There is no doubt that sadaqah (voluntary charity) can be given to such organizations. As for zakah, which can only be given to certain channels, Sheikh Ahmad Kutty, a senior lecturer and Islamic scholar at the Islamic Institute of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, states: “I think it is not only permissible, rather it is also imperative that we do give our zakah to organizations, since they are fulfilling a most timely and essential service for the healthy survival of the community. Supporting such institutions clearly falls under the legitimate objectives of zakah as expounded by authentic scholars and jurists of Islam, both of the past and the present. Let me explain this point briefly:
Zakah, the third pillar of Islam, although primarily intended to help the poor and the needy, is also instituted to cater to other beneficial services and activities that are of general benefit for the entire community.
The categories of recipients of zakah are stated in the following verse: “Charities are (meant) only for the poor and the needy, and those who are charged with collecting them, and those whose hearts are to be won over, and for the freeing of human beings from bondage, and (for) those who are overburdened with debts, and (for those who strive) in Allah’s cause (fi sabili-llah), and (for) the way-farer: (this is) an ordinance from Allah—and Allah is All-Knowing and All-Wise” (At-Tawbah: 60).
As is clear from the above verse, one of the categories is fi sabili-llah , which has been traditionally interpreted by majority of scholars as those who are engaged in jihad, and even more specifically the actual warriors, and those who are devoted to the task of defending the frontiers. However, there has always been a minority of scholars, both among the commentators of the Qur’an (mufassirun) as well as the jurists (fuqaha’), who have used the term fi sabili-llah in a far wider sense, thus extending it to include all beneficial works and projects that are of common benefit to the Ummah. They have thus included in this category such services as funeral arrangements, building and taking care of schools and mosques, establishing hospitals, building bridges, etc. In short, they definitely include institutions that provide educational or social services under this category and thus eligible to receive funds from zakah.
Although it may be going too far to extend the term fi sabili-llah to include any virtuous deed or project, there is no need for us to stretch the term too far to say that establishing institutions for educating and empowering Muslims and protecting their rights definitely fall under the category of fi sabili-llah (in the cause of Allah).
To put it differently, the view held by the majority of scholars that fi sabili-llah is intended for jihad is more in line with the Qur’anic usage of the term, which is always precise and specific in its terminology. At the same time, however, we need to stress most emphatically that there is no justification whatsoever either in the Qur’an or Sunnah to limit the term jihad and struggle for the cause of Allah to warfare or military enterprise.
Jihad and struggle in the Qur’anic vocabulary embraces all efforts and endeavours that are specifically intended to raise the word of Allah. The Qur’an and the Sunnah are replete with the uses of the term for intellectual efforts to disseminate the message of Islam. For instance, we read in the Qur’an, “the faithful are reminded to make supreme jihad (i.e., intellectual warfare) through the medium of the Qur’an.” (Al-Furqan: 52)
In the modern world, especially for Muslims living in the West in general and in North America in particular, jihad is primarily intellectual. There is no greater jihad for us than establishing viable institutions that help educate and empower Muslims.
Thus, since protecting the rights of Muslims and empowering Muslims cannot be achieved without such institutions, it is imperative that Muslims support and maintain such institutions.
In light of the above, it is perfectly Islamic and in full conformity with the authentic understanding and definition of zakah and its recipients, for Muslims to set aside part of their zakah funds to support educational and social institutions that provide essential services for the Ummah. This view has been consistently and forcefully upheld by scholars and jurists such as Imam Rashid Rida, Sheikh Qaradawi, Sheikh `Abd al-Kareem Zaydan, to name only a few scholars.
To conclude:
Muslims should have no hesitation in giving part of their Zakah to organizations, which is providing a most timely and essential service for the cause of Islam and Muslims. They both have a reputation for professionalism, efficiency, commitment, and integrity, which in my mind are the most valuable assets of any Islamic organization worthy of the name.
May Allah give us all the honour of serving His cause efficiently and professionally, and may He also accept our humble efforts in His cause. Ameen.”