ADMINISTRATION OF MUSLIM LAW ACT
(CHAPTER 3, SECTION 32)
FATWA COMMITTEE, ISLAMIC RELIGIOUS COUNCIL OF SINGAPORE
The Fatwa Committee convened on 6 May 2020, to discuss questions on zakat assistance for those affected by COVID-19
بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
الحمد لله رب العالمين ، والصلاة والسلام على سيد المرسلين وإمام المتقين نبينا محمد وعلى آله وأصحابه أجمعين. اللهم أرنا الحق حقا وارزقنا اتباعه، وأرنا الباطل باطلا وارزقنا اجتنابه، وبعد.
1 The current COVID-19 outbreak has created long-lasting impact on Singapore and the global economy. According to some studies, approximately 150 to 200 thousand workers will be unemployed in Singapore in 2020. Singapore’s economy is also projected to enter into a recession with the country's GDP growth diminishing to between -4 to -1 percent.
2 The Office of the Mufti projects that the Muslim community will severely affected by this development. There will be families whose monthly incomes will be hit. For some individuals, some short-term help schemes provided by the government may be insufficient. Some may no longer be able to afford the cost of living especially in relation to children's education and other basic needs.
3 Based on these information, the Fatwa Committee has considered the following question from the Office of the Mufti:
a) Can individuals affected by COVID-19 receive zakat assistance? Can they be included as the beneficiaries of zakat (asnaf)?
4 The Qur’an has prescribed 8 categories of zakat beneficiaries (asnaf). Allah s.w.t. says in Surah al-Tawbah, verse 60:
Meaning: “Verily, charities (zakat) are only for the poor, the needy, those employed to collect [zakat] and for bringing hearts together [for Islam], and for slaves who desire to free themselves, and for those in debt, those who are in the cause of Allah and for the [stranded] traveller - an obligation [imposed] by Allah. And Allah is all-Knowing and Wise.”
5 Although the Quran has prescribed these categories, religious scholars expanded the definitions according to their interpretations of scripture and the realities of their time. These interpretations draw from Islam’s main objective, which is to protect public welfare and interest. In this regard, it is important to note that the needs of society change with the passage of time, and changes in circumstance and human needs.
6 Among the examples of these interpretations are as follow:
(i) Asnaf Ibn Sabil (Stranded travellers on a permissible journey):
The Fatwa Committee has expanded the definition of ibn sabīl in 2019 to include 1) Singaporeans who are stranded in foreign countries and do not have the financial means to return to Singapore; 2) Students who are having difficulties returning to Singapore, or students who are stranded in countries which are in a state of emergency; 3) Foreign workers stranded in Singapore and have exhausted all financial resources; 4) Deceased Singaporean Muslims who have to be brought back to Singapore for burial, or deceased Muslim foreigners residing in Singapore which have to be repatriated but such costs cannot be afforded by their families.
(ii) Asnaf Riqab (One who is freeing himself/herself from slavery):
The MUIS Fitrah Zakat Committee had expanded on the meaning of riqāb to include students in need of financial aid. This is because knowledge frees a person from the shackles of ignorance.
(iii) Asnaf Miskin (One who has insufficient means of livelihood to meet his/her basic needs): Scholars include in this category those who can only manage to meet their basic needs (ḍarūriyyāt) even if they are employed but do not have sufficient expenses to meet their daily needs or those under their care.
(iv) Asnaf Fisabilillah (One who strives in the cause of Allah): According to Ibn al-Athīr, fīsabīlillah is a general concept that incorporates all the deeds which draw one closer to Allah s.w.t.
Al-Imām al-Rāzī interpreted the word fīsabīlillah in verse 60 of surah al-Tawbah as not specific to those who fight in wars. He cited al-Qaffāl’s view that the zakat for this category of fīsabīlillah could be used for any public good, including the management and funeral service of the deceased, building forts or mosques.
7 In sum, the above show that the 8 categories of zakat beneficiaries (asnaf) can be expanded and adapted to current realities.
8 Based on the current needs, the Fatwa Committee has decided that zakat assistance can be distributed to those whose income has been affected by the recession or unemployment caused by COVID-19. Such individuals who are facing difficulties meeting their basic needs (as well as those of their families) are eligible for zakat assistance. This broader understanding and application of the meaning of zakat beneficiaries (asnaf) aims to preserve the religious objective of zakat in helping those in need.
9 Those affected by COVID-19 and require zakat assistance do not form a new category of zakat beneficiaries (asnaf), but can be classified under several existing categories whose interpretations have been expanded. They are as follow:
Zakat Beneficiaries (Asnaf)
Individuals displaced from job, and their source of income is affected and is not sufficient to meet their basic needs (and of their families).
Individuals who have been subjected to significant pay cuts and do not have sufficient funds to meet their basic needs (and of their families).
Individuals whose income is affected, and are facing difficulties in paying their debts related to their basic family needs.
Individuals who cannot afford their children's education due to their financial status being affected by unemployment.
Any relevant assistance that cover all other situations not mentioned above, such as payment for high medical expenses due to COVID-19 infection and/or extended hospitalisation.
10 This specific zakat assistance is meant to be an additional form of support on top of other support schemes provided by the government. Those affected should therefore first utilize available government schemes, and only when such funds are still insufficient, they can receive assistance through zakat. This zakat assistance should also not affect disbursements to other categories of beneficiaries (asnaf).
والله ولي التوفيق، وصلى الله على سيدنا محمد وعلى آله وصحبه وسلم.
DR NAZIRUDIN MOHD NASIR
CHAIRMAN, FATWA (LEGAL) COMMITTEE
MUFTI OF THE REPUBLIC OF SINGAPORE
 Today online, “COVID-19 Pandemic Could Lead to 150,000 to 200,000 Retrenchments, Say Maybank Economists”,https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/covid-19-pandemic-could-lead-150000-200000-retrenchments-say-economists, published on 8 April 2020.
 Ministry of Trade and Industry Singapore, “Singapore’s GDP Contracted by 2.2 Per Cent in First Quarter of 2020, MTI Downgrades 2020 GDP Growth Forecast to “-0.4 to – 1.0 Per Cent”, https://www.mti.gov.sg/-/media/MTI/Newsroom/Press-Releases/2020/03/AdvEst_1Q20.pdf, published on 26 March 2020.
 Al-Rāzī, Tafsīr al-Fakhr al-Rāzī, vol 16, p 115.
 Hasnah Abd Khafidz, “Asnaf Lapan: Kesan Nilai Semasa dan Setempat dalam Menentukan pentafsirannya di Malaysia”, p. 5.