Is it permissible for Zakat funds to be spent on non-Muslim beneficiaries?

Q: Is it permissible for Zakat funds to be spent on non-Muslim beneficiaries? Can they be considered mu’allafati quloobuhum in this context?

الجواب حامدا ومصليا ومسلما ومنه الصدق والصواب

A: The category of “those whose hearts have to be reconciled” mentioned in Verse 60 of Surah Al-Tawbah refers to various groups of poor [according to the Shafi’i and Hanbali schools, poverty is not a condition] Muslims new to Islam who either needed to be supported and strengthened in their faith, or with whom reconciliation was required in order to mitigate any potential harm.

However, after the demise of the Holy Prophet sws, with Islam politically strong, such measures no longer remained expedient and so this category was said to be abrogated.  This position is attributed to the second caliph Umar, Hasan al-Basri, Imam Abu Ḥanifah and Imam Malik.  [See: A;-Qurtubi’s Al-Jami li Ahkam al-Qur’an] On the other hand, many others, such as al-Zuhari, Imam Shafi’i, Imam Ahmad and Ibn al-Arabi, maintain that this category has not been abrogated, but merely suspended.  If the same conditions appear this category can again be reinstated.  (Ma’aarif al-Qur’an, 4:400)

However, it has not been established that non-Muslims were ever given a share from zakat revenues.  Al-Qurtubi states: “In summary, each recipient under this [current] category was a believer, and there was no non-believer among them.”  (Al-Jami li Ahkam al-Qur’an, 8:115).  Al-Mazhari also states in his exegesis of the Holy Qur’an: “There is no evidence to establish that the Prophet sws has ever given a share of zakat revenues to a non-believer in order to persuade him favourably.”  (Al-Tafsir al-Mazhari, 4:215).

In my own personal study I have not come across any reliable evidence that zakat revenues were ever distributed amongst non-Muslims.  Those jurists who have considered non-Muslims to be from the muallafatul qulub as recipients of zakat mention examples from sources other than zakat such as the spoils of war.   It would appear that the term muallafatul qulub had wide connotations but only Muslims were even given zakat revenues.

If a differentiation in the distribution of zakat is likely to cause local tension then an Islamic charity needs to either target the distribution of zakat funds in Muslim only areas or else implement a programme wherein the charity is authorised by eligible recipients to receive zakat on their behalf and then distribute it on their behalf to whomsoever the charity deems appropriate.  In this manner the obligation of Zakat will be discharged and the funds will be distributable amongst non-Muslims if required.  However, this should be a policy for exceptional circumstances.

Whilst Muslims are bound by treaties they enter in to, this is only holds true if the treaty itself is permissible.  In the matter at hand it is not permitted to agree to distribute zakat funds amongst non-Muslims.  Rather, any such distribution should from optional charity or else in the manner described above.

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