In the earliest period of Islam, the method of paying Zakāt adopted by the Companions was that they used to pay all that was left after their personal needs. But gradually a scale was worked out until the Chapter Al-Tauba was revealed before the Fall of Mecca in 8 AH and the following verse was revealed:
‘The alms are only for the poor and the needy and for those employed in connection therewith, and for those whose hearts are to be reconciled and for the freeing of slaves, and for those in debt, and for the cause of Allah, and for the wayfarer-an ordinance from Allah. And Allah is All Knowing,Wise.’ (9:60)
In the above verse Allah has outlined the spending of the Zakāt in eight different categories and these are as follows:
The poor are those people who depend upon others for subsistence. Among these are included the disabled persons also who cannot earn and who depend upon others for their daily needs. Among them are included also one or more of those who cannot earn as much as required for normal subsistence and may even be reduced to the point of starving. Among this category are included those who are engaged in the service of the faith and who cannot spare time for earning their own livelihood.
The Lord God says in the Holy Quran:
‘These alms are for the poor who are detained in the cause of Allah and are unable to move about in the land …’ (2:274)
In this category were also considered the ‘Companions of the Lounge’ (Ashabus Sufa) of the time of the Holy Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, who voluntarily remained attached to a Man of God, never quitting his company, in order to benefit spiritually from it.
As a matter of fact the needy people also come under the category of the poor. The only difference is that ‘Miskeen’ is ‘saakin’ (stationary)-the poor who do not move away unless and until their need is removed. But the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, has defined the ‘Miskeen’ as one who confines himself to his own house and who does not go begging after people; nor does he let them know that he is light of purse.
The Holy Quran also describes them:
‘The ignorant man thinks them to be free from want because of their abstaining from begging. Thou shalt know them by their appearance, they do not beg of men with importunity.’ (2:274)
Such a man maintains his dignity even if he is at death’s door and does not extend his hand begging. The point in mentioning the ‘Miskeen’ quite separate from the poor is that he is more deserving than an ordinary poor man and God Almighty has especially drawn the attention of those responsible for disbursing Zakāt to bear that fact in mind when distributing alms. They must not give preference to those who come craving and clamoring and ignore those who stand aloof and hesitant. Those who maintain their dignity and give a proof of high moral integrity do deserve much more consideration. The Holy Prophet, peace be on him, had condemned begging.
The department and the staff engaged especially for the administration and disbursement of Zakāt have to be paid from this fund only.
The literal meaning of ‘AL-MUALLAFAT-AL-QULUB’ is ‘those whose hearts have become joined with you ‘. Under this category come those who, on account of some kind of fear from the disbelievers, do not or cannot come out in the open and declare themselves Muslims, but are definitely very much inclined towards Islam. It would be permissible to render assistance to such men to come out of the sphere of influence of the disbelievers. Then there are those men who are thoroughly convinced of the truth of Islam but are in the unhappy position of losing their means of livelihood if they declare that they are Muslims. They may also be given assistance from the Zakāt funds. But this does not mean that financial assistance would be given simply to attract people to Islam. This would surely make them hypocrites. Those who interpret the above term to mean that it is lawful to attract and lure people to Islam with money are exceedingly wrong and are guilty of bringing a bad name to Islam. They ascribe a thing to Islam for which neither Allah is responsible nor His Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him. Islam does not stand in need of enticing people through monetary or other gains. Islam must be accepted on its own merits.
The phrase ‘FIRIIQAB’ literally means ‘setting the neck free’. This is the term used for getting someone freed from the yokes of slavery. Freedom of slaves can be purchased with the Zakāt funds. For this, there are no restrictions that the slave must necessarily be a Muslim. In the beginning of Islam all slaves were non-Muslims.
The term ‘Firiiqab’ also applies to men in distress who may virtually be like slaves. As for example someone has been imprisoned on account of debts which he is unable to pay. Such men may be given assistance from the Zakat funds.
‘Gharimeen’ are those bound under penalty or a guarantee given on behalf of someone who was in difficulty and for which they are not personally responsible. As for instance one who issued a guarantee for some friend or a relative or he may unintentionally or unknowingly cause the death of someone or he may have suffered a heavy loss in business for reasons beyond his control and one who could recover his losses through timely assistance. Zakāt fund could be used for this purpose.
Under this sub-heading come the organizing of the Muslims, their protection, their stability or for their progress and welfare. This kind of expenditure is for the benefit of the whole nation and carries great importance. Zakāt funds could also be used for this.
Under this heading come the travelers of small means who need some assistance. Sometimes even a wealthy and rich traveler who has exhausted all his funds that he has brought with him may stand in need of financial assistance. One may have become a victim of a crook and may therefore be out of funds. Such travelers may also be given assistance from the Zakāt funds.
Under this sub-heading also come the expenses for providing means of comfort for the travelers. As for instance constructing roads, bridges, guest-houses or providing all the necessary information about travel and providing literature for this purpose. Zakāt funds could be used for all these purposes.
We have given above the purposes for which Zakāt funds are used to provide assistance for people of different walks of life who need to be assisted. It is evident that Zakāt is an effective means of national progress and advancement. Zakāt is a state check and not charity. The Promised Reformer, Mirza Mahmud Ahmad, may God be pleased with him, has stated:
‘No religion except Islam provides an injunction like that of Zakāt. No doubt something like Zakāt is also found in the Jewish faith, but not in so fine a detail as in Islam where all the different heads of expenditure are also explained at length to include all possible means of national progress. Zakāt entails a collective effort which is not found in the Jewish ordinance. In the ordinance of Zakāt in Islam each and every type of needy person has been described. As for example a certain person lacks finances for business. Islam commands that he should be given assistance. There is a tailor quite proficient in his profession but he is unable to buy a sewing machine. Islam commands that he should be helped from the Zakāt funds; then there may be a man who is fully conversant with the work of a horse-trap which he wishes to ply for hire. But he lacks the capital to buy with. Islam commands that he should be given assistance in buying this for him. A traveler comes to a town. He is very well off and has enough money with him but he is robbed and has no time to get anything from home. He also should be helped out of his difficulty from the Zakāt funds. If a poor man happens to go to the prison and leaves nothing for his wife and children to live upon , they also have a right to get help from the Zakāt funds. In short the Zakāt disbursements are so flexible that all types of men of any religion or nation could derive benefit from it without any sufferance or humiliation, because payments are made by the government and not by any individual. lndividuals, even if they wish, cannot pay out their Zakāt money to the poor themselves. Take my own case. I cannot distribute my Zakāt money to the poor myself. It has got to be paid into the government treasury from where it will be duly distributed among the deserving poor and the needy. If the government pays my money to my neighbor, he shall receive it from the government even though it may be the money that I had paid. Thus my neighbor will not be under any debt of gratitude to me and feel any humiliation or any sense of shame. Therefore under the Zakāt system no poor man has any cause to feel disgrace or to hide his face and in spite of the fact that he has received the amount that was paid by his rich neighbor, he has no need to look small and humiliated. He can say that he has not taken any help from him.’ (Tareekh-i-Ahmadiyya, Vol. 5, pp.66-67)