Short Answer: Its role is to purify the hearts of the givers of zakah from greed for money and clinging to it too much. It frees them from being enslaved by money and worldly things, and makes them realize their position in the universe as the servants of Allah, not the servants of money. It is a deed that benefits both parties: the giver and the recipient. Eid, which is meant to be a day of happiness and joy, will be a day of real happiness to everyone. Poor families and individuals will be freed from need and want on that blessed day.
Salam (Peace) Terrel,
Thank you very much for your question and for your interest in Islam.
Your question is very important because it touches upon two important things; general zakah (obligatory alms or charity), the third pillar of Islam, and zakat al-fitr (charity for breaking the fast) which is a distinguishing feature of the month of Ramadan.
Zakah generally plays a very vital role in the life of a Muslim, whether he or she is a giver of zakah or a beneficiary of zakah.
Benefits Both Parties
It is a deed that benefits both parties.
From its very name, we can notice its importance and realize its benefits.
The word “zakah” is taken from the Arabic stem “z-k-a” or “z-k-k-a”, which carry the meanings of “to purify”, “to become pure”, “to grow”, and “to make grow.”
Such meanings actually refer to the main purpose of this great ritual of Islam.
Its role is to purify the hearts of the givers of zakah from greed for money and clinging to it too much.
It frees them from being enslaved by money and worldly things, and makes them realize their position in the universe as the servants of Allah, not the servants of money.
It also blesses their wealth and leads to its growth and multiplication.
On the side of the recipients of the zakah money, it purifies their souls from feeling angry and envy about their fellow human beings having money and wealth while they are deprived from it.
It also protects them from falling victim to the sin of stealing from others.
It strengthens the social fabric of the society and makes those who are less-privileged feel the spirit of partnership, emotional solidarity, and sympathy shown by those who are financially well off.
All these benefits create a society of mercy, love, respect, honesty, and security.
When it comes to zakah, a Muslim is required to give it at any time of the year when it is due upon him.
As you already know, zakah is given by someone who owns the minimum “zakatable” amount for one whole lunar year. Therefore, the distribution of zakah funds can happen at any time when it is due.
As for zakat al-fitr, it is a unique thing that happens only during the month of Ramadan.
From the beginning of the month to its end (before the sun rise of the day of Eid al-Fitr), a Muslim can give it out.
Unlike obligatory zakah, which has specific requirements in terms of ownership of a certain amount of money for a certain period of time, zakat al-fitr does not have any requirement, apart from the fact that the one who gives it must have witnessed the month of Ramadan, that is, attended any part of it, and has food enough for him or her and his or her family during the day and the night of the Eid (the celebration at the end of Ramadan).
The point here is to make sure that every individual and family will spend the day and the night of Eid with enough food in their house. When all Muslims break their fast completely at the end of Ramadan, everyone will actually be enjoying that happiness of finishing the month of fasting.
Zakat al-fitr can be given in substance, such as food material like wheat, barely, rice if that is the common thing in the society.
It can also be given in money (cash), as this may be more beneficial for those who receive it. They will have the ability to use the money in purchasing their own needs for Eid.
A Day of Happiness for All
In that way, the day of the Eid, which is meant to be a day of happiness and joy, will be a day of real happiness to everyone. Poor families and individuals will be freed from need and want on that blessed day.
The month of Ramadan carries to everyone the message of philanthropy and compassion, sympathy, and solidarity. This is to be shown not only in fasting but also in giving.
What will be the benefit if Muslims free their bodies from the desire of food and drink, if their souls are still enslaved by money and wealth?
Real happiness is when we have control over our souls and are able to shift its direction to place a smile on the face of our fellow human beings, make their lives brighter, and free them from the fear of need.
That is the true meaning of fasting and the true meaning of zakat al-fitr.
Only when we do this, will the day of Eid be a real day of happiness and joy.
I hope I have answered your question. Please keep in touch.
(From Ask About Islam archives)
Please continue feeding your curiosity, and find more info in the following links: