By Mufti Zameelur Rahman


National Zakat Foundation (NZF), which describes itself as “UK’s only Zakāt institution”, has recently released a relatively lengthy document outlining the juristic positions it adopts on basic Zakāt-related matters with an explanation of how these positions were reached.[1] The document rightly cautions that “Zakat is a pillar of Islam and any misconduct or complacency will surely face accountability in the court of Allah.”[2] It will become evident from the following discussion, however, that it falls very short of this standard. Despite being authored by one of its “in-house” Ḥanafī muftīs, the overall tenor of the piece is very antithetical to the legal philosophy of the Ḥanafī madhhab on Zakāt.[3] It explicitly favours a juristic methodology that can only be described as “modernist”. A highly skewed presentation of the concept of Zakāt is offered, together with a dangerous and chaotic Fiqh methodology. Moreover, classical positions are sometimes misrepresented to suit the narrative that is being pushed.

In the following review (which is not intended to be exhaustive), the methodology, positions and arguments put forward in the NZF document will be critiqued. The aim is for readers to be made aware of its methodological flaws and misrepresentation of classical positions, and to also reach a more balanced and sound understanding on the nature of Zakāt and the issues raised.

Fiqh Methodology

Ibn al-Ṣalāḥ (577 – 643 H) relates a consensus of the scholars that when there are multiple conflicting views on an issue of Fiqh one cannot simply adopt any view he or she likes but must act on the preponderant view.[4] A mujtahid, or a scholar capable of assessing the scriptural evidence, will assess the preponderant view based on an objective examination of the textual evidence, while a non-mujtahid will do so by following the mujtahid he is most inclined to. If one adopts a position merely based on the knowledge that the position exists, and not based on either one of these two methods, Taqī al-Dīn al-Subkī (683 – 756 H) explains that he will be sinful.[5]

Moreover, if a non-mujtahid adopts a position outside of the legal school (madhhab) of the mujtahid he normally follows, that will amount to following his desires and will thus not be permissible. Imām al-Ghazālī (450 – 505 H) explains: “It is not permissible for the follower of a mujtahid to choose the most pleasing of [variant] opinions to him and the most agreeable to his temperament. He must follow his imām, who he believes to have the correct and right madhhab in relation to others, and follow him in all that comes and goes. Hence, it is not permissible for a Mālikī to switch to the madhhab of al-Shāfi‘ī unless he has an overwhelming feeling that its opinions are more correct. In that case, it is necessary to follow him in all juristic rulings. Otherwise, there is no motive for him to oppose [his madhhab] besides base desire, just as it is not permissible for a mujtahid to oppose the conclusions that his ijtihād (juristic judgement) reached.”[6] Imām al-Ghazālī and his contemporary, Qāḍī ‘Iyāḍ (476 – 544 H), relate consensus on this.[7]

The NZF document articulates its Fiqh methodology as follows: “So how does an organisation adopt an opinion and keep within a framework, avoiding the random selection of opinions and policies? A critical part of the answer is to have a clear vision that reflects the overarching purpose of Zakat and then ensuring that policy decisions remain as consistent as possible with the overall goal. At NZF, we have a vision for Islam to flourish in society as a source of prosperity and harmony for all. Our mission is to distribute Zakat transformatively within the United Kingdom, in order to help achieve our vision. It is in this transparently stated backdrop that we then consider the following, in consultation with our Advisers: 1. Classical positions of the four schools of Islamic law. 2. The Fatawa of Darul Iftaas or resolutions of global bodies.”

In other words, their methodology is to pick and choose from all available opinions, both classical and modern, those that reflect what they consider to be “the overarching purpose of Zakāt”. As will be shown below (in the section on “Broadening the Purposes of Zakāt”), the views they draw from to support their stated “overarching purpose of Zakāt” are themselves points of disagreement. Thus, there are disagreements on the “overall purpose of Zakāt”, and the NZF document does not explain why it picked one opinion on this matter over the other. Instead, it mentions that they have a “vision”, and choose opinions based on this stated vision. This is precisely what “following desires” is. Even a person who selects opinions based on his desires is not doing so “randomly”. He is nonrandomly selecting those opinions that suit his purpose. Thus, NZF is explicitly advocating an agenda-driven Fiqh, where the purpose of Fiqh is not to follow the preponderant opinion, but to follow any view from the multiplicity of conflicting opinions that exist when it agrees with their agenda. This is the very thing that the scholars of the past had cautioned against.

NZF could of course retort that their “agenda” is in this case not for self-interest or for the gain of the members of the organisation but for what they view to be the stated outcomes or benefits (maṣāliḥ) of Zakāt. This highly subjective maṣāliḥ-based approach will be briefly critiqued in the next section, together with an explanation of why self-interests are not ruled out even when adopting this approach.

The document further uses the fact that it operates as an “organisation” to claim that the possibility of adopting views out of self-interest is effectively ruled out. It states: “Many scholars have written in reference to following one school of Islamic law for all of one’s practices at an individual level. However, an organisation is different to an individual person. The issues of following one’s nafs (whims) and insincerely searching for easiest opinions are far less possible or relevant. A charity organisation is regulated by the Charity Commission, has the oversight of a board of Trustees, there is transparency and accountability to the public, as well as clearly stated organisational objectives and policies.”[8]

This is flawed logic. Just because an organisation or body acts with transparency, it does not mean that the positions it adopts are not based on self-interest. Political parties are an example of organisations which we know at times to formulate policies based on corrupt self-interests rather than genuine moral interests. It is absurd to claim that an organisation is immune from such unscrupulous selection of opinions.

It would be equivalent to an individual who picks views to suit his desires but then claims: “I can’t be following my desires because I follow these opinions openly and I can show everyone that I follow them meticulously!” Transparency in operations does not rule out the possibility that opinions were chosen based on desire or self-interests.

Trying to bolster this modernist agenda-driven pick-and-choose Fiqh methodology, the document quotes two recent Deobandī scholars, Mawlānā Ashraf ‘Alī al-Thānawī and Shaykh al-Hind Mawlānā Maḥmūd al-Ḥasan. It quotes the first scholar as follows: “Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanawi writes that Taqleed Shakhsi in itself is neither Fardh nor Wajib. However, Taqleed Shakhsi brings organisation (Intizam) to one’s Deen. (Usul al-Iftaa p.73 Maktabah Ma’ariful Qur’an)”[9]

Note: The sentence quoted from Mawlānā Thānawī is incomplete; the complete sentence adds that there is “anarchy in leaving” taqlīd shakhṣī (following a single madhhab).[10]

It quotes the second scholar as follows: “Shaykh al-Hind Maulana Mahmudul Hasan states that following a particular Madhab is not a Shar’i ruling but a Fatwa for organisation/systemisation of issues relating to Deen. (Usul al-Iftaa p.72 Maktabah Ma’ariful Qur’an)”[11]

Both Mawlānā Thānawī and Shaykh al-Hind believed in the obligation of adhering to a single madhab as a default. They are both signatories of the well-known Deobandī apologetic tract, al-Muhannad ‘ala l-Mufannad, that states: “There is no option for a person in this period but to follow one of the four imāms, and in fact this is obligatory…This is why we and our teachers are followers of the imām of the Muslims, Abū Ḥanīfah, in both foundations and peripherals.”[12]

In the statements quoted from them in the NZF document, they are making the point that the obligation of adhering to a single madhhab is not something intrinsic to Sharī‘ah but is based on circumstances that arose after the early era. In another work, Mawlānā Thānawī makes it clear that only in extenuating circumstances of genuine need (ḍarūrah)[13] can one move outside his madhhab.[14] Similarly, Shaykh al-Hind Mawlānā Maḥmūd Ḥasan al-Deobandī writes in another work: “In rulings of Fiqh, it is necessary to differentiate between the stronger and weaker views, the muftā bihī (the fatwā position) and the non-muftā bihī. There is no licence for any learned or unlearned person to act on a transmission that accords with his wishes.”[15] It would be disingenuous therefore to quote these scholars who believe in the obligation of adhering to a single madhhab as a default rule for support of the Fiqh methodology that NZF espouses.

For more on the necessity of classical madhhab-based jurisprudence, one can read the links provided in the footnote.[16]

Another point to note is that the NZF document relies heavily on personal opinions of contemporary or very recent scholars. Based on the correct methodology of classical madhhab-based Fiqh, the function of recent and contemporary jurists is to transmit and accurately present the madhhab’s position (along with surrounding discussions where necessary) and apply it correctly to circumstances that arise. If they are acting outside of this capacity, bringing in their personal judgements on proof texts and extrapolating beyond what the madhhab dictates, their views do not hold any merit. We come at a time in history after the Ummah has been plagued with (cultural) colonisation, modernisation and westernisation and the general corruption of Islāmic thought, so it is all the more necessary to be wary of personal opinions of individual scholars.

