There are some Muslims who distinguish between Zakat and Sadaqa in such a way that they are able to claim that whereas Sadaqa can be given to any needy person, Zakat is only for Muslims. Their argument is neither based on Quran nor Hadith but on a very legalistic point of view—if not outright prejudice—that since non-Muslims do not have to contribute to the Zakat fund, they are not eligible to derive any benefit from it. Some of them, however, also claim that if no needy Muslim can be found, Zakat money may be given to non-Muslims.
Before going further, it would be helpful to define what these terms mean. “Zakat” literally means “to purify” but is used in the sense of “coming out clean after paying the rightful share that the needy have on one’s property.” Sadaqa denotes rightfulness but is generally applied to a very broad meaning of charity, which can include any donation or service to help others or for a good cause. Thus, according to one Hadith, saying kind words to help someone is also a “Sadaqa.”
According to almost all serious scholars of Islam, “Sadaqa” is another name for Zakat, but in ‘fiqa’ (Islamic jurisprudence), the term “Zakat” specifically refers to providing ‘monetary’ help to the needy which is obligatory on all Muslims. The correct way to interpret this is to say that Zakat is a type or sub-category of Sadaqa (charity), a percentage (minimum 2.5%) of one’s savings that must be paid to the poor and the needy by the end of the year.
The fact that Zakat is a form of Sadaqa can be proved from the Quran itself. Verse 9:60, which is often used to list the type of people who can receive Zakat, uses the very word “Sadaqa:”
“The alms (sadaqat) are meant only for the poor and the needy and those who are in charge thereof, those whose hearts are to be reconciled and to free those in bondage, and to help those burdened with depth, and for expenditure in the way of Allah and for the wayfarer. This is an obligation from Allah. Allah is All-Knowing, All-Wise.”
Neither in this verse nor anywhere else in Quran is it written that Zakat is only for Muslims. On the contrary, all scholars of Islam agree that the phrase “those whose hearts are to be reconciled” refers to the practice of Muslims paying Zakat money to those Non-Muslims who were engaged in hostile activities against Islam, or to win over the support of those who are in the unbeliever’s camp…That stipends and grants were made in the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him) for reconciling the hearts of certain people to Islam is an established fact.” Hanafis believe that such payments are no longer permissible; they base their argument on a report going back to ‘Umar in which he was quoted as saying, “The Prophet no doubt used to pay you in order to reconcile your hearts [to Islam]. But those were the days when Islam was weak. Now Islam does not stand in need of [the support of] persons like you. Shafi’is believe that the payments may be made to sinful Muslims but not to non-Muslims. Yet, modern but still conservative scholars such as Mawdudi disagree with both positions by claiming that “there seems to be no worthwhile evidence to support the view that this category of expenditure stands abolished for ever. Whatever ‘Umar said in respect of the people mentioned in the above incident is perfectly justified. If at any given time the Islamic state does not consider it necessary to spend from to reconcile people to Islam, it may do as it decides; expenditure on this category of people is not an obligation. On the contrary, if the need for reconciling people to Islam is seen to arise under changed circumstances, Muslims may resort to paying them from Zakat funds since God has kept a provision for it…As for Shafi’is view, it seems justified to the extent that when other sources are available, the Islamic state should refrain from making use of Zakah funds for this purpose. However, when it becomes necessary to draw on Zakah, there seems no valid basis for making a distinction between sinful Muslims and unbelievers. For the Quran has not sanctioned payments for this purpose in view of the recipients claim to faith.”
Those who believe that Zakat funds are only for Muslims use the following verse of Quran as the basis of their argument:
“Those needy ones who are wholly wrapped up in the cause of Allah, and who are hindered from moving about the earth in search of their livelihood especially deserve help. He who is unaware of their circumstances supposes them to be wealthy because of their dignified bearing, but you will know them by their countenance, although they do not go about begging of people with importunity. And whatever wealth you will spend on helping them, Allah will know of it.”
A closer look at this verse and knowledge of Quran would reveal that this verse refers to a particular group of Muslims and not Muslims in general. If Zakat can only be given to those who are “hindered from moving about the earth in search of their livelihood” very few Muslims would ever qualify! According to Mawdudi, ” The people referred to here are those who, because they had dedicated themselves wholly to serving the religion of God, were unable to earn their livelihood. In the time of the Prophet there was a group of such volunteer workers, known as Ashab al-Suffah, consisting of about three or four hundred people who had forsaken their homes and gone to Madina…Since they were full-time workers and had no private resources to meet their needs, God pointed out to the Muslims that helping such people was the best way of ‘spending in the way of Allah.”
My view is that verse 2:273 defines what is meant by “expenditure in the way of Allah” in verse 9:60 and both verses complement each other rather nicely.
There are other verses in Quran which can be presented to support the argument that Zakat is not just for Muslims, such as Surah Fajr (89:17-19); Surah Dahr (76:7-9), and Surah Baqara (2:177). Quran also uses the word “Zakat” when referring to charity that Children of Israel were required to pay:
And recall when We made a covenant with the Children of Israel: ‘You shall serve none but Allah and do good to parents, kinsman, orphans and the needy, you shall speak kindly to men, and establish Prayer and give Purifying Alms (Zakat).”
If Bani Israel could give “Zakat” to Jews and non-Jews, it would indeed be difficult to argue that Zakat is the name of a special charity fund from which only Muslims can derive benefit.
