Ramadan is the month of giving and benevolence, the Messenger was more benevolent than a falling rain. Muslims are encouraged to emulate the Messenger of Allah (saws), to assess and pay their Zakat during the month of Ramadan, thus combining the two pillars of Islam at the same time.
Zakat (alms) is the name of what a believer returns out of his or her wealth to the neediest of Muslims for the sake of the Almighty Allah. It is called Zakat because the word Zakat is from Zakaa which means, to increase, purify and bless.
Who Should Give Zakat
The obligation of Zakat is mandatory on every Muslim who possesses the minimum Nisaab, whether the person is man, woman, young, old sane or insane. Because the proof of Zakat in Al-Qur'an and Sunnah is general and does not exclude young or insane. Allah (SWT) stated that: "Of their goods take alms so that thou mightiest purify and sanctify them..." (Al-Qur'an, 9: 103)
Imam Ibn Hazim said that every Muslim young or old sane or insane needs to cleanse his or her wealth with Zakat because of generality of the evidence. Anas bin Malik reported that the Messenger of Allah (saws) said: "Trade with the money of the orphan, lest it is eaten up by Zakat." (At-Tabraani) In another Hadith `Amru bin Shuaib related from his grandfather that the Messenger of Allah said:
"Whoever is entrusted with money of an orphan should trade with it and should not leave it sitting to be used up by charity." (Tirmidhi)
The point of reference in these reports is that the Messenger (saws) urged the trustee on the estate of people who due to age or other reasons cannot manage their own financial affairs, to invest it in a business that will yield a return and make it grow until they are in a position to do so themselves. For, if proper investment is not made with an ophan's inheritance, it will be depleted by charity, thus leaving the orphan with little or nothing.
The Lawgiver, Allah has prescribed the minimum amount that is obligatory for Zakat in different ranges of properties, and that minimum amount is known as nisaab. The reason for nisaab is to ensure that no one is forced to give Zakat out of what he or she does not have, and that no wealth goes without Zakat. Nisaab is also an insurance against the tyranny of the state to tax the poor and or the neediest as is the case in many countries. Nisaab is a reference point for the average Muslim who is not sure whether he possesses the minimum wealth on which Zakat is obligatory. The wealthy need not worry about the Nisaab. Zakat is obligatory on their entire wealth and must be paid out at the end of financial year that they set for their Zakat.
The Nisaab will not be valid unless it fulfills two conditions:
1) The amount that has reached Nisaab must be the excess or surplus known as "faadil" from one's essential needs such as food, clothing, housing, vehicles, tools and machinery that is used in business. The essentials for living are exempted from Zakat.
Although what constitutes nisaab may change from one country to another, the amount that is needed for the basic needs of living in different countries is very similar, because the market place determines the prices, whether it is an official market or a non-official market. In the poorest countries people do without or live below the poverty standard, and that is why many go hungry or without basic essentials.
However, we must realize that Zakat is an act of worship (ebadah) like Salaat. The element of intention (niyyah) is necessary, and we should not overly rely on state agencies to determine for us the requirements of our religious duty. The so called the "consumption basket" (that is poverty level as determined the social security administration which are updated every fiscal year) may not be the same as what Islam considers minimum Nisaab.
In the industrialized countries, the consumption basket may include items that are not necessarily essential, such as entertainment, extra clothing, variety of food, eating in restaurant or eating at home, owning more than one car as opposed to having three cars in the driveway, drinking water as opposed to juices, eating regular food or special "health" food. This is why I believe it is essential that we do not lose site of the fact that Zakat is ebadah of wealth, like salaat and fasting. Non Muslims may consider all the things mentioned above as essentials while Muslims will not. Indeed, no Muslims in good standing will attempt to hide behind the label of consumption basket so as to evade Zakat.
Nisaab eliminates the possibility of injustice or unfair treatment of the Zakat payer. To suggest that if we do not follow the rules of International Monetary Fund or the arbitrary figures of social security administration or department of agriculture we will be doing injustice to the Zakat payer is ludicrous.
2) Nisaab must mature, that is the money is not liable for Zakat unless it has remained a full year in the possession of a person. This is the understanding of the majority of the scholars. Imam Abu Hanifah (raa) said: "What should be considered is the existence of nisaab at the beginning and the end of the Zakat year set by the payer". It does not matter if the nisaab money increases or decreases during the calendar year, as we will explain later.
This condition does not include farm produce, for it is due on the day it is harvested. Allah (SWT) stated: "... But render the dues that are proper on the day that the harvest is gathered..." (Al-Qur'an, 6: 141) According to Imam Al-`Abadi, (raa) Zakat money is of two kinds: one that by its nature can not be invested and Zakat of this category is due on the day of harvest. This includes all the farm produce that is liable for Zakat. The other is wealth that can be invested in the hope of a good return, like cash, gold or silver, because the opportunity is there that cash in one's hand can be invested for a good return. This includes currency investment, merchandise and livestock. Their Zakat is not due until they have matured in one full year.
The proof of this condition is the Hadith related by Ibn `Umar that the Messenger of Allah (saws) said: "He who acquires property is not liable for Zakat on it till a year passes." According to Ibn Rushd (raa) this is the understanding of the majority of scholars, including the four rightly guided Khalifahs.
Zakat Of Salaries
The condition of yearly term maturity applies to the commodities on which the Lawgiver said Zakat is due, and this includes silver, gold, modern paper currency and livestock. Paper currency is analogous to silver, therefore, it takes the case of silver. There is no Zakat on salary, earned income from wage earners or professionals or independent contractors until such money matures in a full year. There is no such thing as paying your Zakat on the day you receive your pay check. What the wage earner must know is that he or she can purify that money with charity (sadaqah) anytime they cash the pay check. Allah (SWT) states: "And in their wealth and possessions (was remembered) the right of the needy, he who asks and he who (for some reason) was prevented (from asking)." (Al-Qur'an, 51: 19).
We can deduce from the concept of "yearly maturity" of wealth on which Zakat is due as encouraging, among other things, saving on the part of the Zakat payer, and enhances the chances for eradicating poverty, because if the poor receives his rightful share of Zakat there will be the possibility that he can take Zakat money and invest it and become a Zakat payer instead of recipient. This possibility will be lost if he receives few Zakat dollars every month. To say that the wage earner just brings his check home and spends everything on necessities and lives from check to check with nothing left over means the person is eligible for Zakat.
Using farm produce as analogous to salary for Zakat is wrong analogy. As Imam Al-`Abadi said, these are two different categories of money. $2, 500.00 cash can be invested by the person and expect a good return whereas it will be difficult to invest a bushel of corn. It can be traded as a commodity, which is what it is. This why we must know that analogy has rules that must be followed before it is applied. Certainly the jurists are unanimous that earned income, known as almal al-mustafadah, should either be added to existing money and wait until that amount reaches maturity and then give their Zakat; or if there is no money on hand the time one possesses this money, he or she should wait one full year before assessing it for Zakat.
Zakat is one of the five pillars of Islam and a vital element in the religion of Islam. It is the twin sister of Salaat. In Al-Qur'an, Allah (SWT) stated: "So establish regular Prayer and give regular Alms; and obey the Messenger; that you may receive mercy." (Al-Qur'an, 24: 56) Also, "...Establish regular Prayer and give regular Alms, and loan to Allah a beautiful loan...." (Al-Qur`an, 73: 20) "And they have been commanded no more than this: to worship Allah, offering Him sincere devotion, being true (in faith); to establish regular Prayer and to practice regular charity; and that is the religion right and straight." (Al-Qur`an, 98: 5)
In a famous Hadith reported by `Umar Bin Khattab (raa), the Messenger of Allah (saws) responded to Jibreel (as) and said: "... Islam is to testify that there is no deity but Allah and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, to perform the prayer, to pay Zakat, to observe fasting in Ramadan, and to make pilgrimage to the house of Allah if you are able to do os...." (Bukhari, Muslim)
There is consensus among Muslim scholars that it is mandatory on every believer who is financially able. Whoever knowingly denies this obligation, while he possesses the minimum amount, would be considered a disbeliever and a renegade from Islam. Whoever is stingy, or tries to cheat, is considered among the wrongdoers. Zakat is mandatory on four categories of items.
