This article was written in consultation with Mufti Muhammad Ismail, Head of the Zakat Committee at Muslim Charities Forum and Chairman of Muslim Hands South Africa.
Muslims can give charity (Sadaqah) anywhere and to anybody. However, in addition to this voluntary charity, they are obliged to give 2.5% of their annual wealth as Zakat. This purifies the wealth of the giver while ensuring that wealth is circulated amongst different people in a society, rather than the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.
The 'compulsory charity' of Zakat is distributed between eight categories of people, who are listed in the Qur'an. This has been the rule since the time of the Prophet (saw). It is important to note that Zakat is the right of these people, not a gift or a favour.
This article will list the categories of Zakat and explain which water projects fulfil their conditions. The purpose of this guide is to help Muslims choose where to give their annual Zakat and ensure transparency with how we deliver your trust (amanah).
1. What are the categories of Zakat?
You can give your Zakat to the following people:
1. The Poor (Al-Fuqara): The majority of jurists define them as Muslims who have no assets and no means to earn their living. (For example, a refugee, or a disabled person who can't work). However, Hanafi jurists say that anyone who has less than the Nisab (around £328 in 2022) is a poor person.
2. The Needy (Al-Masakin): The majority of jurists define them as Muslims whose earnings don’t cover their basic needs. (For example, a widowed mother whose single income can't provide for a family). However, Hanafi jurists categorise them as those who have no earnings at all.
As you can see, there is a difference of opinion about the distinction between 'poor' and 'needy' - but they are both eligible for Zakat.
3. Administrators of Zakat (Al-'Amilina 'Alayha): This is any Muslim who works in a Zakat-related role, including collecting, storing and distributing Zakat. (For example, an aid worker who gives out donations in the Rohingya camps).
4. Reconciliation of Hearts (Al-Muallafat Qulubuhum): This means people who have just embraced Islam or are inclined to becoming Muslim. (For example, a revert who has just started visiting the local masjid and learning about Islam).
The remaining four categories are unlikely to apply to any modern water project, so we won't explain them in detail. They are: using Zakat to free a Muslim from bondage, to pay off a Muslim's debt, spending it in the cause of Allah and for wayfarers.
2. What conditions should a Zakat-eligible water project fulfil?
If a water project fulfils any of the below conditions, it is eligible for Zakat:
One: It serves poor and/or needy Muslims who have difficulty accessing or affording water.
The Prophet (saw) said, 'There is no right for the son of Adam other than these things: a house in which he lives, a garment to cover his nakedness, a piece of bread and water' [Tirmidhi]. Therefore, every human being has the right to these basic life-needs.
So if a Muslim needs to walk several kilometres to access water, or if their local water source is dirty (leading to potentially deadly illnesses), or if they are forced to ration water due to a shortage, or if they can't afford to purchase water - and they don’t have the means to solve this problem themselves - then it becomes the Ummah's responsibility to provide them with water.
Therefore, they have a right to your Zakat, which can be used to build a water well or create other water infrastructure. After constructing this, our team will give them ownership of this life-saving water source.
Two: It serves a revert community and may function as da'wah.
In some countries - for example, Rwanda - there isn't a great Muslim presence. The majority of people will be unlikely to come into contact with a Muslim. This means that those who choose to embrace Islam are not only isolated from their own community, they are also missing out on meeting other Muslims, learning from them and joining them in congregational worship.
These may be people whose hearts need to be 'reconciled'. They accept Islam and they want to please Allah, but if practicing Islam becomes too difficult for them, their hearts might stray from it. However, if other Muslims make an effort to visit them, teach them, build them masjids and generally welcome them into the Ummah, their hearts will remain warm towards practicing Islam.
Moreover, if your efforts attract other people to Islam - for example, if you build a water well outside a masjid - then you will be inviting more people to the Ummah while reconciling the hearts of new reverts.
Please note: at Muslim Hands, we only build Zakat-eligible wells for poor and needy Muslims. Our teams always assess whether a community have difficulty accessing or affording water, and consult them about a potential water project, before we allocate them your Zakat.
