Wa `alaykum as-Salamu wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuh.
In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
All praise and thanks are due to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger.
In this fatwa:
Zakat al-Fitr can be paid in cash if cash is better from the point of view of the recipient poor.
In his response to your question, Prof. Dr. Monzer Kahf, Professor of Islamic Finance and Economics at Qatar Faculty of Islamic Studies, states:
The answer is generally yes, Zakat al-Fitr can be paid in cash if cash is better from the point of view of the recipient poor.
We have authentic sayings by the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) that the due Zakat al-Fitr is one sa` (2,176 grams) of barley, dates, raisins, or dried yogurt.
These were common foods in Madinah and its surroundings. At the time of the Companions (may Allah be pleased with them all), wheat started to become a food item for the well-to-do families, and was a lot more expensive than barley. They estimated that one sa` of barley is equivalent in value to half a sa` of wheat.
Consequently, we have several reports from the time of the Companions (may Allah be pleased with them all) that they substituted value for the items that are mentioned in the saying of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him).
Ibn Taymiyyah, one of the renowned scholars of the early ninth century of Hijrah, argued that the payment of Zakatul-Fitr in cash in metropolitan areas such as Damascus, where he lived, is actually better for the poor.
In payment of Zakat al-Fitr the same criteria of payment of Zakat al-Mal apply. This means that if you have a relative in need, then payment to such a relative would be better than payment to a stranger. By the same token, payment to people and families who are in dire need would be better than payment to others with milder need. Also, payment in the same area where you live is better than payment in other areas.
Applying all these together and considering the circumstances in areas where Muslims suffer from foreign occupation and deliberate action by foreign forces to make them suffer dire poverty, such as Muslims in Palestine, Iraq, Gujarat, and Chechnya, they certainly have higher priority for receiving Zakat al-Fitr and Zakat al-Mal from Muslims in other areas, especially from us in the US.
Find the Muslim charitable organizations that make this relief reach these people, and it is better to pay your Zakat al-Fitr through such charities.
The amount of Zakat al-Fitr in the US today is 2-3 Dollars per person, the value of 2. 176 Kilogram of wheat since wheat is the main food item in North America (food item means the thing that is taken with meat, vegetable, etc. that are called Idam in Arabic as referred to in more than one Saying of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him).
It is certainly more rewarding to give much in this blessed month of Ramadan. Your responsibility ends if you make your payment to the charitable organization before `Eid Prayer, even if the organization delays actual distribution until after the Prayer.
However, it is better to pay Zakat al-Fitr earlier in this blessed month of Ramadan in order to enable the charity to actually distribute it by the `Eid Prayer. Many Muslim charities in America offer distribution before `Eid if we can help them plan well by making early payment. It is an exception because of the time needed for distribution.
Allah Almighty knows best.
Editor’s note: This fatwa is from Ask the Scholar’s archive and was originally published at an earlier date.