1. Farm produce of seeds and fruits, such as wheat, barley, rice, dates, raisins, cocoa, pistachios, coffee, cashews. Allah (SWT) stated: "O you who believe, give of the good things which you have (honourably) earned, and of the fruits of the earth which We have produced for you..." (Al-Qur'an, 2: 267) Also: "... But render the dues that are proper on the day that the harvest is gathered..." (Al-Qur'an, 6: 141) Thus, these two verses and many others indicate that Zakat is due on farm products that reached the minimum amount (nisaab). No farm product is liable for Zakat unless it is a product that is considered as food and can be stocked or saved naturally without refrigeration. If the produce is perishable fruit, such as grapes, there is no Zakat. But if one sells them they will pay their Zakat on the profit earned when it matures.
The nisaab is 612 kilos, which equals 1,346.40 lb. There is no Zakat on produce that is less than this amount. If the farm produce or crops grow dependant on rainwater, or without any man's labour or irrigation, Zakat due is one-tenth of the total. If it is grown by irrigation, then the Zakat due is half of one-tenth of the total produce. There is no Zakat on fruits like apples or oranges or vegetables which are perishable and need refrigeration for long storage, but they should be considered as any income if the profit earned from their sale reaches the amount of Zakat, then Zakat should be given.
2. Cattle, including camels, cows, sheep and goats, that are freely graze and are raised for trade and production. For Zakat to be obligatory, the number must reach the nisaab. The nisaab of camels is five, of cows 30, of sheep and goats, 40. By freely grazing is meant the animal goes out to feed without the owner buying or bringing it feed or hay. If it is not a grazing animal, there is no Zakat in the stock by itself. The stock will, however, be considered as articles of trade, then will be assessed for Zakat as articles of trade when the profit earned from their sale reaches the amount by itself or in combination with other articles of the trade.
3. Merchandise and goods of trade and commerce. This includes anything that is obtained for the business of buying and selling: land, animals, food provisions, fabric, cars, spare parts, etc. This inventory is evaluated annually and assessed for Zakat, whether the value is the same as the amount spent on it, more, or less. The owners of grocery stores, like any other business, must evaluate every item and give their Zakat. Simple bookkeeping of inventory, orders, cash on hand, and credits, that is non-delinquent loans, will give one a good picture of the Zakatable assets. But if one is unable to account for everything in the store or shop, he should assess it according to his ability until he is sure that his conscience is clear.
There is no Zakat on what is within one's dwelling or property which includes food, drinks, furniture, houses, animals, cars, clothes and shoes. The only exception is gold and silver. There is no Zakat on assets from rentals or lease, whether they are apartment units, taxi cabs, etc. That is, there is no Zakat on the apartment units, buses or cars for rental like yellow cabs company or trucks for rental or equipments. But there is Zakat on the proceeds or incomes from these rental assets if these assets reach the executable amount, either by themselves or in combination with other assets.
Many scholars are of the opinion that any business activity that brings any return to the entrepreneur or investor should be assessed for Zakat. If the activity has a prescribed nisaab, such as gold, silver or paper currency, that nisaab is applied for Zakat. But if the business has no declared nisaab, its nisaab is the nisaab of commerce, one reason being that most business activities are considered as commerce and because, in actual fact, it is not factitious business name, such as GM, Apple or GE that is taxed for Zakat, it is the individual investor. We do not tax cooperations such IBM, Apple, GM or Rajihy Bank but the individual investors, share holders and owners of these corporations.
Indeed, there are enough rules in Zakat books to cover all types of business activity, be it cash or risk investment. If the business activity is analogous to commerce, it should be assessed the same rate as commerce. To subject the business to a different Zakat rate of 10%, which is the rate of farm products instead of its correct rate of 2.5%, the rate of commerce, is unfair and unjustified. Besides, there is no proof, even a weak one, to justify this unfair arbitrary taxation. The difference between 2.5% and 10% is high. The Zakat system is not like a state revenue collection, but Allah's `ebadah. However, if a business person decides to give more than 2.5% after deducting all the expenses including depreciation, Allah (SWT) will accept it from him.
