God, Himself, specified to whom the yearly obligatory alms payment of Zakat for Muslims can lawfully be distributed.
(Note that in the majority opinion, Zakat must be given to Muslims, though a strong opinion of exemption for the poor of other Heavenly Revelations exists. See Can Zakat Be Given to Non-Muslims?)
Here are the eight categories of Zakat-eligible people set by God in the Quran (Surat Al-Tawbah, 9:60):
The Poor (in dire need prevented from asking)
The Indigent (whose destitution drives them to ask)
Those Administering Zakat’s collection and distribution
Those whose hearts are to be reconciled
Those in bondage (slaves to be freed and captives)
In the Cause of God
The Wayfarer (stranded, displaced, or cut off from resources while traveling)
So, if an orphan falls into any of these categories, one may use his or her Zakat to sponsor that child.
If an orphan is not eligible as one of these divinely specified recipients, then that child does not qualify for sponsorship through Zakat – though the Quran and the Prophet, on him be peace, both make abundantly clear how worthy and deserving of our ṣadaqah-charity the orphan child is – urging believers, almost to the point of obligation, to support and sponsor orphans. (See Caring for the Orphan in Islam and Sponsoring the Orphan in Islam.)
Yet, the harsh reality is that the majority of the certainly underestimated 153 million orphans in the world today are Muslim and the vast, vast majority of these belong to the first two prime categories of Zakat-eligible recipients; namely, the poor and the indigent.
Most orphans, then, can receive your Zakat.
Since Zakat is normally a one-time, yearly payment on qualified wealth (see What Requirements Qualify Wealth for Zakat?) the best way to give your Zakat to sponsor an orphan is to make a one-time payment for an entire year of orphan sponsorship at the time of your due Zakat payment (see When is Zakat Due?).
Understand that Islam attaches a holistic meaning to “orphan sponsorship.” The Muslim who uses his or her Zakat to financially sponsor an orphan should seek out programs that deliberately meet both this intent and the requirements of Zakat.
Yes. Zakat Foundation of America’s Orphan Sponsorship Program adheres closely to Islam’s comprehensive guidance when it comes to orphans, by seeking, whenever possible, to keep them in their families, with a surviving parent (often a mother) or an extended family member, like a grandparent.
Zakat Foundation seeks to fulfill Islam’s five holistic sponsorship criteria for the orphan boy and orphan girl alike until they attain discerning maturity:
Guidance in faith and their personal affairs
A stable home and support family, sufficient clothing, and good nutrition
Education and training
Moral admonition, spiritual know-how, and religious facility
Security in their persons, wellbeing, property and future
Zakat Foundation’s Orphan Sponsorship Program has become a worldwide humanitarian leader in removing the pervasive image bias that has long skewed almost all orphan sponsorship programs among charities.
Allah and His Prophet, on him be peace, place a powerfully humane emphasis on giving comprehensive physical and emotional care to all children who’ve lost parents or caregivers, not only the ones who meet the ingrained superficial “beauty” standards of our times.
Yet the norm among orphan sponsorship programs, even among well-meaning charities, has for decades fallen into increasingly biased, exclusionary practices of orphan sponsorship. Charities seek to woo sponsors, and create a sense of intimacy, by showing them pictures (not infrequently touched up) of children whom they can choose to support.
This has subjected orphan sponsorship programs to pervasive modern selection biases, including light skin color, youngest age, and female gender.
Yet both the Quran and its Messenger, on him be peace, specify only the goodness of inclusively giving to and sponsoring orphans. They place the ideal of orphan care on the same level of your care for your own family members, or on par with the most vulnerable among us. In both cases, these are people whom you would not rightly distinguish between. This places all orphans on an equal footing when it comes to sponsorship in accordance with what is most just.
They ask you, O Prophet, what ways they should spend charitably. Say to them: Whatever good offering you spend is to be for your parents, and nearest relatives, and orphans, and the indigent, and the needy wayfarers. And whatever good you do, God is, indeed, all-knowing of it. (Surat Al-Baqarah, 2:215)
And the Prophet, on him be peace, said of spending on the orphan:
It is “fresh and sweet. Blessed is the wealth of the Muslim, from which one gives to the poor, the orphan, the wayfarer” (Bukhari and Muslim, 1465 and 1052, respectively).
This is the fair standard of orphan support that Zakat Foundation’s Orphan Sponsorship Program seeks to reach in helping truly our most helpless children.
Join us, and sponsor an orphan here.
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In 2020, 81¢ from each dollar donated went directly toward programs serving those in need. 12¢ went to administrative costs & 7¢ went to fundraising costs.