FATWA: Can I use my Zakat money to help my niece's educational expenses and not tell my sister it is Zakat money so she does not feel humiliated?

Dear Prof. Khaled Abou El fadl,


Thanks for all your writings that have been a great guide in my life.


I want to ask you a question that has been bothering me and I seek your guidance. My sister’s husband passed away few years ago and has not left any land or house or cash for the family. He was terminally ill and the family assets were spent on his treatment.


Whatever was left was not enough to buy a small place to live so I contributed and she has bought a small place to live. She was previously working but had to leave the job when her husband became terminally ill with cancer. The prospects of her finding a job are not promising either although she has resumed her studies to upskill her qualification.


His employer agreed to cover the educational expenses for 4 years till he graduates and finds some work. She has two daughters, one is at a university and I cover her living expenditures and tuition fee at a residential university. She still has another 3 1/2 years to finish her degree.


Her youngest daughter will start university later this year. I would like to help but my financial circumstances would not allow me to spare more money and I have been thinking about using Zakat for her younger daughter’s educational expenses. I am reluctant to talk to my sister about it, due to cultural practices it is generally understood that Zakat is only meant for ultra poor and not siblings. But I do not have the financial resources other than zakat money to support her at this stage. Although I am trying to find other ways to support the younger girl.


In these circumstances, is it permissible to support my younger niece for the duration of her studies through Zakat without telling my sister that it is Zakat money? I am very reluctant to tell her that as she may feel humiliated.


Please guide.


[Name Withheld for Privacy]





Al salamu alaykum,


I pray that Allah (SWT) grants you peace, tranquility, strength, and rewards your good deeds many fold. 


Under the circumstances described, this would be a clear case in which the money expended would count as fulfillment of your Zakat obligations and indeed, the recipient of Zakat does not need to know that they are receiving Zakat money. In fact, it is preferred that when you give out Zakat, the recipients not be informed that they are receiving Zakat money because, as the Prophet (PBUH) has taught, it may injure their pride and dignity. 


Without any difficulty, I think it is permissible for you to give the Zakat money to your sister and/or niece without them having to know that this is in fulfillment of your Zakat obligations before God. And Allah (SWT) knows best. 


I pray that Allah (SWT) alleviates the hardships upon your family and blesses you many fold for all the good that you have done and continue to do. 



Shaykh Abou El Fadl