What is Zakat Al-Fitr?
Zakat Al-Fitr is the charity that you pay at the end of Ramadan. It shouldn’t be confused with Zakat Al-Mal, which is an alms paid on a person’s wealth. Zakat Al-Fitr and Zakat Al-Mal differ in the following ways:
- Zakat Al-Mal is on a persons assets or savings;
- Zakat Al-Fitr on anyone who witnesses Ramadan;
- Zakat Al-Mal can sometimes be given to non-muslims in certain conditions (according to some scholars);
- Zakat Al-Fitr can only be given to Muslims;
- Zakat Al-Mal can be paid any time in the year;
- Zakat All-Fitr can only be paid at a specific time of year.
What is its ruling?
The shariah ruling for Zakat Al-Fitr is that it is fard al-ain, meaning that it is a personal obligation for each and every Muslim.
Abdullah bin Umar (radiallahu anhu) said, “The Messenger of Allah ﷺ obligated Zakat Al-Fitr in Ramadan for every Muslim person: free or enslaved; male or female; young or old; a saa’ of dates or a saa’ of wheat.” (Al-Muslim)
As you can see the hadith mentions that Zakat Al-Fitr is wajib for every Muslim even the women, children, and elderly.
However, many scholars, including the Lajnah Ad-Da’imah (Saudi Arabia’s most senior fatwa issuing body) state that the Zakat for women and children should be paid by whoever is financially responsible for them, whether that is a husband, a father, brother, or a son.
What if a wife makes her own money? The husband is still financially responsible for his wife even if she makes more money than he does, so he is still obliged to pay the Zakat Al-Fitr for her.
What if a woman doesn’t have any male relatives supporting her? In this case she is obligated to pay the Zakat herself if she is able.
What if a woman has an ex-husband that is not paying the zakat for their children? If this is the case then the woman can pay the zakat for the children, but she is not obliged to do so. The obligation remains on the father of the children and if he does not pay it then the sin falls on him alone.
What if a husband can only afford to pay for himself? Then he is not obligated to pay the zakat for his family.
Who is exempt from Zakat Al-Fitr?
Those who cannot afford to pay Zakat Al-Fitr, because Allah says, “Allah does not burden someone with more than they can bear.”
Usually, when the Shariah is silent (i.e. there is no text) on a specific amount then we refer to customary practice. Therefore, to establish who is deemed as poor or exempt from paying zakat al-fitr would be based on whatever that particular population would generally consider as poor.
However, some scholars using ijtihad have specified a standard to determine who would be exempt from paying Zakat Al-Fitr, and that is: “those who after paying Zakat Al-Fitr, would not have enough money left over to feed their own family on the Eid.”
What is the wisdom behind Zakat al-Fitr?
The wisdom behind Zakat Al-Fitr is mentioned in the hadith of Ibn Abbas (radiallahu anhu):
“The Messenger of Allah ﷺ enjoined Zakat Al-Fitr as an expiation for indecent acts and speech and to provide the poor with food.” (Abu Dawud, Ibn Majah, and Al-Hakim)
As we know, when we fast the month of Ramadan we are not only expected to abstain from eating and drinking, we are also meant to abstain from idle speech, and sinful acts. When we commit these sinful acts during this holy month it doesn’t break our fast but it does decrease its completeness and perhaps will be a reason for it not to be accepted by Allah. So Allah blessed us with a way by which we might mend our fast and earn Allah’s forgiveness.
The second reason for the obligation of Zakat Al-Fitr, according to the hadith, is that the poor and needy might also share in the Eid celebrations.
A third reason mentioned by the scholars is that Zakat Al-Fitr is a means of thanking Allah for allowing us to successfully fast the month of Ramadan.
And Allah knows best.
When is it distributed?
There are four significant times related to Zakat Al-Fitr:
- The obligatory time
- The preferred time
- The permitted time
- The prohibited time
The obligatory time: is the setting of the sun (i.e. Maghrib) on the last day of Ramadan. This is not a time to distribute the Zakat as such, but rather it is the time after which Zakat Al-Fitr will cease to be an obligation.
