Obligatory Charity and Giving it to Students of Knowledge?


By Sheikh ‘Abdulatif ‘Abdul al-Ghani Hamza

The Question

Many of the students at al-Azhar University are in dire need of adequate room and board in order for them to focus on their studies and garner a greater understanding of their religion.

A group of people approached me interested in taking on this responsibility. The would do this by allocating some of their zakah [obligatory charity] and [non obligatory] charity towards this cause, and have asked for a religious ruling regarding this idea.

Summary

  1. The recipients of zakah are clearly outlined in the Qur’an.
  2. Zakah has a number of comprehensive objectives and benefits.
  3. Some early scholars agreed that the Quranic statement “In the cause of Allah” is applied to more than just soldiers.
  4. It is permissible to distribute zakah and charity for the cause mentioned in the question.

The Answer

Allah, the Almighty, says:

Zakah expenditures are only for the poor and for the needy and for those employed to collect [zakah] 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.” 9/60

Scholars of Islamic law mentioned that the disbursing of obligatory charity [zakah], whether on money, goods [acquired through business transactions], crops and fruits or the obligatory charity given upon the completion of Ramadan [zakat al-Fitr], is defined by the verse mentioned above and the groups mentioned their in are from the Muslim community. This is a matter about which there is no dispute.

The Blessing of Zakat

Zakah has a number of objectives spiritual, societal, financial and economical. These objectives will not be met unless the designated method for disbursing zakah is followed. Islam pays special attention to the method by which zakah is distributed- not leaving this responsibility to anyone be they prophets, messenger, the companions nor rulers after Allah, in the Qur’an, limited its disbursing to those mentioned in the verse:

Zakah expenditures are only for the poor and for the needy and for those employed to collect [zakah] 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.” 9/60

This was further clarified by the Prophet in the following tradition:

“Once a man approached the Prophet inquiring about Zakat, the Prophet [P.B.U.H] responded: “Allah is displeased with charity designated by a prophet or any other person until He divided those (eligible for zakah) into 8 groups. If you are from one of them, then I will give it to you.” (Related by al-Daraqtutni)

History of Zakah in Medina

Prior to the revelation of the verse above, the Prophet used to gather zakah and distribute it according to his own judgment. However, this caused some problems one of which was that the hypocrites of Medina, who were well off, question this distribution since their portion, according to their desires, was not sufficient.

The Qur’an captured this event in the following verses:

And among them are some who criticize you concerning the [distribution of] charities. If they are given from them, they approve; but if they are not given from them, at once they become angry. If only they had been satisfied with what Allah and His Messenger gave them and said, “Sufficient for us is Allah; Allah will give us of His bounty, and [so will] His Messenger; indeed, we are desirous toward Allah,” [it would have been better for them] 9/58:59

On the heels of this incident the following verse was revealed:

“Zakah expenditures are only for the poor and for the needy and for those employed to collect [zakah] 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.” 9/60

Zakah and Communal Acts of Benevolence

One of the categories eligible for zakah identified in the verse above is “For the cause of Allah.” This category is a general one and it is not an obligation to restrict its application to those engaged in war. This contention was related by al-Qafal who stated in his Quranic exegeses, quoting some scholars of Islamic Law, that they allowed zakah to be distributed for any good cause such as shrouding the deceased, building fortresses and establishing mosques because the statement, “For the cause of Allah” is unrestricted in its application.” It is important to note that al-Qafal was not criticized by anyone for this statement.

The writer of the work al-Mugni mentions that Anas and al-Hussain [two eminent companions of the Prophet [P.B.U.H] the latter being his grandson and the former is servant] said “Whatever is given to build bridges and roads is charity.”

The Ruling

These texts make it clear that this category “For the cause of Allah” encompasses providing services to the ill, teaching the ignorant and other types of benevolent acts that benefit the entire Muslim populace. Seeking knowledge falls under this as well.

Allah knows Best

Al-Sheikh ‘Abdulatif ‘Abdul al-Ghani Hamza

Egyptian House of Fatwa

March 3, 1984

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