First appeared at http://www.gsalam.net. It is republished with slight editorial modifications.
What’s Zakat al-Fitr?
Zakat al-Fitr is a form of charity, which is given to the poor, at the end of the fasting the month of Ramadan. It therefore occurs once every Hijri/lunar year.
Significance of Zakat al-Fitr
Zakat al-Fitr was decreed in the 2nd year after the hijrah of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) to Madinah. That was the same year, fasting the month of Ramadan was decreed. This tells us that in Islam, zakat al-fitr is as important as Ramadan. The fact that they were both decreed in the same month and year says it all.
With that, zakat al-Fitr is an obligation, due on the free or slave Muslim, male or female, young or adult. A man (head of family) pays for himself and for whomever he shelters, unless they have enough money of their own, to give out zakat al-fitr.
It’s worth emphasizing that a person has to be a Muslim to be required to pay/give and qualify to receive zakat al-fitr.
“Prophet Muhammad made it incumbent on all the slave or free Muslims, male or female, to pay one Sa’ of dates or barley as Zakat-ul-Fitr.” (Al-Bukhari)
The Wisdom Behind Zakat al-Fitr
It’s not necessary to always know the wisdom behind any obligatory prescribed ritual. What’s important is to know its requirements, and comply with them accordingly. However, there are some rituals and deeds which either the Quran or the Prophet did tell us the wisdom (and logic) behind their legislation. Among them is zakat al-fitr.
Unlike the main annual monetary zakat, which is given to purify one’s wealth, zakat al-fitr purifies the fasting body. It’s aimed to purify the fasting Muslim from all his minor mistakes, and mischiefs that he might have committed during the fasting month while fasting. It also aims to provide for the needy, during the festive season of ‘eid al-fitr.
Ibn ’Abbas narrated:
“The Messenger of Allah enjoined Zakat-ul-fitr on the one who fasts (i.e. fasted during the month of Ramadan) to purify him from any indecent act or speech and for the purpose of providing food for the needy. It is accepted as Zakah for the person who pays it before the Eid prayer and it is Sadaqah (i.e. voluntary charity) for the person who pays it after the Eid prayer.’ Related by Abu Dawud and Ibn Majah and Al-Hakim graded it as Sahih.” (Abu Dawud)
We understand from this ḥadith that although the poor amongst us are expected to benefit from your zakat al-fitr, we do ourselves a great favor by giving zakat al-fitr. Who doesn’t want to be cleared from obscene speeches and wrongdoings which none can deny been guilty of?
Who Pays/Gives Zakat al-Fitr?
Zakat al-fitr is mandated upon every Muslim, free or slave, male or female, young or adult, who possesses the expenses on which he can sustain for the next 24 hours (day and night) of the ‘eid or longer. A caretaker (head) of a family pays for every single member of the family.
Who Deserves Zakat al-Fitr?
Zakat al-fitr is to be given to every Muslim, who doesn’t have enough for the next 24 hours (day and night).
When Should Zakat al-Fitr Be Given/Paid?
Zakat al-fitr is paid or given a day a two days before ‘eid al-fitr. It has to be given out before the ‘eid prayers. This is because failure to give it out before ‘eid prayers, invalidates the reward of giving zakat al-fitr.
How is Zakat al-Fitr Paid/Given?
The majority of Islamic scholars have opined that, zakat al-fitr must be given from what the Prophet, did mention in the ḥadith, or at least from the essential food of the people of the country (or town) where the zakat al-fitr is given (paid).
“At the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him) we used to give one scoop of food, or one scoop of dates, or one scoop of barley, or one scoop of raisins.”
In the contrary, Imam Abu Hanifah differed in opinion. He opines that zakat al-fitr can be given in substantial food as well as its equivalent in money. This is so much so, when there is necessity for that, and better serves the need of the recipient.
In fact, the options, which the companions were given to use in distributing zakat al-fitr strengthens the opinion of Imam Abu Hanifah in this part. Today, if you give a poor person a scoop of raisin or even wheat as zakat al-fitr, I’m afraid, it may not serve the purpose of zakat al-fitr to him. But if you give him 2.5kg of rice or its monetary equivalent, he will appreciate it, because it’s (more) useful to him.
If you are to give the equivalent of zakat al-fitr in cash to a needy, please make sure he will use it to buy food for his family, and not use it for cigarette or drugs.
What it the Amount of Zakat al-Fitr?
A scoop from equal to the scoop of the Prophet (scoop of Madinah), estimated to be approximately 3kg of uncooked rice is required to be used to measure when one gives out zakat al-fitr in substantial food, i.e. rice, dates, wheat, cereal and others. If you are giving its equivalent in money, then the price of 3kg of uncooked rice is to be given. The type of the rice and its monetary equivalent is what you eat, not what the recipient eats. Thus, if you consume high class rice, then you should give out 3kg or its monetary equivalent as your zakat al-fitr.
Can I give more than the estimated 3kg or uncooked rice? Yes, indeed! You can double it, triple it or more than you wish. If you are giving substantial food, you can add on oil, groceries, fruits or even drinks. The more you give, the better it is.
Although it seems easily achieved, it requires faith in achieving it. A little procrastination, and you’ll forget or miss paying or giving it out.
If you have successfully subjected yourself to hunger, thirst, and against its evil desires for 29 or 30 days, then you shouldn’t have a problem to finish the good job by purifying that same body from any unintended spiritual defects which might have remained in it.