The author of ar-Rawdah an-Nadiyyah says: “Distributing all of the zakah to one group is more benefiting to the realization of the word of Allah.” In brief, one may say that Allah made zakah applicable only to the eight specifically mentioned categories. Spelling out these categories does not mean that the zakah has to be distributed among them equally or even that it has to be divided among them. The intended meaning, however, is that the categories of sadaqah are similar to various groups of people who are eligible for it. Thus, one who is obligated to pay anything to any category of sadaqah and gives it to a person in a parallel group is considered to be fulfilling what Allah commanded him to do. Contrary to this, if one divides his zakah due into the acknowledged eight categories, if all eight exist, then that would not only be contrary to the practice of the Muslims throughout history, but it would cause hardship to the payer of zakah. For example, if the collected zakah were meager, it would be of no benefit to any designated category – even if it was of one kind, to say nothing if it was of numerous kinds. To endorse such a practice would be tantamount to counter what the Prophet, upon whom be peace, did when he permitted the payment of a penance (kaffarah) from the charity collected for Salmah ibn Sakhr. Obviously, the hadith of as-Suda’i cannot be used as evidence.
There is not a single case in the entire corpus of hadith literature which could be used to make the distribution of zakah to all groups of people obligatory. Using the hadith of Mu’azh as evidence that the Prophet, upon whom be peace, instructed him to take zakah from the rich Yemenites and give it to their poor will not be of much help because it does not establish that the zakah was distributed to all the groups. Nor is the hadith of Ziyad ibn al-Harith as-Suda’i valid in this regard because in its chain of narrators is ‘Abdur-Rahman ibn Ziyad al-‘Afriqi, whose credibility has been questioned by many scholars. Assuming that this hadith is valid for the point under discussion, the meaning of the division of zakah into parts is its distribution according to the apparent meaning of the Qur’anic ‘ayah and what the Prophet, upon whom be peace, had in mind. Assuming that the division of zakah itself is intended, the distribution has to be done according to the specified categories. In this case, any transfer of the share of one group to another, even if the group concerned was for some reason non-existent, will not be permissible. Such an approach will be contrary to the consensus of Muslim scholars. If we accept that, then the deciding factor for the sadaqah’s distribution is the leader’s wish rather than, and not the specific categories of eligible people. Thus, there is no evidence that makes division obligatory, and it is consequently permissible to give some sadaqah to those eligible people and some to other groups. Indeed, when the leader collects all the sadaqat from his people and all eight categories are eligible to receive them, each group has the right to claim its share. However, he does not have to divide the collected sadaqat among them equally or distribute it without any distinction, for he can give any amount to any group or groups that he wants to, or he can give some without giving the rest if he thinks it is in the interest of Islam and its people. For example, if the sadaqah was collected and then a jihad was announced, meaning that it would become necessary to defend the territory of Islam against the unbelievers, the leader can give some or all of it to the deserving warriors. This also applies to other concerns if the interest of Islam necessitates it.