I am a trustee of a Masjid. We gathered Zakat and Fitrana on Eid Day. The Money was taken to our treasurer’s House. Eid was on a Sunday. Our Treasurer went out for two hours. During this time a theft took place. A Muslim was sighted by the neighbour stealing the money. A positive identification has still not been made of the brother stealing the money.
Our question is. Are the Trustees liable for this money (Zakaat stolen)?
It is always worth remembering that paying Zakat through an agent (wakil), whether the agent is an individual or an organisation, is permitted. The agent will be responsible for distributing Zakat upon worthy recipients on behalf of the one who appointed them as an agent. (Radd al-Muhtar ala al-Durr, 2/268-269)
However, in doing so, one should keep two things in mind:
Firstly, one should have full trust and confidence in that the agent will distribute one’s Zakat upon worthy recipients only, and that he will not misuse it in any way.
Secondly, if the agent does not distribute the Zakat upon worthy and eligible recipients, then one’s Zakat will not be considered as fulfilled, hence the obligation will remain on the Zakat-payer until the agent does not pay off the Zakat.
Keeping the above in mind, it becomes clear that the Zakat wealth which was gathered and accumulated at the mosque from the many individuals and was not, as yet, distributed upon the worthy recipients, that Zakat money was not considered to have been paid on behalf of those paying it. Their Zakat is only considered paid when the money actually comes into the ownership of the poor and needy.
Imam al-Haskafi (Allah have mercy on him) states:
“One’s responsibility of paying Zakat will not be fulfilled by setting aside the money (m: or giving it to an agent for distribution), but rather by distributing it upon the poor and needy.”
Imam Ibn Abidin (Allah have mercy on him) comments on the above text by stating:
“(al-Haskafi’s statement: “one’s responsibility of paying Zakat will not be fulfilled by setting aside the money”), hence if the Zakat wealth was lost, one’s Zakat will not be considered paid.” (See: Radd al-Muhtar ala al-Durr al-Mukhtar, 2/270)
Therefore, Zakat money that was stolen from the treasurer’s house was given by the Muslims of your community in order for their Zakat to be paid off. The trustees and responsible people of the Mosque were considered as agents acting on behalf of those paying Zakat; hence, they took on the responsibility of distributing people’s Zakat upon the poor and needy. As the Zakat wealth was stolen when it was in the custody of the agent, in light of the above explanation, it will not be considered as fulfilled. The Zakat wealth that was given will have to be re-paid. This is the first point to note here.
As far as whether the trustees or the treasurer will be responsible for this or not, it should be understood that the Zakat money was considered to be in the trust (amana) of the agent who took on the responsibility to distribute it. As such, if an agent is negligent about a trust, and it is lost or stolen as a result, they have to compensate for it. However, if the agent was not negligent, then they will not be responsible to compensate for the item stolen or lost. (See: al-Lubab fi Sharh al-Kitab, 2/111)
Thus, if every care was taken by the trustees and the treasurer to safeguard the money, and the wealth was safeguarded in a manner one would normally safeguard one’s personal wealth, without any kind of negligence, then he or the trustees will not be responsible for the stolen money. However, if there was negligence on behalf of all the trustees, they will be responsible, and if the treasurer himself was negligent, then only he will be held responsible.
If you think that the trustees and the treasurer were not negligent in any way, then you will have to inform each and every individual who paid Zakat on that day to repay their Zakat. You can do this by making an announcement in the Mosque and advertising it as much as possible.
However, this can be difficult at times, and also you may not be able to get your message conveyed to each and every individual, thus it is highly recommended that, negligence or otherwise, the trustees of the mosque pay the Zakat off from their personal wealth. This would also save you from causing confusion, friction and inviting hostility towards yourselves from within the community. May Allah make matters easy for you, Amin.
And Allah knows best
[Mufti] Muhammad ibn Adam
Leicester , UK