4. Gold and silver, whether used for commerce or jewellery. Allah (SWT) states: "...And there are those who bury gold and silver and spend it not in the way of Allah: announce unto them a most grievous penalty. On the day when heat will be produced out of that (wealth) in the fire of hell, and with it will be branded their foreheads, their flanks and their backs. This is the (treasure) which you buried for yourselves: taste you, then, the (treasures) you buried." (Al-Qur'an, 9: 34-35). By hoarding is meant refusal to give it in the path of Allah, which includes Zakat.
In a hadith reported by Abu Hurairah (raa), the Messenger of Allah (saws) said: "For the owner or possessor of gold and silver who does not fulfil its obligation, on the Day of Resurrection it will be cast into sheets of fire and be branded on his forehead, side and back. Whenever it cools it is to be repeated for him in a day whose length is the length of fifty thousand years, until the judgement is rendered among the people." (Muslim). By its obligation is meant assessing it for Zakat. In another version: "No possessor of a treasure who does not give its Zakat."
Zakat is mandatory in gold and silver, irrespective of its form: in coins, raw or nugget, or jewelry for wearing, or for rent, because of the generality of evidence of Zakat without any detail. In a report by Abdullah bin `Amr bin `Aas (raa), he related that a woman came to the Messenger of Allah with her daughter. On the daughter's wrist were two heavy gold bracelets. The Messenger asked her, "Do you pay Zakat on this?" She replied, "No." The Messenger said: "Would it please you that Allah will encircle you with two bracelets of fire?" The reporter commented that she took them off and threw them down in front of the Messenger, and said: "They are for Allah and his Messenger." (Ahmed, Tirmidhi).
The Messenger's wife reported that: "The Messenger entered into my house and saw in my hand a huge ring made of silver, so he asked, `What is this?' I replied, `I made them to beautify myself for you, O Messenger of Allah.' He inquired, `Do you give their Zakat?' I said, `No,' or `Allah willing.' He said: `It will suffice you in the hellfire.'" (Abu Dawuud).
Zakat is due on gold when it reaches the amount of (nisaab), which is 20 Dinaar. According to a hadith, the Messenger said: "No Zakat on you is due until it reaches 20 dinaar." (Abu Dawud) The Islamic dinaar (currency) is one mithqal, a unit of weight which weighs four and one quarter of a gram. Thus, the nisaab is 85 grams. This is equal to $30.00 US dollars.
Similarly, there is no Zakat on silver until it reaches five oqiyah, because the Messenger said: "There is no Zakat on less then five oqiyah." (Muslim/Bukhari) Oqiyah is equal to forty Islamic dirhams. The nisaab is 200 dirhams. One dirham is equivalent to 595 grams. The Zakatable amount in both the gold and silver is a quarter of a tenth only.
There is Zakat on modern paper currency because it is equivalent to silver. During the early days of Islam, silver and gold were the currency of exchange minted into dirham for silver and dinaar for gold. Silver, not gold, had a larger circulation. Thus many scholars are of opinion that silver should be the standard for the paper currencies of today because that is more advantageous to the Zakat payer, as it raises the minimum nisaab whereas gold lowers it. Although both metals are no longer circulated, they are still considered as a security against ever fluctuating paper money.
Silver should be used as a standard to assess Zakat annually, not paper currency, even if the currency is hard currency like the US dollar, Yen and Deutch Mark or Pound Sterling. Because these currencies are backed by political decisions that may not have anything to do with the economy, the value and strength of this paper money depends largely on all haram usury system of interest rates.
Thus, the Zakat payer should look up in the local newspaper's financial or business section for the price of silver which is currently about $3.82. per ounce. The nisaab, then, is 596 x .04=28.80 ounce multiplied by$3.82= 90.91. therefore. The nisaab is about $100.00, as of December 17, 1991.
