In the name of Allāh, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful;
All the praise and thanks is due to Allāh, the Lord of al-`ālamīn. There is none worthy of worship except Allāh, and that Muhammad, Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam is His Messenger
Tn Arabic ‘Zakāh’ means: growth, blessing and purification. [See Lisān al-`Arab, 14/358; 2/399] While Sadāqah comes from the word siddiq (sincerity), i.e. it is a sign of sincerity of faith on the part of the person who gives it. [See Fath al-Qadeer, 2/399]
The Syar`ie Definition:
“Zakāh” means worshipping Allāh Subhānahu wa ta`ala by giving that which He has enjoined of different kinds of zākah to those who are entitled to them, according to the guidelines prescribed in syāri`ah.
Sadāqah means worshipping Allāh Subhānahu wa ta`ala by giving money [and deeds] without that being made obligatory in syāri`ah. The word sadāqah is sometimes used to refer to obligatory Zakāh.
The difference between Zakāh and sadāqah, it is as follows:
1 – Zakāh is enjoined in Islām on specific things, which are: gold, silver, crops, fruits, trade goods and an`am (livestock), i.e., camels, cattle and sheep.
With regard to sadāqah, it is not obligatory on any kind of wealth; rather it is what a person can offer, without any specific limits or guidelines.
2 – Zakāh is subject to the conditions that one full Hijri have passed since acquiring the wealth, and that the wealth meets the minimum threshold (nasab) and it is a specific portion of wealth.
Sadāqah is not subject to any conditions, and it may be given at any time, in any amount.
3 – Allāh has enjoined that Zakāh be given to certain types of people, and it is not permissible to give it to anyone else. They are the people mentioned in the verse:
“As-Sadaqāt (here it means Zakāh) are only for the Fuqara’ (poor), and Al Masākin (the poor) and those employed to collect (the funds); and to attract the hearts of those who have been inclined (towards Islam); and to free the captives; and for those in debt; and for Allāh’s Cause (i.e. for Mujahidun — those fighting in a holy battle), and for the wayfarer (a traveller who is cut off from everything); a duty imposed by Allāh. And Allāh is All-Knower, All-Wise” [Al-Tawbah, 9:60]
With regard to sadāqah, it may be given to those mentioned in the verse on Zakāh and to others.
4 – Whoever dies and owes Zakāh, his heirs must pay it from his wealth, and that takes precedence over the will (wasiyah) and inheritance.
As for sadāqah, there are no such obligations with regard to it.
5 – The one who withholds Zakāh is to be punished, as it says in the hadīth narrated by Muslim in his Saheeh from Abu Hurayrah (radiyallāhu`anhu) said: The Messenger of Allāh (Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam) said: “There is no owner of treasure who does not pay his Zakāh, but it will be heated in the Fire of Hell and made into plates with which his sides and forehead will be branded until Allāh passes judgement between His slaves on a Day the length of which will be like fifty thousand years, then he see shown his path and whether it leads to Paradise or to Hell. And there is no owner of camels, who does not pay Zakāh on them, but a soft sandy plain will be prepared for him and they will be made to step on him. Every time the last of them has gone the first of them will return, until Allāh passes judgement between His slaves on a Day the length of which will be like fifty thousand years, then he will see his path and whether it leads to Paradise or to Hell. And there is no owner of sheep who does not pay Zakāh on them but a soft sandy plain will be prepared for him, and he will find none of them missing, with twisted horns or without horns or with broken horns, and they will be made to gore him with their horns and trample him with their hooves. Every time the last of them has gone the first of them will return, until Allāh passes judgement between His slaves on a Day the length of which will be like fifty thousand years, then he will see his path and whether it leads to Paradise or to Hell…” [This is recorded by Muslim (987)]
With regard to sadāqah, the one who fail to give it will not be punished.
6 – According to the four schools of law, it is not permissible to give Zakāh to one’s ascendants or descendents. Ascendants include one’s mother, father, grandfathers and grandmothers; descendents include one's children and their children.
Sadāqah may be given to one's ascendants and descendants.
7 – It is not permissible to give Zakāh to one who is rich or who is strong and able to earn a living.
It was narrated that `Ubaidallāh Ibn `Adiyy (radiyallāhu`anhu) said: Two men told me that they came to the Prophet (Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam) during the Farewell Pilgrimage when he was distributing the Zakāh and asked him for some of it. Rasūlullāh (Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam) looked them up and down, and saw that they were strong and able-bodied. Rasūlullāh (Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam) said, “If you wish, I will give you some, but those who are rich or strong and able to earn have no share of it.”
[Narrated by Abu Dawud, 1633; al-Nasā’ie, 2598; classified as sahīh by Imām Ahmad and others.]
[See Talkhis Al-Habir, 3/108]
Sadāqah may be given to those who are rich and those who are strong and able to earn.
8 – In the case of Zakāh, it is better for it to be taken from the rich of a land and given to their poor. Many scholars are of the view that it is not permissible to send it to another country unless that serves an interest.
But charity may be spent on those who are near and those who are far.
9 – It is not permissible to give Zakāh to kuffār and mushrikeen.
Sadāqah may be given to kuffār and mushrikeen.
Allāh says: “And they give food, in spite of their love for it (or for the love of Him), to al-Masākin (the poor), the orphan, and the captive” [Al-Insan, 76:8]
Al-Qurtubi said: In Dar al-Islam (the Muslim lands), a captive could only be a mushrik.
10 – It is not permissible for a Muslim to give Zakāh to his wife. Ibn al-Mundhir narrated that there was scholarly consensus on this issue.
But sadāqah may be given to one’s wife.
These are some of the differences between Zakāh and sadāqah.
The word sadāqah may be applied to all kinds of good deeds. Al-Bukhari (rahimahumullāh) held in his Sahīh: “Chapter: every good deed is a charity” then he narrated from Jabir Ibn `Abdallāh (radiyallāhu`anhu) that the Prophet (Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam) said: “Every good deed is a charity.” [This is recorded by Al-Bukhari]
Ibn Battāl (rahimahullāh) said: “This hadīth indicates that every good thing that a person does or says is recorded for him as an act of charity”.
Imam An-Nawawi (rahimahullāh) said: The Prophet’s words “Every good deed is a charity” means that it is like charity in offering reward.
And Allāh Almighty knows best.
[Excerpted from Islam Q&A (Fatwa No: 9449)]