What to be Given to the Poor
The opinion amongst the jurists is that the faqir and miskeen should be given what satisfies them without putting a limit on the amount. The opinion is based on the objective of Shari’ah to do away with poverty and causes of hunger and need as explained before. Umar b. al-Khattab (RA) instructed his employees on zakah: “When distributing zakah to the poor give them in abundance so that they are satisfied, repeat giving them even if one has to get a hundred camels.” This is why some jurists say that a poor man should be given from zakah what should satisfy him for the rest of his life. Imam al-Nawawi said, the faqir and the miskeen should be given what could bring them out from poverty to sufficiency on permanent basis, and that is what al-Shafi had ruled. According to al-Nawawi, “sufficiency” includes food, clothing, shelter, and all what is necessary for him and his dependents as suit his condition without extravagance or miserliness. Ibn Hazm adopted a similar opinion: “The fuqara and masakin) should be provided with eyes of the passersby.”
The second opinion is given by the Malikites and the majority of Hanbalites who said that the faqir and miskeen should be given what is sufficient for them and their dependents for a whole year because the Prophet (pbuh) stored for his family the food for one year. I find Ibn Hazm’s comment on this issue as sound:
“There is no limit on the amount of zakah given to a poor person. He may be given very much or little. Neither the Qur’an nor the Sunnah had set a limit.”
Irrespective of what the jurists say the disbursement of zakah is bound to be governed by the real revenue of zakah and the actual number of poor people in society. The problem is practical rather than theoretical, that the income from zakah in the majority of Muslim countries is not sufficient to provide all the poor with their basic needs for the rest of their lives or even for one year. The Muslim countries which administer zakah have adopted a moderate approach which combines between offering the poor an immediate but limited help and a long-term rehabilitation which enables the poor to possess a source of continuous income. The Central Zakat Council of Pakistan decided that not more than 45 percent of the zakah fund available to the local committee should go as a monthly subsistence grant to poor people, and not less than 45 percent should go once to the poor as a permanent rehabilitation grant. The provincial councils should spend 40 percent of their zakah funds to poor students in universities, religious schools and training centres. Sudan distributed 65 percent of the share of fuqara and masakin as immediate assistance to the poor, and the remaining 35 percent for purchasing means of production (i.e. sewing machine, a few sheep, tools for quasi-skilled work, etc.) and transferred its ownership to the poor. The zakah House in Kuwait and Nasir Bank in Egypt followed a similar practice. These examples illustrate that the contemporary zakah institutions accept the opinion that the poor should be provided with what will remove their poverty permanently but their funds do not enable them to implement this in the case of every needy person capable of work. Some rich Muslim countries like Kuwait, Emirates and Saudi Arabia established special agencies to distribute the surplus of zakah in some poor Muslim countries in Africa and Asia.
Source: Poverty Alleviation in Pakistan: Present Scenario and Future Strategy, Mohibul Haq Sahibzada. Republished with permission.
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