The nisaab should be based on the market value of the currency. If the money is hard currency, there will be no problem, but if the money is a non-marketable currency, like most currencies in the third world countries, the nisaab should be based on the black market, which realistically reflects the value of the currency on the money market. In any case, the silver rate should be used to assess the Zakat.
If the nisaab is determined, the Zakatable amount is 2.5%, or .025 multiplied by the amount. For instance, if the Zakatable amount is $56,000.00 it will be 56,000. x .025 = $1,400.00.
Zakat is due on gold, silver, and or paper currency, whether it is cash in hand or credit in the hands of borrowers. Zakat is due on debts or cost of merchandize or rental money. If the borrower is a wealthy person that you know will pay back the debt, the lender (that is Halaal lending free of usury) should include that money in the assessment and give its Zakat. However, one can delay Zakat on a loan until he receives payment, then return its Zakat for the past years that he was unable to assess for Zakat. If the borrower is poor or is refusing to pay the debt, there will be no Zakat on the money until the lender receives the money. Then he will assess it for Zakat of one past due year, but there will be no Zakat in the years before that.
There is no Zakat on precious stones such as diamonds, or metals such uranium, regardless of their value. Gold and silver, of course are assessed for Zakat. However, if a person possesses any of these stones or metals, he should give their Zakat like any other articles of trade. If a person possesses diamonds or any other precious stones as an edge against inflation or for ornaments, there will no Zakat on these.
How To Give Zakat
Zakat may be assessed and returned in two ways:
a) Make a record of all money earned, either daily or monthly, which has reached the nisaab and remains in the treasury. The Zakat of that money would be due one year later on the same day the money was earned and reached nisaab. This means every month's income must be set aside and assessed for Zakat and so will be the case for the rest of the months. For instance, the income of January, 1991 will be assessed for Zakat in January, 1992, and the income of February, 1991 will be assessed for Zakat in February 1992, etc. This method of assessing Zakat is very difficult because it entails complete bookkeeping of daily or monthly earnings.
b) The best way is to set a day or a month, preferably Ramadan, for your annual Zakat return calendar, say Ramadan 1st, 1412. One year later on the same day Ramadan, 1413, your Zakat is due and payable. Whatever is in the savings is due for Zakat, regardless of whether all the amount in the savings reaches a year or not. For instance: if you have $20,000.00 in the savings account on the 1st of Ramadan, 1412 and one year later by the 1st of Ramadan, 1413 there is $50, 000.00, your Zakat will be assessed for $50,000.00, that is: $50.000.00 x .025= $1,250.00. If, on the other hand, by the 1st of Ramadan, 1413 the amount in the savings is $15,000.00, your Zakat will be for the amount in the savings, that is $15,000.00 x .025= $375.00. This method is the best because it is easy to assess, meets one's obligation and relieve one's conscience.
The Recipient Of Zakat
Knowing who qualifies as recipient of Zakat is an important aspect of Zakat collection in Islam. Fortunately, Allah (SWT) has been merciful to us in that He Himself spelled out the people eligible to receive Zakat. In Surah Tawbah He stated:
"Alms are for the poor and the needy; and those employed to administer (the funds); for those whose hearts have been (recently) reconciled (to truth); for those in bondage and in debt; in the cause of Allah; and for the wayfarer: (thus is it) ordained by Allah, and Allah is full of knowledge and wisdom." (Al-Qur'an, 9: 60) In this verse Allah enumerated the people who deserve this divine welfare, and they are as follows:
The poor and the needy. These are individuals, and those under their care, to live on. By the poor and needy is meant the people whose income or salaries, or whatever material goods they have, fall short of the cost of living in a given environment and economy. The poor and the needy should be given what will suffice them and their families for one full year. The needy who want to get married and have no means should be given enough for this purpose, and so, too, the student who needs money for tuition, rent, food, and books. The working poor should be given supplementary Zakat. But the wealthy, or any person with enough income to live on should not be given Zakat, even if they asked for it. Instead, they should be warned and admonished for asking for what does not belong to them.
