Question

Salaam. A friend sent me this question and I would like your thoughts on it please:

We are building a house for someone who is eligible for zakah in Bangladesh. Another person is dealing with the house and he’s going to manage the construction etc. Is it permissible for him to use the zakah money for those expenses related to managing the construction for example taking a cab to the construction site. Or must he pay from his own pocket?

Answer

The condition here is that the zakah is paid in a manner that tamleek is clear, i.e., the recipient is made the owner of the money (this implies control too). A clear cut way to do that is to give the money to the recipient and let them spend it as they want, if they want to build a house, fine.
What could be done is for the recipient to willingly (without pressure from the giver) instruct the agent to build the house and appoint him as his (the recipient’s) agent, and then the agent to receive the money on his behalf and build the house for him with the understanding (with the zakah recipient, not the agent) that expenses would be paid from the money. This works because the agent is working for the recipient and spending his money in a manner that he approves.
If it is done in a manner whereby the agent is acting on behalf of the payer, and nothing has been done to clarify tamleek, then according to all the madhahib afaik, the zakah has not been fulfilled at all because the tamleek hasn’t happened. I’ve read some views that allow it though, but one should be careful as there is broad consensus on tamleek.
The bottom line, the money has to become the recipient’s money. One cannot act on his behalf without tamleek if the money is zakah.
Same goes for feeding him a meal or inviting him to and eat with others etc. The food has to be given to him so he can choose to use it as he wishes. If it is cooked and prepared for him, then fed to him, he doesn’t have tamleek, he has merely benefited from the food.
Tamleek implies he should be able to decide what to do with the money.
People often get this wrong, and are too obsessed with spending on the poor as they wish. You can do that with sadaqah, but not with zakah. Zakah money belongs to the poor before you even give it to them. Their decision has to be involved in their own money. When an amount of zakah is due on your money, it is no longer yours. Find a recipient, and give it to them. If you give it to a charity, you are making them an agent on your behalf. Check to make sure they distribute it in a manner that gives ownership to the recipient. They can’t build an orphanage with it, or feed iftar to the poor or dig a well etc.

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