Of the matters that are frequently inquired about every year, during the holy month of Ramadan, is the question pertaining to the ruling of offering Zakat [obligatory charity] before its due time. Muslim communities have established a habit of expediting the payment of Zakat and opting to pay it during Ramadan due to the virtue specific to this month. However, in light of the current Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and with the virus in a state of proliferation, rapid transmission, forceful spread, affecting healthy people and reaping souls, the matter in question takes a different form:

Is it permissible to pay the Zakat [obligatory charity] to hospitals that provide the necessary health care for patients with Coronavirus?

The Zakat [obligatory charity] for Coronavirus patients, when paid to this entity, will undoubtedly be added to the funds subject to the purchase of equipment, machines, medicines and other hospital supplies that contribute to providing proper healthcare. It will also cover public trusts, which do not fulfil the condition of transferring the ownership of actual assets to their deserving recipients specified by the Sharia [Islamic doctrine].

A couple of Fatwa Institutes in the Islamic World have strived to determine the ruling of the case in question, and their views differed in adapting the ruling to reach an appropriate verdict that is in conformity with the purposes of Islamic legislation (Maqasid Sharia). In this article, we would touch on fatwas issued by some Fatwa Councils on the permissibility of this action. We would also examine some of the main principles on which these fatwas are based:

The stance of Dar Al-Ifta’ Al-Misriyyah

The Egyptian Dar Al-Ifta answered that the payment of Zakat [obligatory charity] to hospitals that are known to treat poor patients free of charge is permissible, especially those who are infected with Coronavirus disease. They based this fatwa on the fact that Zakat [obligatory charity] is a right given to the poor to secure their needs, and no doubt that the need for medical care is an urgent one; therefore, there is nothing wrong with paying the Zakat to them in order to alleviate this need.

They also based this fatwa on the saying of a group of jurists who allow the payment of Zakat [obligatory charity] to all charitable projects of public interest that do not only benefit specific individuals- such as government hospitals that poor and low or limited-income patients patronize. This position is justified by the interpretation of the verse below concerning the recipients of Zakat [obligatory charity], Allah, the Most High says: {…and in the cause of Allah…} [At-Tawba: 60].

 As the Egyptian Dar Al-Ifta stated: “It is possible to resort to this saying when needed, as in the case of supporting free public hospitals in a way that directly contributes to the treatment of patients. For example, providing medical devices, medicines, supplies, and beds, as for buildings and such—construction or maintenance—which contributes indirectly to patient treatment, we see that one should not expand (to include it in) the Zakat [obligatory charity] except in the case of necessity where there are no voluntary resources and ongoing charities that cover that.”

It is apparent through this fatwa that, despite the extension of the Egyptian Dar Al-Ifta’ the ruling of paying Zakat to hospitals on the ground that the category of recipient {the cause of Allah} is expandable, it believes in the importance of maintaining the original purpose of Zakat which is to give it to the poor and the needy in order to satisfy their needs. However, it allows Zakat to be directed to hospitals due to the necessity that calls for their support.

Dar Al-Ifta states: “having justified the permissibility of giving zakat to charitable hospitals that eventually channel the support to the treatment of needy patients, it is not regarded as a direct transfer of Zakat designated to the poor which is the initial goal and purpose of Zakat. Thus, the permissibility, in this case, is an exception that contradicts the norm but is permitted due to necessity.”

The stance of the European Council for Fatwa and Research

The Council, in light of the Coronavirus crisis, permitted the payment of Zakat [obligatory charity] or Zakatul Fitr [obligatory charity due at the end of Ramadan] to hospitals. It based this verdict on the principle of cooperation in the doing of good, which is religiously required of Muslims.

The Council says: “Supporting hospitals is a form of cooperation in honourable acts, and a form of benevolence all of which can be given in form of charity money which is considered an obligatory right of wealth, bearing in mind that there is no limit to what is considered minimum charity nor a maximum amount. So, one may give more than the obligatory amount in charity, on the condition that it does not affect the need of those under his care (i.e., his family etc.).

