (since the slaves property is the master’s property). Perhaps it is complications of this sort that has led the great majority of the fuqaha’ to rule that the funds cannot be used for freeing slaves unless they have entered into a deal (mukatabah) with their masters (Shafi‘).
120. In the words of Asad: “the term “gharimun” describes people who are overburdened with debts contracted in good faith, which – through no fault of theirs – they are subsequently unable to redeem.” Therefore, an added condition is that the man may not have entered into debts because of sinful activities. This is the opinion of Abu Ja`far, Mujahid and Qatadah (Ibn Jarir). So also, those who run into debts because of unnecessary marriage expenses cannot be helped out of Zakah funds (Shafi`).
121. The introduction of another “fi,” (despite a “fi” and “lam” preceding), seems to emphasize that this category should receive precedence over all others (Zamakhshari, Shafi`).
Jihad is exclusively “the way of Allah.” So that, the sums may be utilized to equip a Mujahid (if he is not a paid army‑man: Hanabilah) heading to the battle‑front, according to some: even if he be rich, but according to most if he is poor. “Other ways of Allah” are not included by implication, such as, propagation work, publications, support of religious studies, or institutions.
122. Just about any wayfarer is included in this class, even if he happens to be rich, but for the moment cut off from his wealth. This is the opinion of Mujahid, Zuhri and Dahhak (Ibn Jarir). Indeed, a destitute starter might also be paid out of Zakah funds (Ibn Kathir).
123. There can be no addition or deletion to these eight categories. The Prophet has said, “Allah did not wish anyone’s say, neither of a close angel, nor of a Messenger sent, in the distribution of the Zakah funds. He did it Himself” (Razi). In another context Qurtubi quotes this hadith from Abu Da’ud in full. It says that a man went up to the Prophet (saws) asking to be helped. The Prophet told him, “Allah did not wish anyone’s say, neither of a close angel, nor of a Messenger sent, in the distribution of the Zakah funds. He did it Himself. Now, if you belong to one of the eight categories, I shall give you.”
Shafi‘ adds: After having determined the categories that could receive Zakah funds, Allah commanded His Prophet to specify the rates of Zakah. And, the Prophet (saws) too attached so much importance to the affair that he got the Zakah rates written down by ‘Umar, ‘Amr b. al-Hazm and others so that no one could ever have any say in the affair any time in the future.
124. There isn’t any notable difference in opinion that the one who pays out, or disburses, may spend the Zakah amount on anyone of the eight categories that he deems fit (Ibn Jarir).
1. Zakah funds are to be spent on Muslims alone. This is in view of the Prophet’s instruction to Mu‘adh ibn Jabal that he dictated to him at the time he dispatched him to Yemen. He said then, “You are going to a people who have received the Holy Scriptures earlier. Call them to the testimony that there is no deity save Allah and that I am His Messenger. If they obey you in that, then let them know that Allah has declared obligatory on them five Prayers for every day. If they obey you, then let them know that He has declared obligatory charity that will be taken from their rich and distributed among their poor. If they obey you in that then be careful and avoid taking the best part of their wealth. And fear the supplications of the oppressed. For, there is no barrier between it and Allah.”
2. Although it is preferable to distribute the Zakah funds in the area of collection alone, it is allowable to transfer the funds to other areas, if there be no need for it locally or, the need elsewhere be more pressing. Mu‘adh ibn Jabal used to send cloth from Yemen to Madinah. In fact, if someone has kinsfolk spread out in other towns, he can transfer his sums to them to gain the double reward promised in the ahadith: of joining the kin and paying the Zakah (Shafi‘). The Hanabilah and Shafe‘iyyah set a few additional conditions (Au.).
3. If a man has wealth overseas, he is still required to spend the Zakah in his own town.
4. Although some differences prevail, one opinion is that Zakah can be collected both in cash as well as in kind. For instance, it would do if someone gave the value of goats due in currency (Qurtubi). The Hanabilah are notably in disagreement with this (Au.).
