Who is meant as the al-Gharimin stated as an asnaf for zakat?
Alhamdulillah, praise and thanks to Allah for the many countless blessings He has blessed us all with. Blessings and salutations to the Prophet Muhammad PBUH, his wives, his family, companions and all those that follow his teachings to the day of judgement.
Regarding the asnaf for zakat, they are the group of people eligible to receive zakat mentioned by Allah SWT in the Quran:
إِنَّمَا ٱلصَّدَقَٰتُ لِلۡفُقَرَآءِ وَٱلۡمَسَٰكِينِ وَٱلۡعَٰمِلِينَ عَلَيۡهَا وَٱلۡمُؤَلَّفَةِ قُلُوبُهُمۡ وَفِي ٱلرِّقَابِ وَٱلۡغَٰرِمِينَ وَفِي سَبِيلِ ٱللَّهِ وَٱبۡنِ ٱلسَّبِيلِۖ فَرِيضَةٗ مِّنَ ٱللَّهِۗ وَٱللَّهُ عَلِيمٌ حَكِيم
“Zakah expenditures are only for the poor and for the needy and for those employed to collect [zakah] and for bringing hearts together [for Islam] and for freeing captives [or slaves] and for those in debt and for the cause of Allah and for the [stranded] traveler - an obligation [imposed] by Allah. And Allah is Knowing and Wise.”
Surah al-Taubah (60)
According to the above verse, it is clear only people who are mentioned above are eligible to receive zakat according to syarak and one of them is al-Gharimin or debtor.
The Asnaf of Al-Gharimin
Al-Gharimin is the plural word for al-gharim (غارم) which means debtor. Meanwhile, word al-gharim (الغريم) means creditor. The original word is al-Gharm and literally it means al-Luzum (obligation/duty/regularity).
وَٱلَّذِينَ يَقُولُونَ رَبَّنَا ٱصۡرِفۡ عَنَّا عَذَابَ جَهَنَّمَۖ إِنَّ عَذَابَهَا كَانَ غَرَامًا
“And those who say, "Our Lord, avert from us the punishment of Hell. Indeed, its punishment is ever adhering;”
Surah al-Furqan (65)
And the punishment of hell is ever adhering and everlasting. Thus, it is named al-Gharim, الغارم for the debt becomes his obligation to be settled. Meanwhile, al-Gharim, الغريم (creditors) is named like that because he will regularly bother al-Madin (debtors) to settle his debt.
Categories of al-Gharimin (debtors)
According to mazhab al-Syafi’e the asnaf al-Gharimin is further divided into three categories:
- First: Those who are in debt for himself or for the benefit of his family
There are a few conditions set for those who are eligible to receive zakat because he is in debt for himself:
- When he is in debt for himself and is unable to settle his debts back. If he is capable to settle his debts himself, then he is not given zakat.
If he is only capable to settle a portion of his debt, then he is eligible to receive zakat to settle the rest of his debt.
If an individual should be able to settle his debt because he is a working individual, he is still eligible to receive zakat, for debts need to be settled according to the stipulated time. Furthermore, even if he has an income, he would need to work for a long time before he will be able to settle all of his debts, at the same time he has to prioritize sustaining his daily needs and his family.
If someone is rich, then automatically he would be ineligible from receiving zakat, for he is capable to settle his own debts. If he has property (land), house, clothes or tableware but he has no money to settle his debts, then he is still eligible to receive zakat. The reason is, he still needs his assets to be able to live.
- The debt must be for good deeds or necessity and not for anything that is prohibited or sinful, such as for alcoholic beverages or fornication.
- Zakat is only for current debts that needs to be settled immediately. If the settlement of the debt could be postponed (could be paid at a later date), then there are three opinions regarding the matter: 
- He is still eligible to receive zakat, even when the settlement is postponed, for in truth they are still in debt according to general evidences.
- He is no longer eligible to receive zakat, for it is not necessary for him anymore.
- He is still eligible to receive zakat if the postponement is still in the same year. If the postponement is in the next year or more, then he is no longer eligible to receive zakat.
- Second: Those who are in debt on behalf of others
People who are in debt for the sake of others are honoured, for they are willing to be in debt for the benefit of others. For example, a person acts as a mediator in resolving a conflict or mending the relationship of two parties/qabilah in regards to property or blood (payment of diyat and others), then he uses his own money or property which results in him being in debt, then he is eligible to receive zakat to settle his debts.
The same is for people who are in debt for the benefit of others, such as building orphanages, mosques, hospitals and others for the benefit of the public. Then, he is eligible to receive zakat to settle his debts even if he is rich, in accordance with the opinions of some scholars from mazhab al-Syafi’e. 
- Third: Those who acts as a guarantor for others
A guarantor is eligible to receive zakat under the asnaf of al-Gharimin on the following conditions:
- Guarantor and debtor are both unable to settle the debt. The guarantor is eligible to receive zakat to settle the said debt.
- If the guarantor is unable to settle the debt but the debtor is able to settle the debt, then the guarantor is eligible to receive zakat to settle the debt, if he become a guarantor without the permission of the debtor.
- If the guarantor is able to settle the debt, but the debtor is unable to settle the debt, then only the debtor is eligible to receive zakat to settle the debt.