A Maṣāliḥ-Based Approach?

The NZF document makes it clear that they adopt a vision based on what they see is the “overarching purpose of Zakāt” and how they feel Zakāt can be used “transformatively” in the UK, and select opinions based on that vision. At best, this can be characterised as a subjective maṣāliḥ-based approach to Fiqh. Thus, for example, while justifying its adoption of a view that is ostensibly at odds with classical consensus (see section on “In the Cause of Allāh” below), the document states: “The entire objective behind adopting this opinion is to facilitate growth and scalability of causes serving Islam and Muslims in the UK which fall under this category. It is to enhance and finance initiatives which can have strategic benefit for Islam and Muslims in the UK. The entire activity in finding the underpinning Fiqh of a category is then supported by the views of many contemporary Ulama which serves the Maslahah (interests) of Islam and Muslims in the UK.”[17]

The repercussions of adopting such an approach are disastrous. Someone can just as easily contend that the overall objective of ṣalāh is to glorify Allāh and transform one’s behaviour, so they will pick and choose opinions, even those with little to no classical backing, if it supports this stated objective. For instance, someone can adopt the view that ṣalāh can be recited in one’s native tongue because it enhances these stated objectives. One can think of many other such examples. Such an approach is of course untenable.

Moreover, it is not the role of a non-mujtahid to examine maṣāliḥ when arriving at an understanding of the ruling of Sharī‘ah on a given matter. The Shāfi‘ī jurist, Ibn Ḥajar al-Haytamī (909 – 974 H), explained several centuries ago: “Studying the benefits (maṣāliḥ) and harms (mafāsid) is only the function of mujtahids. As for the pure muqallid (non-mujtahid follower), it is not allowed for him to look into that and oppose the speech of his imāms…It is not allowed for a non-mujtahid to look into benefits, nor harms, but he has only to look into the speech of his imām and the imāms of his madhhab.”[18]

Similarly, Mawlānā Khālid Sayfullāh, who is referred to in several places in the document, explains with regards to the Zakāt category of “in the cause of Allāh” (fī sabīlillāh): “It is evident that to make the word of Allāh supreme maintains the position of a wisdom or benefit (maṣlaḥah), while rulings are not premised on wisdom but on the legal cause (‘illah).”[19] A somewhat more detailed discussion on this distinction between “benefit” and “legal cause” can be found in Mufti Taqi Usmani’s Uṣūl al-Iftā’ wa Adābuh.[20] As both of them clarify, the follower of a madhhab will inspect the legal cause (‘illah) of a ruling to determine what the outcome will be, as the presence or absence of the legal cause will alter the ruling; however, they may not examine underlying wisdoms or benefits with a view to alter the ruling – whereas this is precisely what the NZF document purports to do.[21]

To support the maṣāliḥ-based approach, the NZF document refers to a passage from al-Madkhal al-Mufaṣṣal of contemporary researcher Dr Ṣalāḥ Abu l-Ḥājj: “The contemporary Hanafi jurist, Dr Salah Abul Haj argues that Zakat entitlement and worthiness is focused on the attribute coined by Allah for the meta-categories and not just the physical recipients. Each meta-category is anchored on an underlying outcome and impact which is the objective of that meta-category.”[22]

The document refers to this passage of Dr Ṣalāḥ in several other places. However, this is an unjustified extrapolation from his discussion, and not what he actually states. In the passage in question, Dr Ṣalāḥ is not expressing a position on Fiqh or how to determine “Zakat entitlement”. While talking about the historical development of Fiqh, he is describing certain phenomena that the Fiqh of the Ṣaḥābah was characterised by. One such phenomenon is taking into consideration the legal causes of rulings. As an illustration of this, he refers to a discussion of Ramaḍān Būtī, which states that ‘Umar (Allāh be pleased with him) abolished the share of Zakāt for the category “mu’allafah qulūbuhum” (those whose hearts are reconciled) because the term itself shows that only if people’s hearts are won over by money should they be given from Zakāt; however, Islām had reached a stage that there was enough glory in just being a Muslim for there to be any further incentive in being offered money. Thus, the legal cause is the hearts being reconciled or won over by money, but when this legal cause was no longer found in the time of ‘Umar (Allāh be pleased with him), he abolished the share of Zakāt for mu’allafah qulūbuhum on account of the absence of its legal cause.[23]

The NZF document extrapolates from this that Dr. Ṣalāḥ was making the wider point that “Zakat entitlement and worthiness is focused on the attribute coined by Allah for the meta-categories and not just the physical recipients.” However, the most that can be derived from his discussion is that a legal cause (‘illah) must be considered when assessing the applicability of a ruling – which no one disagrees with. NZF, however, do not stop at the legal cause, but go beyond that to what they perceive to be more underlying maṣāliḥ.

Since the maṣāliḥ-based approach is an obscure and subjective method[24], and one left to the judgement of the one wielding it, it does not rule out selecting opinions that advantage oneself or one’s organisation. The three main points (centralising Zakāt, localising it and broadening its purpose) that the NZF document impresses on its readers can all be viewed as working in the self-interest of NZF: they argue Zakāt should be centralised so people are encouraged to give Zakāt to an organisation rather than distributing it themselves; they then argue it should be localised so people are encouraged to give to NZF specifically; and they further argue for broadening the purposes of Zakāt so NZF can justify paying themselves out from Zakāt money and using it in avenues they like. As will be discussed below, each of these three points are in fact selectively chosen from areas of classical disagreement; and the views they have chosen of course appear suspiciously conducive to their self-interests.

Departure from the Ḥanafī Madhhab

The majority of Muslims in the UK belong to the Ḥanafī madhhab or come from a Ḥanafī background. Yet, the NZF document makes it clear on a couple of points that they adopt views at odds with the Ḥanafī madhhab. After explaining that the three madhhabs define a legally poor person based on “kifāyah” (having sufficient means) rather than having surplus wealth below the niṣāb as the Ḥanafīs do, the NZF document makes it clear that “NZF assesses recipients and beneficiaries according to the Kifayah framework based on the understanding of the majority of the scholars.”[25] Similarly, in the Ḥanafī understanding, being legally poor (faqr) is a condition for those “in the cause of Allāh” (fī sabīlillāh) to be eligible Zakāt recipients, yet the document states: “According to most of the scholars, Faqr (poverty) is not a condition under Fi-Sabilillah. NZF’s Distribution Strategy allows for the payment directly for the costs incurred by people undertaking tasks considered to be Fi-Sabilillah regardless of the personal financial status of such individuals”[26]

Moreover, as will be shown in a section below (on “Broadening the Purposes of Zakāt”), the overall position NZF adopts on Zakāt’s purposes is fundamentally at odds with the Ḥanafī conception. Thus, despite being UK-based, and set up to serve the Muslim community in the UK, and although it at times draws from Ḥanafī scholars to support some of its points, its overall vision on Zakāt and some of the positions it adopts are at odds with the Ḥanafī madhhab, the madhhab of most UK Muslims.

The NZF document stresses that for “effective” Zakāt distribution, there are three main methods that must be employed: centralising Zakāt collection (“pooling”), localising its distribution (“focusing”) and broadening its purpose (“balancing”). Each of these three positions, and the document’s arguments in favour of them, will be looked at now in turn.

