Below is the continuation and part of three of previous article previous article, Eradication of Poverty from the Viewpoint of Shia Jurists – Part 5.
By: Mostafa Daneshgar
Recipients of Zakat
The holy Qur’an says Zakat should be paid to 8 groups among them the poor and the destitute (36) These two concepts deal with two stages before reaching what is defined as richness. The first stage can be adapted to abject poverty. The question is whether, while deciding on distributing Zakat, the jurists consider a priority for those who are poorer and unable to provide the bare essentials of life such as food, clothing and housing, in other words, those who live in absolute poverty. There is evidence that shows they consider no priority. The evidence can be categorized as:
A) The priorities for paying Zakat to the needy,
B) The lack of necessary conditions for receiving Zakat, and
C) The failure to consider the principles of insufficiency of Zakat for the poor.
A) Priorities for paying Zakat to the needy
There is consensus among the jurists over priorities for paying Zakat to the needy. However, they are not based on only the living conditions of those eligible to receive it. Many jurists maintain that a key priority is whether the individual who is eligible to receive Zakat has justice as a key personality trait.
Saheb Javaher says if an unjust person lives in harsh conditions to such a degree that he cannot even provide himself food, he’s entitled to receive Zakat. He says what has made this possible is the Quranic verse that says: “give away to the fasiq (impious) an amount”. This is because the word amount indicates the payment of small sums to the fasiq needy so they could provide clothing and food. He believes that the status of the fasiq person is not the same as that of the just person in terms of receiving Zakat. Having mentioned this, Saheb Javaher emphasizes that the safest thing to do by considering all those conditions is, however, not to pay Zakat not to the fasiq person. This is out of cautiousness, he says, because we are not absolutely certain about all the reasons, thus the payee of Zakat may not be freed from duty by paying to such a person. As a result, it’s better for Zakat to be paid to the just person rather than the fasiq one.(38) Hence, although Saheb Javaher in the beginning authorized the payment of Zakat to the fasiq person and his family to provide food, he says it is safest not to do so later in his script.
With regards to the precondition of justice, there is consensus among contemporary jurists that there should be no conditions on who is really eligible to receive Zakat. (39) Jurists believe that it is desirable to give priority to a certain group of individuals who are eligible to receive Zakat over others based on certain clear reasons. For instance, Saheb Hada’eq contends that Islamic scholars believe that prioritizing a certain group of people eligible to receive Zakat is desirable for certain reasons. Examples include the fact that there are some more eligible people or the fact that some people may be so humble that they won’t ask others for help.The individual entitled to receive Zakat could also be a family member or a relative. He then quotes Sheikh Mofid through Allameh Helli that the priority given to certain people in receiving Zakat is an obligation.
Sheikh Mofid believes that the needy should be given priorities based on their scholarly knowledge, their insight, their pureness and their faith. Therefore, the degree of neediness has no place among the priorities to be considered for receiving Zakat in the eyes of Sheikh Mofid. Nevertheless, the desirable priorities that Saheb Hada’eq says the religious authorities have clearly indicated in religious texts are the ones that define a needy person as somebody who fails to ask others for help even though he or she is in the harshest conditions because he is too humble to do so.Still, they do not clearly say that the degree of neediness is one of the priorities. In one of his scripts,
Allameh Helli has discussed this, saying it is desirable for the individuals who are needier to be given a priority over others. He also believes that giving priority to the people who are educated is also a virtue. Allameh Helli also regards the people who refuse to ask others for help as people who should be given priority. This is because those individuals live in poverty due to the same attitude.
(41) Grand scholar Sayyid Mohammad Kazem Yazdi says in his Orvat-ul-Vuthqa that the degree of poverty is considered to be among desirable priorities after justice and virtue. He emphasizes that in paying Zakat, the recipient’s being the most just and the most virtuous is more important. In case of a conflict between the two as in cases when one is more just and another more virtuous or one is more just and the other needier, there should be a careful examination of all the cases and the one should be picked as per the nature of the case. (42) On the same notion, Ayatollah Montazeri makes references to scholarly texts that testify to the abovementioned priorities. However, he says there is a conflict between references that attach a higher significance to values such as justice and virtue and the references that give priority to the degree of neediness and, as he says, are against the philosophy of Zakat.
(43) Therefore, with regard to priorities over spending Zakat, for the individuals who have lived in absolute poverty and are unable to provide their very basic needs like food, clothes and housing, are not necessarily given priority. Nonetheless, renowned jurists like Allameh Helli and Yazdi emphasize that the degree of neediness as a desirable factor is equal to other priorities like justice and others. Still, none of the scholars believe that the degree of neediness is a mandatory condition for giving priority to an individual.
B) The question of extending Zakat. (coming soon)