Sunday, November 19, 2017 - 1 Rabi' al-Awwal 1439

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Is it permissible for stepchildren to be beneficiaries of zakat?

Is it permissible for stepchildren to be beneficiaries of zakat?

Answer

There is no doubt that bringing up a young child who has been left without a guardian or without money is an act of kindness which God views very favorably and rewards very generously. As you know, good deeds are rewarded at least tenfold. When an act of charity is done to a deserving helpless young child from who one does not expect any return, God will reward such an action. He increases the reward for a good action which is done with sincerity and with the sole intention of pleasing Him, multiplying it seven hundred times or even more. When a family is left destitute and a person invites it into his home and looks after it, his action merits great reward. If he cannot provide the widow with separate accommodations, he should consider marrying her. Otherwise, problems could arise if she continues to live in his home even though she has young children. It seems to me that the man in this case was aware of all the points to be considered in his relationship with this family and married the mother to look after her and her children. May God reward him generously for his kindness.

Whatever the circumstances, this man has done something highly commendable when he married the widow and started to look after her three children. Now he is wondering whether his action can be considered as zakat. In other words, he wants to do a set off, which relieves him of the duty of zakat while he continues to support the orphaned children. Before we answer him, let us first consider whether the three children qualify as beneficiaries of zakat in general and particularly from their stepfather. We have to assume that the children have no money of their own. Otherwise, their mother would not have been on the verge of being thrown out of her home for failing to pay the rent of her previous accommodations. This evidences the family’s poverty or need. As such, the family members are considered deserving recipients of zakat.

The upbringing of young children is the responsibility of their father. If he dies, leaving them young, then the responsibility is taken over by their next of kin. If their grandfather is alive, he is responsible for their upbringing. If not, an elder brother or a paternal uncle undertakes this responsibility. When no such next of kin is available to support them, they must be looked after by the Muslim state. If they live in a non-Muslim country, then the Muslim community is collectively responsible for their upbringing. A stepfather is not duty bound to support his wife’s children unless he has committed himself to do so voluntarily. And, unless it is regulated by a specific contract [which may have been concluded at the time of the marriage], this is a moral commitment. In view of the foregoing, the children in this case may receive zakat from their stepfather because he is not obliged to support them. A Muslim cannot pay his zakat to someone whom he is obliged to support such as his mother, children or grandchildren. As he is his duty to support these relatives, giving them zakat is tantamount to giving it to himself.

Having said that, I must explain that there cannot be a straightforward set off, relieving the man from paying zakat in return for raising his wife’s orphaned children. What he should do, is to calculate his zakat and set it aside to be paid at the appropriate date. He may wish to pay the whole amount to his stepchildren. If they are very young, he may spend the money on their needs however he sees fit since he is their guardian. Alternatively, he may give it to their mother to buy things for them. If they can be trusted not to squander the money, as may be the case when they are teenagers, he can give the zakat to them, transferring it into their ownership as this is one of the conditions of zakat.

It may be that what he spends on them is much greater than the amount of zakat he has to pay. Nevertheless, he cannot ignore calculating his zakat; he must calculate it and set the money aside. When rules are made, they take into account all possible cases. Someone in the same position as the inquirer may have a large sum of zakat to pay, which could be far in excess of what he pays to bring up his wife's children. If the principle of set off is to be applied, then some zakat recipients are bound to suffer.

Having said that, I would like to add that paradise may be compared to a huge garden or a palace with many doors. A person who wants to enter the garden or palace may enter through any of these doors. Once he has entered, he is already inside and should not worry over which door he got through. The most important thing is that he gets in. Similarly, paradise has many doors and one of them is pilgrimage, another is charity, a third is jihad, a fourth is fasting, a fifth is night worship, and so forth. A person who manages to get admitted into paradise is indeed successful.
And God the Almighty knows best.
 

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