Centralising Zakāt Collection (“Pooling”)

Arguing for centralised Zakāt collection, the NZF paper states: “Zakat was traditionally collected and distributed by the legitimate authority/government. According to some schools of law, Zakat could be forcefully taken if payment was refused… The framework within which Zakat traditionally operated under an authority demonstrates its fiscal nature. One could almost argue that the payment of Zakat and Zakat distribution operate like a tax, covering some elements of public sector spending… It is worth considering the example of council tax, or membership fees for a club: without the residents and members contributing a minimum amount of funds, agreeing to suspend to a degree their involvement in the specifics of how funds should be spent to be spent centrally and holistically on their behalf, there would simply be no order nor any foundation upon which local life in a borough or the cause for which a club stands to progress meaningfully.”[27] And it states: “In the early period of Islam, Zakat collection and distribution was a governmental department and function. It was the legitimate authority or government which collected all Zakat proceeds and distributed them”[28]

There is an important distinction in the types of Zakātable wealth that the governing authority has the right to exact from their owners which the NZF paper misses out. Imām al-Māwardī (364 – 450 H) explains: “Zakātable property is of two kinds: public and private. Public wealth is what cannot be concealed like crops, fruits and livestock, while private wealth is what can be concealed like gold, silver and business stock. The one responsible for [collecting] Zakāt has no right to investigate the Zakāt of private wealth, and its owners have more right to take out its Zakāt than him, unless the owners of the [private] property wilfully give it to them and they accept it from them.”[29] Qāḍī Abū Ya‘lā al-Ḥanbalī (380 – 458 H) mentions the same, adding that Imām Aḥmad ibn Ḥanbal explicitly said that it is better for the owner of the property to distribute it himself rather than to hand it over to the ruler.[30] It should be noted that Imām Aḥmad’s view is regarding both public and private wealth.[31] In his opinion, if the owner of the wealth distributes it on his own, the imām does not have the right to demand repayment; this would also appear to be the stronger view in the Shāfi‘ī madhhab.[32]

The Ḥanafīs, on the other hand, have said the imām (central ruler) does have the right to demand repayment. However, they have expressed disagreement over why the imām has the right to forcefully extract public wealth from Zakāt-payers. Some Ḥanafī jurists said it is by virtue of the protection (ḥimāyah) he grants; and since his protection only extends to public property (amwāl ẓāhirah) and not to private property (amwāl bāṭinah), he has the right only to demand Zakāt payment from public property. Others Ḥanafī jurists said it is by virtue of his authority (wilāyah) rather than protection that he can demand their Zakāt be paid to him; and since his authority extends to both public and private wealth, he has the potential power to demand both, but it is only the public wealth that is extracted based on a certain wisdom.[33] Proponents of the latter view argue that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and Abū Bakr and ‘Umar (Allāh be pleased with them) collected both the public and private wealth, but it was in the time of ‘Uthmān (Allāh be pleased with him) that central collection came to be limited to public wealth by general agreement of the ṣaḥābah.

It seems, however, that the stronger view in the Ḥanafī school is the former, that it is by virtue of protection rather than the authority the imām wields that he acquires the right to forcefully take Zakātable wealth.[34] Thus, the imām only has the right to take the Zakāt of private wealth when he has a strong suspicion they are not paying their Zakāt[35], not because he has the intrinsic authority to do so but because he has the obligation to ensure people are fulfilling their religious obligations. The private wealth that was taken in the time of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and Abū Bakr and ‘Umar (Allāh be pleased with them) can be explained as that exacted by the ‘āshir (street-collector), as they also grant protection to private wealth.[36]

Of course, the money we are talking about in the context of NZF is cash money, which falls under “private wealth”, and as explained this does not fall under the purview of central Zakāt collection (in that the imām has no right to demand it). Imām al-Nawawī and others have quoted consensus on this.[37]

The scholars across the madhhabs have expressed disagreement over which is superior: for Zakāt-payers to distribute money on their own or to hand it over to the central authority.[38] However, the majority have said if there is corruption and self-interest at play, it is better for Zakāt on private wealth to not be centralised, but for Zakāt-payers to distribute it on their own. This has also been expressed by some Ḥanafī jurists.[39]

Even apart from the nuanced discussion above which the NZF paper does not touch upon, there is the question over whether an organisation like NZF can be analogised to a central authority (imām). As explained, a central authority gains this function by virtue of its protection or authority; of course, an organisation like NZF neither provides protection nor possesses authority. On this issue, NZF contends that jurists in the past have argued for setting up centralised leadership where there is none. It says: “The jurists argue, in particular Ibn Abidin (d.1252 AH) quoting from Ibn al-Humam (d.861 AH), that where Muslims live in a minority, they should have a centralised body representing them and dealing with their religious affairs in a unified, centralised manner. Therefore, even if such a body does not exist to represent all the affairs of the Muslims in a particular place, organisations should emerge to at least deal with aspects of these communal concerns, like NZF is doing for Zakat.” [40] Repeating this elsewhere, it states: “In fact, the classical jurists have clearly stated that in the absence of a Muslim government, the Muslims should organise themselves where they themselves can deliver necessary functions of an Islamic government.”[41]

This, however, is a misrepresentation of what Ibn ‘Ᾱbidīn and Ibn al-Humām said. They are not discussing a context in which “Muslims live as a minority” but about “some of the Muslim lands that have been overtaken by disbelievers.”[42] Quoting the same ruling from Mi‘rāj al-Dirāyah, Ibn ‘Ᾱbidīn clarifies that these lands fall under Dār al-Islām (Muslim-governed territory) not Dār al-Ḥarb (non-Muslim governed territory) because the disbelievers did not hold full sway in them.[43] So it is obvious that the situation they describe does not apply to the context of Muslims in the UK.

The question they were addressing is how in these Muslim lands that have been overrun by disbelievers Muslims are to appoint the imāms for Jumu‘ah (as the imāms were selected by the central authority) and how they are to appoint a Qāḍī. On the latter there is disagreement expressed over whether they can ask the disbelieving authority to appoint a Qāḍī for them or whether they should unite around a Muslim governor who would appoint a Qāḍī.[44] On the first question, they state that if the governor in their region is a Muslim (appointed by the disbelieving authority), the imāms should be appointed by him, and if not then they should be appointed by agreement of the Muslims in that area.[45]

As one can see, this in no way translates to “the classical jurists [having] clearly stated that in the absence of a Muslim government, the Muslims should organise themselves where they themselves can deliver necessary functions of an Islamic government.” This is an example of trying to force classical positions to agree with what they are trying to push.

To further argue their point, the NZF document states: “Imam al-Dasuqi (d.1230 AH) argues that a “Jama’atul Muslimin” is equivalent to an Islamic ruler in all matters where an Islamic ruler is required.”[46] This, however, is a mistranslation. Al-Dasūqī is talking about a Qāḍī not an “Islamic ruler.” Where it is difficult to get access to a Qāḍī, in the Mālikī school a group of reliable Muslims (jamā‘at al-muslimīn al-‘udūl) can function as a Qāḍī-substitute. The context of al-Dasūqī’s discussion is about a woman seeking to annul her marriage when her husband is not spending on her – which requires a Qāḍī not an Islamic ruler.[47]

After mentioning that Zakāt has “bands” (niṣāb), was centrally collected and other such characteristics of Zakāt, the document states: “The above operational characteristics clearly demonstrate that Zakat has a systematic nature… The framework within which Zakat traditionally operated under an authority demonstrates its fiscal nature. One could almost argue that the payment of Zakat and Zakat distribution operate like a tax.”[48]

However, these aspects of Zakāt – central collection, fixed niṣāb and amounts – were only instituted after the initial obligation of Zakāt.[49] This demonstrates that these are extra rules added to facilitate Zakāt payment and are not intrinsic to its basic and overarching purpose – which was to cleanse the Zakāt-payers of sin and alleviate the suffering of the poor.[50]

Localising Zakāt (“Focusing”)

The NZF document states: “There is a strong emphasis in primary sources of Islam concerning the localising of Zakat.”[51] The “primary sources of Islam” presumably refer to the Qur’ān and Sunnah (ḥadīth). However, there is nothing explicit in either of these sources saying Zakāt is to be localised, let alone there being a “strong emphasis.” In fact, there is a ḥadīth in Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī which states Mu‘ādh (Allāh be pleased with him), as the Prophet’s governor in Yemen, sent Zakāt funds to Madīnah. In the Ḥanafī madhhab, while it is encouraged to spend Zakāt locally, this is only when there isn’t greater need or one does not have needy relatives elsewhere – in these cases, it is better to spend the Zakāt elsewhere.[52]

The NZF document further states: “The classical Maliki, Shafi’i and Hanbali jurists believed Zakat must be distributed locally.”[53] The Arabic reference cited in the footnotes to substantiate this point states that according to these three schools it is necessary to keep Zakāt payments within a radius of the safar distance (around 55 miles) from the location of Zakāt payers. But it does not seem this is NZF’s policy: since it is a “national” Zakāt foundation, it may be that the Zakāt of people from Birmingham is distributed in London or vice versa, which is beyond the safar distance. This begs the question as to whether they are quoting these schools as authorities or to simply select from them what will feed into the narrative they seek to push and dismiss what does not?

Broadening the Purposes of Zakāt (“Balancing”)

To argue that Zakāt has a broader purpose than being a charity or a vehicle for the alleviation of poverty and suffering, the NZF document states: “Imam al-Tabari (d. 310 AH) mentions that the eight categories of Zakat expenditure can be summarised into two essential functions: Fulfilling the needs of the Muslims 2. Assisting and strengthening Islam.”[54] It reiterates this elsewhere: “The overarching objectives of Zakat as outlined by classical scholars such as Imam al-Tabari (d. 310 AH) can never be attained unless Zakat is spent across the eight categories dealing with individual needs and collective needs for Islam to flourish.”[55]

Imām al-Ṭabarī’s statement in question is on the subject of “mu’allafah qulūbuhum” (those whose hearts are reconciled) and whether they remain as a group of valid Zakāt recipients. After mentioning conflicting views of the early imāms, al-Ṭabarī says: “The correct opinion on this according to me is that Allāh has assigned Zakāt for two functions: fulfilling the needs of Muslims and secondly, assisting and strengthening Islām. Thus, whatever is for assisting and strengthening Islām, it is given to the rich and the poor.”[56]

It should be noted that al-Ṭabarī is here stating his personal view in a matter on which there is disagreement, and thus he says “according to me”. Just like the other two issues discussed above (on centralisation and localisation), NZF is being selective in what it adopts and chooses to share with its readers. Al-Ṭabarī’s view is naturally shared by some jurists, but not by others – in particular, the Ḥanafīs. Ibn Rushd (520 – 595 H) mentions in his Bidāyat al-Mujtahid that there is disagreement over the overall legal cause of Zakāt: is it need alone or is it need as well as public benefit? Both opinions exist. Ibn Rushd relates the first view from Ibn al-Qāsim amongst the early Mālikīs.[57] It is also the explicit view of the Ḥanafīs.[58]

Hence, al-Ṭabarī’s view is in conflict with that of the Ḥanafī madhhab, and in adopting it, NZF have adopted an overall position fundamentally at odds with the Ḥanafī school. This is all the more significant given that al-Ṭabarī’s statement and NZF’s deductions from it form the basis of how they choose to interpret matters relating to Zakāt recipients. Thus, they even attempt to philosophise how giving Zakāt funds to the stranded traveller (ibn al-sabīl) is not merely to alleviate need but to “serve the collective”![59]

Strangely, ignoring the explicit classical Ḥanafī position, the document goes on to state: “The contemporary senior Hanafi jurist of India, Mufti Khalid Saifullah Rahmani states: “By contemplating on the categories of Zakat, it becomes clear that the purpose of Zakat is not just to help the needy, but to also protect and safeguard Islam. Hence, the categories of Fi-Sabilillah and Mu’allafatul Qulub serve the purpose of preserving and safeguarding Islam.”[60]

Mawlānā Khālid Sayfullāh Raḥmānī states this as part of a polemic between those who argue for a more liberal reading of the category of “fī sabīlillāh” (in the cause of Allāh) as opposed to those who argue for a more restricted view. In quoting the arguments of the first group, he says: “Contemplating the avenues of Zakāt, it is realised that it principally has two purposes: one purpose is to fulfil the needs of the poor and the second purpose is to make the word of Allāh supreme.”[61] He then offers a rebuttal from the opposing side: “It is evident that to make the word of Allāh supreme maintains the position of a wisdom or benefit (maṣlaḥah), while rulings are not premised on wisdom but on the legal cause.”[62]

Even still, it is misleading to quote this opinion of Mawlānā Khālid Sayfullāh as the view of a “contemporary senior Hanafi jurist of India”, as it gives the appearance that it accords with the Ḥanafī madhhab, when it is an incontrovertible fact that the Ḥanafī madhhab states only one overall legal cause for Zakāt: poverty and need.[63]

We will now turn to three out of the eight categories of Zakāt recipients mentioned in the Qur’ān, namely the mu’allafah qulūbuhum (those whose hearts are reconciled), fī sabīlillāh (in the path of Allāh) and ‘āmilīn ‘alayhā (Zakāt administrators), and critique NZF’s positions on them.

Those Whose Hearts are Reconciled (Mu’allafah Qulūbuhum)

The category of mu’allafah qulūbuhum is briefly discussed from a Ḥanafī perspective in our previous piece on Zakāt.[64] In its discussion on mu’allafah qulūbuhum, the NZF document starts by quoting a Ḥanafī scholar, Imām al-Bābirtī. It states: “In their historical contexts, scholars interpreted this category as follows: Imam al-Babarti (d.786 AH) stated the following types of people as beneficiaries: 1) Those who were inclined to accepting Islam. 2) Those who opposed Muslims and were considered a threat. 3) Those who had just embraced Islam.”[65]

This is misleading as it suggests al-Bābirtī in his context said Zakāt should be given to these groups under the category of mu’allafah qulūbuhum. But al-Bābirtī was a Ḥanafī commenting on the passage of al-Hidāyah which states: “The [share of] mu’allafah qulūbuhum has been abolished (suqiṭa).”[66] Bābirtī then explains that there were (kānū) these three groups of mu’allafah qulūbuhum – i.e. historically, in the time of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him).

Then quoting al-Mughnī of Ibn Qudāmah, the document lists six groups of mu’allafah qulūbuhum, two belonging to disbelievers and four belonging to Muslims. What concerns us is the third category of Muslims, which NZF renders as: “Muslims who strove to defend Muslims against hostile narratives.”[67] While explaining the application of this category, the NZF document reiterates this as follows: “Ibn Qudamah states that Zakat can be paid under al-Mu’allafati Qulubuhum to a Muslim who will strive to spread Islam in the wider society and work to protect the interests of Muslims and Islam.”[68] However, this is a distortion of what Ibn Qudāmah said; he was referring to a group of Muslims at the borders of Islāmic lands who when paid from Zakāt will defend the Muslims close by to them i.e. will engage in military jihād at the frontiers.[69] As the document correctly points out, the same division mentioned by Ibn Qudāmah is found in al-Nawawī’s al-Majmū‘. Imām al-Nawawī defines this third category of Muslims as: “A group [living] next to disbelievers, if given [from Zakāt] they will fight them (qātalūhum).”[70]

This is not a minor misinterpretation, as they go on to propose based on this that Zakāt be used to fund Muslim projects that will defend Islam ideologically! They will use Zakāt for “social and educational initiatives on an interfaith or inter-community basis; publications or media projects on platforms including film, TV, press and social media,” and the condition they place is that “the applicant must substantiate on the balance of probabilities that their work is to better the public perception of Islam and Muslims.”[71] As is evident, however, there is no classical justification for giving Zakāt money to such projects; in fact, this would be opposed to the consensus of classical jurists.

Moreover, one who reads the discussion in al-Nawawī’s Majmū‘ (which the NZF document refers to) will find the discussion to be more nuanced. Not all the six groups mentioned under mu’allafah qulūbuhum are accepted as valid Zakāt recipients. There is disagreement over some of these groups within the Shāfi‘ī madhhab, with the correct view for both groups of disbelievers being that they are not valid beneficiaries.[72] Similar disagreements exist in the Ḥanbalī madhhab.[73]

To further argue for their position that Zakāt funds can be used in the manner they propose for mu’allafah qulūbuhum, they state: “Imam al-Hattab (d.954 AH) from the Maliki school argues that the assessment of a beneficiary under al-Mu’allafati Qulubuhum is at the discretion of the authority disbursing Zakat.”[74] Again, this is a misinterpretation of what was said. Al-Ḥaṭṭāb is talking in the context of the amount that is given to the beneficiaries of Zakāt, not about determining who the beneficiary is. He quotes an earlier text which states, “The debtor will be given the amount of his debt, the poor and needy what suffices them and their dependents, the stranded the amount that will make him reach his destination or the place of his wealth, the fighter the amount that will sustain him while fighting, the reconciled based on discretion, and the collector a standard wage.”[75] It appears NZF is trying to use al-Ḥaṭṭāb’s passage to justify specifying who they want under “mu’allafah qulūbuhum” even if it goes against the classical consensus. But al-Ḥaṭṭāb’s passage obviously does not allow for this interpretation.

