Short Answer: Zakat-ul-Fitr is a compulsory charity that is due on every Muslim before the Eid prayer, which is performed on the festive day after completing the last day of fasting during Ramadan. It is a special charity that is expected only during the month of Ramadan. So, it is a one time a year mandatory charity to be given to the poor and needy among the Muslims. It cannot be given towards building a mosque for example, or helping a Muslims widow. But it cannot be given to non-Muslims.
Salam Dear Abraham,
Thank you for this interesting question and for contacting Ask About Islam.
Let me first explain the meaning of Zakat-ul-Fitr. Zakat means obligatory charity and Fitr means breaking fast.
It is a special charity that is expected only during the month of Ramadan. So, it is a one time a year mandatory charity to be given to the poor and needy among the Muslims. It cannot be given towards building a mosque for example, or helping a Muslims widow. But it cannot be given to non-Muslims.
You may give charity to non-Muslims, but you still have to pay the Zakat-ul-Fitr; basically it will not count if you give it to your poor Christian neighbor for example. You may give your non-Muslim neighbor some money if he is needy, or a nice meal if he is not needy just to let him know that you are celebrating Eid.
The logical reason behind it is to make the less fortunate Muslims happy during the Eid (The Muslims’ day of festivity). A non-Muslim will appreciate the money but not the occasion. Its purpose is to strengthen the brotherhood and solidarity among Muslims.
Zakat-ul-Fitr can be given any time during Ramadan, but preferably few days before the end of Ramadan in order to be spent during the Eid and not before.
It can be given in the form of food or cash. In each country, scholars declare the amount of Zakat-ul-Fitr to be paid for each person.
If you are able to give it in food then it is about two kilograms or five pounds per person of dates, barley, rice, etc. Otherwise, it has been estimated at $15 in the USA for each family member.
Zakat-ul-Fitr is to be paid for each family member who is a Muslim, including newborn babies, younger brother or parents under your support.
So, if you have ten family members and you wish to pay it in cash then your total is $150. If your parents or wife are not Muslims, then you don’t pay on their behalf.
If you wish to give food, it is basically the type of food that is most commonly used in society. For example, in many African countries, maize or corn is what most people prefer then it is best in that region, but this is not a requirement. You may ask what people need most and buy that to give away.
The list of food items is much broader than that. It can also be a combination of things if you are paying on behalf of your family.
If someone forgets to give Zakat-ul-Fitr on time even after a long time then he or she needs to pay it as soon as remembered because as I mentioned earlier it is an obligatory charity that we are accountable for in front of Allah.
Finally, Zakat-ul-Fitr is best to be distributed according to the following priorities: your own community, your own country, Muslims in countries under distress, or other poor Muslim countries.
If you don’t know who to give it then contact the main Islamic society in your country and ask them how to pay it. Nowadays, it can even be paid online.
And Allah knows best.
I hope this helps.
Salam and please keep in touch.
(From Ask About Islam archives)
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