3. What are some examples of Zakat-eligible water projects?
To illustrate the above conditions, here are three water projects which we accept Zakat for:
Firstly, our Yemen Water Fund is used to rehabilitate existing wells in Yemen and also construct major city-wide infrastructure to increase water supply.
Already a water-scarce country, the humanitarian need in Yemen has reached shocking levels due to the conflict. Literally millions of our brothers and sisters can't afford to buy themselves a meal, are going for days without water being piped into their homes and are suffering from malnutrition and water-borne illnesses.
Meanwhile, private water companies have raised their prices so much that people are paying sixteen times more than the water is worth, literally giving everything they have for a bottle of water. Therefore, if your Zakat provides water to Yemen, you will be fulfilling the basic rights of the poor and needy, giving them water for life.
If you select 'Zakat' on the drop-down list, our team will ensure that your well is built for those deserving of Zakat (i.e. the poor and needy). You can choose to include a plaque on this well and you will receive feedback after it is constructed. Ownership of the well be given to the local Muslim community once it is completed (who are eligible for Zakat due to poverty). Our team will also train a committee to manage and maintain the water well.
Thirdly, we accept Zakat for some Water Filtration Plants as well.
Some poor and/or needy Muslims only have access to unsafe drinking water. This carries bacteria, pyrogens and other impurities. Depending on what is in the water, there may be widespread kidney stones, stomach illnesses, diarrhoea or cholera in the community - all of which is completely preventable, but they can't afford the technology to purify their water.
In these cases, your Zakat can build a Water Filtration Plant, removing the dangerous impurities from the water and providing a daily source of clean water to 500 people. This not only fulfils their basic right, it may actually give them the means to improve their lives, since frequent illness was holding them back from attending school or establishing a livelihood.
As with any water project, our experts always consult the community about their own needs. They know best how your Zakat can help them.
4. Frequently asked questions about Zakat and water
Q1: Do you have a 100% Zakat policy with water wells?
A1: 100% of your Zakat will go towards the divinely-ordained categories of Zakat. Our donation policy is: 90% goes towards the project (i.e. the poor and needy) and 10% goes towards our fundraisers (i.e. the collectors of Zakat). None of your Zakat goes to admin costs; rather, our fundraisers use it to generate further funds. (See our Zakat Policy).
Ownership of the water project is always given to the poor and needy.
Q2: Can I build a Zakat-eligible well in someone's name?
A2: If you are giving your own Zakat, you can't build the well in someone else's name. This is because Zakat is an obligation which is solely on behalf of yourself. (You can still add a plaque with your own name to the well).
However, you can always give Sadaqah to build a well in someone's name.
Q3: How is my Zakat donation handled by Muslim Hands?
A3: At Muslim Hands, Zakat, Sadaqah and Interest donations are all kept separately, to ensure they go to the correct category of people. We also aim to distribute Zakat donations within one year of you giving it, as Zakat is an annual charity. (You will receive a feedback report once your well is completed).
Q4: You have a payment plan for some wells - can I give Zakat monthly?
A4: According to all schools of thoughts, you can give Zakat in advance. So you can make monthly payments. Please make sure you keep track of all your Zakat payments, then calculate at the end of the year if you have paid the correct amount. You can make up the difference at the end of the year. (If you have given more Zakat than you needed to, it can be a Sadaqah for you).
To summarise: there are eight categories of Zakat and if your water project falls into one of these categories, you can spend your Zakat on it. This is because water is a basic right and life-need which, unfortunately, many poor and needy people don't have access to.
Almost all of our water projects are Zakat-eligible, including Tube Wells, Dig-a-Wells, Community Wells, Water Filtration Plants, the Yemen Water Fund and the Global Safe Water Fund. If you are giving on our website, simply select Zakat on the drop-down list. If you are giving by phone or post, make sure to specify that your donation is Zakat.
Here are some links which might be useful to you:
May Allah (swt) purify and increase your wealth, put barakah in your donation and help us deliver your amanah in the best way, amin!
Muslim Hands is an award-winning charity, established in 1993 to provide emergency relief and tackle the root causes of poverty. We hope this article was useful to you - please share with friends and family, so they can benefit as well!