Sadaqah (alms) prescribed by the Messenger of Allah ﷺ, upon concluding the fast of the month of Ramadan. It is called Zakah al-Fitr because it becomes mandatory when Ramadan comes to an end.
Proof for its obligation is what was reported from Ibn ‘Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) that: “The Messenger of Allah ordained Zakah al-Fitr as Sa’ of dates or a Sa’ of barely, on the slave and free man, male and female, and young and elderly Muslims, and he ordered it to be disbursed before people go out to the (Eid) prayer.” [Agreed upon]
Zakat-ul-Fitr is obligatory for everyone who lives until the sun sets on the last day of Ramadan. This is the point of view of the Shafi`is, Hanbalis, and Malikis. Abu Hanifah, however, said that it is only obligatory for one who possesses a nisab (a minimum amount of property) after fulfilling the costs of his house, servant, horse, and weapon.
WHAT MAY BE GIVEN
The jurists hold different views as to the types of food which must be given as Zakat-ul-Fitr. The Hanbali view is that the kinds of food which can be given are five: dates, raisins, wheat, barley, and dry cottage cheese. Imam Ahmad is reported to have said that any kind of staple grain or dates are also permissible, even if the above five types are available. The Malikis and Shafi`is are of the view that it is permissible to give any kind of food as long as it is the main staple in that particular region or the main food of the person. As for the Hanafis, they permit paying the value of Zakat-ul-Fitr in money.
Ibn Al-Qayyim highlighted these different viewpoints and concluded that the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, prescribed Zakat-ul-Fitr as one Sa` of dates, barley, raisins or dry cottage cheese. These were the main staple kinds of food in Madinah. As for people of other territories, what they should pay is one sa’ of their staple grain, such as corn, rice, etc. But if their main staple food is other than grain, such as milk, meat, fish, etc., then they should pay one Sa` of that particular food. This is the opinion of the majority of scholars and is the preferred point of view, since it achieves the purpose of fulfilling the needs of the poor on the day of `Eid with the staple food of their region.
One Saa’ = Three Litres, One Mudd = .75L
The Prophet (may Allaah raise his rank and grant him peace) ordered that a fasting person give out Zakaat al-Fitr at the end of Ramadhan – one saa’ of staple food on behalf of yourself and each person you are responsible for.
The amount of Zakat-ul-Fitr, as we referred earlier, is one Sa` of food. There is consensus on this amount among the scholars with regard to all types of food except wheat and raisins. As for these two types the Shafi`is, Malikis and Hanbalis agree that the prescribed amount is one Sa`, however the Hanafis say it is sufficient to pay half Sa` from wheat and they differed with regard to raisins.
What is a Sa’?
A Prophetic saa’ ( صاع ) is not a weight measurement. It was and still is a measurement of volume, similar to the size of a large salad bowl. It is made up of four mudds, and a mudd ( مد ) is a smaller container, close to the size of a small salad bowl.
To be precise, a Prophetic mudd in modern volume measurements is .75L (or 750mL), which means that a saa’ is three litres.
The Chain of Transmission for this Prophetic Measurement
This mudd has a chain back to the Prophetic mudd of Zayd ibn Thaabit
This mudd was measured up to Sh. Yahyaa ibn ‘Uthmaan al-Mudarris’ mudd (may Allaah preserve him), which was measured up to the mudd of his shaykh al-’Allaamah Aboo Sa’eed Muhammad ‘Abdullaah al-Laknawee (d.1400), which was measured up to his shaykh’s mudd… and so on, all the way back to the mudd of Zayd ibn Thaabit (may Allaah be pleased with him) that was in use in al-Andalus and elsewhere, all the way back to (at least) the fourth century.
PAYMENT IN MONEY
The Hanafis permitted the payment of Zakat-ul-Fitr in money. This is the view of Al-Thawri, Al-Hasan al-Basri, and `Umar ibn `Abd al-`Aziz. However, the other three schools did not permit this.