5. However, as Imam Abu Hanifah has pointed out, if cash is due, then simply any kind is not acceptable. For instance, if an amount 10 is due, the man cannot let a poor man live in his house and adjust the rent (Qurtubi).
6. If someone gave away Zakah funds in good intention but discovered to his surprise that the man was undeserving, Zakah would be considered paid (Qurtubi). But some fuqaha’ have said that the man must first make an effort to recover from the undeserving (Au.).
7. The kinsfolk of the Prophet saws) ‑ the Hashimites ‑ are not eligible to receive the Zakah, nor even the sadaqat. (They are eligible to receive gifts alone). A rare opinion of some of the Hanafiyy scholars however is that a Hashimite can give Zakah to another Hashimite.
8. Similarly, a Hashimite can also give a Hashimite sadaqat, although they cannot receive from non‑Hashimites. The above is in view of the fact that ‘Abbas, ‘Ali and Fatimah had, in their times, opened trusts (awqaf) in favor of some of the Banu Hashim (Qurtubi).
9. Zakah money cannot be given to one’s husband, wife, children, parents or grand‑parents, since one is obliged to support them anyway (Shafi‘).
10. The state can collect the Zakah funds. However, if it is suspected that the authorities do not spend on right causes, it is suggested by the scholars that a man should himself pay out to the deserving (Manar).
11. It is not allowed that organizations handling Zakah funds, invest the funds in business, and then support one or more of the above categories, out of profits accrued. That is because the “lam preceding the eight categories is “lam al‑tamlik” (possessive “lam”), carries the implication that the Zakah amount should be handed over to a recipient and become his property for it to be deemed paid (Au.).
12. Except for “reconciling the hearts” (ta’lif al‑qulub), Zakah funds cannot be spent on non‑Muslims; they can only receive from sadaqat funds. Nor can Sadaqat al‑Fitr be given to them. This is the Hanafiyy position (Shafi`).
13. According to the Hanafiyyah, the cost of those hired to collect and administer Zakah can at most run as high as one‑half of the Zakah collected. In simpler words, the cost of hiring the Zakah collectors and distributors should not exceed one‑half of the total Zakah collected. If it goes beyond that, then their hiring costs must be reduced.
14. Zakah funds once collected by the collectors cannot be saved for a rainy day. They must be spent off as early as possible (Shafi‘).
15. By consensus of the four schools of Fiqh, Zakah funds cannot be utilized for general welfare purposes, nor for constructing mosques, religious schools, etc. Had these been included in the “way of Allah,” there was no need to categorize the deserving into eight kinds. The following have dealt with this subject thoroughly in their works: Among the Hanafiyyah, Sarakhsi in his “Al‑Mabsut” and “Sharh Seer;” among the Shafi`iyyah Abu `Ubayd in “Kitab al‑Amwal;” among the Malikiyyah Dardiz in his “Sharh Mukhtasar al‑Khalil;” and among the Hanabilah Muwaffaq (in his “Al‑Mughni”) ‑ Shafi`.
16. Without any second opinion, the four Fiqh schools are agreed that Zakah funds cannot be invested in business on behalf of the recipients. Rather, they should be first handed over the sums. If the recipients – in full agreement – hand back a whole or part of it for business purposes, after having gained complete possession of the sums, then there can be no objection. Similarly, feeding the poor out of the funds, is also disallowed. The poor must be handed over the sums or commodity for Zakah to be construed paid (Shafi‘).
17. When paid to the kinsfolk, it is not necessary that they be told that it is Zakah money. They could be led to assume that it is a gift – if such be the need (Shafi‘).
18. According to the Malikiyyah, a trustworthy unbeliever if employed as a spy, could also be paid under the head “in the way of Allah” (Al‑Arba`ah).
19. It wouldn’t be right to pay out Zakah to atheists or irreligious persons: those that sit in the cafeterias sipping tea and smoking even the while the Friday Prayers are being held in mosques right in front of the cafeterias. Instead, one may look out for practicing Muslims (Manar).