The Short Answer
No. The Quran specifies eight exclusive categories of “people” eligible for Zakat payments (see Surat Al-Tawbah, 9:60) to the exclusion of all other persons and every other kind of need. So mosques, which are not owned by any person in particular (and, similarly, schools, public works, properties, and general deeds of benefit to people) do not lie within Zakat’s divinely delimited bounds. Therefore, mosques do not qualify for Zakat. This is the long-standing majority position of Muslim jurists.
Cases of Exception
There is a minority, but well-represented group, of scholars, both early and modern, who hold that the seventh divinely designated Zakat category — “in the path of God” (fi sabili’Llah) can qualify mosques — building them, renovating them, or paying principal religious human resources serving in them (among other activities and the people performing them)— as legitimately Zakatable under certain conditions.
Important Zakat Background
First, to understand the underlying reasons for different legal rulings when it comes to the lawfulness of paying Zakat for mosques, we must be mindful of:
- What Islamic Law is and how it is derived,
- What conditions limit Zakatable property and Zakat payments, and
- The basis of differing legal understandings and interpretations that specifically apply to the seventh Zakat category, “in the path of God” (fi sabili’Llah).
What Is Islamic Law?
The Shari‘ah is divinely revealed Law and inerrant. Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) is the competent application of human understanding to the Shari‘ah, and it is not unerring, and that is how it was meant to be. Revelation includes both the Quran, the verbatim Word of God, and the Sunnah, or Way, of the Prophet, on him be peace, which is comprised of his statements, actions, and approvals. In addition to these two principal sources of Law, Muslim legal scholars use Scholarly or Communal Consensus (Ijma‘) and, generally, Analogical Reasoning (qiyas) as additional primary sources, or mechanisms, of deriving Law.
What Restricts Zakat Wealth and Its Payment?
As for what qualifies a property from which Zakat is paid, the property must be fully owned by, and under the exclusive authority of, the Zakat payer. Regarding the disposition of Zakat payments, Muslim jurists are of two major positions:
- Hanafi jurists hold that the Zakat paid must become the sole possession of the human recipients to whom it is paid;
- The practitioners of the other three major schools of Law (Malikis, Shafi’is, and Hanbalis) deem that the Zakat payments must remain within Zakat’s sphere of exclusion, that is, within the eight categories of Zakat that God has designated in His statement: “Indeed, prescribed charitable offerings are ‘only’ to be given to…” (Surat Al-Tawbah, 9:60). This second condition restricts Zakat to the designated beneficiaries or to its purposes within these categories, barring all other peoples and every other variety of necessity from receiving Zakat.
The Detailed Answer
Regarding the difference in scholarly opinion about the permissibility of paying Zakat to mosques, or other public interests, it hinges on two primary understandings of the intent of the Quranic phrase “in the path of God” (fi sabili’Llah) as it is used in the Zakat verse of Surat Al-Tawbah, 9:60. One understanding, which is a restricted minority opinion, interprets this phrase denotatively, that is to say, linguistically, and therefore literally. Scholars of this position, who are few, rule that the Zakat category of “in the path of God” (fi sabili’Llah) is inclusive of all virtuous activities and good deeds done in the service of God. They hold that without Revelation (in the Quran or from the Prophet, on him be peace) that specifies a restriction of this meaning, we have no recourse but to allow for all good works that qualify as “in the path of God” (fi sabili’Llah) and that legitimately maintain religion and the communal polity. Hence, building, refurbishing, or supporting a mosque is, to them, Zakatable because it qualifies as “in the path of God” (fi sabili’Llah) because all virtuous deeds do.
Other scholars, the vast majority, reject this understanding, because the Zakat verse lists specific Zakat eligible categories and “in the path of God” (fi sabili’Llah)” in its general linguistic sense encompasses the other seven categories. As it occurs in the Zakat verse, however, “in the path of God” (fi sabili’Llah)” strongly connotes a particular activity to the point that it has always been widely recognized as synonymous with it; namely, ‘physical struggle’ in the path of God.
These scholars of the majority position hold that “in the path of God” (fi sabili’Llah) is a term of art in Revelation whenever it is left unrestricted, not qualified by other Texts. It is of note that this is the one meaning that all scholars accept for this category based on its clear contextual interpretation as it occurs in the Quran, in general, and in this verse in particular, and as demonstrated in the use and understanding of this phrase by the first generation of Muslims, that is, the Prophet, on him be peace, and his Companions, God’s mercy on them, and by every generation of Muslims thereafter. Most legists that fix the understanding (and, therefore, the various applications) of this phrase in the Zakat verse to this meaning — which, again, is the majority — rule that Zakat cannot be paid to a mosque.
Yet there are some scholars of this second opinion — that “in the path of God (fi sabili’Llah) in the Zakat verse is synonymous with ‘physical struggle’ to elevate the Word of God — and, again, it is the stronger position — also extract from this the intent of Zakat’s seventh category as its governing rule, based on which, they hold that institutions, functions, and forums that facilitate striving in establishing, defending, and supporting Islam as a religion and as a community qualify for Zakat. This opens up its Zakat application to many kinds of activity — cultural, educational, and informational. Indeed, some scholars hold that this is today a primary application of this Zakat category.
In this understanding, Islamic centers, including mosques (and also Islamic schools, hospitals, and specified kinds of informational organs or means), are Zakatable if they “provide correct and pure Islamic information to men and women throughout the world … even in Muslim countries, to provide Islamic education and training” to all people, and to “protect the faith of [Muslims] from deviation, agnosticism, and behaviorial corruption,” as Shaykh Yusuf Al-Qardawi has written in his magisterial and indispensable work on the jurisprudence of Zakat, Fiqh az-Zakat.
Others have ruled more narrowly, for example, that a locality that has no mosques for worshippers to attend, or a mosque too small to accommodate all its congregants, can lawfully spend Zakat on building, expanding, or repairing a mosque. They include, moreover, paying an Islamically qualified imam for the mosque from Zakat if the community has none to teach and guide it, regardless of the imam’s wealth status.
Clarifying Zakat “For” a Mosque
The question of the legitimacy of paying Zakat for a mosque means for the building or refurbishing of the mosque or its institutional uses. This has been answered.
If one is paying Zakat to a mosque because the mosque collects and distributes Zakat in accordance with Zakat’s rightful distribution, this is permissible, though many scholars have advised Muslims, in the absence of qualified polities and governance, to establish Zakat entities that collect and distribute Zakat in accordance with the commands of the Quran and the example of the Prophet, on him be peace.
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To Learn more about Zakat, see our Zakat Handbook here.