Question: Can Zakat donations be applied to Mosques or Islamic Centers? What about other organizations?

In the name of God, The Beneficent and Merciful to whom all praise is due. We ask He send his peace and blessings upon His messenger Muhammad.

      •  The bulk of this fatwa is derived from Shaikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi’s book Fiqh Al-Zakat Vol.2 pgs. 635-669

Zakat is a specific type of charity (Sadaqah). Zakat means to increase, grow or purify. It is a pillar of Islamic practice meant to protect and uplift society from the pitfalls of social hardships. The scholars agree that there is one verse of the Quran which delineates all categories of recipients for Zakat distribution.

“Zakat is for the poor and needy, those who work to collect them, bringing the hearts together, the ransoming of slaves, the debtors, in God’s way, and the travelers. This God ordains and God is All-knowing, All-wise.” (9:60)

If you are not a scholar you would easily infer that there is nothing literally mentioned here on Mosques or any other organizations. That being said it, it could be inferred from literal meaning here that if the mosque or Islamic organization in question was in serious debt and immediate charitable donations other than Zakat cannot pay it off, then it could fall under the clear category of debtors and Zakat eligible until the debt is paid off. Some jurists argue that the category of debtors is strictly limited to people drowning in or completely overcome by debt or in a state of bankruptcy as is mentioned in classical commentaries.

Let’s analyze what the category “in God’s way” meant to the early Muslims.

Linguistically the phrase في سبيل الله means in the path/way of God. In English we often use the apostrophe s to indicate possession and thus translated as “in God’s way”. The meaning here theologically is related to someone working for the practice or promotion of Islam.

Classic Quranic commentaries relying on the companions and their followers as well as the four juristic schools of thought historically understood the meaning of “in God’s way” to be “Military spending that would support the religion of God, its path and legislation for God’s servants to follow against those enemies who seek to prevent the existence or practice of Islam or the oppression of Muslims.” This was interpreted either for the soldiers themselves as well as the broader needs of military spending.

The reason for this was that, during the prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) and for centuries thereafter, Muslims were always under the threat of more powerful religious groups such as the Polytheists of Makkah and their allies, the Jews surrounding Madinah, the Christian Byzantines, and the zoroastrians of Persia who wanted dominance for their own and resented the new prophet and his growing followers. This resentment entailed a disdain for Islam and regular incursions against Muslims. So once Muslims founded their own city in Madinah, God called for them to establish a military to protect themselves in order to guarantee their freedom and safety to practice and promote Islam in the world.

Some classical commentators such as Imam Al-Razi and others up until this day differed about the extent of the application of this category as a result of the difference between the general meaning vs. the commonly understood meaning that was very much related to the circumstances faced by the early Muslims. For example many early Hanafi and Hanbali jurists allowed Zakat to be distributed for “in God’s way” for Hajj expenses for the poor. Other Hanafi jurists such as Imam Al-Kasani said “in God’s way” can be used for the students of sacred knowledge or anyone else working in a specialized capacity for promoting goodness. He did put a condition of poverty on these analogies, but that conflicts with the authentic hadith in which the prophet (PBUH) said,
“Charity should not be distributed to the wealthy except in 5 cases… Among them is the soldier in God’s path” (Ibn Majah 1503)

They mention the apparent contradiction justifying the restriction to only poor people in God’s way by saying that the prophet (PBUH) was simply saying that someone may be wealthy while at home in the city where they live, but when they travel on the path of God they require more support and are out of their normal wealthy home environment and thus somehow fit the description of poverty! The problem is that if you make each category about the poor then why make 8 separate categories? This is the wisdom of why the prophet said that some of these categories can be distributed to wealthy (meaning not poor). That being said, some of the controversy over the issue is that many early jurists postulated that Zakat is only for people and not for building mosques or other organizations. In their context, perhaps that makes sense considering how a mosque was built in their time and the unfortunate limitation of the role or place of the mosque in the Muslim community.

