Zakat must be paid by:
1- A Muslim: A non-Muslim is not obligated to pay zakat as it is a form of worship within Islam. In the same manner, according to the vast majority of scholars (some opine a consensus), non-Muslims are not given zakat. They should be supported via general sadaqah.
2- A person who reached the age of puberty (baligh)
A person must be at the age of puberty to qualify as a zakat payer. Minors are not under a fard obligation to perform acts of ibadah such as prayers (salaat) and fasting (saum) because they lack legal capacity. They are accordingly exempt from paying zakat by reason of absence of legal capacity.
3- A sane person
4- Sahib-un-nisaab (owner of wealth above the level of nisab)
There are differences of opinion regarding the following:
- The orphan
- The child (pre-puberty)
- The mad / insane
Other than the Hanafi madhab, the other three schools of thought say that zakat should be paid on behalf of orphans, children and those mentally challenged. The payment has to be made from the assets of the types of people aforementioned.
There are eight categories of people to whom zakat can be distributed. These have been identified as:
1) Al-Fuqara: The Poor
This refers to those who do not own any zakatable assets or surplus assets which equate to the nisab.
2) Al-Masakin: The Needy
According to some scholars, they are those whose economic status is worse than the needy. In essence, they refer to those people who do not own any zakatable assets or surplus assets which equate to the nisab.
3) Al-‘Amilina ‘Alayha: Administrators of Zakat
These are officials of the zakat department of the authorities. Zakat is given to them as part of their salary in the service of zakat. It is not a condition for this category to be poor and needy. A wealthy administrator can also receive zakat.
4) Al-Mu’allafah Qulubuhum: Reconciliation of Hearts
Zakat was given to some people to soften their hearts and to draw them closer to Islam and the Muslims. Hence, the following three types of people were given zakat:
Those who are inclined to accept Islam
Those who have just embraced Islam
Opposition from whom fear is perceived
5) Fir-Riqab: For those in Bondage
Zakat may be allocated to help Muslims free themselves from slavery.
6) Al-Gharimin: Those in Debt
Zakat may be given to those in debt. Any person whose liabilities exceed his zakatable and surplus assets can receive zakat to pay off the debt. It is not necessary to give the zakat in his hand. Zakat can be given to the creditor on behalf of the debtor with the latter’s acknowledgement.
7) Fi-Sabilillah: In the Cause of Allah
Muslim jurists differ on who or what can be covered under this category, although, most seem to agree that it primarily refers to the defence of Islam.
8) Ibn as-Sabil: The Wayfarer
A wayfarer refers to a person who does not have access to his funds despite being wealthy. A good example of this is a traveller who left his home for a lawful purpose and does not have access to any of his funds back home. Such a person will be regarded as ibn as-Sabil.
If zakat is given to any individual, it does not need to be declared as zakat. This is because the recipient may be hesitant or uncomfortable because they may not believe they are needy or eligible enough to receive zakat. The following must be considered:
§ Recipients should be assessed individually and not as a family
§ However, if the close relative fits into the categories of other types of recipients, such as being a zakat collector, then he can be given zakat for that
§ If the relative is not a close relative, zakat can be given to them directly as long as they meet the criteria to be eligible to receive it