In a hadith reported by Abdullah bin `Umar, the Messenger of Allah (saws) stated: "A man keeps on asking others for something till he comes on the day of Resurrection without any piece of flesh on his face." (Bukhari/Muslim). This hadith indicates a humiliating appearance before Allah (SWT) that awaits a person who asks illegally.
Some said: this hadith implies Allah will punish a person with the very limb, the face, that he used to impress on others to give him their money unlawfully.
In another hadith reported by Abu Hurairah, the Messenger of Allah said: "Whoever asks people for their money so as to get rich, he is asking for flames of fire. It is up to him to ask for more or less (he should beware)." (Muslim) This hadith indicates the severity of the punishment, the more one asks the more punishment, the less one asks the less the punishment.
In another hadith, reported by Hakeem bin Hizaam said: I begged the Messenger of Allah and he gave me. I begged again, and he gave me. I begged again and he gave me. He then said: "This money is green and sweet; he who receives it from people with a cheerful heart, Allah will bless him in it; he who receives it, with an avaricious mind would not be blessed in it. He will be like the person who eats without being satisfied; and the upper hand is better than the lower hand" (Muslim)
This hadith gave an analogy between money and green, ripened fruit that people love to eat. Thus, it indicates that both are greatly loved but easily finished. For money that is easy come easy go, one must be careful about the punishment that awaits the illegal eater. If a person asks for Zakat and there are no signs of wealth, and he does not know that he should not ask, or a person who is well and able, who can work, but does not; if these people do not know that it is not permissible for them to ask, it may be given anyway.
In a hadith reported by Ahmed, Abu Dawud, and Nasa'e, two men came to the Messenger of Allah (saws) and asked for Zakat. He looked at them closely and found them strong and able, he said, "If you want I will give you. But you should know that the wealthy or an able person who can work has no share in Zakat" (Ahmad)
Those who administer the Zakat department, assigning people for collecting, bookkeeping, making lists of people eligible for Zakat, and a financial calendar. These people will receive Zakat as compensation for their work, even if they are wealthy. This does not include a person who works as an agent for one or two wealthy people to take Zakat for himself. They should donate their time for Zakat disbursement and do it with honesty and truthfulness. If they can not, they should be paid or rewarded for their time. In a hadith related by Abu Musa Al-Ashi`ari (raa), the Messenger of Allah said: "A trustworthy Muslim executor is the one who executes completely what has been entrusted to him of Zakat money in good faith." (Bukhari)
That is, he will give the Zakat money to any of the eligible recipients of Zakat. He should carry on the duty voluntarily, but if he can not distribute the money without being paid, the Zakat payer should pay him for his work. The payment for the service of distributing Zakat should not come out of Zakat money.
The new converts to Islam whose hearts we want to harmonize into the fold of Islam, either because their faith is weak or we are afraid of their being harmed, should be given Zakat to strengthen their Iman or until we no longer fear their harm.
The bonds person who has contracted with his master to buy himself out of bondage deserve Zakat and should be given enough to pay off their debt to the master and be freed themselves; similarly, Muslim prisoners of war if their freedom is tied to monetary payment, deserve Zakat sufficient enough to secure their release.
On the other hand, if a person accidentally killed someone and have no means to pay off the blood money, he should be helped from Zakat funds.
The people in debt are of two kinds:
(A) The guarantor, who takes the responsibility of someone else's debt so as to reconcile the two warring parties, to extinguish the fire of fitnah between them. If the person requests Zakat money to pay off this debt he should be given it, which will encourage him to continue in this noble cause.
In a hadith reported by Qubaysah Al-Hilaaly (raa), he said I was under debt (hamaalah) and I came to the Messenger (saws) and begged him to help me pay it off. The Messenger told him: "Wait until we receive charity, so we will command that it be given to you." However, the Messenger stated: "O Qubaysah, begging is not permitted except for one of three categories of people:
A man who has incurred debt (as guarantor to reconcile blood wit) for him begging is permissible till he pays that off, after which he must stop it; a man whose property has been destroyed by calamity which has smitten him; for him begging is permissible till he gets what will support life or will provide him reasonable subsistence; and a man who has been smitten by poverty, the genuineness of which should be confirmed by three knowledgeable members of his people; for him begging is permissible till he gets what will support him, or will provide him subsistence. Besides these three, Qubaysah, begging is forbidden for every other persons, and one who engages in such consumes that which is forbidden." (Muslim)
(B) Whoever incurs debt and has no money to pay it back will be given from Zakat to help pay his debt, whether the amount is large or small; or his creditor should be paid directly on his behalf, so long as it is paid off.
