Can zakat be used to pay for the construction of mosques?
Wa `alaykum as-Salam wa rahmatullah wa barakatuh:
No. Halal proceeds, properties and grants from gifts and donations (hibaat), endowments (awqaf, ahbas), bequests (wasaya), or from the Muslim treasury (bayt al-mal) can all be used toward the construction of mosques or rental of mosque space, but not zakat monies.
The exclusive categories of zakat recipients are defined in the verse “The alms are only for the poor and needy, those who collect them, those whose hearts are to be reconciled, to free captives and debtors, for the cause of Allah, and for the wayfarers; a duty imposed by Allah. Allah is Knower, Wise” (al-Tawba 9:60).
The Hanafis, Imams Malik, al-Shafi`i, Sufyan al-Thawri, Abu Thawr, and the Zahiris agree that the expression “for the cause of Allah” (fi sabilillah) means unsalaried soldiers (al-ghuzat al-ladhina la diwana lahum), the Hanafis specifying the poor among them, while Imam Ahmad held two positions, one identical with the Jumhur and the other, like Ishaq ibn Rahawayh, stipulating pilgrims as per the Prophetic narration: “Hajj is part of sabilillah” in the Musnad (Risala ed. 45:71-74 §27107) and elsewhere cf. Ibn `Abd al-Rahman al-Shafi`i, Rahmat al-Umma fi Ikhtilaf al-A’imma (al-Risala 1994 ed. p. 186) and Ibn al-Jawzi, al-Tahqiq fi Ahadith al-Khilaf (`Ilmiyya ed. 2:63 §1050, 1051). Ibn `Atiyya in al-Muharrar wal-Wajiz (3:50) includes self-sufficient pilgrims into the view of “Ibn `Abbas, Ibn `Umar, Ahmad, and Ishaq.”
Imam Muhammad ibn al-Hasan in his Siyar and Muwatta‘ also allowed for zakat monies to be used to support a stranded pilgrim cf. al-Jassas, Ahkam al-Qur’an (Qamhawi ed. 4:329) and al-`Ayni, `Umdat al-Qari (Ihya’ al-Turath ed. 9:44) while the great early Hanafi jurist Abu al-Layth al-Samarqandi in his Tafsir glossed fi sabilillah only as “Those who come out for jihad.”
All Four Schools agree that “fi sabilillah” excludes the construction of mosques: “They agreed that it is impermissible to employ zakat monies toward the construction of mosques or the shrouding of the dead, even a relative, due to the specific earmarking of what the zakat is for.” Ibn Hubayra al-Hanbali, al-Ijma` (`Ubaykan ed. p. 74 = al-Ifsah 1:108).
Ibn al-Qasim in the Mudawwanat al-Kubra (Dar Sadir ed. 2:299) said: “Malik said: ‘It is invalid for someone to give of his zakat for the shrouding of the dead because alms are only for the poor and needy as well as those whom Allah named; not for the dead, and not for the construction of mosques.’” Al-Wansharisi in the Mi`yar al-Mu`rib (1:378) relates from Ibn al-Qasim and Ashhab that one’s zakat is invalid if used to build a mosque. Ibn `Atiyya al-Andalusi said in his Tafsir entitled al-Muharrar al-Wajiz (`Ilmiyya ed. 3:50) under fi sabilillah: “None of that portion is given toward the construction of a mosque or an archway or the purchase of a volume of Qur’an and the like.”
Similarly Ibn Qudama in the Mughni (Fikr ed. 2:280) and al-Buhuti in al-Rawd al-Murbi` (Riyadh ed. 1:399): “It is impermissible to use zakat monies toward other than what Allah Most High has named, such as the construction of mosques, archways, waterways, road repairs etc.” Imam Ahmad forbade even the debt of the deceased to be repaid with zakat.
Al-Kasani in Bada’i` al-Sana’i` (Cairo: al-Khanji 1328/1910 ed.=Beirut 1982 repr. 2:39) stated that mosques, the upkeep of bridges, shrouds, meals for the poor, and pardoning a debt could not constitute a valid zakat because a zakat remittance must entail a transfer of property – making the recipient a personal proprietor – which is impossible in a mosque endowment or even in pardoning a debt or meals offered to the poor instead of handing over actual funds or foodstuffs. Al-Tumurtashi in Tanwir al-Absar (2:4) states something similar.
