The Short Answer
Yes, according to the great majority of scholars.
This position includes the premier Companions known for issuing legal (fiqhi) rulings. Scholars isolate orphan children as the prime example of this position when it comes to children. Notably, there is no authentic report from the Companions contradicting that Zakat is due on the assets of orphans.
But there are juristic differences.
What do scholars who reject the majority position say?
A minority of scholars hold that Zakat does not apply, or is restricted, when it comes to the wealth of children and the mentally incapable. They have four general positions:
- The wealth of orphans is exempt from Zakat.
- The wealth of orphans is exempt from Zakat, except for livestock and farm produce.
- The wealth of orphans that grows is Zakatable but not uninvested wealth, until they reach puberty and the management of their wealth is turned over to them.
- The Hanifis believe that Zakat is only due on the farm produce (not livestock) of orphans.
How do these minority scholars support their positions?
They say Zakat is worship. Worship requires intention. Children and the mentally unable lack the capacity to form intention. So, just as God exempts them from the five daily prayers, Ramadan’s fast, and Hajj, He excuses them from Islam’s Third Pillar, Zakat.
They cite the authentic statement of the Prophet, on him be peace: “The Pen has been lifted on three: the sleeper until he wakens, the child until he comes of age, the insane until he is rational” (Abu Dawud, An-Nasa’i).
The Pen (Al-Qalam) refers to the divine recording of sin. It implies that God does not burden people in these three states with moral obligation. God says of Zakat in the Quran: “Take from their wealth a ‘charitable offering’ to cleanse them and purify them thereby” (Surat Al-Tawbah, 9:103). [‘Charitable offering’ translates the Arabic ‘sadaqah,’ synonymous with Zakat in the Quran and the statements of the Prophet, on him be peace.] These scholars argue that those unburdened with moral obligation — children and the insane — have no sins to be cleared of. Hence, the Zakat duty does not apply to their wealth.
These arguments support scholars who say there is no Zakat obligation whatever on the child or mentally incapable. They do not support those who oblige Zakat on some types of child wealth or that of the mentally incompetent.
The goal of the others, like the Hanafis, may be to protect the wealth of the vulnerable from diminishment by Zakat so they do not become poor in their state of helplessness. So, they allow for Zakat only out of various growth assets, about which they differ.
Why does the majority say Zakat is obligatory on children and the mentally unable?
This is the opinion of the Companions ‘Umar, ‘Ali, ‘Aisha, Abdullah ibn ‘Umar, and Jabir, as well as many of Islam’s second and third generation scholars (called the Successors and the Successor to the Successors). They made no exceptions in their rulings.
They base their opinion on three facts:
- The revealed Texts of the Quran and the Prophet, on him be peace, that oblige Zakat on wealth are general:
- “Take from their wealth a ‘charitable offering’ to cleanse them and purify them thereby.” (Surat Al-Tawbah, 9:103)
- The Prophet, on him be peace said: “Teach them that God has made personally obligatory on them a charitable offering in their property, taken from their rich and returned to their poor.” (Bukhari, 1395)
- Statements of the Prophet, on him be peace — like, “Invest the wealth of orphans so Zakat does not deplete it” (Al-Shafi‘i) — presuppose Zakat on the eligible wealth of orphans (and the mentally incapable), making their guardians responsible to act in their interest and on their behalf.
- These reports are well supported by other Texts and direct, authenticated statements of the Companions. Imam Malik reports this statement from ‘Umar: “Do business with the wealth holdings of orphans so Zakat does not consume it.”
- And this one from ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn al-Qasim that his father said: “Aisha used to care for me and a brother of mine as orphans in her house. She would take Zakat [to pay it] out of our wealth” (Al-Muwatta).
- The purpose of Zakat, to enrich the poor, show gratitude to God, and purify and cleanse wealth, applies to obligations of wealth regardless of its owner’s personal limitations of legal responsibility, just as one’s wealth is used to meet one’s other financial requirements, irrespective of age or mental status.
Reasons the wealth of children and the mentally incapable are Zakatable
- There is consensus (ijma‘) that childhood and mental incompetence do not eliminate financial liability and remain subject to the rights of other people.
- Zakat is a worship obligation on Muslims, but also an obligation imposed on wealth itself. Therefore, it is subject to the rules of financial obligation as these apply to the rights of people (huquq al-‘ibad). Others can (some scholars say must), therefore, lawfully fulfill the intention necessary to Zakat worship on behalf of the minor and incompetent. This includes the state in its capacity as Zakat authority, as well as guardians and estate executors.
- Zakat cleanses wealth, not just purifies sin.
- The Texts of Revelation and supporting texts oblige Zakat generally on the designated wealth of all the Muslim affluent in behalf of the poor and needful, without exception.
- Zakat aids the poor and deserving designated by God whom He has given an inalienable ownership right in the wealth possessed by Muslim individuals that endures for specified times at sufficient quantities.
- The lifting of the Pen of Divine Record of human action suspends moral accountability for the ones to whom it applies until their specified condition of deferral passes. It does not dispense with their obligations toward those for whom they are responsible altogether or in perpetuity. For example, if Alzheimer’s disease or incapacitation afflicts a once capable man granted affluence by God, his obligation to support his dependents (wife, underage children, parents) does not vanish with his mental capacity if his assets remain. His dependents retain rights of support in his wealth, even if he is personally unable to carry out his obligations.
- The majority of scholars, since the earliest generations of Muslims, hold the guardians of orphans and the mentally incapable — not the children and insane themselves — responsible to execute their wards’ Zakat obligations on their wealth, as they do their wards’ other financial obligations. This is because Zakat comes under the category of individual obligations that can be performed by proxy.
- The stature of the Companions who ruled and acted on the Zakat obligation for the orphan and mentally incapacitated is of essential consequence. Shaykh Yusuf Qardawi, in his comprehensive Fiqh az-Zakat, remarks on this:
- “There is no doubt that the agreement of many Companions [of this eminence] … has great importance in an issue of such public concern and that occurred so frequently, especially in a society in which martyrs and orphans were numerous. No scholar could dare to neglect this agreement in understanding, especially since these Companions lived at the same time as the Messenger, on him be peace, and were fully aware of the [stern revealed] warnings to those who squandered the assets of orphans.”
- The Hanafis hold Zakat al-Fitr and Zakat on crops (‘ushr) obligatory in the wealth of children. The renowned Andalusian jurist Ibn Rushd said he knows of “no rationale for [jurists] to differentiate between the produce of land and [assets in the form of] funds, or between manifest and hidden assets” (The Beginning of the Independent Jurist). The opinion of the majority of scholars from the other three schools holds sway in this ruling.
Who is responsible for the welfare of the needful orphan, child, and mentally incapacitated?
Is the wealth of children and the mentally unable subject to Zakat? That is the question we have sought to answer. Scholars frame the case of the universal applicability of Zakat on wealth in relation to orphans because they embody the best test case for childhood, incapacity, and vulnerability. But the rulings apply to all Muslim children and the mentally incompetent possessed of sufficient, zakatable wealth.
In this regard, it should be noted that the guarantor of these vulnerable — and specifically the orphan — by his own word, is the Prophet, on him be peace.
“By the One in Whose Hand is the soul of Muhammad! There is not a believer on earth but I am the nearest of people to him. So any one of you [who dies] leaving a debt or children in need, then I am his benefactor. As for wealth one leaves, it goes to his kin, whomever that may be” (Muslim).
This means our orphans have become the obligation of the entire Muslim community, each one, and all of us, together. They are our collective responsibility.
May Allah help us fulfill our obligations.