Zakah: Payment to support buying of a house

Q736 :You have once stated that a person incurring debt to buy a house may be helped with zakah funds. May I ask what sort of a house he may buy and how big a loan he can incur? I find it difficult to accept that such a person can receive zakah funds because he is a house owner. What if the house is luxurious and the debts are very heavy?

A736 : I stand by what I have said. I gave the example that if a person has only 7,000 Riyals which is his total savings and he buys a house for SR. 10,000, and he borrows the difference, he may be helped by zakah funds. The fact that he has become a house owner and if we calculate the price of his house as part of his property, he will not qualify to be helped by zakah is not a cause to change that ruling. Having a house where one wants to live with one's family is an essential need and there is no harm if one has to borrow a portion of the price of the house in order to make sure of meeting that need. The same applies to a person who borrows some money in order to buy clothes for himself or his family, or to get married or to be medically treated or to buy furniture or to marry his son or to compensate another person for a damage he may have caused to his property, whether intentionally or not. As long as borrowing is not considered to be unreasonable, then the debtor qualifies to benefit by zakah. It is needless to say that a person who borrows money in order to face an emergency or someone who suffers a loss of his property through a disaster is a more urgent case. But this does not deprive the other types [i.e. other legitimate beneficiaries] of their entitlement. There are, however, certain conditions for a debt to qualify as zakah beneficiary. The first is that he should be in need of help to settle his debt. If he has enough moneys or goods which are sufficient to settle his debts, then he does not qualify. Perhaps I should explain that no person is required to sell articles which he needs in ordinary life for settling his debts. If he has a carpet or some other articles of furniture, he need not sell them. What we are speaking about here is having things which he does not ordinarily need. If he has something which he can use to settle part of the debt, he is given enough to settle the remainder. The second condition is that his debt should have been incurred for a legitimate purpose. If he has borrowed some money to do something forbidden, such as buying intoxicants, or to gamble or to throw a party in which the guests have a chance to do something forbidden, then he may not be helped with zakah funds to settle his debts. The third condition is that the debt is due to be settled. If it is deferred, then help from zakah funds can also be deferred. The fourth condition is that the debt must be due to a human being. If it is to be atone for something one has committed in violation of certain rules of Islam, and the debt is not due to a human being, then the debtor may not be helped with zakah funds. I have already said that the debt must have also been incurred in buying what is reasonable. If one buys a house to live in and the house is of an average standard comparable to his own, then that is reasonable. If the earnings are average for his community but he buys a palatial house, incurring a heavy debt, then he is not to be helped with zakah funds.

Our Dialogue ( Source : Arab News - Jeddah )