In attempting to justify spending Zakāt on the mu’allafah qulūbuhum according to the Ḥanafī school, the document says: “Among the Hanafi scholars, there is a difference of opinion in respect to this meta-category. Some Hanafi jurists have suggested this category has been abrogated whilst others have clearly stated that this meta-category is not abrogated, but that it is dependent on the existence of an ‘illa (effective legal cause).”[76]

The Ḥanafī madhhab is clear that the share of Zakāt for “mu’allafah qulūbuhum” has been “abolished” (suqiṭa). There is disagreement over why it has been abolished. Some, like ‘Alā’ al-Dīn al-Samarqandī (ca. 470 – 539 H), said it was abrogated, and al-Ḥaṣkafī suggests that it was abrogated in the lifetime of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) based on his statement in two well-known ḥadīths that Zakāt is taken from the rich and given to the poor.[77]

Others have said their share is abolished because the legal cause that made them entitled to Zakāt has terminated. It appears, however, that the Ḥanafī jurists that proposed this were not arguing that if the legal cause reappears, the mu’allafah qulūbuhum would again become valid beneficiaries. Rather, it appears they understood the legal cause in this case to have terminated indefinitely. When the numbers of Muslims became many – which continues to this day – and it was no longer realistically possible to annihilate Muslims, the desperate situation in which the Prophet had to make pay-outs to those who could be harmful to Muslims came to an end. Hence, al-Taḥāwī (239 – 321 H) states the mu’allafah qulūbuhum “have disappeared” (dhahabū)[78] and Imām Muḥammad (132 – 189 H) says in al-Aṣl regarding giving Zakāt to the mu’allafah qulūbuhum that “this was only something in the time of the Prophet.”[79]

Al-Jaṣṣāṣ (305 – 370 H) makes this clear: “Our imāms [Abū Ḥanīfah and his disciples] have said: [The mu’allafah qulūbuhum] were only in the period of the Messenger of Allāh (Allāh bless him and grant him peace) at the early stages of Islām in the situation of the numbers of Muslims being few and their enemies being many, and Allāh has strengthened Islām and its adherents and made them free of reconciling with disbelievers. If they later are in need of that, this is only because of their abandonment of jihād, and when they unite and strengthen one another, they would not need to be reconciled with others by means of wealth given to them from the wealth of Muslims. Something similar to the view of our imāms has been narrated from a multitude of the predecessors.”[80]

In commenting on this passage of al-Jaṣṣāṣ, the NZF document states: “Imam al-Jassas (d. 370 AH) states that Ta’lif al-Qulub is an option to gain currency and recognition when there is a lack of alternative strategies or options. It is a pre-emptive measure when more proactive measures are not possible.”[81] However, al-Jaṣṣāṣ of course says nothing of the sort. He is not saying giving Zakāt to win over people to the cause of Islām is an option when there is a lack of alternative strategies. Rather, he is saying there is no option to give them Zakāt at all, and if there ever is a time when Muslims find themselves in need of this, it is only because they have neglected jihād, and so need to put their act together by uniting and strengthening each other. To say al-Jaṣṣāṣ was arguing that in this situation Muslims can resort to using Zakāt for mu’allafah qulūbuhum would be a complete reversal of what he said.

Moreover, it is clear that in the Ḥanafī school it is only the ruler or his representatives who have the right, as representatives and caretakers of the poor, to distribute Zakāt to this category.[82] Al-Qudūrī states that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) only gave it to repel harm to the poor[83] – so ultimately it was the needs of the poor and needy that was being considered. He also points out that it would in principal not be allowed in the Ḥanafī school to give Zakāt to mu’allafah qulūbhum who are legally rich, as a fundamental Ḥanafī principle is that Zakāt cannot be given to the legally rich.[84]

While arguing that in the Ḥanafī madhhab, the share of mu’allafah qulūbuhum has not been abrogated, the document states: “Maulana Abdul Hayy al-Laknawi (d.1304 AH) states that this category is not abrogated, rather, the ‘illa was not present. This can obviously be understood in the context of these jurists who wrote, researched and lived in a polity of Muslims where Islam was well-established.”[85]

Mawlānā ‘Abd al-Ḥayy al-Laknawī lived under British rule and at a time of crippling Muslim power. Furthermore, great Ḥanafī jurists of recent times like Mawlānā Khalīl Aḥmad Sahāranpūrī, Muftī ‘Azizur Raḥmān Deobandī, Mawlānā Ashraf ‘Alī Thānawī, Mawlānā Ẓafar Aḥmad Thanāwī, Muftī Muḥammad Shafī and Muftī Kifāyatullāh lived after the collapse of the Ottoman caliphate and at a time of dwindling Muslim power, yet none of them suggested reviving the category of the mu’allafah qulūbuhum. As explained above, giving Zakāt money to mu’allafah qulūbuhum who are legally rich is something fundamentally at odds with Ḥanafī principles of Zakāt distribution.

In the Cause of Allāh (Fī Sabīlillāh)

Classically, there were two main groups that were said to fall under the Zakāt category of “in the cause of Allāh” (fī sabīlillāh) – those participating in military jihād and those undertaking ḥajj. The first is agreed-upon and the second is disputed.[86] The second group – those undertaking ḥajj – is conspicuous in the NZF document only by its absence. The NZF document mentions all kinds of views, with an attempt to broaden the scope of each category, but fails to mention ḥajj within the category of “in the cause of Allāh” – which was historically a well-known position. It seems this was designed to fit their overall, highly selective, narrative of trying to give all the beneficiaries of Zakāt a more secular, communal, function, rather than a ritual, devotional one.

While conceding that the jurists agree “in the cause of Allāh” means military engagement, they state, “but this does not mean military engagement was the purpose of the meta-category – it was a means to a greater objective.” The “greater objective” is “advancing the cause of devotion to Allah in society” where the “methods of achieving this and countering external threats to a Muslim community depend heavily on the context.”[87] Thus they state that in our context they will fund under this category: “youth engagement projects, parenting initiatives, tarbiyah courses and awareness projects… Islamic colleges and institutes… Madrasahs/maktabs… exceptional existing or emerging scholars with maintenance, further education and research funding.”[88] As explained earlier under the heading, “A Maṣāliḥ Based Approach?”, it is a fundamental methodological error to derive rulings based on maṣāliḥ, rather than the explicitly stated rulings and their legal causes.

Referring to Mawlānā Zakariyyā Kandhlewī’s comments on “fī sabīlillāh” having a broader meaning, the NZF document states: “Although Shaykh Zakariyya Khandelwi was discussing the general verses of Jihad and Tabligh Jama’at, he specifically quotes the verse of Zakat and alludes to the debate of the scholars regarding the beneficiaries under Fi-Sabilillah. Shaykh Zakariyya’s insight begs the question: if the general, explicit verses of Qital and Jihad can refer to non-military endeavours, then why would an interpreted verse of Fi-Sabilliah not allow non-military endeavours, especially in our current context when the notion of military engagement is of course an irrelevance?”[89]

It is of course a strange thing to say in a world ravaged by war and conflict that “military engagement is of course an irrelevance”. The Ḥanafīs have historically differed over who is entitled to Zakāt under “fī sabīlillāh”, with the dominant positions being a fighter who is cut-off from his wealth or a person on ḥajj who is cut-off from his wealth; with a minority holding that they are “seekers of sacred knowledge” (ṭalabat al-‘ilm).[90] The broadest definition is given by al-Kāsānī as “all who strive in the obedience of Allāh and in the path of virtues when they are in need.”[91] But for Ḥanafīs (including Mawlānā Zakariyyā Kāndhlewī), this disagreement does not amount to anything of substance, because as Ibn al-Humām said “the disagreement on this does not entail any difference in ruling since there is agreement that all categories besides the collector are given [Zakāt] on condition of legal poverty.”[92] Mawlānā Zakariyyā himself mentions that according to Ḥanafīs, legal poverty is a condition for paying Zakāt to those who fall under the category of fī sabīlillāh.[93]

In short, because the Ḥanafīs add the condition of legal poverty, the disagreement over who is included under “fī sabīlillāh” does not amount to anything substantive. The other madhhabs which do not put this condition limit the category of “fī sabīlillāh” to those engaging in military jihad or to those participating in ḥajj. As mentioned earlier, NZF does not take the Ḥanafī position that legal poverty is a condition for giving Zakāt to those who belong to this category. But, at the same time, it does not restrict the category to those mentioned in the other three madhhabs. Thus, they state it is acceptable to give Zakāt to a student who is legally rich, for example. It is clear that this combination (talfīq) results in a ruling that is at odds with the classical consensus.

However, the NZF document tries to find some support for their view (of giving Zakāt to students who are legally rich) from some Ḥanafī jurists. Thus, they write: “Therefore, it seems reasonable to consider certain scholarly activities in defence and propagation of faith to fall under the purview of Fi-Sabilillah…This interpretation is supported by some classical Hanafi jurists”[94]

In the footnote (footnote number 97), the document quotes some Ḥanafī sources, primarily Minḥat al-Khāliq and Radd al-Muḥtār, both by Ibn ‘Ᾱbidīn, a superficial reading of which may suggest that a student who is legally rich can receive Zakāt.

