Wa `alaykum As-Salamu waRahmatullahi wa Barakatuh.
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:
One may give Zakah to one’s brother, sister, uncle, aunt, nephew, niece, cousin, parents-in-law, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, and other relatives if they are needy, since one will be combing two commendable acts: giving Zakah and maintaining family relationship.
In his answer to your question, Mufti Muhammad Ibn Adam Al-Kawthari, Director and researcher at the Institute of Islamic Jurisprudence (Darul Iftaa, www.daruliftaa.com), Member of the Al-Qalam Shari`ah Scholars Panel, and advisor on Islamic Banking, states:
What is Zakah?
Zakah is defined as follows:
“Transferring ownership of a part of one’s wealth as specified by the Lawgiver to be given to a poor Muslim except one who is from the Banu Hashim… cutting off totally any material benefit returning to the giver, for the sake of Allah Most high.’ (Radd al-Muhtar ala al-Durr al-Mukhtar sharh Tanwir al-Absar 2/257-258)
The meaning of the highlighted part of this definition is that the Zakah-payer cannot benefit materially in any way from giving the Zakah.
It has to be solely for the sake of Allah Most High, and as such, if any (direct material) benefit is gained by the Zakah-payer, such as paying an employee’s salary with Zakah money, then the Zakah payment would be considered invalid.
What are the relationships that prevent the exchange of Zakah?
For this very reason, the Jurists state that two relationships prevent the exchange of Zakah: birth and marriage.
As such, one cannot give Zakah to one’s parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and so on; and one’s children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and so on.
Likewise, it is impermissible to give Zakah to one’s spouse, be it one’s wife or husband. (Ibn Abidin, Radd al-Muhtar 2/346, Al-Fatawa al-Hindiyya 1/188-189, al-Kasani, Bada’i al-Sana’i 2/47-48 & Ibn Qudama, al-Mughni 2/270)
In giving Zakah to these individuals, one would be benefitting materially from one’s own Zakah which, as explained, is not permitted.
Normally benefits and wealth between parents and children, and between spouses is considered to be shared, and as such, giving Zakah to the above mentioned individuals will mean benefiting from one’s own Zakah. (Bada’i` al-Sana’i` 2/47)
Giving zakah to poor family members
However, besides the above two relationships i.e. one’s spouse, parents and offspring, there is nothing wrong (rather superior in some cases) with giving Zakah to other family members and close relatives, provided they are poor and worthy recipients. Imam Abu Bakr al-Kasani (Allah have mercy on him) states in his Bada’i` al-Sana’i`:
‘It is permitted to give Zakah to anyone from among one’s relatives besides one’s parents and offspring, such as one’s brothers, sisters and others.
This is because shared benefit of mutual wealth is cut off between them.’ (Bada’i` al-Sana’i` 2/50)
Giving zakah to parents-in-law
Imam Ibn Abidin (may Allah have mercy on him) states: ‘It is permitted to give Zakah to one’s father’s wife [i.e. stepmother], daughter-in-law, and son-in-law…’ (Radd al-Muhtar 2/346)
As such, one may give Zakah to one’s brother, sister, uncle, aunt, nephew, niece, cousin, father-in-law, mother-in-law, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, and so on, because the sharing of benefits and wealth between them normally does not take place.
In fact, in the Hanafi School, it is superior, in normal situations, to give Zakah to one’s immediate family and relatives if they are needy, since one will be combing two commendable acts: giving Zakah and maintaining family relationship. Indeed, if there are others with more obvious and urgent needs, they should be given preference.
Almighty Allah knows best.