In Islam, Zakah stands as the third pillar of Islam after the testification that there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is His final Messenger and offering Salah. The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Islam is built upon five pillars: testifying that there is no true god except Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, performing Salah, paying the Zakah, making the pilgrimage to the Sacred House (Hajj), and fasting the month of Ramadan.” (Reported by Al-Bukhari)
Likewise, one of the main duties upon man is to show kindness towards his parents because Allah Almighty says: “Thy Lord has decreed, that you worship none save Him, and (that you show) kindness to parents. If one of them or both of them attain old age with thee, say not ‘Fie’ unto them nor repulse them, but speak unto them a gracious word.” (Al-Isra’: 23)
Therefore, a Muslim should show his parents all kinds of good treatment. Also in the Prophet’s Tradition, Ibn `Abbas, may Allah be pleased with him, quotes the Prophet peace and blessings be upon him, as saying, when asked about the best deeds: “Having faith in Allah and His Messenger, and then honoring one’s parents.” (Reported by Al-Bukhari and Muslim)
Explaining the Shari`ah-based rulings regarding paying off a father’s debt from Zakah, Sheikh Ahmad Kutty, a senior lecturer and an Islamic scholar at the Islamic Institute of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, states:
“General scholarly consensus is that one must not pay Zakah to one’s dependants, i.e. those he is obligated to take care of, if they cannot take care of themselves. One’s parents and grandparents as well as children and grandchildren belong to this category. It is one’s duty to take care of them, and this includes paying their legitimate debts as well.
If, however, a person is not sufficiently rich as to be able to settle the debts of his parents, then the authentic view of scholars is that he is certainly allowed to pay them off from his Zakah since freeing a person from the bondage of debts is one of the purposes of Zakah. It is not at all reasonable to assume that debts of one’s parents are excluded from this category, especially in exceptional cases as stated above.
The above ruling has been authenticated by Imam Ibn Taymiyyah, and, according to him, it is in full conformity with the fundamental objectives of the legislation of Zakah in Islam.”