Ibn al-Humām and ‘Umar Ibn Nujaym mention there is consensus in the Ḥanafī madhhab that all recipients of Zakāt can only receive Zakāt on condition of poverty. In Minḥat al-Khāliq, Ibn ‘Ᾱbidīn says, commenting on this, that there are two late sources that suggest a student who is legally rich can receive Zakāt, and this violates the stated consensus. The two late sources are in fact quoting earlier, more authoritative, works: al-Wāqi‘āt of al-Ṣadr al-Shahīd and al-Mabsūṭ of al-Sarakhsī. The ascription to al-Wāqi‘āt is by an unknown person mentioned by al-Tumurtāshī (d. 1007 H). The ascription to al-Mabsūṭ is mentioned by the relatively unknown 9th century Turkish scholar, Qaraq Amīr al-Ḥumaydī, in his Jāmi‘ al-Fatāwā.[95] Hence, these two sources ascribe to al-Mabsūṭ and al-Wāqi‘āt the view that a student who is “rich” (ghanī) can receive Zakāt.[96] This however is a misattribution. Both these latter works are available, and neither of them mention any such thing.[97] In fact, while explaining a ḥadīth that suggests a fighter who is “rich” can receive Zakāt, al-Sarakhsī states in al-Mabsūṭ that “rich” here does not mean legally rich, but rich in the sense of being able and having the means to earn.[98]

As mentioned by al-Sarakhsī, sometimes “rich” is interpreted as having physical strength and the ability/means to earn a living while not necessarily owning surplus wealth above the niṣāb. Moreover, sometimes “rich” is interpreted as owning surplus wealth above niṣāb but not having access to this wealth, and thus being legally poor.[99] In Radd al-Muḥtār, Ibn ‘Ᾱbidīn makes it clear that if the statements found in these late works stating that “even if a student of sacred knowledge is rich” he can receive Zakāt is taken literally, then as al-Ṭaḥṭāwī said before him, “no one regards it to be reliable”; but he says, it is best to interpret “rich” in terms of having physical strength and the ability/means to earn a living – thus it does not preclude the individual being legally poor and eligible for receiving Zakāt.[100]

In sum, by adopting the view that a student who is legally rich can receive Zakāt under the category of “fī sabīlillāh”, NZF have opposed the consensus of the classical scholars.

Zakāt Adminstrators (‘Ᾱmilīna ‘Alayhā)

The early works of the Ḥanafī madhhab make it clear that the Zakāt administrators who are entitled to receive a share of the Zakāt as wages for their work are those that are “appointed by the imām (central ruler)”.[101] NZF argues that an organisation can construct a similar relation to that found between an imām and the poor, and thus can function as “‘āmilīn ‘alayhā”. They write: “If an organisation can construct a similar relationship in today’s context without an Imam, the service providers can potentially be ‘Amilina ‘Alayha. This is affirmed by the Fatwa of the contemporary senior South African scholar, Mufti Ridha al-Haqq…In another Fatwa regarding fundraisers for Islamic educational seminaries and Darul Ulooms, Mufti Ridha al-Haqq states that the fundraisers are in the ruling of ‘Amilina ‘Alayha. He quotes a number of senior sub-continent scholars who held the same opinion, such as Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanwi, Mufti Shafi Uthmani, Maulana Khalil Saharanpuri, Mufti Kifayatullah and Mufti Khalid Saifullah. He mentions that their view was of Madrasah fundraisers being ‘Amilina ‘Alayha.”[102]

The reference to the senior scholars of Deoband (Mawlānā Thānawī, Muftī Muḥammad Shafī‘ and Mawlānā Khalīl Aḥmad Sahāranpūrī) is based on a discussion found in Muftī Muḥammad Shafī‘’s Imdād al-Muftīn.[103] Muftī Muḥammad Shafī‘ explains that if a Zakāt-payer were to give his Zakāt to be distributed by an agent, his duty of Zakāt would not be discharged until the Zakāt falls into the hands of valid beneficiaries. However, for the government-appointed collectors, since they function as representatives of the poor by divine appointment, once the Zakāt is handed over to them, Zakāt has been discharged.[104] For those that are not ‘āmilīn (government-appointed Zakāt collectors), a similar rule will apply to agents (wakīls) of the poor. Hence, if someone collects Zakāt on behalf of a poor person by the poor person’s appointment, the Zakāt is discharged immediately upon handing it over to the agent.

Muftī Shafī‘ draws on the insight of Mawlānā Rashīd Aḥmad Gangohī who said that in subcontinent madrasas, there is a general understanding that the chancellors are responsible for the students and are their agents in collecting and receiving Zakāt on their behalf. Hence, even without explicit appointment from the poor students, the chancellor and madrasa will acquire the status of being their agents by tacit appointment.[105] (Muftī Shafī‘ also supports this view from the views of Mawlānā Khalīl Aḥmad Sahāranpūrī and Mawlānā Ashraf ‘Alī Thānawī.) Of course, this does not apply to an organisation like NZF where there is no automatic assumption that the poor have appointed them as their agents.

A Note on Ḥīlahs and the Wakālah Model

Recognising that their positions on the three categories discussed above (mu’allafah qulūbuhum, fī sabīlillāh and ‘āmilīna ‘alayhā) are problematic, NZF have devised a legal strategy (ḥilah) to make the Zakāt legally valid. The document states: “Although the application and understanding of categories 3, 4 and 7 are contested among the different schools of Fiqh, NZF has worked with Wakalah to ensure Zakat payments are valid, especially from the perspective of the Hanafi school. With the Wakalah model in place, NZF is continuously exploring and researching these two categories [see Appendix 3 for an explanation of the Wakalah model].”[106] The wakālah model works by acquiring a signed statement from eligible recipients that they give NZF powers to distribute Zakāt money allocated to them at NZF’s discretion. Hence, NZF will acquire autonomy, based on the appointment of the eligible recipient, to use the Zakāt funds as it chooses.

Ḥanafī jurists have suggested ḥīlahs in exceptional cases for the construction of a masjid, for the shrouding of a deceased etc. They have suggested that Zakāt money is given to the poor and then they are asked to spend it on that cause. Drawing on these legal stratagems mentioned by Ḥanafī jurists, the NZF document states: “The above are obviously not dire causes. A masjid is not necessary, Salah can be performed without a Masjid and even without a construction…A stratagem for ‘shrouding’ shows that the Wakalah model is not restricted to ‘dire causes’. In all of these, Sadaqah funds could have been used, however, the jurists do not mention any alternative nor offer an alternative. They allow the spending of Zakat through the Wakalah model to fulfil the need. Thus, the permission seems to be in a context of need. NZF adopts a similar model, unlike supporting causes beyond the eight categories as quoted in the above texts such as building bridges and shrouding, NZF apply the Wakalah model in applying meta-categories 3,4 and 7.”[107]

When spending on a masjid, shrouding the deceased etc., no one will assume these are direct avenues of Zakāt distribution, but they will be correctly viewed as exceptions from normal practice, and the ḥilah is adopted to facilitate this exceptional practice. The ḥīlah that NZF proposes is not for exceptional cases, but is being suggested as a default for certain kinds of recipients. Moreover, some of these recipients are not valid beneficiaries by consensus of the classical jurists, like a student who is legally rich or people who work in inter-faith projects. Thus, the ḥīlah here is being used to deny the right that is afforded to the poor and shifting it to others. Such a ḥīlah is of course unacceptable. According to a passage from al-Tatārkhāniyyah quoted in the fourth appendix of the NZF document: “Every hīlah which a man devises to nullify the right of another or to put doubt in it or to coat falsehood, it is reprehensible. According to al-‘Uyūn and Jāmi‘ al-Fatāwā it is not permissible.”[108] This is of course precisely what the ḥīlah devised by NZF amounts to; hence even with this ḥīlah in place, it would not be Islāmically acceptable to pay Zakāt to them.

Zakāt is an Act of Worship

In the first appendix of the document, an impression is given that Zakāt is as a default something “non-ritualistic” (ma‘qūl al-ma‘nā). Rulings that are non-ritualistic have identifiable legal causes that can be extended to other situations. Rulings that are ritualistic (ta‘abbudī), while there may be some general intelligible purpose to them, do not have defined legal causes that can be extended beyond them; in other words, they are practised ritualistically. The default in rulings related to acts of worship (‘ibādāt) is that they are ritualistic[109], although there are some laws that are non-ritualistic on which analogy can be made (e.g. the prostration of forgetfulness [sujūd al-sahw] is only found in scriptural sources for limited cases, but is extrapolated to other kinds of mistakes made in ṣalāh). As one of the most important acts of worship, Zakāt is fundamentally and by default a matter of ritual, although of course there are elements of it that are non-ritualistic.

