Zakat & Women: From Receiver To Givers
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Zakat is the third pillar of Islam. Zakat received from eligible persons is paid to the legal recipients of it, as mentioned in the Qu’ran (9:60). The legal recipients of zakat are of eight categories and there is no priority given to a specific gender. As long as the person falls within any category of the ‘legal recipient’ irrespective of gender, the person is eligible to receive zakat. Against this backdrop, this article focuses on how zakat could be used to empower women who are eligible to receive it.


In a social context, women tend to be considered as playing a secondary role compared to men in terms of financial responsibilities of households and taking leadership roles in families. However, in reality, we see a number of women shouldering financial responsibilities in their households with no support from men, and leading the families with what they can earn. It is true that in Quran, 4:34, Allah (swt) has stated that men are responsible for women. Today, unfortunately, some men have forgotten this responsibility and ultimately, women are left to take care of themselves and their families as well. Therefore, by doing zakat eligibility screening, if women are eligible to receive zakat, using zakat money received, their lives could be transformed from a zakat receiver to a zakat giver.

Below described are some ways in which zakat could be utilized to empower women.

a) Calculating the zakat amount given to a poor and needy household by considering the need of the household and the earnings as well as the hardship of the female leading the household.

Normally, when the zakat money is given for a poor or needy person, a lump sum is given to the household and different methods to calculate the amount given is used. In some countries, the practice is that irrespective of the need of the household, a fixed amount of zakat is given per head without considering their situation using a subjective standard. This may lead to unfairness especially if the household is led by a woman who is unable to earn the amount required to satisfy the basic need of the members of the household. As such, in disbursing zakat to the poor and needy households led by women, some special consideration has to be given to ensure that zakat assistance could make a significant difference in their lives. As such, the earnings and hardship endured by the household ought to be considered in this regard.

b) Considering women to be included in Zakat Collector (Amil) Category
Amil is a category that is designated for those who are involved in the collection and distribution of zakat. When choosing people to assist in the process of distributing zakat, women who do not fall within any other category of legal recipients of zakat can also be considered to be chosen for such tasks. One might wonder what is the purpose of doing so. One of the benefits of doing so would be to collect zakat from women. Often it is said that women are unable to ask and obtain assistance from men who are involved as amil as they are comfortable dealing with women and presence of a Mahram is required if they have to deal with men. Therefore, by appointing female amil, not only the female appointed as amil will benefit from receiving zakat for the work she conducts; but even the number of female zakat payers may increase. Likewise, in distributing zakat, female amil can easily verify female recipients of zakat. Many of the female zakat recipients have complaints about not having female officers to cross verify their eligibility to receive zakat and feel uneasy in dealing with male officers. As such, appointment of female amil needs to be considered by the zakat organizations.

c) Female debtors who have no means to pay the debt need to be given a designated portion of zakat
There is a need to give special consideration to female debtors, especially those women who are burdened with the debts of their deceased husbands or family members. Often, females are exploited due to the debt they owe and they might be forced to work for the creditor or engage in immoral activities until the debt is settled. Therefore, helping out these women debtors is essential to ensure a life of dignity in societies without being slaves of the creditors. There are numerous women in the society that are trapped in debt and they often go undetected. Zakat organizers need to play a vigilant role in identifying them and helping them to break this cycle of debt.

