My husband's parents have some serious chronic illnesses, and need a big chunk of money regularly to pay for their medical expenses. Since they are not well off, we very gladly bear these expenses. However, we wonder if we can count this as Zakah. I have read conflicting views about Zakah distribution to family; on one hand, giving to family is highly encouraged, on the other, giving to parents appears to be forbidden. I am not sure which is accurate.
Giving Zakah on top of the medical expenses will be difficult for us and we'll need to dig deep into our savings. If it is Allah's law, we'll of course do it, but we are somewhat confused about this.
To give an indication of the amounts: if our Zakah is USD 1000/y, we are giving USD 12,000/y already for their expenses. As you can see, not the easiest of scenarios to add Zakah on top of this; USD 1000 is a large amount in our currency!
Wa `alaykum as-SalamuwaRahmatullahiwaBarakatuh.
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:
In his response to your question, Prof. Dr. Monzer Kahf, Professor of Islamic Finance and Economics at Qatar Faculty of Islamic Studies, states:
Please realize a few important points:
1- Spending on parents is as obligated and required as spending on oneself if parents are in need. Even when they are not in need, giving them extras has a priority over one’s own self; it is a sign of taqwa (piety) and has tremendous rewards from Allah Almighty.
Remember the hadith of the three persons who were locked in a cave and started praying to be saved; one of them has the deed of giving priority to parents over himself and his young children.
2- Although it is a good thing for a husband and a wife to mix finance (I do it myself). You should realize that according to the Shari`ah, women have independent ownership and if they decide to mix together without setting a percentage for each, we always consider their properties (e.g., savings) as owned independently on the basis of 50/50.
Independence of properties is so emphasized in the Shari`ah to the extent that if the husband is poor and wife is rich, she may give him her due Zakah.
3- If the husband is the income earner and these savings came from his income, his parents (if in need and he is the only able child of them) have direct rights on his income, before saving any money, because they are internal part of his family.
4- If the wife has income, she is not required to spend on the family, unless she does that voluntarily (and what she spends voluntarily is acceptable, permissible, recognized but she has no right to claim it as a debt on the husband). Spending on the family (i.e., specifically the wife because you inaccurately said you are going to build a family.
You are already a family! I understood it to mean having children, insha’ Allah) is a full responsibility of the husband. This is so much to the extent that if the wife is rich and the husband is poor, she may give him her due Zakah knowing that he is going to use it to spend on her own needs and expenses.
5- The same responsibility towards parents applies to female children if they are able and a parent of theirs is in need.
At the same time, a wife is not at all responsible for the parents of her husband and a husband is not at all responsible for the parents of his wife. Courteous actions, relations and giving are always recommended in the Shari`ah.
With the above in mind, if your husband is rich, then his parents are part of this richness; he cannot give his Zakah to them because this amounts to not paying Zakah at all (giving it to himself).
There should be no confusion between this family responsibility and giving Zakah to brothers, in-laws, sisters, cousins and their like because these are not part of one’s Shari`ah family required responsibility.
Of course, going into details, grandparents, parental uncles, minor sisters and brothers are also included in the obligation as part of the family provided they are in need).
Your own Zakah, that is on property which you own or on your share of joint properties, can be given to the parents of your husband.
If parents’ medical expenses are 12000, and your husband has savings of 40000 (that he pays Zakah 2.5%=1000), parents have right on the 40000 itself and on his income, exactly similar to your right and the right of his own soul. It is not much at all!
Allah Almighty knows best.
Editor’s note: This fatwa is from Ask the Scholar’s archive and was originally published at an earlier date.