Why do many people insist that when it comes to Zakat distribution, preference must be given first to the local area that it has been collected in, even though there is clearly much more need in many poverty-stricken countries overseas?
This is a common question that we get asked, given we distribute Zakat 100% locally here in Australia. If there are clearly people more in need overseas and it seems to be the “right” thing to pay Zakat overseas, why then the local emphasis?
Are we in fact fulfilling our pillar of Zakat by paying it overseas? Or should we pay it locally?
And why does it not feel “right” if we pay our Zakat locally?
There is significant evidence in this history of Islam, from the time of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW), the Sahaba and from the teachings of the four main schools of thought in Islam that the poor & needy of a locality have a greater claim over the local Zakat, than the poor & needy outside that locality.
Key points to note:
- When the Prophet Muhammed (saw) was sending Mu’adh to Yemen as a governor, he instructed him: “O Mu’adh, you are going to a community who are of the People of the Book, so first invite them to bear witness that none deserves worship save God, and that Muhammad is God’s Messenger. If they accept this, then inform them that God enjoins upon them five prayers in a day and a night. If they accept this, then inform them that God obligates charity [i.e. zakat] upon them; to be taken from their rich and given to their poor.” [Al-Bukhari, Sahih, no.1496.] Scholars are of the consensus that “their” rich and “their” poor in this hadith refer to those in the same locality.
- The Hanbali school stipulates: “It is preferred to disburse all of the zakat to the poor of his area. It is not permitted to transfer it to [a location] where prayer is to be shortened [if one travelled to it] – though if one does so it suffices – unless there are no poor persons in the land, in which case he is to distribute it in the land closest to him.” [Al-Hajjawi, Zad al-Mustaqni‘ (Riyadh: Madar al-Watn li’l-Nashr, 2004), 78.]
- The Shafi’i madhhab states: “If the [eight] categories are found in the place where zakat is collected, it is prohibited and invalid to transfer the zakat elsewhere – except if it is being distributed by the head of state, in which case he may transfer it to another place.” [Ibn Naqib, Reliance of the Traveller (trans. N.H. Keller, Maryland: Amana Publications, 1994), 272-3.]
- The Malikis hold that transferring zakat is impermissible, except if there is a pressing need to do so. [Cited in al-Bassam, Tawdih al-Ahkam min Bulugh al-Maram (Makkah: Maktabah al-Nahdah al-Hadithah, 1994), 3:27.]
- The Hanafi school states that, “It is disapproved to transfer the zakat of one land to another; unless he transfers it to his poor relatives, or to a people needier than his own.” [Al-Zayla’i, Nasab al-Rayah (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-’Ilmiyyah, 2002), 2:423.]
- From the wisdoms of Zakat is to bring the hearts of the “rich” and the “poor” in a society closer to each other. Through the institution of Zakat, it is a means to remove both pride from the rich, and envy from the poor. One must agree that this can only establish the foundations for a stronger a more cohesive local community.
No doubt, this does not simply mean that all Zakat should be distributed locally only, but rather that the local needy have a priority over those overseas. Muslims in Australia, and the West by extension, need to invest significant collective thinking power into this and work out the right approach to prioritising the collection & distribution of Zakat (and Sadaqh) by ensuring that the due right of the immediate local needy is being met, but at the same time we are extending our support to our brothers & sisters overseas to the best of our ability.
In the longer term, as seen in the case of Muadh (r.a.) in Yemen, the stronger the local community gets, the more excess Zakat there will be which will in turn allow us to assist those overseas more effectively.
If we ponder upon this, there is immense wisdom in prioritising the local needy first when it comes to Zakat distribution. We’d love to hear your thoughts!