As for the Zakat [obligatory charity] of money, the premise is that it is paid to the eight recipients mentioned in the verse:

{Zakat expenditures are only for the poor and for the needy and for those employed for it, 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] traveller – an obligation [imposed] by Allah. And Allah is Knowing and Wise.} [At-Tawba: 60].

As for Zakatul Fitr [obligatory charity due at the end of Ramadan], the premise is that it is paid to the poor; due to the saying of Ibn Abbas (may Allah be pleased with them both):

‘The Messenger of Allah () enjoined Zakat-ul-fitr on the one who fasts (i.e., fasted during the month of Ramadan) to purify him from any indecent act or speech and for the purpose of providing food for the needy. It is accepted as Zakat for the person who pays it before the Eid prayer and it is Sadaqah (i.e. voluntary charity) for the person who pays it after the Eid prayer.’Related by Abu Dawud and Ibn Majah.

Moreover, paying it to non-Muslim poor people is permissible according to Ibn Sirin, Az-Zuhri, and the Hanafis.

On that basis, we believe in prioritizing due to the multiplicity of needs, in order to strike a balance and prevent lapses in meeting the needs of recipients. Thus, hospitals should be given from the overall (sadaqah) charity money, while the Zakat [obligatory charity] is reserved to be spent on the needs of the poor and needy; individuals and families, especially as the pandemic had multiplied the numbers of the poor and destitute. The council also recommends that a certain amount out of Zakat [obligatory charity] be channelled towards supporting the needs of Islamic Centres.”

This declaration, however, does not clearly state the permissibility of paying the Zakat [obligatory charity] to hospitals that care for patients with Coronavirus, even by way of exception, as in the case mentioned in the previous fatwa of the Egyptian Dar Al-Ifta.

Perhaps the saying of Dr Khaled Hanafi, the Assistant Secretary-General of the European Council for Fatwa and Research, in his statements to Al Jazeera, may aid in the interpretation of the official declaration of the European Council for Fatwa and Research. Hanafi said: “our preferred view is that it is permissible to give non-Muslims from the Zakat [obligatory charity], and if the hospital is exclusive to poor Muslims and non-Muslims, then it is permissible to pay Zakat [obligatory charity] to it.”

Satisfying the needs of the Recipients in Zakah

In the two previous models, one of the reasons for paying the Zakat [obligatory charity] to Coronavirus patients was that the existing need –caused by Coronavirus- poses a threat to the world, thus it is vital to provide assistance and support to reduce it, each of them strives based on its capability. However, it is evident in this statement that they all observe the condition of satisfying the needs of the eight recipients (i.e., giving in charity that which relieves the poor of their poverty or fulfils their basic needs). Some scholars believe that this side of legitimate poor should not be trivialised in the course of helping the needs of hospitals. Some other scholars however believe that the Zakat [obligatory charity] could be paid to hospitals that care for poor patients as they consider the need for clothing by the poor the same as the need for medicine by the sick.

If we look at some of the sayings of the jurists about the intended considerable satisfaction of the poor and needy, we would discover that that satisfaction includes health care, despite the jurist’s disagreement on the definition of satisfaction.

Some of them confine that satisfaction to taking the poor out of need absolutely. This is the view chosen by the Shafi’I School of Jurisprudence. Others opine that it is by giving the poor that which suffices him for a year, as the Zakat [obligatory charity] money is annually distributed. This is the view of the Maliki and Hanbali Schools of Jurisprudence.

From this discussion, it becomes apparent that satisfying the need of the poor and the needy from Zakat [obligatory charity] money is a desired goal, and this should not be neglected by the official charity institutions that supervise the collection and disbursement of zakat. In other words, these institutions should be cognizant of this goal.

On that note, the satisfaction entails all aspects of the poor person’s needs, be it housing, livelihood, profession (if he is an artisan or craftsperson), even marriage, and these are things that cannot be restricted to transfer of actual wealth, as the needs mentioned fall under personal benefits.

Because of this, the policy of Omar Bin Al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him), according to his statement is, “If you give, then enrich”. [Musannaf Abdulrazaq: 4/449]

 Al-Qaradawi mentioned in Fiqh Al-Zakat: “Omar (may Allah be pleased with him) would work on enriching the poor from zakat fund, rather than merely satisfying their hunger with a few morsels, or pacifying them with a few Dirhams.”

