Allah (subhanahu wa taala) says, “The offerings given for the sake of God are [meant] only for the poor and the needy, and those who are in charge thereof, and those whose hearts are to be won over, and for the freeing of human beings from bondage, and [for] those who are over burdened with debts, and [for every struggle] in God’s cause, and [for] the wayfarer: [this is] an ordinance from God – and God is all-knowing, wise.”
From this noble verse, Allah shows us the rightful receivers of the zakah, and this from Allah’s justice and mercy. Allah (subhanahu wa taala) divides them into 8 categories and shows us the obligation of the zakah. It is not permissible to give zakah to other then these, because Allah (saubhanahu wa taala) knows what is better for His creation than we do. “But for people who have inner certainty, who could be a better law-giver than God?”
Categories 1-2: The poor and the needy. And they are the ones who cannot find a way to support themselves, and families. They do not have a steady income, a successful business, and it is on us to help them. The scholars say, “So they should be given enough money to sustain them and their families for one year until the next year is reached.” Also the person who doesn’t make enough money to support himself and family is given the extra amount needed to be able to support them. As for the person who is able to support themselves, then they are not to be given money. Even if they ask for it, they should be advised not to ask for that which is not permissible to be given to them. The Prophet (sallallaahu `alayhi wa sallam) said, “Whoever asks from the people for money to gain their own money, are only asking for embers from Hell, so let them increase or decrease.” (Muslim) One time the Prophet(sallallaahu `alayhi wa sallam) told Hakeem Ibn Hizam (radiallaahu `anhu), “O Hakeem! This property is like a sweet fresh fruit; whoever takes it without greediness, he is blessed in it, and whoever takes it with greediness, he is not blessed in it, and he is like a person who eats but is never satisfied; and the upper (giving) hand is better than the lower (receiving) hand.” (Bukhari) Zakah is not for the rich or the able.
Category 3: These are the ones in charge of collecting and giving out the zakah. They are to be given for the amount of work they put in. If they are financially sound, then they should add it to the zakah that is being given out, and they will participate in getting rewards for that.
Category 4: The ones whose hearts are to be won over. They are the new converts to Islam. They are the ones whom hearts are weak in iman. They are given the money to strengthen their commitment to Islam.
Category 5: To free the slaves. They are given the money that is enough to buy their freedom.
Category 6: The ones whom are burdened with debts. They are given enough money so that they can get out of debt, also so that they can repair the relationship between them and the Muslim who loaned them the money. There is a hadeeth in Muslim that Qabisa al-Hilali said, “I was under debt and I came to the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) and begged from him regarding it. He said: Wait till we receive Sadaqa, so that we order that to be given to you. He again said: Qabisa, begging is not permissible but for one of the three (classes) of persons: one who has incurred debt…”
Category 7: This is for jihad in the path of Allah, which is meant to make the word of Allah the highest. It is given to the Mujahid with this intention, they are given enough so that they can perform jihad, or so they can purchase weapons.
Category 8: This is for the wayfer. This is for the person who travels and is cut off from wealth from traveling. They should be given enough to go back to their family. If they are rich, then they have no right to the money.
Zakah is not to be given to a disbeliever, except if they are under the category of their hearts being won over. Zakah is not given to a rich person, except if they are the once collecting and distributing it, or fighting for the sake of Allah, or need to get out of debt to repair that which is between them and another Muslim. Zakah is not to be paid on someone’s dependents. It can be paid to someone’s family member, as long as they are not their dependent.