This is in accordance with a hadith from Qabisah bin Mukhariq al-Hilali, where he said:
تَحَمَّلْتُ حَمَالَةً فَأَتَيْتُ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم أَسْأَلُهُ فِيهَا فَقَالَ " أَقِمْ حَتَّى تَأْتِيَنَا الصَّدَقَةُ فَنَأْمُرَ لَكَ بِهَا " . قَالَ ثُمَّ قَالَ " يَا قَبِيصَةُ إِنَّ الْمَسْأَلَةَ لاَ تَحِلُّ إِلاَّ لأَحَدِ ثَلاَثَةٍ رَجُلٍ تَحَمَّلَ حَمَالَةً فَحَلَّتْ لَهُ الْمَسْأَلَةُ حَتَّى يُصِيبَهَا ثُمَّ يُمْسِكُ وَرَجُلٍ أَصَابَتْهُ جَائِحَةٌ اجْتَاحَتْ مَالَهُ فَحَلَّتْ لَهُ الْمَسْأَلَةُ حَتَّى يُصِيبَ قِوَامًا مِنْ عَيْشٍ - أَوْ قَالَ سِدَادًا مِنْ عَيْشٍ - وَرَجُلٍ أَصَابَتْهُ فَاقَةٌ حَتَّى يَقُومَ ثَلاَثَةٌ مِنْ ذَوِي الْحِجَا مِنْ قَوْمِهِ لَقَدْ أَصَابَتْ فُلاَنًا فَاقَةٌ فَحَلَّتْ لَهُ الْمَسْأَلَةُ حَتَّى يُصِيبَ قِوَامًا مِنْ عَيْشٍ - أَوْ قَالَ سِدَادًا مِنْ عَيْشٍ - فَمَا سِوَاهُنَّ مِنَ الْمَسْأَلَةِ يَا قَبِيصَةُ سُحْتًا يَأْكُلُهَا صَاحِبُهَا سُحْتًا "
"I undertook a financial responsibility, then I came to the Prophet and asked him (for help) concerning that. He said: 'Hold on, o Qubaisah! When we get some charity we will give you some.' Then the Messenger of Allah said: 'O Qubaisah, charity is not permissible except for one of three: A man who undertakes a financial responsibility, so it is permissible for him to be given charity until he finds means to make him independent and to suffice him; a man who was stricken by calamity and his wealth was destroyed, so it is permissible for him to ask for help until he has enough to keep him going, them he should refrain from asking; and a man who is stricken with poverty and three wise men from among his own people testily that so-and-so is in desperate need, then it is permissible for him to ask for help until he finds means to make him independent and to suffice him. Asking for help in cases other than these, O Qubaisah, is unlawful, and the one who takes it is consuming it unlawfully."'
Sahih Muslim (1044) and Sunan Abu Daud (1640)
Are Natural Disaster Victims Eligible to Receive Zakat Under the Asnaf of al-Gharimin?
We have addressed the above issue in our article Irsyad al-Fatwa Series 14, discussing the ruling of giving zakat to natural disaster victims referring to the opinion of Mujahid, where he stated that someone who experienced destruction of property due to flood or fire and has family members to provide for, but he is unable to do so and is forced to fall into debt is included in the asnaf of al-Gharimin.
He referred to the above hadith from Qabisah and in the commentaries of the hadith, Syeikh al-‘Azim al-Abadi said: “Whoever experienced destruction of property, whether it is because of extreme temperature, ice, flood and others, which make him unable to sustain himself, then he can ask from others until he has enough to live.” (Aun al-Ma’bud, 3/36)
Several scholars issued their fatwa regarding the asnaf of al-Gharimin and one of them is Dr Yusuf al-Qaradhawi, he states: “I included people who are natural disaster victims and people who experienced huge destruction to their property that forced them to fall into debt as the people in the asnaf of al-Gharimin. Hence, it is permissible for them to receive zakat.” (Fiqh al-Zakat, 2/623)
Dr Husamuddin bin Musa ‘Iffanah, Professor of Fiqh and Usul from the University of al-Quds, Palestine state the same ruling of permissibility for them to receive zakat.
Condition of the Type of Debt Where One is Eligible to Receive Zakat
In the Federal Territories, the Federal Territories Islamic Religious Council (MAIWP) has outlined specific requirements for the types of debts that allowed for a person to receive zakat as the following:
- Debt for basic needs:
- Business debt (according to types and priorities)
- The priority is given for the debts of the poor, the needy and muallaf (newly reverted Muslims).
Al-Gharimin has been defined by early and contemporary scholars. Here, we conclude the scholars’ opinions regarding the eligible people to receive zakat under the asnaf of al-Gharimin:
- Anyone who are in debt for himself or his family.
- Anyone who are in debt on behalf of others.
- Anyone who acts as a guarantor for someone else.
- Anyone who experienced great destruction to property and others.
May this explanation regarding the asnaf of al-Gharimin give understanding and information for our Muslim society specifically to be more sensitive in the issues of zakat. Wallahua’lam.
 See al-Imam al-Nawawi. Al-Majmu’ Syarh al-Muhazzab. Dar al-Fikr, 6/208.
 Some scholars of mazhab al-Syafi’e state that anyone who are in debt because they build something, free prisoners of war or provide accommodation for travellers is eligible to receive zakat, even if he is someone who is rich in term of property and not in term of money. [See al-Raudhah al-Tolibin by al-Imam al-Nawawi, 2/319]