Al-Nawawi said: (the most acceptable opinion among our sayings, is that satisfying (i.e. the poor person) includes food, clothing, dwelling, and all that is necessary for him, in a way that benefits him, without excessiveness nor stinginess in a way that would suffice the receiver and whoever is under his care.  [Al-Majmoo’ Sharh’ Al-Muhadhab (191/6)]

In fact, some jurists even permit facilitating the wedding of a poor person if he is in need of marriage. (1) It is mentioned in the Haashiyah of Al-Dasuqi: (It is permissible to pay the poor, at one time, from the Zakat in cash, or cattle, or crops, or spending money and clothing that which suffices him for a year, and if there is excess, then he is provided with a slave and a dowry for a wife.)[2]

Based on the premise of satisfaction, it is apparent that one may pay Zakat to hospitals dedicated to caring for Coronavirus patients, especially if they offer their services free of charge, and it is certain that such payment does not conflict with the (amount) considered sufficient for the poor person in his designated share. This is because the treatment of the poor is included in what is sufficient.

Al-Khattabi mentions:

(The height of generosity in Sadaqa [voluntary charity] is sufficiency, which leads to sustenance and filling the gaps in income, and this is estimated for each person according to his circumstances and lifestyle with no specified limit to it that is applicable to all people and their diverse circumstances.)[3]

Public Interest

Through the aforementioned Fatwas, particularly that of Dar Al-Ifta Al-Missriyah, it becomes clear that channelling Zakat to hospitals is implied by the category of recipient {and for the cause of Allah}, as some jurists believe that {the cause of Allah} encompasses all benevolent aspects of public interest that are not made to benefit a specific individual.

Ibn Al-Atheer indicated that the original meaning of the phrase {the cause of Allah} in Islamic doctrine generally encompasses all aspects of benevolence and good, and then it was narrowed down to mean fighting for the cause of Allah, or conquest. He said: “(the phrase) {the cause of Allah} is general and (what) falls (under it) is every righteous action done with sincerely for the sake of Allah, and that which leads to getting closer to Him by way of performing obligatory acts of worship, voluntary acts of worship, as well as various good deeds. When it is used generally, it typically means fighting for the sake of Allah until this usage became widespread that it has become as though it is restricted to this meaning.”

What Ibn Al-Atheer mentioned alludes to a longstanding difference among the jurists regarding the meaning intended by the category: {in the cause of Allah} andwhat it covers as well as what it excludes.  It also explains whether the meaning of {the cause of Allah} islimited to fighting in the cause of Allah as it is commonly assumed when used generally, or it goes beyond that and encompasses its original linguistic meaning so that every act of good, benevolence and kindness fall under it?

We have noticed that Al-Kasani, from the Hanafi School, allows channelling Zakat [obligatory charity] to all aspects of benevolence, righteousness and good causes, on the condition that ownership (of the Zakat) is transferred to a specific individual, and that it is not given to a public domain. This condition of exclusive ownership makes his view in line with the view of majority of the jurists.

Some other jurists chose to expand the circle of {the cause of Allah} to include public interests of Muslims, adhering to the original meaning of the phrase in usage. It is mentioned in Al-Tahreer wat-Tanweer:

“At-Tabari Said: Charity is for the purpose of filling the gaps of Muslims, or that of Islam, and this is understood from the Quranic accounts of the categories (deserving Zakat charity) and their numbers. I say ‘this is (the view) chosen by the sharp-sighted intellectuals among scholars, such as Ibn Al-Arabi, and Fakhr Al-Din Al-Razi.”[5]

Among those who hold this view; Al-Sayyed Siddiq Hassan Khan, Al-Qasmi of among the scholars of Al-Sham, Al-Sayyed Rashid Rida, Shaykh Shaltoot, Shaykh Hasanain Makhloof- the former Mufti of Egypt, and others.[6]

In conclusion, channelling Zakat [obligatory charity] to hospitals that provide necessary health care for patients with Coronavirus is not a novel case, as there are fatwas and sayings of jurists that reinforce its permissibility.