Zakah: Expenditure - are these legitimate zakah expenses?

Q721 :My brother who used to be a zakah-payer sent his son abroad for higher education. However, the rising cost of education had stretched his means. He is now borrowing money in order to pay his son. I do not know whether my brother is still a zakah-payer. Can I help him or his son to meet his educational expenses and set off some of his loans against my zakah liability? Which is better from the Islamic point of view: to give zakah to my brother or his son for the completion of his study, or to give to other relatives who are poorer than my brother? May I also ask whether it is permissible to use zakah money for the construction of a mosque or the renovation of an existing one.

A721 : It is perfectly possible that a zakah-payer encounters difficulties and loses much of his money or his means of income, which eventually may turn him into a zakah-recipient. The fact that he used to be a zakah-payer should not prevent us from assessing his situation in the light of his new circumstances. Once it is established that he belongs to any class of beneficiaries of zakah, he should be helped. We must not forget that the zakah system is meant as a system of mutual social security. Therefore, if you brother's means have changed so markedly to make him one who is entitled to be given zakah, you should pay your zakah to him, because paying zakah to a close relative is preferable to giving it to other people. I am intrigued by your statement that you do not know whether he is still a zakah-payer or not. A person who qualifies to pay zakah is someone who owns more than the threshold of zakah and continued to own that threshold for a year. If your brother is in that position, he should not find it difficult to pay for the education of his son. If the costs of such education are too high for him, then he could not be in the position of a zakah-payer. You have first of all to be absolutely certain of the facts before you can decide whether to pay him your zakah or not. What I can tell you is that a person who has incurred debts which he finds too difficult to settle is a beneficiary of zakah. We can classify in this position a person who has a good job and a decent income, but also has very heavy commitments which make his income insufficient to meet his needs. If such a person has incurred some debts and finds it so difficult to settle them, he is to be helped by zakah. Similarly, a person who has not incurred any debts but whose income is less than what is reasonable to meet his needs is also a zakah beneficiary. Let me explain a point of detail. Two government employees may be of the same grade and receive the same salary. Suppose that neither of them has any additional income. Still, one of them may be a zakah-payer and the other may legitimately be a zakah-recipient. The first would be one who has a very reasonable commitment. He may have inherited the house in which he lives with his wife. They may not have any children. As such their expenses are of a reasonable standard and the man is able to save a part of his salary every month. The other person lives in rental accommodation and has a large family. He may also be looking after elderly parents. As such, his income falls far short of meeting his expenses. He deserves to be helped with zakah money. Another criterion to be considered is that a person who is pursuing studies and has no income of his own may be helped with zakah money until he finishes his studies. In order to understand the wisdom behind that we should remember that when such a student completes his study he is able to benefit the community and himself. This applies to your nephew who does not seem to have any source of income of his own. You may help him directly with his expenses. What you have to ensure, however, is that your nephew is a serious student who is trying his best to finish his studies as soon as possible. Moreover, you have to consider how much does he need to have the higher degree he is studying for. Is it so important that he pursues his education to get a proper job? Or is it something that would give the family some pride? You may certainly have to balance these situations and determine whether to help your brother or his son. You may consider taking over your nephew's education, if you have the means to do so, and consider that you will be able thus to help your brother and help your nephew to finish his studies more quickly. In considering to whom you pay your zakah, you should bear in mind that the closer the poor relatives are, the more entitled they are to be helped. The only point to remember is that you do not give zakah to a relative who is entitled to receive support from you. Thus you cannot pay your zakah to your poor parents or poor children or to your poor wife. A brother or a grown-up nephew are not entitled to receive your support by right. Therefore, you may help them with your zakah. What I have to say after having explained all these considerations is that your brother's case should be considered on its merits, with due regard to all respects. I have touched on some of these. You have to study it very carefully to find out how much help your brother or his son needs. If you determine that your brother is now in a position of being a zakah beneficiary, you should go ahead and help him with your zakah. Having said that, I should add that you could help your brother even if he is not a zakah beneficiary. That help must not come from zakah. Let us not forget that zakah is what Allah has prescribed as a minimum amount of help which we have to give to others. If we go beyond that, the scope is wide. We can choose whom to help and how to help them. You should consider helping your nephew or your brother with an open mind not restricting yourself to zakah. As for your question about using zakah money to build a mosque, I remind you of the Hadith which states that Allah has not left the determination of how zakah should be spent to His messenger or to an angel commanding a high position. He ruled on its distribution Himself. He has told us that zakah is payable to eight classes of people. Building mosques or renovating them is not one of the purposes of zakah. Therefore, zakah money cannot be spent for this purpose.

Our Dialogue ( Source : Arab News - Jeddah )