Concluding Comments

From the detailed critique above, it is clear that NZF has presented a highly selective and distorted reading of the institution of Zakāt. In doing so, they have misrepresented traditional opinions and have adopted a highly problematic Fiqh methodology – all of which is of course detrimental for consumers of such a message. There are other points in the document that could have been critiqued, but as mentioned in the introduction, it was not the aim of this review to be exhaustive.

There are also clear examples of errors and sloppiness in research. For instance, Muṣṭafā al-Zarqā’s death is stated as 1357 H[110], while this was the year of death of his father; Muṣtafā al-Zarqā died in 1420 H (1999 CE). Similarly, al-Shurunbulālī’s death is stated in one place as 1231 H[111], while his actual year of death was 1069 H. In one place, the document quotes from al-Kirmānī that “Salat and Zakat have more importance and emphasis due to their year-round manifestation.”[112] The Arabic wording of this alleged statement was not mentioned in the references and nor was a clear citation given. Nonetheless, it is obvious that this is incorrect as fasting in Ramaḍān also has a “year-round manifestation”, and the timings of ṣalāh are not “year-round” but daily.[113]

The reason for pointing out these mistakes is to demonstrate that NZF’s unscrupulous approach to Fiqh seems to extend to the accuracy of their research. This is of course important to know for people who wish to decide whether to trust NZF scholarship. Even though the document mentions that it is the product of 12-months of intense research, given the above, Muslims would be better off relying on the tried-and-tested knowledge of the great and authoritative imāms and mujtahids of the past.

Many Muslims are naturally distressed at the poor state of Muslims throughout the world. Improving our state will only be achieved through true obedience to Allāh, submitting to His commands as they are, and putting them into practice to the best of our ability.[114] It is not by “reforming” or refashioning Islām’s laws in accordance with what we feel they should be that will result in Allāh’s assistance; rather, it is only by submitting to Allāh’s laws as they are that will bring His help. May Allāh make us recognise truth as truth and enable us to follow it, and make us recognise falsehood as falsehood and enable us to abstain from it.

A Summary of Important Points

Since the above critique is lengthy and some readers will not be able to read it in its entirety, we have noted down the main points of criticism in the following bullet points:

  • NZF adopts an agenda-driven pick-and-choose Fiqh methodology.
  • It takes a subjective “maṣāliḥ-based approach” to Fiqh, where assumed benefits (maṣāliḥ) of Zakāt are used to assess which opinions it will select. However, rulings are not premised on benefits but on legal causes (‘ilal).
  • The three main points NZF argues for (centralising Zakāt, localising it and broadening its purpose) are suspiciously conducive to its self-interests.
  • Although most Muslims in the UK belong to the Ḥanafī madhhab or come from a Ḥanafī background, NZF departs from the Ḥanafī madhhab in both its overall narrative on Zakāt and on specific issues.
  • It refers to how Zakāt was historically centralised but omits to mention that private wealth (amwāl bāṭinah), which includes cash, was not subject to centralisation.
  • The central authority acquires the right of exacting Zakāt wealth by virtue of the protection it grants or the authority it wields, while an organisation like NZF neither grants protection nor wields authority.
  • Scholars have historically differed over whether it is better for Zakāt-payers to distribute Zakāt on their own or to hand it over to the central authority – NZF does not mention this.
  • Ḥanafī jurists discuss how Muslims in Muslim lands overrun by disbelievers are to conduct some of their affairs. NZF misapplies this to non-Muslim lands.
  • NZF misquotes Imām al-Dasūqī as saying a reliable group of Muslims can function as a substitute to the Islamic ruler in his absence, whereas he was in fact saying that they can function as a substitute to a Qāḍī.
  • NZF refers to certain features of Zakāt payment that “demonstrates its fiscal nature”, but these features were only instituted after the initial obligation of Zakāt, demonstrating that they are not intrinsic to the basic purpose of Zakāt but are faciliatory.
  • It claims that there is a strong emphasis in the primary sources of Islām on localising Zakāt, while there is nothing explicit in the Qur’ān or Sunnah on localising Zakāt; on the other hand, there is an explicit ḥadīth mentioning Zakāt was sent from Yemen to Madīnah in the Prophet’s lifetime.
  • NZF refers to the views of the Shāfi‘ī, Mālikī and Ḥanbalī madhhabs on the obligation of localising Zakāt distribution but omits to mention that localisation for them meant to keep it within a radius of the safar distance, which is narrower than keeping it within the “nation”.
  • NZF quotes Imām al-Ṭabarī’s opinion that there are two broad purposes of Zakāt, helping the needy and strengthening Islām, but this is his personal view at odds with other jurists, particularly the Ḥanafīs.
  • NZF quotes the Ḥanafī jurist, al-Bābirtī, in a misleading way, giving the impression that he believed the category of mu’allafah qulūbuhum are still valid beneficiaries of Zakāt.
  • It quotes Ibn Qudāmah as saying that one of the groups within the category of mu’allafah qulūbuhum are “those who will strive to spread Islam in the wider society and work to protect the interests of Muslims”, but Ibn Qudāmah says nothing of the sort; he was talking about Muslims who will be encouraged to fight disbelievers in close proximity to them if given Zakāt money.
  • Its view that Zakāt funds can be given to projects that help improve the image of Islām (under the category of mu’allafah qulūbuhum) is opposed to the consensus of classical jurists.
  • It misquotes al-Ḥaṭṭāb as saying that beneficiaries under mu’allafah qulūbuhum are determined at the discretion of the authority dispensing Zakāt; whereas he was in fact saying that the amount of Zakāt they are given is at their discretion, not who they are.
  • It misquotes al-Jaṣṣāṣ as allowing Zakāt distribution to mu’allafah qulūbuhum when alternative strategies do not work, whereas his statement is clear that the mu’allafah qulūbuhum are no longer valid beneficiaries; he only states that if Muslims ever feel a need to revive them that is only due to their own negligence.
  • It argues Mawlānā ‘Abd al-Ḥayy al-Laknawī only believed the mu’allafah qulūbuhum were not valid beneficiaries because he “lived in a polity of Muslims where Islam was well-established”, whereas he lived in India under British rule at a time of crippling Muslim power.
  • Based on what it views as “the greater objective” of fighting in Allāh’s cause, NZF argues Zakāt can be given to youth engagement projects, scholars (even when they are legally rich) etc., which is opposed to the consensus of classical scholars.
  • It asserts that “in our current context” “the notion of military engagement is of course an irrelevance”, despite living in a world ravaged by war and conflict.
  • Two late Ḥanafī sources, one quoted by al-Tumurtāshī and the other Jāmi‘ al-Fatāwā, misquote two earlier references (al-Mabsūṭ and al-Wāqi‘āt) as allowing payment of Zakāt to a student who is “rich”. Ibn ‘Ᾱbidīn explains that if these late sources are taken literally, no one has relied on them, but he argues it is best to interpret “rich” in a way that does not discount them as being legally poor. The NZF document, however, suggests some Ḥanafī jurists have allowed Zakāt to be spent on rich students.
  • Drawing on ḥīlahs (legal stratagems) devised by Ḥanafī jurists for exceptional circumstances as justification, NZF outlines a ḥīlah that they have devised. Their ḥīlah however is not only for exceptional circumstances and is designed to nullify the right of others, which has been explicitly described as impermissible by the jurists.
  • The NZF documents suggests Zakāt is something fundamentally non-ritualistic, whereas, as an act of worship, it is fundamentally ritualistic.
  • There are several examples of sloppy errors, including mistaken dates given for the death of scholars.




[2] “Our Zakat Distribution Strategy”, p. 13

[3] See, in particular, the sections, “Departure from the Ḥanafī Madhhab” and “Broadening the Purposes of Zakāt”, below

[4] Fatāwā wa Masā’il Ibn al-Ṣalāḥ, Dār al-Ma‘rifah, p. 63

[5] Al-Sayf al-Maslūl, Dār al-Fatḥ, p. 389

[6] Al-Mi‘yār al-Mu‘rib, Wizārat al-Awqāf, 11:164

[7] Iḥyā’ ‘Ulūm al-Dīn, Dār al-Minhāj, 4:600-603; Tartīb al-Madārik, 1:62-3. Note: Situations of genuine need (ḍarūrah) are an exception to this rule.

[8] “Our Zakat Distribution Strategy”, p. 49

[9] Ibid.