Zakat can be given in the path of Allah. By this is meant to finance a Jihad effort in the path of Allah, not for Jihad for other reasons. The fighter (mujahid) will be given as salary what will be enough for him. If he needs to buy arms or some other supplies related to the war effort, Zakat money should be used provided the effort is to raise the banner of Islam.
The wayfarer. This is the traveller who in a strange land runs out of money. He or she deserves Zakat, enough money to take him back to his country, even if he is wealthy and can find someone to loan him the money. On his part, he should take with him on his trip sufficient money, if he is wealthy, so that he will not need Zakat. Zakat money can not be used to pay off other obligations, such as giving Zakat money to people you are obligated to take care of by law; or Zakat money can not be used to pay for hotel and food expenses.
It is, however, permissible to give Zakat to a wife or family member, provided it is not part of their daily living expense money, but is needed to pay off a debt for one's wife if she can not pay it. So is the case for one's parents if they can not pay their debt.
Zakat money may be given to members of the family for their expenses if one is not obligated to take care of them financially. The wife can pay off a debt of her husband with Zakat money, because he may be among the eight eligible recipients and she is not obligated to spend on him as he is on her.
The eight eligible recipients of Zakat can be denied their right to Zakat without proof from Al-Qur`an or Sunnah. In a hadith reported by Ibn Mas`ud, his wife Zaynab heard the Messenger of Allah order women to give Zakat, so she asked the Messenger (saws): " O Messenger of Allah, you commanded us to give Zakat, and I have jewellery that I wanted to assess for Zakat, but my husband Abdullah bin Mas`ud claimed that his son deserves it more than anyone." The Messenger replied: Your husband Ibn Mas`ud is right. Your son deserves your charity more than anyone." In another hadith reported by Salman bin `Aamir, he said the Messenger of Allah said: " Charity to the poor is only charity, but charity to the rest of kind is charity and maintenance of relations (sillah)." (Nisaee)
No loan should be written off as Zakat because Zakat is taken and given. Allah (SWT) said: "Of their goods take alms...." (Al-Qur'an, 9: 103) And in a Hadith the Messenger has been reported as saying: "Allah has mandated on you Zakat to be taken from the wealthy and to be given to the poor." Thus, writing off debt is not taken. For instance, If you loan a person money, you can not write off that loan as a Zakat. However, it could be written off as sadaqah charity. Furthermore, loan, delinquent or not, is considered an absent money, therefore, it should not be transacted in Zakat. for Zakat is assessed only in cash in hand. Besides, debt money is valued less than cash in the hand, and using that money for alms is like exchanging good money for bad.
The assessor of alms should try to give his Zakat to an eligible person, but if he makes a mistake and gives it to an ineligible person it is accepted. In a hadith related by Abu Hurairah, he said the Messenger said:
"A man expressed his intention to give charity, so he came with his charity and placed it in the hand of an adulteress. In the morning the people were talking and saying charity was given to an adulteress last night. The donor said: O Allah, to thee be the Praise - charity to an adulteress! He then again expressed his intention to give charity, so he went out with it and placed it in the hand of a rich person. In the morning the people were talking and saying charity was given to a rich person. The donor said, O Allah to You be the praise - charity to a rich man! He then expressed his intention to give charity, so he went out with his charity and placed it in the hand of a thief. In the morning the people were talking and saying charity to the thief. So the man said, O Allah to You be the praise (what a misfortune that charity has been given) to the adulteress, the rich and the thief! Then someone came to him and told him your charity has been accepted. As for the adulteress the charity might become the means whereby she might restrain from fornication. The rich man might perhaps learn a lesson and spend from what Allah has given him, and the thief might thereby restrain from committing theft. (Muslim/ Bukhari)