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Can I Give My Zakah to People Affected by COVID-19?

12 August, 2020
Q Can individuals affected by COVID-19 receive zakah assistance? Can they be included as the beneficiaries of zakah?


In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful. 

All praise and thanks are due to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger.

In this fatwa:

Zakah assistance can be distributed to those whose income has been affected by the recession or unemployment caused by COVID-19.

In responding to your question, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore states:

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The current COVID-19 outbreak has created long-lasting impact on Singapore and the global economy. According to some studies, approximately 150 to 200 thousand workers will be unemployed in Singapore in 2020. Singapore’s economy may enter into a recession with the country’s GDP growth diminishing to between -4 to -1 percent.

The Office of the Mufti projects that the Muslim community will suffer from this development. There will be families whose monthly incomes will be hit. For some individuals, some short-term help schemes provided by the government may be insufficient. Also some people may no longer be able to afford the cost of living especially in relation to children’s education and other basic needs.

Religious Basis on the Interpretations related to the beneficiaries of Zakah

The Quran has prescribed 8 categories of zakah beneficiaries. Allah the Almighty says:

{Zakah expenditures are only for the poor and for the needy and for those employed to collect [zakah] and for bringing hearts together [for Islam] and for freeing captives [or slaves] and for those in debt and for the cause of Allah and for the [stranded] traveler – an obligation [imposed] by Allah . And Allah is Knowing and Wise.} (At-Tawbah 9:60)

Although the Quran has prescribed these categories, religious scholars expanded the definitions according to their interpretations of scripture and the realities of their time. These interpretations draw from Islam’s main objective, which is to protect public welfare and interest.

In this regard, it is important to note that the needs of society change with the passage of time, and changes in circumstance and human needs.

Wide Range of Zakah Beneficiaries

Among the examples of these interpretations are as follow:

1- Ibn As-Sabil (Stranded travellers on a permissible journey): The Fatwa Committee has expanded the definition of ibn as-sabil in 2019 to include:

1) Singaporeans stranded in foreign countries and do not have the financial means to return to Singapore; 

2) Students who are having difficulties returning to Singapore, or students in countries which are in a state of emergency;

3) Foreign workers stranded in Singapore and have exhausted all financial resources;

4) Deceased Singaporean Muslims who have to be brought back to Singapore for burial; or deceased Muslim foreigners residing in Singapore which have to be repatriated. However, such costs cannot be afforded by their families.

2- Ar-Riqab (One who is freeing himself/herself from slavery): The MUIS Fitrah Zakah Committee had expanded on the meaning of ar-riqab to include students in need of financial aid. This is because knowledge frees a person from the shackles of ignorance.

3- Al-Miskin (One who has insufficient means of livelihood to meet his/her basic needs):

Scholars include in this category those who can only manage to meet their basic needs even if they are employed but do not have sufficient expenses to meet their daily needs or those under their care.

4- Fi sabilillah (One who strives in the cause of Allah):

According to Ibn al-Athir, fi sabilillah is a general concept that incorporates all the deeds which draw one closer to Allah.

Al-Imam Ar-Razi interpreted the word fi sabilillah in verse 60 of surat At-Tawbah as not specific to those who fight in wars. He cited Al-Qaffal’s view that the zakah for this category of fi sabilillah could be used for any public good, including the management and funeral service of the deceased, building forts or mosques.

In sum, the above show that the 8 categories of zakah beneficiaries can be expanded and adapted to current realities.

Fatwa Decision

Based on the current needs, the Fatwa Committee has decided that zakah assistance can be distributed to those whose income has been affected by the recession or unemployment caused by COVID-19.

Such individuals who are facing difficulties meeting their basic needs (as well as those of their families) are eligible for zakah assistance. This broader understanding and application of the meaning of zakah beneficiaries aims to preserve the religious objective of zakah in helping those in need.

Those affected by COVID-19 and require zakah assistance do not form a new category of zakah beneficiaries, but can be classified under several existing categories whose interpretations have been expanded. They are as follow:

Miskin includes:

a- Individuals displaced from job, and their source of income is affected and is not sufficient to meet their basic needs (and of their families).

b- Individuals who have been subjected to significant pay cuts and do not have sufficient funds to meet their basic needs (and of their families).

Gharimin includes:

Individuals whose income is affected, and are facing difficulties in paying their debts related to their basic family needs.

Riqab includes:

Individuals who cannot afford their children’s education due to their financial status being affected by unemployment.

Fisabilillah includes: Any relevant assistance that cover all other situations not mentioned above, such as payment for high medical expenses due to COVID-19 infection and/or extended hospitalization.

This specific zakah assistance serves as an additional form of support on top of other support schemes provided by the government. Those affected should, therefore, first utilize available government schemes, and only when such funds are still insufficient, they can receive assistance through zakah.

This zakah assistance should also not affect disbursements to other categories of beneficiaries.

Almighty Allah knows best.