Q: Why can’t the government be considered agents who distribute Zakah, therefore allowing us to offset tax paid against Zakah?
الجواب حامدا ومصليا ومسلما ومنه الصدق والصواب
A: There are three important considerations to your question: Firstly, does the state have the authority to collect Zakah from its subjects? Secondly, if tax is collected by the state can one consider this to be a disbursement of his/her Zakah? Thirdly, are there any restrictions on how Zakah revenues are utilised?
As for the first issue, the ruler of a Muslim state is charged with collecting Zakah revenues as understood from Verse 103 of Surah al-Tawbah. When the state appointed officials collect the Zakah it stands immediately discharged on account of the general guardianship the Muslim ruler enjoys. Thus, his possession is deemed to be the effective possession of the poor. This general guardianship is not enjoyed by a non-Muslim ruler over Muslims, nor does a non-Muslim ruler have the authority to collect Zakah revenues and this also includes the UK government.
As for the second issue, if tax is collected by a Muslim ruler from his Muslim subjects can one consider this to be discharging one’s obligation of giving Zakah? This issue has been discussed by jurists of the past and present and they have resoundingly rejected any such notion whilst
highlighting clear differences between the two. To summarise, Zakah is a perpetual obligation, whether need exists or not, and principally a form of devotional offering whilst tax can only be legitimately levied to meet real need and is principally a levy. The purpose, conditions and requirements of Zakah are different to those of tax and the avenues of expenditure differ too. Thus, the two are entirely different and one cannot be a substitute for the other.
As for the third issue, tax can be levied to meet a range of expenditure needs whilst the recipients of Zakah are restricted to the eight categories mentioned in Verse 60 of Surah al-Tawbah. This is a further reason why a tax levy cannot be considered a valid discharge of Zakah.