Can Zakat Be Given to Students?

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The Basic Answer

No, God did not designate students as one of the eight exclusive classes of Zakat eligible people.

Indeed, prescribed charitable offerings are only to be given to the poor and the indigent, and to those who work on administering it, and to those whose hearts are to be reconciled, and to free those in bondage, and to the debt-ridden, and for the cause of Allah, and to the wayfarer. This is an obligation from Allah. And Allah is all-knowing, all-wise.” (Surat Al-Tawbah, 9:60)

The Prophet Muhammad, on him be peace, explained Zakat’s restriction by God in this way:

Allah does not leave the distribution of the sadaqah [meaning here Zakat] to a prophet, nor anyone else. He Himself prescribes the distribution to eight categories [of people]. If you are of one of the categories, I shall give you as you deserve.” (Abu Dawud)

These two Texts of Revelation cause a strong majority of Muslim scholars to exclude all other people and all other kinds of needs from Zakat eligibility.

So, students, Muslims striving for social or political change, or to acquire urgently needed knowledge, skills, or training – no matter how vital their pursuit or godly their intention – do not qualify to receive Zakat on such bases. (See Can Zakat Be Given for Education?)

In addition, schools, mosques, public works, and other good works of benefit to people do not qualify to receive Zakat, whose recipients are people not causes (See Can Zakat Be Paid for a Mosque?)

Does this mean a student can never receive or use Zakat?

No. If a student falls into one of the eight eligible Zakat categories – say he is destitute or she is a Zakat worker – such a person can use received Zakat funds for educational purposes, as Zakat monies are restricted only in terms of lawful acquisition and usage.

If one has received Zakat to pay off debt or for liberation from bondage, Zakat must first be used for these designated purposes. If Zakat sums remain with a person after these primary uses, they may be used as the lawful recipients see fit, within the limits of what Islam permits. Keep in mind that Zakat is meant – not just to help a recipient partially through a difficulty – but to enrich its recipients beyond the Zakat-eligible needs they have.

Can’t a student’s educational striving come under the Zakat category of “in the path of God” (fi sabili’Llah)?

A minority of Muslim legal scholars hold that this seventh divinely designated Zakat category can qualify certain institutions and activities as legitimately Zakatable, under strict conditions.

The Zakat-eligible categories, however, are all made up of people. This seventh category of “in the path of God” (fi sabili’Llah) is, as agreed upon by all scholars, no different in its primary sense, as understood at the time of the Prophet, on him be peace. It means people engaged in legitimate physical struggle for the communal preservation and establishment of God’s religion in this life.

Note that this is not only the universally agreed upon primary meaning of this Quranic phrase – “in the path of God” (fi sabili’Llah) – by scholars, but the only meaning of it that the scholars do not dispute. There are scholarly objections raised against all other proposed interpretations of it.

In what exceptional cases might a student be Zakat-eligible?

Some scholars say that “in the path of God (fi sabili’Llah) centers on ‘physical struggle’ toward a clearly intended end: to elevate the Word of God

This, they say, is the underlying rationale of Zakat’s seventh category. On this basis, they argue that institutions, functions, and forums that facilitate striving to establish, defend, and support Islam as a religion and as a community qualify as “in the path of God (fi sabili’Llah). So, the people that populate these concerns and activities can use Zakat to finance them.

This leverages the Zakat application of “in the path of God (fi sabili’Llah) for many different activities — cultural, educational, and informational. There are prominent modern scholars who say that this has become this category’s primary use in modern times where Muslims face spiritual and even physical annihilation.

In this understanding, Islamic schools (and Islamic centers, including mosques, and also, hospitals, and specified kinds of informational organizations or means) may qualify as Zakatable, if they meet a stringent test of “imparting correct and pure Islamic information to men and women throughout the world … even in Muslim countries, in accordance with which they provide Islamic education and training” to all people, and by which they “protect the faith of [Muslims] from [otherwise inevitable] deviation, agnosticism, and behavioral corruption,” as the late Shaykh Yusuf Al-Qardawi has written in his magisterial work Fiqh az-Zakat, The Law of Zakat.

Other jurists have issued more narrow opinions that depend on the local need of a threatened Muslim community, especially when it comes to mosques and the religious preservation of the worship and learning of a community (to which schools and students may be attached).

In such cases, students may end up being the beneficiaries of such Zakat indirectly.

How can we support our students, then, if not through Zakat?

The best and safest way to support our students, educational, cultural, and social institutions that need help is through sadaqah, voluntary charity. 

The fact that these needs are vital and urgent for Islam and the Muslim community and not explicitly designated by Allah as obligatory for us as Zakat, but rather depend upon on our voluntary sadaqah, does not mean we are not obligated to support them.

This is known as the paradox of sadaqah. The Quran and the Prophet, on him be peace, clearly require us to confirm the sincerity of our belief through a near constant and generous giving of “voluntary” sadaqah in whatever of its nearly unlimited forms we can offer it.

Sadaqah is the best and most rewardable way to support our students, and especially our students of Islam.

Allah knows best. He owns us and all the wealth He has given us. He has commanded us to pay in yearly alms only a small portion out of our wealth surplus to the eight kinds of “people” (not activities) that He has designated as that wealth’s rightful owners.

Only in extraordinary cases can a qualified Muslim scholar rule on specific cases of seventh-category Zakat eligibility outside the norm of what has always been understood as “in the path of God (fi sabili’Llah).

But you can give sadaqah to people, including students, for a thousand-and-one good causes as much, as often, and as freely as the two wings of your lawful capacities and your righteous intentions will carry you.