Charity given for the sake of Allah is a pillar of Islam. Around our parts, when collecting for charity, we often see three buckets or categories. They are labelled zakat, sadaqah and lillah. The question many ask, ‘What is the difference between them?’
The answer differs depending on what one intends to do with the definition.
Lillahi literally means ‘for the sake of Allah’ while sadaqah is charity given for the sake of Allah.1 So, technically in the matter of giving property in charity lillah and sadaqah are synonymous. On the other hand, zakat is a type of sadaqah. Zakat is to give ownership of a specific portion of a specific property to specific individuals for the sake of Allah Almighty2. Hence, zakat is specific while lillah and sadaqah are general. The same is the case for zakat al-fitr (sadaqat al-fitr).
So the question arises why have different pots for lillah and sadaqah if they are technically the same?
Around our parts, the differentiation is made for administrative purposes to ensure eligible people receive restricted funds.
Sadaqah is a broad term and is applicable to many types of charity. The Prophet (peace be upon him) has called the removal of harmful items sadaqah3 and more so every good deed as sadaqah4. In terms of financial charity, sadaqah may be nafl, wajib or fard. Nafl sadaqah may be gifts or voluntary grant for the sake of Allah. Wajib sadaqah may be kaffarah, fidya or other mandatory grants besides zakat given to cleanse one’s wealth or expiate for actions. Fard sadaqah may be charity such as zakat.
Accordingly, there may be restrictions to those who may receive sadaqah depending on status. Fard sadaqah such as zakat may only be given to a very particular group which is stated in the Quran such as a presently poor Muslim. Wajib sadaqah such as removing dubious earnings which according to some may be given to causes which are for the common good of the people but not for building places of worship. Nafl sadaqah has no restriction5 unless it contravenes the Shariah or is against the sensibilities of Islam.
While acknowledging the classical meaning but in consideration of points above, some separate charity in three categories; lillah, sadaqah and zakat. The first for voluntary charity, the second compulsory charity which is not zakat and the third zakat.
Note! Some consider the recipients for sadaqah which is wajib to be same as zakat. This is the more cautious view. Hence, according to them, there will be no need for three groupings.
However, in order to avoid confusion among the laity, the distinction is kept. This is so that they do not accidentally place sadaqah wajibah in the lillah pot due to them considering it non-zakat. This is despite the fact that it is better placed in the zakat pot as it recipients universally may receive any charity funds
In summary, classically lillah and sadaqah are synonymous whilst zakat is one of its types. Around our parts, lillah is deemed as unrestricted funds, sadaqah as partially restricted funds which can be used for public works (رفاه عام) according to some while zakat is fully restricted funds which must be only given to specified categories. Some do not make any distinction between sadaqah wajibah and zakat in terms of recipients. Allah knows best.
Muhammad Saifur Rahman
30 June 2017
1. قال الجرجانيّ: هي العطيّة يبتغى بها المثوبة من الله
2. See al-Lubab. For more detail read, ‘The book of Zakat’. Available online at http://uloom.com/dibaj/article/150616501
3. إماطة الأذي عن الطريق صدقة رواه البخاري
4. كلّ معروف صدقة رواه مسلم و أبو داود
5. Unless the restriction is placed by the giver.
Nawhami, Muhammad Saifur Rahman. (2012). The economic classes in Islam. Islamic Studies Bulletin (DIBAJ), Issue 1. Available at http://uloom.com/dibaj/article/120811501