The jurists agree that zakah can be transferred from one city to another provided the needs of the city residents whom the zakah was originally derived from have first been satisfied. A large number of hadith on the subject stress the need for depleting zakah among the poor and the needy of the city from which it is collected. This is because zakah aims at freeing the poor inhabitants of an area from want, and thus its transfer would contribute to their deprivation. This is substantiated by the hadith of Mu’azh: “Tell them that there is a charity due upon them to be taken from their rich and to be given back to their poor.” Abu Juhaifah reported: “The charity collector of the Messenger of Allah, upon whom be peace, came to us and took zakah from our rich and gave it to our poor. I was an orphan then, and he gave me a young she-camel.” This is related by at-Tirmizhi, who graded it hassan.
‘Imran ibn Husain reports that he was employed as a charity collector. When he returned from this assignment, he was asked: “Where is the collection?” He responded: “Did you send me for the collection? We took it and distributed it the way we did at the time of the Messenger of Allah, upon whom be peace.” This is related by Abu Dawud and Ibn Majah. On the same subject, Tawus says: “Mu’azh wrote in his letter: ‘Anyone who moves from one location to another, his charity and tithe remain in the location of his tribe.'” This is related by al-Athram in his Sunan.
Based on such hadith, the jurists say that the poor of a city have a prior claim over the local zakah than the poor elsewhere. Still, they differ over which conditions must prevail before zakah can be transferred from one city to another.
The Hanafiyyah hold that transferring zakah is disliked (makruh) unless it is for needy relatives and serves the ties of blood, or when the needs of a group of Muslims are more pressing than those of the locals, when it is tied to the general interests of the Muslims, when it is sought from a country at war against the Muslims to the land of Islam, when it is intended for a scholar, or when zakah is paid before the completion of the hawl. In those cases, transferring zakah is not disliked (makruh).
The Shaf’iyyah maintain that transferring zakah is not allowed and that it must be spent in the area of its origin, unless it has no poor or other categories of zakah recipients. ‘Amr ibn Shu’aib reported that the Messenger of Allah, upon whom be peace, appointed Mu’azh ibn Jabal to a position in Jund where the latter remained until the death of the Prophet. At the time of this event, he came to ‘Umar who reappointed him. He sent to ‘Umar one-third of the sadaqat collected from the local people, but ‘Umar turned it down and said: “I did not appoint you to go there as a tax collector or as a tribute (jizyah) taker. I appointed you to collect sadaqat from the rich and then to return them to their poor.” Mu’azh replied: “I would not have sent you anything [from the collection] if I had found someone deserving [over here].”
In the second year, he sent him half of the collected sadaqat, and they ran into the same issue again. In the third year, he sent him all of it, and ‘Umar again argued with him. Mu’azh responded: “I could not find anyone who deserved to receive anything from me.” This is related by Abu ‘Ubaid.
Malik holds that transferring zakah is allowed only when there is a desperate need. The administration then can send it to the other place after due consideration of all the facts. The Hanbaliyyah say that it is not permissible to transfer zakah from its place of origin to that of the place beyond which salat ul-qasr is applicable. It must be spent in the place which generated it or near to it but not beyond the point of qasr.
Abu Dawud says: “I heard Ahmad saying ‘no’ when asked if zakah could be transferred from one city to another. Asked further, ‘What if his [the zakah payer’s] relatives are in the other city?’ he replied: ‘No. It can be transferred only when the needs of the poor residents of a city have been satisfied.'” This is based on the preceding hadith of Abu ‘Ubaid. Ibn Qudamah holds that even if the zakah payer violated the above stipulations by transferring it, he would still have met his obligation. Most of the scholars also support this view. When a man resides in one city and his holdings happen to be in another, consideration will be given to the city where his holdings are located because the holdings generated zakah and the eligible people will be eyeing it. If part of the holdings are with the owner and some are in another city, zakah will be paid on the portion in each city. This applies to zakah on one’s holdings. As for the zakah at the end of Ramadan (zakat ul-fitr), it is distributed in the city where it is due, whether the payer’s holdings are there or not. This is because this type of zakah is associated with the person rather than with the holdings.