Answered by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
We know of a scholar who has no real source of income except some compensation that is meager. He is doing important research on an Islamic topic, and benefits people in many ways. He has a family, too, and is needy.
If we give him money as a grant for his research, would this qualify as zakat? Or does it have to be specifically explained to him that we are giving money to him as a form of zakat to the poor?
The condition in zakat is that the recipient be needy, and that a transfer of ownership take place. It is not a condition that the recipient be told that it is zakat.
It is more praiseworthy to give one’s zakat to those whose efforts help others, such as scholars and the righteous, as one gets the reward of zakat, of helping in their good, and of honoring those whom Allah has honored. [Ibn Abidin, Radd al-Muhtar; Haskafi, Durr al-Muntaqa]
As one of my teachers said, “There is little good in people who do not take care of their scholars.”