In his great tafsir entitled al-Tahrir wal-Tanwir (10:237), the Tunisian scholar Tahir ibn `Ashur said: “Sabilillah is jihad, that is, the monies of [obligatory] sadaqaat are employed for the buildup of the means of jihad consisting in machines and the guarding of borders, all of this on land and at sea.” (Further down he detailed more examples: “weaponry, horses, ships, crews, catapults, rams, forts, trenches, spies,” which he may be quoting from a similar text in al-Qarafi’s Dhakhira 3:148 but the latter adds that the more current position is that only jihad itself is meant rather than collateral expenditures.) Then Ibn `Ashur discussed the differences among the scholars in the interpretations of each of the eight categories of zakat but, when he reached fi sabilillah, he said (10:239-240): “As for sabilillah there is no disagreement that military action (al-ghazu) is meant.” Hence the translation of “fi sabilillah” simply as “soldiers” in the French rendition by Shaykh Noureddin ben Mahmoud: “La dîme est affectée aux pauvres, aux nécessiteux, à ceux qui la recouvrent, à la propagande pour l’Islam, au rachat des esclaves, aux faillis, aux soldats, et aux voyageurs.”
Al-Razi in Mafatih al-Ghayb said: “The commentators said fi sabilillah refers to combatants. Al-Shafi`i, Allah have mercy on him, said: ‘He may take zakat monies even if self-sufficient.’ This is also the position of Malik, Ishaq, and Abu `Ubayd. Abu Hanifa and his two companions, Allah have mercy on them, said: ‘The combatant is no given it unless he is in need.’ You should know that the apparent meaning of the ambiguous term fi sabilillah (zahir al-lafz) does not restrict it to combatants exclusively. Hence, al-Qaffal in his Tafsir cited the view of one of the jurists that they made it permissible to employ obligatory alms toward all the different kinds of good deeds such as shrouding the dead, building forts, and building and maintaining mosques, because His saying ‘and in the path of Allah’ includes all.” Nizam al-Din al-Naysaburi in Ghara’ib al-Qur’an reduplicated the entire passage without attribution to al-Razi while al-Biqa`i in his Tafsir Nazm al-Durar, Ibn `Adil al-Hanbali in his Tafsir al-Lubab min `Ulum al-Kitab, and al-Nawawi al-Jawi in his Tafsir Murah Labid among others all cited al-Qaffal’s remark.
This interpretation (“all the different kinds of good deeds “), though lexically sound (as mentioned below by Ibn Hazm), has no zakat-related juridical basis, no precedent in practice, and the jurist who forwarded is left unidentified.
Al-Kawthari noted that al-Qaffal was still a Mu`tazili at the time he wrote his Tafsir. Al-Razi himself states, while discussing intercession in his commentary on Ayat al-Kursi: “This Qaffal is very much enamored of Mu`tazilism and just loves their words! Even so, little does he master their principles. . . He spoke excellently in tafsir and was perspicuous in the interpretations of words, except that he ratified the Mu`tazili School out of all proportion, even if he was poorly equipped in the science of kalam and quite unfamiliar with the positions of the Mu`tazilis.”
Nevertheless, there is nothing especially Mu`tazili about this passage and none of al-Razi, al-Naysaburi, al-Biqa`i, Ibn `Adil, and al-Nawawi al-Jawi critiqued it when mentioning it. However, al-Qaffal in his later magnum opus of jurisprudence, Hilyat al-`Ulama’, explains sabilillah exactly as the rest of the jurists of the Four Schools explained it – jihad and hajj – leaving the stray interpretation unmentioned.
More importantly, the early consensus had pre-empted once and for all the all-inclusive definition of fi sabilillah. Ibn al-`Arabi mentioned in Ahkam al-Qur’an (2:533) that Malik said: “The paths of Allah are many; however, I know of no dissent that what is meant by fi sabilillah here is military action except for what is related from Ahmad and Ishaq who both said that it refers to pilgrimage.” Ibn Qudama reiterates the same consensus in the Mughni (Fikr ed. 6:333): “There is no disagreement that they are the combatants, since the unqualified expression sabilillah means military action.”
In recent times al-Mawdudi, the Egyptian modernists, and the Ikhwan al-Muslimin – including, recently, the Egyptian Yusuf al-Qaradawi – all advocated an innovative understanding of “fi sabilillah” to cover every welfare imaginable, including the payment of zakat funds toward the construction of mosques and “Islamic projects” generically such as centers, libraries, scholarships, publishing etc. In his ponderous French translation entitled Le Saint Coran (18th ed. p. 196), Muhammad Hamidullah endorses this understanding of the indiscriminate meaning of every good deed in his explanatory note: “On entend par ‘dans le sentier de Dieu’ surtout la défense militaire, mais cela inclut également toute oeuvre de charité.”
