We handle funds that are distributed to deserving families of our employees who die. We receive Zakat in our fund. Can we give a part of our funds to a Christian family?
Had you asked me the question as an individual, my answer would doubtless have been, yes. There is neither a verse in the Qur’an nor any hadith which prevents us from giving Zakat to a Christian. In fact, the verse that is most commonly used to understand Zakat matters (9:60), suggests clearly that there is no harm in benefiting non-Muslims from Zakat funds.
However, many Muslims think otherwise. Only two arguments, though, are given in favour of this famous opinion: Umar, radiallahu anhu, the second caliph, decided not to give Zakat to non-Muslims. The Prophet, alaihissalam, also commented on Zakat saying, “Take from their rich and give it to their poor”. Those who think non-Muslims can’t get Zakat believe that say this hadith clarifies the fact that Zakat should be collected from Muslims (their rich) and be distributed to other Muslims (their poor).
Regarding Hazrat Umar’s decision, it must be kept in mind that a Muslim Caliph can take any administrative decision, given the circumstances of his time. However, his decision is not to be taken as a religious rule or law and is not applicable for all times to come.
The Prophet’s saying regarding Zakat was an instruction to the administrators not to send Zakat funds back to the centre. They were supposed to be spent on people of the same area (their poor).
When a religious stipulation as important as depriving non-Muslims of Zakat funds is being discussed, the arguments need to be direct and clear. How is it possible that the Quran would be completely silent on such an important issue? In fact, the Qur’anic statement is general: “Alms are only for the poor, the destitute …” (9:60). Both Muslims and non-Muslims fall into these categories.
However, if you have to decide about the matter for your organization, the decision should be based on what all the administrators believe to be correct. If they disagree, the majority’s inclination should be implemented.