One of the leading scholars of Islam and expert on Shariah laws, Dr. Abdur Rahman I. Doi in his book, “Non-Muslims Under Shari’ah (Islamic Law)” has provided several references to prove that Zakat can be given to non-Muslims:
” (a) When the second Caliph ‘Umar bin al-Khattab saw a Jew begging from the people, he asked him the reason for it. The Jew told him of his old age and inability to earn his bread but still had to pay Jizya. Caliph ‘ Umar on hearing this recited this verse of the Quran: ‘‘undoubtedly the Zakat is for the poor and the destitutes.’ Then he said: ‘The poor mentioned in the verse are the poor Muslims and the destitutes are those belonging to the People of the Book.’ According to al-Jassas, this argument of ‘Umar refers to the lawlessness of giving Zakat to the Dhimmis.
“(b) Abu Ja’far Muhammad bin Jarir al-Tabari says in his famous commentary of the Quran, Tafsir al-Tabari, on the authority of Nafi that he heard ‘Akramah concerning the Verse: ‘Undoubtedly Zakat is for the poor and the destitutes’, that the poor (Fuqara) among the Muslims should not be called ‘the destitutes (Masakin). The reference to the destitutes is made in respect of the people of the Book. Therefore this verse about giving the Zakat includes also the non-Muslims.
“(c) The view of the Malik and Zaidi schools of jurisprudence is that it is lawful to give Zakat to non-Muslims. It will make them well disposed to Islam and that they will not side with the enemies.
Regarding point (a), people who oppose giving Zakat to non-Muslim suggest that although ‘Umar interpreted the word ‘needy’ “to include the poor and the destitutes from the Zimmis…he helped them from non-Zakat revenues of the Islamic state like Fai, Khums and Jizya.” This assertion has to be rejected for two reasons: 1). Umar (r.a) had taken the old Jewish man to Bait al-Mal and ordered the administrator to fix a stipend for him and for people like him. There is little or no evidence that the money was paid from a special fund and not from the general treasury. 2). The point is irrelevant. As long as ‘Umar (r.a) accepted the principle that the word ‘masakeen’ refers to People of the Book, it makes no difference from what account the money was eventually paid from.
It should be emphasized once again that the controversy is limited to the issue of whether Zakat, a special charitable fund, can be given to non-Muslims, and in no way are Muslims forbidden to give charity to them. On the contrary, Muslims are highly encouraged to poor non-Muslims. Again, to quote Doi:
“a. It is reported by Abu ‘Ubaid from Said bin al-Musayyab: ‘The Messenger of Allah (S.A.W) gave charity to the families of Jews, since it is permitted for the.” [ Abu ‘Ubaid, al-Qasim bin Salam, Al-Ammah, Cairo, 1969, p. 804].
b. Imam Muhammad, the pupil of Imam Abu Hanif has reported that the Prophet (S.A.W) sent some property to the people of Mecca to be distributed among the people during the period of famine. They were idolaters and were engaged and were engaged in fighting against Muslims. The Dhimmis are far better than them.
c. During the Caliphate of Abubaker, Khalid bin al-Walid recorded among the terms of his treaty with the people of al-Hirah that if was an old man incapable of doing any work or he has been struck by some calamity or he was rich and then became a pauper, he must be exempted from the payment of Jizyah and the that he should be maintained from the Bait al-Mal of Muslims.
d. ‘Umar bin al-Khattab, the second Caliph, while returning from Damascus, saw some Christian lepers. He ordered that they should be given Sadaqah (charity) and stipends from the public treasury.
e. Caliph ‘Umar also took a poor Jew to the Bait al-Mal and ordered the official to fix maintenance for him and the other people of his kind.
f. Abu ‘Abed has narrated that the Ummayad Caliph ‘Umar bin ‘Abd al-Aziz wrote to ‘Adi bin Artat, his official in Basrah: ‘Look after the affairs of the Dhimmis, particularly those who are old and weak and have no means of income. They should be given maintenance from the Bait al-Mal of the Muslims.
From the above incidents from the life of all the great administrators of early Islamic state, it is quite clear that the poor Dhimmis have the same rights as any Muslim in the funds of the public treasury of the Muslims.”
From a philosophical point of view as well, it can also be argued that all wealth belongs to Allah, and if He provides for those who are needy, despite their unbelief, and makes no distinction between poor Muslims and non-Muslims in His Book, who are we to do that for Him?
1. Mawdudi, Sayyid Abul Ala, Towards Understanding the Quran, V. III, p. 222.
2. Ibid, pp. 224, 225
3. Ibid, V. I, p. 212
4. Quran, ch. 13.
5. Abu Yusuf, Kitab al-kharaj, p. 144.
6. Al-Jassas, Abubakr Ahmad bin Ali al-Razi, Ahkam al-Quran, Cairo, 1928, Vol. 1pp. 461-462.
7. Al-Tabari, Abu Ja’far Muhammad bin Jarir, Tafsir al-Tabari, Cairo, Vol. 2, p. 159.
8. Alish, Sheikh Muhammad, ‘Minh al-Jalil sharh ‘ala Mukhtasar al-Imam Sayyidi Khalil, Vol. 1, p. 370.
9. Chaudhry, Muhammad Sharif, Non-Muslim Minorities in an Islamic State, p. 45.
10. Abu ‘Ubaid, al-Qasim bin Salam, Al-Ammah, Cairo, 1969, p. 804
11. Al-Sharakshi, Sharh Siyar Al-Kabir, Vol. 1, p. 144.
12.Abu Yusuf, Kitab al-Kharaj, p. 144.
13. Al-Baladhuri, Ahmad bin Yahya bin Ja’far, Futuh al-Buldan, Cairo, 1959, p. 177.
14. Cf. Al-Tamawi, Sulaiman, ‘Umarbin al-Khattab was usul al-Siyasah was idarah al-Hadithah, Cairo 1969, p. 128.
15. Cf. Abu ‘Ubaid, al-Qasim bin Salam Al-Amwal, Cairo, pp. 45, 46.
16. Doi, A. Rahman I., Non-Muslims Under Shari’ah (Islamic Law), pp. 109, 110