Al-Qaradawi’s friend the Lebanese ikhwani Faysal Mawlawi claimed that the same fatwa had been advocated by “Siddiq Hasan Khan, Rashid Rida, Mahmud Shaltut, and Muhammad Hasanayn Makhluf” cf. http://www.mawlawi.net/fatwa.asp?fid=1025 as of August, 2007. This is untrue with regard to Siddiq Hasan Khan, since Rida actually said in Tafsir al-Manar (10:581): “Sayyid Hasan Siddiq said in Fath al-Bayan - note that he belongs to the school of independentist hadithists (ahl al-hadith al-mustaqillin) . . . ‘it is also said that the wording is general and that it cannot be restricted to a specific class, rather, it includes all types of good deeds including the shrouding of the dead, the building of bridges and forts, building and maintaining mosques, and other than that; but the first [interpretation] is preferable because of the majority’s consensus (ijma` al-jumhur) over it.’”
Another unusual interpretation of fi sabilillah recipients is “the ulema, whether rich or poor, who uphold the religious welfare of the Muslims… obviously” wrote Siddiq Hasan Khan al-Qinnawji in al-Rawdat al-Naddiyya as cited by Rida in his Tafsir al-Manar (10:582-583). Rida commented: “It is not obvious,” then demonstrated the incorrectness of al-Qinnawji’s reasoning and inappropriateness of his proofs. Then Rida said (10:584-585): “None of the Salaf or Khalaf ever understood this wording in the general sense and it is impossible that it be meant here.”
But then Rida squarely contradicts everything he had said before and states (10:585): “The upshot is that sabilillah here is the general interests of the Muslims which pertain to the upkeep of all matters religious and national at the exclusion of individuals [!!]. . . including the symbols of pilgrimage and the maintenance of the Community at pilgrimage, so it is permissible to use this portion [of the zakat] toward the securing of the roads to pilgrimage and the purveyance of water, provision, and health necessities for the pilgrims if there is no other source of funding for it.”
Most recently, the Ethiopian-Saudi Muhammad al-Amin al-Urami (b. 1348) endorsed the above paragraph in toto in his large Tafsir entitled Hada’iq al-Rawh wal-Rayhan (2001 ed. 11:301-302 without attribution to Rida), together with the view cited by al-Qaffal (also without citing him): “Included in this category are all the different good deeds such as shrouding the dead, building bridges and forts, building and maintaining mosques, and the like.”
The shaykh of al-Azhar Hasanayn Muhammad Makhluf in his Fatawa Shar`iyya wa Buhuth Islamiyya (2nd ed., Cairo: Matba`at Mustafa al-Babi al-Halabi, 1385/1965, 1:296) did advocate the use of zakat for mosque funding, as had his predecessor `Abd al-Halim Mahmud in his Fatawa. At the time of the original innovative fatwa in Cairo’s Majallat al-Azhar in Safar 1366 exactly 63 years ago, other scholars in Egypt strenuously objected, among them Shaykh Muhammad Bakhit al-Muti`i in his Mutanawal Sabilillah fi Masarif al-Zakat (Damascus:Matba`at al-Taraqqi, 1348/1929-1930), then Shaykh Muhammad Zahid al-Kawthari, then Shaykh `Abd Allah al-Ghumari. Al-Kawthari at the time called it “a fatwa which neither based itself on truth, nor on truth mixed with falsehood, but on falsehood entirely” (Maqaalaat, 1994 Azhariyya ed. p. 274 “Hal tasihhu `imaarat al-masajid min zakaat al-maal?“).
In publications such as his Fiqh al-Zakat, al-`Ibada fil-Islam, and Likay Tanjah Mu’assasat al-Zakat fil-Tatbiq al-Mu`asir, and in 1994 in a pamphlet distributed in the US by the American-based Muslim Arab Youth Association (MAYA), al-Qaradawi insisted that zakat monies from Muslims in the West could be spent “for any act of charity” (`amal khayri)” including “thought, culture, education, and awareness campaigns” as well as building mosques, schools, cultural centers, hospitals, and other projects such as student financial aid, “whatever qualifies as Islamic jihad” – in the all-inclusive sense – a ruling which Shaykh Muhammad Abu al-Huda al-Ya`qubi said had been instrumental in promoting the Ikhwan al-Muslimin’s influence in the West.
In some instances in Malaysia, “fi sabilillah” is even widened further to justify diverting zakat into businesses operated by the Baitul-Mal.
Shaykh `Imad al-Din ibn Abi Hajalah devoted an entire chapter to the zakat-related definition of fi sabilillah in his book al-Qawl al-`Atir fi Masarif al-Zakat wa-Sadaqat al-Fitr (Dar al-Fath, 2001).
Hajj GF Haddad