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Criteria of giving Zakaat to an indebted person

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Nasihah (Advice): Seeking refuge in Allah from debt
Sayyidatuna Aaishah Radhiyallahu Anha reports that Rasulullah Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam used to invoke Allah in Salaah, “O Allah, I seek refuge in you from the punishment of the grave, and from the trial of Al-Maseeh-u-Dajjaal, and from the trial of life and death. O Allah, I seek refuge in you from sin and debt.” One person said Him: (O Rasool of Allah!) Very often you seek refuge in Allah from being in debt? He replied: “If a person is in debt, he tells lies when he speaks, and breaks his promises when he promises.” (Bukhari)
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Question and Answer:
Q.  Can a Muslim who is in debt be helped to pay of his debt with Zakaat? What if such a person has a house, car, jewellery, investments etc., can he/she still be helped to pay his/her debts with Zakaat money?
(Question published as received)
 
A. In principle, if the debts of a person are equivalent to his/her surplus assets or more than that, he/she is entitled to accept Zakaat.  Likewise, if his/her surplus assets are sufficient to clear his/her debts but after paying his/her debts, his/her remaining assets do not exceed the amount of Nisaab, he/she can also receive Zakaat. As an example, if Zaid’s surplus assets are valued at R100 000 and his debt total is R100 000 or R150 000, Hamzah can assist Zaid with Zakaat.
However, if his/her surplus assets are such that even after clearing all his/her debts, they are equivalent to or more than the amount of Nisaab, he/she cannot receive Zakaat.  As an example, if Zaid’s surplus assets are valued at R100 000 and his debt total is R90 000, Hamzah cannot assist Zaid with Zakaat. (The Zakaat Nisaab in South Africa is R4549.83 as of 05/07/2018)
The term “surplus assets” includes money and all those goods and property which are not required for one’s day-to-day needs.
 
As such, a house and car are required on a day-to-day basis and are not regarded to be ones surplus assets, which will not be taken into consideration in determining ones Zakaat eligibility. On the other hand, jewellery and investments are regarded to be ones surplus assets, which will be taken into consideration in determining ones Zakaat eligibility. (Shaami 2/339) 

 

N.B. The above ruling only relates to the permissibility of giving Zakaat to a person in debt. Apart from the permissibility, one must also consider whether the recipient is actually deserving to be given Zakaat or not. For example, a person creates debt by living extravagantly and then takes Zakaat without changing their living style. Giving Zakaat to such a person is a misuse of Zakaat.

And Allah Ta’ala Knows Best

Mufti Ebrahim Desai
(The answer hereby given is specifically based on the question asked and should be read together with the question asked. Islamic rulings on this Q&A newsletter are answered in accordance to the Hanafi Fiqh unless otherwise stated.) 

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