[10] Uṣūl al-Iftā’ wa Ᾱdābuh, Maktabah Ma‘ārif al-Qur’ān, p. 71

[11] “Our Zakat Distribution Strategy”, p. 49

[12] Al-Muhannad ‘ala l-Mufannad, Dār al-Fatḥ, p. 58; for signatures and endorsements of Shaykh al-Hind and Mawlānā Thānawī, see: p. 100, 103

[13] “Ḍarūrah” in this context can be defined as something which causes life to become extremely difficult.

[14] al-Ḥīlah al-Nājizah, Dār al-Ishā‘at, p. 14-5

[15] Juhd al-Muqill, 2:82


[17] “Our Zakat Distribution Strategy”, p. 30

[18] al-Fatāwā al-Fiqhiyyah al-Kubrā, 3:24

[19] Jadīd Fiqhī Masā’il, 2:81

[20] Uṣūl al-Iftā’ wa Adābuh, p. 241-248

[21] For more on the subject of contextualising the rulings of the madhhab based on the presence or absence of the legal cause, see the following responses to Muahmmad Nizami:

[22] “Our Zakat Distribution Strategy”, p. 10

[23] Al-Madkhal al-Mufaṣṣal, Dār al-Fatḥ, p. 82; it should be noted that Dr Ṣalāḥ does not quote any primary source for this historical incident or for the explanation offered.

[24] As an example, one could just as easily make the overall objective of Zakāt the elimination of stinginess and greed and then shape all rulings of Zakāt around that.

[25] “Our Zakat Distribution Strategy”, p. 35

[26] “Our Zakat Distribution Strategy”, p. 41

[27] “Our Zakat Distribution Strategy”, p. 11-2

[28] “Our Zakat Distribution Strategy”, p. 13

[29] al-Aḥkām al-Sulṭāniyyah, Dār Ibn Qutaybah, p. 145

[30] al-Aḥkām al-Sulṭāniyyah, Dār al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, p. 115

[31] Al-Mughnī, Dār ‘Ᾱlam al-Kutub, 4:92; Awjaz al-Masālik, Dār al-Qalam, 6:304

[32] Al-Majmū‘ Sharḥ al-Muhadhdhab, Maktabat al-Irshād, 6:137

[33] Al-Muḥīṭ al-Burhānī, Idārat al-Qur’ān, 3:223

[34] Ibid. 3:224

[35] Al-Tajrīd, 3:1159; Tuḥfat al-Fuqahā’, Dār al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1:275

[36] Al-Muḥīṭ al-Burhānī, 3:253; Awjaz al-Masālik, 5:633

[37] Sharh Muhadhdhab, 6:137; Tuḥfat al-Muḥtāj, 3:334; Jawāhir al-Fiqh, 3:181

[38] Al-Mughnī, 4:92; Awjaz al-Masālik, 6:304

[39] Al-Baḥr al-Rā’iq, Dār al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 2:390

[40] “Our Zakat Distribution Strategy”, p. 13-4

[41] “Our Zakat Distribution Strategy”, p. 22

[42] Radd al-Muḥtār, Dār ‘Ᾱlam al-Kutub, 8:43

[43] Ibid. 3:14

[44] Radd al-Muḥtār, Dār ‘Ᾱlam al-Kutub, 8:44

[45] Ibid. 3:14

[46] “Our Zakat Distribution Strategy”, p. 22

[47] Ḥāshiyat al-Dasūqī ‘ala l-Sharḥ al-Kabīr, 2:518-9

[48] “Our Zakat Distribution Strategy”, p. 12

[49] Jawāhir al-Fiqh, 3:186

[50] See our earlier piece on the subject of Zakāt’s purpose:

[51] “Our Zakat Distribution Strategy”, p. 14


[53] “Our Zakat Distribution Strategy”, p. 16

[54] “Our Zakat Distribution Strategy”, p. 10

[55] “Our Zakat Distribution Strategy”, p. 18

[56] Tafsīr al-Ṭabarī, Dār Hajr, 11:523

[57] Bidāyat al-Mujtahid, Dār al-Salām, p. 649-50

[58] See:

[59] “Our Zakat Distribution Strategy”, p. 31

[60] “Our Zakat Distribution Strategy”, p. 10

[61] Jadīd Fiqhī Masā’il, Zamzam Publishers, 2:78

[62] Jadīd Fiqhī Masā’il, 2:81

[63] See:


[65] “Our Zakat Distribution Strategy”, p. 23

[66] Al-‘Ināyah, 2:14

[67] “Our Zakat Distribution Strategy”, p. 23

[68] “Our Zakat Distribution Strategy”, p. 39

[69] Al-Mughnī, 9:318

[70] Al-Majmū‘ Sharḥ al-Muhadhdhab, 6:180

[71] “Our Zakat Distribution Strategy”, p. 40-1

[72] Al-Majmū Sharḥ al-Muhadhdhab, 6:181

[73] Al-Inṣāf, 3:228

[74] “Our Zakat Distribution Strategy”, p. 40

[75] Al-Mawāhib al-Jalīl, Dār al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 3:229

[76] “Our Zakat Distribution Strategy”, p. 23

[77] See:

[78] Sharḥ Mukhtaṣar al-Ṭaḥāwī, Dār al-Bashā’ir al-Islāmiyyah, 2:373

[79] Al-Aṣl, Wizārat al-Awqāf, 2:142

[80] Aḥkām al-Qur’ān, Dār Iḥyā’ al-Turāth al-‘Arabī, 4:325

[81] “Our Zakat Distribution Strategy”, p. 25

[82] Awjaz al-Masālik, 6:77

[83] Tajrīd, 8:4216-7

[84] Ibid.

[85] “Our Zakat Distribution Strategy”, p. 24

[86] Al-Mughnī, 9:326-8

[87] “Our Zakat Distribution Strategy”, p. 28

[88] “Our Zakat Distribution Strategy”, p. 42

[89] “Our Zakat Distribution Strategy”, p. 29

[90] Radd al-Muḥtār, Dār ‘Ᾱlam al-Kutub, 3:289

[91] Ibid.; Badā’i‘ al-Ṣanā’i‘, Dār al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 2:471

[92] Fatḥ al-Qadīr, Dār al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 2:269; al-Nahr al-Fā’iq, Dār al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 2:461; Radd al-Muḥtār, Dār ‘Ᾱlam al-Kutub, 3:289

[93] Awjaz al-Masālik, 6:79

[94] “Our Zakat Distribution Strategy”, p. 29

[95] Jāmi‘ al-Fatāwā, p. 211-2

[96] Minḥat al-Khāliq on the margins of al-Baḥr al-Rā’iq, 2:260

[97] A manuscript of al-Wāqi‘āt is available at the following link:  (courtesy of Mufti Husain Kadodia)

[98] Al-Mabsūṭ, 3:10

[99] Al-Badā’i‘ al-Ṣanā’i‘, 2:473

[100] Radd al-Muḥtār, 3:286

[101] Al-Mabsūṭ, 3:9; al-Muḥīṭ al-Burhānī, 3:209

[102] “Our Zakat Distribution Strategy”, p. 22

[103] Imdād al-Muftīn, Dār al-Ishā‘at, p. 891-896

[104] Imdād al-Muftīn, Dār al-Ishā‘at, p. 891-2

[105] Ibid. p. 895; Tazkirat al-Rashīd, 1:165

[106] “Our Zakat Distribution Strategy”, p. 45

[107] Ibid.

[108] “Our Zakat Distribution Strategy”, p. 51

[109] Muwāfaqat, 2:513

[110] “Our Zakat Distribution Strategy”, p. 38

[111] “Our Zakat Distribution Strategy”, p. 45

[112] “Our Zakat Distribution Strategy”, p. 9

[113] Another example of sloppiness is the following: “The Hanafi jurists gave various stratagems to allow Zakat payments to serve individual and ensure communal needs. For example: 1. Imam al-Shurunbulali (d. 1231 AH) in respect to funding the construction costs of Masjids with Zakat. He states that a needy person should be given Zakat and then instructed to spend on the building costs of the Masjid. 2. In Muhit al-Burhani, the author states that the way to use Zakat funds for construction of a masjid, a bridge or paying the debt off a deceased person or shrouding, is to pay Zakat to a needy person, and thereafter instruct him to spend in the above causes.” (“Our Zakat Distribution Strategy”, p. 45) While these are presented as two separate stratagems, they are in fact one and the same. In the Arabic passage that is quoted from al-Shurunbulāli in the reference, it is made clear that he is quoting al-Baḥr al-Rā’iq which in turn is quoting al-Muḥīṭ Burhāni. Thus, the two separate citations given are of an original source and a later source quoting that very same source!

[114] Aḥsan al-Fatāwā, 6:47