Poverty Alleviation (Fiqh of Zakah)

In humanitarian and development activity, in the last two decades more organizations are distributing direct financial transfers. The expansion of mobile banking and cell phone coverage have enabled this to expand in reach and scale. There is a large literature on this subject, looking at efficiency, agency and impact (and relatively less discussion about universal or guaranteed basic income), which I will not get into here. The point of discussion is how much should be given, if the aim is to alleviate extreme poverty of the people involved. Over the last thousand years, scholars in the Islamic tradition discussed this topic in relation to the distribution of alms giving or zakat. In the Islamic tradition this is not charity granted by individuals out of their good will, but rights or entitlements for people in society who meet the eligibility criteria. Dr Yusuf al Qaradawi summarized two main opinions (in his two volume book, Fiqh of Zakah) as:

"How much are the poor and needy given? The different views of jurists on this issue can be grouped into two major trends. The first is to give as much as is sufficient to satisfy the essential needs commonly known in society, without determining any specific amount, and the second is to give a specific amount in whose determination jurists differ…." (Page 11, Vol 2)

"The first opinion: satisfying lifetime needs. This opinion aims at giving the poor what is sufficient to remove them from the poverty level forever, in such a way that they would not need zakah in the future…" (Page 12, Vol 2)

"The second opinion: giving one year's sustenance. This is the view of the Malikites, most of the Hanbalites, and most other jurists. They argue that the poor and needy must be given their sufficiency for one full year, no more and no less, on the grounds that the Prophet used to keep for his family food needed for one year, and that zakah is collected on a yearly basis, so its distribution must be on a yearly basis too. Sufficiency for one year cannot be determined by any given amount, since it depends on circumstances, needs, and size of family." (Page 13, Vol 2) 

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
Emperor Haile Selassie
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