Socialist Kota Damansara State Assemblyman Dr Nasir Hashim was treading on thin ice when he proposed that the Selangor State Government should channel zakat funds to non-Muslims. This created an uproar among the Muslims in his constituency.
Zakat is the fourth pillar of Islam. It is the act of contributing a pre-determined percentage of your wealth that has been immobile for one full lunar calendar year. The State is responsible to distribute the collected funds to the needy and those in reconciliation. People in the "reconciliation" category would be those who are close to embracing Islam or new Muslims or Muallaf. Others include freed slaves, people heavily burdened with debt and so on. There is no clear provision stating that non-Muslims are not included as recipients, however the excerpts attached below would lead us to agree that non-Muslims who are close to embracing Islam and needy at the same time are eligible for the funds.
Having said that, there are also other available provisions in Islam for non-Muslims in need of financial aid such as sadaqah. Some argue that even though non-Muslims may fit into any of the 8 categories of zakat beneficiaries, the sadaqah should be the means of aid, not zakat which is designed for Muslims.
With all the references I manage to sift through given the short period of time, I am still not convinced of a definitive answer. The more solid footing is that Zakat can be given to non-Muslims if it means drawing more crowd of people to inquire more about the beauty of the religion. It's a form of dakwah. At any rate, if this topic is such a controversial and debatable subject, it sure is not wise for a socialist State Assemblyman to propose something without getting proper backing or clearance or reference from religious authorities. Also, considering the current racial tension in the country, the issue at hand should be dealt with greater wisdom and thorough research.
What I'm more interested to know is how our collected Zakat funds have been disbursed. I could not get this information from either the JAIS or JAKIM websites. I was quite impressed with how the Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura presented their distribution for fiscal year 2007.
In the Qur'an, God Revealed the beneficiaries of zakat:
إِنَّمَا الصَّدَقَاتُ لِلْفُقَرَاء وَالْمَسَاكِينِ وَالْعَامِلِينَ عَلَيْهَا وَالْمُؤَلَّفَةِ قُلُوبُهُمْ وَفِي الرِّقَابِ وَالْغَارِمِينَ وَفِي سَبِيلِ اللّهِ وَابْنِ السَّبِيلِ فَرِيضَةً مِّنَ اللّهِ وَاللّهُ عَلِيمٌ حَكِيم
"Alms are only for the poor and the needy, and the officials (appointed) over them, and those whose hearts are made to incline (to truth) and the (ransoming of) captives and those in debts and in the way of Allah and the wayfarer; an ordinance from Allah; and Allah is knowing, Wise." [Qur'an 9:60]