How can a person be poor and still owe Zakat?

Do Poor People Pay Zakat?

As some of you may know, Zakat is one of my passions and is one of the most visited and asked about issues on my site. I use the Pubble service to field questions from readers of this site. Its a great service that I highly recommend. Occasionally, those questions deserve detailed answers or are common questions that deserve to be highlighted. The following is one of those questions.

Here’s what one reader wrote in yesterday:

so from what my mom is telling me, from what she is hearing from a some scholar, that given current value of gold/silver, if you have $400 in your savings (not the amount of income that you made), that you are eligible (or compulsory) to pay 2.5% in zakat? i’m not trying to start a fiqh fight, but my question is: what about people who themselves are in dire need, they are poor, they live off of welfare, food stamps, etc. yet Alhamdulillah at the time of paying zakat, they have like say $1000.00 in the bank, would they still be required to pay zakat? because I’m confused as to how people who in of themselves, their own nation’s standards classifies them as poor, even (these) poor people would have to pay zakat?
Also, can someone give me a simple way to understand:
a) conditions to make you eligible to pay zakat
b) conditions to make you ineligible to pay zakat
c) conditions to make you eligible to receive zakat
d) conditions to make you ineligible to receive zakat?
Do we go by the standards as set by the financial/political institutions of the nation of residence? OR do we just disregard that, and go only by the Hadith without any regard to the specific context that many of America’s poor live in today?
and tbh my intention is (hopefully) pure, because I believe that zakat has many purposes, other than purifying the donor’s wealth and giving him barakah, but to also address poverty in of itself. I do not want to see people who in of themselves are truly poor, for it to be compulsory upon them to pay zakat when they are in such a fragile situation, where every penny literally counts. and to give even 2.5% of that wealth could mean a difference.

Firstly, I think that a standard course in Zakat law would answer most of your questions. Here is a quick guide to many common Zakat questions. I usually do one yearly during Ramadan, so if you are in the Houston area it would be great if you attended. It is free and offered at local Masjids.

From what I understand from your question, you are perplexed that someone could own the minimum amount to make themselves liable for Zakat, but still be poor enough to receive Zakat. There is an essential condition that you may not be aware of, and that is the surplus wealth kept in savings (the $400 you mentioned) must be held consistently for one full calendar year.

Basically we’re asking the question: “If I have savings and spend from it, making my savings go below Nisab, do I still have to pay Zakat?” The short answer is: No, you do not have to pay Zakat if your savings go below Nisab.

If a person has savings of this amount or more for one calendar year, without ever dipping below that amount or having that amount earmarked for their on going expenses, then they will pay Zakat on that amount. While there are situations in which a person can be eligible to receive Zakat and liable to pay it (think of the concept of the working poor) they are very few and far between, given that Islamic law does not oblige a person to pay on their earnings and gross income, but only pay Zakat on their surplus savings after all expenses and other liabilities.

and Allah knows best,

Joe

Don’t see what you’re looking for here? Try our Zakat page for more information.

About Joe Bradford

About Joe Bradford

Joe is a structuring advisor for a major real estate development firm, specializing in Shariah compliant investment vehicles. He runs a financial advisory. He is the founder of Muslim Money Guide and also blogs at joebradford.net.

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