Let’s not forget that among the other 3 juristic schools, “in God’s way” as applied to the military was seen as an exception to the rule of only being distributed to actual needy people. They held that Zakat could be used for making weapons, armor, buying camels and horses, building fortresses and city walls, boats and many other institutional resources for military spending.

More recently in the early 1900’s the great Azhari Shaikh Ibrahim Qattan of Jordan agreed with this analogy of spending “in God’s way” on all work that specifically benefits the Muslims. He did not put the condition of poverty in his commentary. Shaikh Jamal al-Deen al-Qasmy, Shaikh Muhammad Rasheed Rida and his eminence Sh. Muhammad Shaltoot also agreed with this application of the generality of the Quranic injunction of “in God’s way” with the condition of it being for the sake of endowment related to non-profit work in which no person owns or gains profit from it.

Grand Mufti of Egypt Shaikh Husain Makhloof issued a fatwa in 1948 stating that non-profit organizations that promote social well-being are Zakat eligible. In 1958, the grand Imam of al-Azhar Shaikh Al-Shaltoot made the specific fatwa permitting the usage of Zakat under this category for building a mosque with the condition that it is the only mosque in that area or if the other local mosque is packed an cannot accommodate the Muslims. After researching the fatwas of our tradition, I think it’s important to add a couple of points to this discussion before giving my personal conviction. The phrase سبيل الله God’s path/way appears 65 times in the Quran. Sometimes it comes following the prepositions in or against. Mostly “in God’s way” is for promoting the goodness of Islam whereas “against God’s way” is about the enemies of Islam trying to prevent Muslims from practicing Islam.

If God wanted us all to understand that this category should only be used to support a standing military for a Muslim nation, then he would have said “the military” or “soldiers”. But he didn’t and so he means something else, something broader. That being said, it would be a stretch for to interpret that God intends for this to mean ALL work that promotes goodness because that is what the concept of charity is for while Zakat is for 8 specific categories.

I agree with the esteemed scholar and mujtahid Shaikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi on this issue. The meaning of “In God’s way” is about supporting specific institutionalized Jihad. Jihad is a noble concept of protecting oneself, family and community from evil forces. As we know from scripture, Jihad is mostly a personal struggle against evil intentions and committing sin which obviously is not helped through monetary support. But Jihad can also be by the tongue or the pen so in this case Zakat could be used to support non-profit institutions focused on defending Islam and Muslims from vilification and persecution or to promote the truth of Islam to the world. I don’t believe building or supporting a mosque in the Muslim world fits under this category of Zakat. I say this because unfortunately, for the most part, mosques in the Muslim world are not playing some considerable role of protecting and uplifting Islam in society. On the other hand, establishing mosques in the west is very much so engaged in Jihad. It is the center of Muslim identity in a non-Muslim land. The mosque is where focused religious learning and spiritual development occurs. It is the place where the diversity of Muslims can come together to build spiritual bonds and be exposed to many opportunities to promote Islamic values as well as defend Islam from Islamophobia. It is the central focus of the Islamic presence in a western society.

I would make a condition on the usage of this category that it becomes invalid if there is no money available for the other categories specifically that of the poor and needy. Therefore if a mosque maintains a sufficient amount of Zakat for the other categories then it may use excess Zakat money for other mosque needs such as paying off debt, materials for education, salaries of Imams and teachers, programs and events that are aimed at promoting or defending Islam, etc… It would not be used for janitorial needs, secretarial or administrative costs, or other non-Jihad related needs.

If someone disagrees with this well-established position among prominent scholars they are free to follow what they feel is best. It is a principle of Islamic jurisprudence that there can be no rebuking in matters of legitimate disagreement. It is unbecoming and perhaps sinful to publically shame people for following an established legal ruling among the prominent scholars of Islam.

Here are some other similar fatwas on this subject –
And God knows best…

Imam John Ederer
Muslim Community Center of Charlotte