Q: What is the meaning of the terms Lillah and Sadaqah and is there a difference between the two?
A: In contemporary times, the terms Sadaqah and Lillah are generally used refer to Nafl (voluntary) charity.
Sadaqah generally is regarded to be for the benefit of the poor (irrespective of whether they are Muslims and recipients of Zakaat or not). Lillah is commonly understood to be for any Deeni cause such as the establishment and mantaining of Masajid, Madrasahs, graveyards, and other Deeni institutions, etc. It not only restricted for the benefit of the poor.
However, apart from the common usage, Sadaqah, technically can also refer to compulsory charity. An example of this is Sadaqatul Fitr.
Hence, whilst the term Lillah is specific to voluntary charity, the term Sadaqah is technically more general and may refer to compulsory charities as well. Where Sadaqah refers to compulsory charity, then it should be restricted to those who are eligible to accept Zakaat.
Given the above, we advise that when institutions are being given Sadaqah one should specify it to be either optional or compulsory and if optional, one should specify whether it is restricted to the poor only or if it could be used for any other Deeni cause.
And Allah Knows Best
Darul Ihsan Fatwa Dept