Zakah: Can step-children be beneficiaries of zakah?

Q719 :Could you please consider the case of a widow with three children who were about to be thrown out on the street by the landlord for failing to pay the rent. Having heard of what had happened, a kind hearted neighbour took the widow and her children into his home, married the woman and supported her and her children. Despite being married for some time, they are not blessed with a child. I wonder whether an action of this nature fulfils the duty of zakah, or must the man continue to pay zakah? It is said that if someone gives away a young girl in marriage, paying all her expenses, he fulfils the fifth pillar of Islam. Is this true?

A719 : There is no doubt that bringing up a young child who has been left without a guardian or without money is an act of kindness which Allah views very favourably. He rewards for it very generously. As you know, every good action is rewarded at least ten times its value. When an act of charity is done to a deserving, helpless young child from whom one does not expect any return, such an action will be rewarded by Allah at the different level. Allah increases the reward for a good action which is done with sincerity and with the sole intention of pleasing Him and multiplies this reward seven hundred times or even more. When a family is left destitute and a person takes them into his home and looks after them, his action merits great reward. When the man has confirmed that the widow has no one to support her or her children and feels that he cannot abandon them, he must regularize his relationship with this family. If he cannot provide the woman with separate accommodation, he should consider marrying her. Otherwise, problems could arise from the fact that she is living in his home, even though she has young children. It seems to me that the man in this case has been aware of all the points to be considered in his relationship with this family and he has married the mother, in order to look after her and after her children. May Allah reward him generously for his kindness. Whatever the circumstances, this gentleman has done something highly commendable when he married the widow and started to look after her three children. Now he is wondering whether his action can be considered against his zakah. In other words, he wants to do a set off which relieves him of the duty of zakah while he continues to support the orphan children. Before we answer him on whether this is possible or not, let us first consider whether the three children qualify as beneficiaries of zakah generally, and from their stepfather in particular. We have to assume that the children have no money of their own. Otherwise, their mother would not have been on the verge of being thrown out on the street for failing to pay the rent for her previous accommodation. Hence, this maybe taken as evidence that they are poor or needy. As such, they may receive zakah funds. The upbringing of young children is the responsibility of their father. If he dies, leaving them young, then the responsibility is taken over by their next of kin. If their grandfather is alive, he is responsible for their upbringing. If he is not, an elder brother or a brother of their father has to look after them. When no such next of kin is available to support, then the Muslim state will look after them. If they live in a non-Muslim country, then the Muslim community is collectively responsible for their upbringing. A stepfather is not duty bound to support the children of his wife, unless he has committed himself to do so voluntarily. Unless it is regulated by a specific contract, this is a moral commitment. In view of the foregoing, the children in this case may receive zakah from their stepfather, since they are not his dependents. A Muslim cannot pay his zakah to someone whom he is duty bound to support. Thus he cannot pay it to his mother, or to his children or grand children. It is his duty to support these relatives. Therefore, if he pays them his zakah, he is paying it to himself. Having said that, I must explain that there cannot be a straight forward set off, relieving the man from paying zakah against his upbringing of the orphans. What he should do, however, is to calculate his zakah and set it aside at the appropriate date. He may wish to pay the whole amount to his step-children. If they are very young, he may start to spend the money on their needs as he thinks fit, since he is their guardian. Alternatively, he may give it to their mother to buy a few things for them. If they can be trusted not to squander the money, as it is the case when they are teenagers, then he can put them in possession of it, as a zakah recipient must have zakah paid to him. It may be that he spends on them much more than the amount of zakah he has to pay. Nevertheless, he cannot just ignore calculating his zakah liability. He must have this calculation and the money must be set aside. When rules are made, they take into consideration all possible cases. Someone in the same position as the questioner may have a large amount of zakah to pay, which could be far in excess of what he pays to bring up his wife's children. If the principle of set off is to be applied, then some zakah recipients are bound to suffer. The second case of footing the bill for marrying a young girl being equated with performing pilgrimage should be argued in the same way. Providing a family home for such a girl is highly commendable action. It will certainly earn high reward from Allah. But it cannot be placed on the same level as offering the pilgrimage. Pilgrimage is a duty owed to Allah by every one of us who can afford to undertake the journey. The nature of pilgrimage is a journey to perform certain acts of worship at a specific time in certain places. In other words, it is different in nature from arranging a marriage or spending money in order to secure a family home for a young girl. Generous indeed as this second action is, it cannot be equated with pilgrimage. How, then, can it be viewed as compensation for it? The person who arranges such a marriage for a girl in order to protect her against sin or to secure her future may earn highly generous reward from Allah, which may exceed that of pilgrimage, depending on the particular circumstances of the case. But even then, the duty of pilgrimage remains owing to Allah from the man who has arranged this marriage. He is required to fulfil this duty at least once in his lifetime. Having said that, I would like to add that heaven may be likened to a big garden or a palace with so many doors. A person who wants to get into that garden or that palace may enter through any of these doors. Once he has entered, he is already in. He should not worry too much over which door he got through. The most important thing is that he gets in. Heaven has so many doors: one of them is pilgrimage, another is charity, a third is jihad, a fourth is fasting, a fifth is night worship, etc. A person who manages to get admitted into heaven scores a great success. Whether he does it through pilgrimage, jihad or generous charity is of no consequence.

Our Dialogue ( Source : Arab News - Jeddah )