There are eight categories of the beneficiaries of zakah which Allah specifies in the Qur’an: “The alms are only for the poor and the needy, for those who collect them, for those whose hearts are to be reconciled, for the freedom of those who are captives and in debt, for the cause of Allah, and for the wayfarers; [it is] a duty imposed by Allah. Allah is the Knower, the Wise” [at-Taubah 60]. Ziyad ibn alHarith as-Suda’i reported: “I came to the Messenger of Allah, upon whom be peace, and pledged allegiance to him. Then a man came and said to the Messenger: ‘Give me some of the collected sadaqah.’ The Messenger replied: ‘Allah did not leave the matter of sadaqat to be decided by a prophet nor to others… He Himself classified it into eight categories. If you fit into any of these categories, I will give you your due.'” It was narrated by Abu Dawud although in its chain of transmission there is ‘Abdurrahman al-‘Afriqi, who is of questionable merits.
The following is an elaboration upon the preceding eight categories:
1. The Poor (al-Fuqara’).
2. The Needy (al-Masakin): The needy, along with the poor mentioned above, are those who do not even have basic needs fulfilled. This categroy parallels the category of the rich who have all they need. As mentioned elsewhere, a person is considered rich if he possesses the nisab–that is, an amount in excess of his essential needs or those of his children with regard to food, drink, clothing, housing, animals, tools of his trade, and similar other necessities. Thus, one who lacks all these is considered poor (fuqura’) and qualifies for zakah.
A hadith attributed to Mu’azh instructs: “Take from the rich [that is those who are self-sufficient] and give to their poor.” Thus, zakah should be taken from the rich who own a nisab and given to those who are not so fortunate.
No difference has been made here between the poor (fuqura’) and the needy (nasakin) as far as their needs, their poverty, and their qualification for receiving zakah are concerned. The two are brought together in the preceding Qur’anic ‘ayah with the necessary conjunction so that they could be differentiated from each other. This does not contradict our categorizing the masakin as a subgroup of the fuqura’. In the following hadith, the text indicates that the needy are the poor who are not noticed by the people because they abstain from begging. The Qur’an takes note of them because they, perhaps due to their modesty, go unnoticed.
Abu Hurairah reported that the Messenger of Allah, upon whom be peace, said: “The needy person (miskin) is not one who goes around asking the people for a date or two, or for a mouthful or two, but the one who is too embarrassed to ask. Read if you wish: ‘They do not beg from men importunately’ [alBaqarah 273].” In a variant of this report, it is related: “The needy person is not one who goes around asking people for a mouthful or two or a date or two, but the one who has not enough [money] to satisfy his needs and whose condition is not known to others. Thus, sadaqah is given to him and he does not beg from the people.” This is narrated by al-Bukhari and Muslim.