Since one of our major expenses is the construction of new homes, we also asked our scholars if Zakat can be used to build an orphanage.
The following fatwa addresses this question and was a collaboration between three scholars. It was written by Shaykh Alauddin Elbakri, edited by Imām Zaid Shakir, and reviewed by Mufti Abdullah Nana.
There may be differences of opinion depending on the school of thought. You are welcome to consult other scholars and let us know if the zakat restrictions are not aligned with our stance.
Every Muslim community has needy individuals. Zakat is one of the sources established to meet many of those needs. Not everyone, nor every project, however, is eligible to receive Zakat. The Qur’an delineates who the eligible recipients of Zakat are:
إِنَّمَا ٱلصَّدَقَـٰتُ لِلْفُقَرَآءِ وَٱلْمَسَـٰكِينِ وَٱلْعَـٰمِلِينَ عَلَيْهَا وَٱلْمُؤَلَّفَةِ قُلُوبُهُمْ وَفِى ٱلرِّقَابِ وَٱلْغَـٰرِمِينَ وَفِى سَبِيلِ ٱللَّهِ وَٱبْنِ ٱلسَّبِيلِ ۖ فَرِيضَةًۭ مِّنَ ٱللَّهِ ۗ وَٱللَّهُ عَلِيمٌ حَكِيمٌۭ
“Alms are meant only for the poor, the needy, those who administer them, those whose hearts need winning over, to free slaves and help those in debt, for God’s cause, and for travelers in need. This is ordained by God; God is all-knowing and wise (Qur’an 9:60).”
In terms of using Zakat to build an orphanage, according to the Quran, the prophetic tradition (Sunna), as well as the general consensus of the four Sunni Schools of Jurisprudence, the answer is no. This is based on the following reasoning.
Being an orphan does not automatically render a child eligible to receive zakat. For example, an orphan may inherit so much wealth that he or she would be responsible for paying Zakat. Their guardians would be charged with the fulfillment of this obligation.
As for using Zakat to build an orphanage, this cannot be done because the physical building will become the property of the organization that built the orphanage. Organizations are not Zakat eligible as they are not human recipients. The essence of Zakat, as expressed in Islamic law, is the transferal of wealth from healthy individuals to poor ones. As orphans do not end up owning the building housing the orphanage the intended transferal of wealth never occurs.
However, orphans who qualify for Zakat can receive it directly from individuals or through trusted organizations that collect zakat and distribute it in the form of cash, food, or clothing, depending on the orphan’s preference.
A related question is the following: Can Zakat be paid for the education of orphans? The short answer to this question is also no.
Although Zakat cannot be used to build orphanages or pay for the education of orphans, with the above-mentioned exception, Sadaqa, or unrestricted charity, can be used for this purpose. Sadaqa can be donated for education, building orphanages, and countless other good causes. Believers are encouraged to give Sadaqa by the immense reward promised to those who spend generously. Those rewards include: increased sustenance, extinguishing sins, warding off major calamities, and healing of the sick.
In conclusion, Muslims should not try to fit all charitable gifts and spending under the category of Zakat. Rather, great care should be exercised in ensuring that Zakat is directed towards its rightful recipients. The believer should further know that whatever he or she spends will be richly rewarded as we read in Qur’an:
قُلْ إِنَّ رَبِّي يَبْسُطُ الرِّزْقَ لِمَن يَشَاءُ مِنْ عِبَادِهِ وَيَقْدِرُ لَهُ ۚ وَمَا أَنفَقْتُم مِّن شَيْءٍ فَهُوَ يُخْلِفُهُ ۖ وَهُوَ خَيْرُ الرَّازِقِينَ
Say, “Indeed, my Lord extends provision for whom He wills of His servants and restricts [it] for him. But whatever thing you spend [in His cause] – He will compensate it; and He is the best of providers (Qur’an, 34:39).”