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Can Zakat be given to Non-Muslims?

Joe Bradford

| 02/07/2016

Can Zakat be given to Non-Muslims?

There is general agreement that Zakat is not to be given to anyone who is fighting against Islam and Muslims; this is a point that does not need much elaboration. As for others who are non-combatant, and do not show enmity towards Islam and Muslims then medieval scholars differed as to whether such a person can be given Zakat.

Ibn al-Mundhir, in his influential work al-Ijma’, mentions the following:

They have consensus that the Dhimmi[1]
is not to be given anything from Zakat of wealth.

Given the relation of this point of consensus, many scholars followed Ibn al-Mundhir stating that non-Muslims should not be given Zakat. It is important to note here that the same set of scholars who followed this opinion reiterated the necessity of using other non-Zakat funds for the welfare of non-Muslims.

Looking at Ibn al-Mundhir’s statement, and despite the frankness of his assertion, a cursory review of the literature on Zakat shows that in fact there are variant opinions on this topic.

In summary, there are four opinions on giving Zakat to non-Muslims:

–         Opinion #1: Zakat cannot to be given to non-Muslims in any way shape or form, not even under the account of “those whose hearts are softened”.

  • This opinion is the official position of the Hanafi school.
  • Basis: Several reports that Umar refused to give Zakat to several people after Islam had become strong.

–         Opinion #2: Zakat should only be given to non-Muslims under the account of “those whose hearts are softened”.

  • This is the official stance of the other 3 schools.
  • Basis: Narrations  exist where the Prophet gave non-Muslims Zakat to entice them to become Muslims.

–         Opinion #3: That Zakat should only be given to non-Muslims in the absence of eligible Muslims.

  • This was the opinion of Mujahid, the student of Ibn Abbas. [2]
  • Basis: The hadith of Muadh states “..taken from their wealthy and given to their rich…”, poor non-Muslims being members of communities in which rich Muslim might live.

–         Opinion #4: That Zakat may be given to any person fitting the description given in the verse of Zakat, regardless of whether this person be Muslim or non-Muslim.

  • This was related from Umar, Jabir and Zufar (from the Hanafi school) and others.
  • Basis:
    • The generality of the verses on Zakat and charity, which do not in themselves specify one type of person over the other, and instead designate categories.
    • Umar was asked about the verse “Charity is only for the destitute…” He said: “They are the disabled from the People of the Book”.[3]
    • Jabir ibn Zaid, the famous jurist from the Tabi’in, was asked “Where should be distribute our Zakat?” He replied: “To the destitute amongst Muslims and Dhimmis.” He then stated “God’s Messenger would distribute to the Dhimmis from both Zakat and al-Khumus”.[4]

The fourth opinion fits not only the generality of the verse, but the broadest understanding possible of the hadith of Muadh, as well as fitting in with the explanation of Umar of the verse. It would seem that the unequivocal nature of Ibn al-Mundhir’s statement, as well as its precision, is highly debatable and due further research.

[1] – A dhimmi is a non-Muslim citizen of the Islamic state

[2] – Ibn abi Shaibah, Al-Musannaf, 3/177.

[3] – Ibn abi Shaibah, Al-Musannaf, 3/178.

[4] – Ibn abi Shaibah, Al-Musannaf, 3/178.


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