Answered by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
My wife is presently taking a student loan to attend university. After she finishes, she will have no means of paying off her loans. If I pay them for her, would that be considered zakat, or am I responsible for paying them?
In the Name of Allah, Most Merciful and Compassionate. May His abundant blessing and most perfect of peace be on His Beloved Prophet, the best of creation, and his family, companions and followers.
Walaikum assalam wa rahmatullah,
There is great reward in paying off another’s debts, particularly when they are unable to repay them, and even more so when they related (such as one’s spouse). However:
It is not permitted to give one’s zakat to one’s wife by scholarly consensus, as Imam Ibn Qudama al-Hanbali (Allah have mercy on him) states, and then relates from Imam Ibn al-Mundhir (Allah have mercy on him). [Ibn Qudama, al-Mughni 2.270]
The reasoning behind the ruling is that it is obligatory for the husband to provide for his wife, so this lifts her need for zakat. [ ibid.]
Also, material benefits are shared between the spouses, so it does not fulfill the condition of zakat, which is that it be given in a manner in which there is no (direct material) benefit returning back to the giver. [Marghinani, Hidaya; Tumurtashi, Tanwir al-Absar]
The definition of zakat is that it is:
“Transferring ownership of an amount of material wealth specified by the Lawgiver to a poor Muslim who is not Hashimi not their client, without material benefit returning to the giver in any way, for the sake of Allah Most High.” [Tumurtashi, Tanwir al-Absar]
There are many important points understood in this definition:
1. It is a condition that there be a transferring of ownership. (Simply put: your zakat has to be given). As such, it is not valid to forgive a debt someone owes you as zakat.
2. Zakat has to be given to the poor and needy. It is not valid to give zakat for projects, mosques, and virtuous activity, unless the zakat itself will be given to the poor and needy.
3. Zakat must be given to a Muslim. Unlike charity, it is not valid to give zakat to a non-Muslim.
4. Zakat cannot normally be given to Hashimis.
5. The giver cannot materially benefit from giving their zakat. As such, one cannot give zakat to one’s parents, children, or spouse, because benefits between these people are shared.
[Ibn Abidin and Haskafi, Radd al-Muhtar `ala al-Durr al-Mukhtar 2.2-4; Ibn al-Humam and Marghinani, Fath al-Qadir Sharh al-Hidaya ]
As for those who say that it is permitted for the wife to give zakat to her husband because of the hadith of Zaynab (the wife of Ibn Mas`ud (Allah be pleased with her and him)): the very text of the hadith clearly indicates that she asked the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) about charity (sadaqa) not zakat. [Ibn al-Humam and Marghinani, Fath al-Qadir Sharh al-Hidaya]
She had money and Ibn Mas`ud (Allah be pleased with him) was poor. She asked whether it would count’ if she provided for him. The Prophet said, “Yes. She would have two rewards: the reward of charity (sadaqa), and the reward of relationship.” [Bukhari (1466), Muslim (1000),Nasa’i (2583), and others]
And Allah alone gives success.