d) Structuring Zakat programs that could be applied throughout the year
In most jurisdictions, zakat recipients are unable to apply to zakat assistance throughout the year when they need it the most. Zakat distribution in some parts of the world is considered as a one-time annual exercise rather than having certain programs or tailor-made assistance given to the zakat recipients throughout the year. In this regard, Singapore is a good example where the Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura (MUIS) with appointed Social Development (SD) mosques developed some financial assistance programs to support the poor and needy which included – monthly zakat financial assistance; settlement of debt; emergency assistance; burial expenses; study grants; and fidyah food vouchers.
Further, socio-religious support programmes such as Islamic learning, life-skills development, financial management, wellness programmes, children’s enrichment, social befriending service rendered to long-term zakat beneficiaries i.e. low-income elderlies, persons with chronic/critical illnesses, persons with disabilities have been put into practice in vulnerable communities among Muslims in the region. Badan Amil Zakat Nasional (BAZNAS) of Indonesia also has developed Healthy Pregnant Women program, Scholarship program and Business Capital Assistance, Healthy Garden program for women who have business in culinary and mass marriage program for people who cannot afford it. These can be good examples for organisations in India to implement.
Further, zakat could be distributed without human intervention by using technology to assist the poor and needy. This could be possible using rice ATM machines as done in Malaysia and Indonesia and via IRIS ATM machines for refugees as successfully implemented by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. This way without begging or asking any office or any human for help, women can use zakat to fulfil their needs.

d) Structuring Zakat programs that could be applied throughout the year
In most jurisdictions, zakat recipients are unable to apply to zakat assistance throughout the year when they need it the most. Zakat distribution in some parts of the world is considered as a one-time annual exercise rather than having certain programs or tailor-made assistance given to the zakat recipients throughout the year. In this regard, Singapore is a good example where the Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura (MUIS) with appointed Social Development (SD) mosques developed some financial assistance programs to support the poor and needy which included – monthly zakat financial assistance; settlement of debt; emergency assistance; burial expenses; study grants; and fidyah food vouchers.

Further, socio-religious support programmes such as Islamic learning, life-skills development, financial management, wellness programmes, children’s enrichment, social befriending service rendered to long-term zakat beneficiaries i.e. low-income elderlies, persons with chronic/critical illnesses, persons with disabilities have been put into practice in vulnerable communities among Muslims in the region. Badan Amil Zakat Nasional (BAZNAS) of Indonesia also has developed Healthy Pregnant Women program, Scholarship program and Business Capital Assistance, Healthy Garden program for women who have business in culinary and mass marriage program for people who cannot afford it. These can be good examples for organisations in India to implement.

Further, zakat could be distributed without human intervention by using technology to assist the poor and needy. This could be possible using rice ATM machines as done in Malaysia and Indonesia and via IRIS ATM machines for refugees as successfully implemented by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. This way without begging or asking any office or any human for help, women can use zakat to fulfil their needs.

e) Providing Zakat to become financially independent
Instead of consumption, zakat financial assistance is also given for productive purposes such as starting a business that will provide continuous benefit and eventually lead to financial independence of the recipient. Such women specific programs are implemented in some countries and the success of those projects is also evident. For example, in Malawi, there is a Women Economic Empowerment Fund supported by zakat where local women are provided assistance by providing them with the skills and financial means to reach their goals and to realize their business plans into action. The broad areas where the business plans submitted focused included rearing chickens, tailoring, knitting, butchery, opening a beauty salon, transportation, restaurant management and agriculture. The selected candidates in this scheme are provided with business training as well. These types of initiatives are important to assist women in becoming financially independent with the aim that today’s zakat receivers will be tomorrow’s zakat payers, proving zakat as an effective social tool to attain social justice by reducing the gap between the rich and the poor.


There is no doubt that empowering women via zakat will assist the communities to alleviate poverty. There are various benefits of providing financial assistance to women. If women become financially independent and are out of poverty, it means that a family is out of poverty as well. Since the society consists of a number of families and if all the families are out of poverty, then the society in which we live will become affluent, leading to social harmony and justice and in turn, leading to economic growth. Therefore, it is imperative to achieve gender equality in zakat distribution for social justice and harmony as it is a boon for economic development.

There is no doubt that empowering women via zakat will assist the communities to alleviate poverty. There are various benefits of providing financial assistance to women. If women become financially independent and are out of poverty, it means that a family is out of poverty as well. Since the society consists of a number of families and if all the families are out of poverty, then the society in which we live will become affluent, leading to social harmony and justice and in turn, leading to economic growth. Therefore, it is imperative to achieve gender equality in zakat distribution for social justice and harmony as it is a boon for economic development.

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