For example, if a person became Muslim before this time then he is obligated to pay Zakat Al-Fitr, but if he became Muslim after this time then he does not have to pay the Zakat.
Likewise, if a man’s baby was born before this time, or if a he married a woman before this time, then he would have to pay Zakat Al-Fitr for the newborn baby or the newly married wife, but if the baby was born or he married the woman after the obligatory time then he would not have to pay Zakat for either.
As a note, some scholars encourage us to pay the Zakat for the unborn child, but state that this is preferred and is not an obligation.
The preferred time for distribution: is the morning of the Eid prayer. The Prophet ﷺ would walk to the Musalla and on the way he would give the Zakat to the poor people he met on the way.
The permitted time for distribution: The Prophet ﷺ permitted the Zakat Al-Fitr to be distributed three days before the Eid, i.e. the 28th, 29th and 30th days of Ramadan.
The prohibited time for distribution: The Prophet ﷺ said, “If anyone pays it before the Eid prayer then it will be accepted as zakat, but if anyone pays it after the prayer, then it will be a charity.” (Abu Dawud)
There are two situations in which a person may pay the Zakat after the Eid prayer according to Sheikh Uthaimeen and Sheikh Bin Baz:
- If a person forgets to pay the Zakat before the prayer, then he can pay it when he remembers.
- If a person is unable to find a poor person to give his Zakat to before the prayer, then he can pay it after the prayer.
How much is the Zakat Al-Fitr?
The Prophet ﷺ told us to distribute 1 saa’ per family member of a staple food. A saa’ was a pot that was used to measure certain foodstuffs, such as dates, and wheat. A saa’ is roughly equivalent to 3 litres or 13 cups, which equals about 105 oz of rice, 100 oz of grits, 55 oz of oatmeal and 15 oz of cereal. As you can see, from these measurements, when we measure by volume the weight can vary greatly depending on the type of food it is. This is why it is better to use a volume type measurement, like litres or cups to measure our Zakat Al-Fitr.
What types of foodstuffs can be given as Zakat? Ibn Umar said, “In the time of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ, the people used to give as Sadaqatul Fitr a Sa’ of barely, dates, rye or raisins.” From this hadith and others the scholars have derived that the Zakat should be a staple dry food. This means that foodstuffs such as sugar and meat cannot be given as Zakat, because sugar is not a staple food and meat is not dried.
Is it permissible to give money?
The scholars have differed over the permissibility of giving Zakat Al-Fitr as money. The correct opinion according to the majority of the scholars is that it is not permissible to give Zakat Al-Fitr as money for the following reasons:
- Zakat Al-Fitr is a form of worship and it is not permissible to perform a form of worship except in the manner taught by the Prophet ﷺ.
- The Prophet ﷺ specified Zakat Al-Fitr to be paid in a certain way and at a certain time and just as it is not permissible to pay it at a different time from that which is mentioned in the Sunnah, it is also not permissible to change the form of the Zakat that is distributed.
- The Sahabah always gave their Zakat AL-Fitr as food even though money was prevalent at that time and there is no evidence that they ever gave money.
Who can receive Zakat Al-Fitr?
To receive Zakat Al-Fitr the person must be:
- Someone for whom you are not financially responsible.
So how do we define poor, because the term poor can be subjective. What we consider poor in America may not be considered poor elsewhere. As we stated before, it is a well known and agreed upon principle that when the Shariah does not mention specific amounts then we may refer to the customary practice of a people. In other words, if a person who resides in America is considered as poor by American standards, then this person is eligible to receive Zakat Al-Fitr.
The third condition is that the person cannot be a person for whom you are financially responsible. In other words, they cannot be one of your household, such as your wife or children. They can however be a family member, such as a parent, grandparent, uncle, cousin, etc. In fact, the scholars say that giving the Zakat Al-Fitr to a family member has the added benefit of strengthening the familial ties, something that is greatly encouraged in Islam. After family members the next best person to give your Zakat Al-Fitr to are your neighbors, as long as they are Muslim.
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