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Ruling on giving Zakat Ul-maal to Islamic academic institutions?

PUBLICATION BY: DR. BASYOUNY NEHELA

With regards to Islamic academic institutions in the US, established for teaching Islamic knowledge and training Muslims to deliver the message of Islam, it is permissible and highly recommended to give part of the Zakah to such institutions of learning. In fact, Muslims are minorities that face certain challenges in maintaining their Islamic identity while meaningfully contributing to their society at large. When you donate, you empower such institutions to be a beacon of academic learning and social balance for them.

This opinion is built on the following reasons:

Seeking knowledge, especially Islamic knowledge, and all organizations that pave the way towards acquiring such knowledge, are considered to be under the category of  “for the sake of Allah”; one of eight categories for which Allah has allowed Zakah to be spent. Allah Almighty says, in the meaning of: ‘Zakah expenditures are only for the poor and for the needy and for those employed to collect [zakah] and for bringing hearts together [for Islam] and for freeing captives [or slaves] and for those in debt and for the cause of Allah and for the [stranded] traveler – an obligation [imposed] by Allah. And Allah is Knowing and Wise’ (At-Tawbah 9:60).

Muslims living as minorities in non-Muslim states are granted some Fiqh ruling exceptions because no governmental body is tending to their Islamic religious affairs or is addressing their specific needs as a community. The determination of such Fiqh ruling exceptions would be entrusted to those knowledgeable Islamic scholars who are best suited in determining authentic Fiqh opinions most befitting the community’s circumstances. Those scholars would also need to be mindful in their determination and ruling to empowering those communities in representing their religion in the most effective way. However, and insofar as the Fiqh rulings for Zakah are concerned, we find that some Muslim scholars have restricted this seventh category of spending Zakah known as “for the sake of Allah” to be only for those who struggle in Allah’s cause on the battlefield. But scholars such as Al-`Izz Ibn `Abdus-Salam, Rashid Reda and others, have stated a broader and a more comprehensive opinion, encompassing all means capable of enhancing the Muslims’ strength and of helping them attain better conditions in all fields; Fiqh opinions which would be inclusive of Islamic institutions such as those found in America.

The term “For the Sake of Allah” as it relates to the topic of charity in the Quran  is usually a general term  (A’mm) carrying a single meaning but applies to many things. For example, the verses in Surah Al-Baqara in which Allah says, in the meaning of: “The example of those who spend their wealth in the sake of Allah is like a seed [of grain] which grows seven spikes; in each spike is a hundred grains. And Allah multiplies [His reward] for whom He wills. And Allah is all-Encompassing and Knowing. Those who spend their wealth in the sake of Allah and then do not follow up what they have spent with reminders [of it] or [other] injury will have their reward with their Lord, and there will be no fear concerning them, nor will they grieve”. No one can say that “For the sake of Allah” in those two verses is restricted to specific spending ways or to specific recipients of Zakah. Hence, the term “for the sake of Allah” here includes the eight categories mentioned earlier in Surah At-Tawbah, and this is one of the understandings and objectives of “A’mm” (general) in the Quran when mentioned alone in a Quranic verse. However, when the “A’mm” and the “Khaass” (specific or particular) are present together in one single verse, such as the verse in Surah At-Tawbah mentioned earlier, then the role of “A’mm” would be to emphasize the understanding of “Khaass” and opens the door for more ways of Zakah distribution that transcend generational times and circumstances.

Thus

I firmly believe that the Zakah category of “For the sake of Allah” is inclusive of everything that serves the religion of Allah, and of everything that is in need of financial support; whether it is for poor families in need of financial support, or for organizations or causes endeavoring to preserving the Zakah giver their Muslim identity.

Based on the above, it is therefore my strong opinion that it is acceptable to give portions of Zakah monies to charitable organizations, especially organizations serving Muslim minorities living in a non-Muslim country, without contradicting the inherent divine priority granted to the needy and the poor in the aforementioned Quranic verses.

This understanding, not only makes it permissible to give Zakah to non-profit organizations, such as those helping to establish and finance Islamic centers, schools and other religious institutions, but also makes it permissible to give Zakah to cover any of the operating expenses of those same charitable organizations.