Are These Deserving of Zakah?
Q. A friend of mine who lives with his parents, wife and children in a rented home is asked either to vacate this home or buy it. If he uses all his own and his parents’ savings as well as his wife’s jewelry, he will still need more for the purchase of his home. Can he be helped with zakah money, and by how much? It so happened that this friend has applied for his parents to travel to pilgrimage. If he is to buy his home, he will not be able to send them. How does this affect the situation? Sometimes, when zakah is given to some poor people, objections are raised saying that these people have some articles like a TV, a washing machine, etc. in their homes, and as such do not qualify to benefit by zakah. Is it also right to give zakah money to one’s own domestic servant?
A. It is perfectly permissible to help this person to buy his home. This will relieve the family from much pressure. Islam encourages the ownership of one’s own home because this is the proper way to meet one of the essential needs of life. Moreover, when the family has its own home, it will be in a better situation, and it can make some savings. Thus, the breadwinner of the family, your friend, will in time be a zakah payer. This is the very concept of zakah: To make people self-sufficient so that there situation becomes better, and such betterment leads eventually to them becoming zakah payers. Even paying the entire price to buy a home for a poor family can be made from zakah. There is no restriction on how we help the poor with zakah until they are no longer poor.
Paying for his parents’ pilgrimage is a very commendable act by this man. However, since he now needs to buy his home, this takes priority over his parents’ pilgrimage. To start with, the pilgrimage is not a binding duty on his parents as they cannot afford it themselves. A home for his family, where his parents will also live, is a more essential need. Hence, it takes priority. Therefore, he can withdraw the application, or if he cannot, when approval is given, his parents can always decline.
As to who is poor or needy, this is a social aspect which society defines. Generally speaking, those who do not have enough to lead a decent life are poor. We cannot establish a criterion on the basis of what people should have. Having a washing machine, for example, may be a necessity for a particular family, because the mother cannot do the washing manually as she has young children, or suffers poor health, or for any reason. It is also wrong to say that since a certain family has a television or computer set, then it cannot be helped with zakah. The point is whether they have enough for their living needs or not.
In most cases, domestic servants are among the poorest of people and they often support their families. Hence, they deserve to be helped with zakah. However, each case should be assessed on its own merits. If a domestic servant works for you, then she has a better claim to be helped by you.