Historically, Zakat was a momentous response to the dispossessed Muslim immigrant from Mecca and the socio-economic situation of Madina. The hijra or migration of Prophet Mohammad () to Madina was a turning point in the history of Islam as a new Muslim community was formed on the basis of brotherhood. It was after the migration of Prophet Mohammad () that Zakat was prescribed as a compulsory annual charity for every Muslim that meets a minimum wealth criteria (“nisab”). It is known that Prophet Mohammad () distributed Zakat himself to Muslims according to their needs.
Although the Quran stresses the giving and eight categories of recipient of Zakat, it does not elaborate on its management and implementation. There is no clear indication whether Zakat should be centralized, decentralized, institutionalized, or personalized. In the early Islamic state, it was the responsibility of the state to collect and manage the Zakat fund. As Islam expanded out of the Arabian Peninsula, Zakat was still collected, but administered at the local level by local imams. The state authorities lost their functions in the collection and administration of Zakat with the collapse of the Caliphate. Following the colonial era, various Muslim countries have opted for different models of Zakat. Some countries like Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and Yemen manage Zakat through state government while countries like Egypt and Iran have established specialised state institutions.
The Quran gives certain guidelines concerning the recipients of Zakat in chapter 9 verse 60:
The alms are only for the Fuqara’ (the poor), and Al-Masakin (the needy), and those employed to collect (the funds); and to attract the hearts of those who have been inclined (towards Islam); and to free the captives; and for those in debt; and for Allah’s Cause, and for a duty imposed by Allah.
In the western countries, Muslim charities and Mosques act as agents for the collection of Zakat and its distribution to vulnerable people around the world. These agencies facilitate the Zakat process for many Muslims encouraging them to fulfill their religious duty through various means such as online services and pocket guides. Some charities like Muslim Aid even provide a Zakat helpline, allowing people to consult with a religious expert (Mowlana) about their Zakat, fidya, kafara and zakt-ul-fitr.
Zakat collected by Muslim Aid is spent on the projects and countries specified by the donors. Any unspecified Zakat is used for projects like , well digging projects, education, water and sanitation, child sponsorship, and healthcare benefitting vulnerable populations. However, Zakat-ul-fitr is allocated to programmes benefitting Muslims only. In absence of an Islamic state or Zakat institutions, humanitarian agencies and Mosques provide a platform during Ramadan for Muslims to perform their religious duties like Zakat.