Their argument is that the Prophet did not do so and hence its payment in money contradicts the Sunnah of the Prophet. But some contemporary scholars support the Hanafi view since this is easier nowadays for the payer particularly in cities where people use only money for dealings. Among them are Sheikh Shaltut, al-Ghazali, and al-Qaradawi who mentioned the two reasons for which the Prophet did not prescribe it in money. He also stated that the purpose of Zakat-ul-Fitr is to fulfil the needs of the poor and this is achieved also by payment in money and that in most cases and most countries the payment in money is more useful to the poor. He also mentioned that when the Prophet prescribed it from food, it was easy for the payer and useful for the recipient during that time. But nowadays to pay it in food is not useful for the poor because he cannot make use, for instance, of wheat or dates unless he sells them with any price, generally low, to buy his needs with the money.
Al-Qaradawi excluded the times of famines where the payment of food is more useful for the recipients and said that the criterion is the benefit of the poor so if food proves to be more useful as in times of famines and catastrophes, then its payment in kind is better. But if money is more useful, then its payment in money is better.
APPROPRIATE TIME FOR DISBURSEMENT
The best time to pay Zakah Al-Fitr is on the day of ‘Eid after dawn and before the ‘Eid prayers. It is permissible to advance it before ‘Eid by a day or two, as some companions did. It is not permissible to delay giving Zakat-ul-Fitr after the day of `Eid.
HOWEVER, the founders of the four accepted Islamic legal schools agree that Zakat-ul-Fitr is not nullified simply by failure to pay it on its due time. If it is not paid before `Eid prayer, one is not exempt from it. It becomes a debt payable even after death. The heirs must not distribute the deceased’s legacy before payment of the deceased’s unpaid Zakat-ul-Fitr.
Most scholars believe that it is permissible to pay Zakat-ul-Fitr a day or two before `Eid. Ibn `Umar reported that the Messenger, upon whom be peace, ordered them to pay Zakat-ul-Fitr before the people went out to perform the `Eid prayer. Nafi‘ reported that `Umar used to pay it a day or two before the end of Ramadan. However, scholars hold different opinions when a longer time period is involved. According to Abu Hanifah, it is permissible to pay it even before Ramadan so long as you make the intention of Zakah. Al-Shaf‘i holds that it is permissible to do so at the beginning of Ramadan. Malik and Ahmad (in his well-known view) maintain that it is permissible to pay it only one or two days in advance. Al-Qaradawi explains the reasons for these differences in opinion by saying that the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, used to pay Zakat-ul-Fitr after Fajr prayer on the day of `Eid but before the `Eid prayer for the reason that the Muslim community was still small and limited in number. During the time of the Companions the payment was made one or two days before the `Eid. After the spread of Islam the jurists permitted its payment from the beginning and middle of Ramadan so as to ensure that the Zakat-ul-Fitr reached its beneficiaries on the day of `Eid, thereby avoiding the possibility that the process of distribution would delay reception of the payment after the day of `Eid.
“As-Sadaqah is only for the fuqaraa (the poor)…” (At-Taubah: 60)
THE WISDOM OF GIVING ZAKAAT UL-FITR
1- Purification of the person who fasted, from idle talks and obscenity, as it has been reported from Ibn ‘Abbas that: “The Messenger of Allah ﷺ ordained Zakah al-Fitr to be a cleansing, for the one who fasted, from idle talks and obscenity[ Ar-Rafath: obscene statements], and as food for the needy.” [ Source: Abu Dawud]
This is because in most cases the fasting person is not free from vain actions, such as idle speech; so this sadaqah becomes an expiation for the person from the prohibited or detested speech he spoke which lessens the rewards of good deeds or may even violate the fast.
2- Generosity towards the poor and needy, and sparing them from begging on the day of ‘Eid, which entails humiliation and shame on a day that is meant for rejoicing and happiness; so that they join the rest of the community in celebrating the ‘Eid.
N.B: It is always better (required) to stick with the opinion, especially the dominant scholarly opinion, of your own madhab, rather than shop around for “easier” opinions. MPAC has represented varied opinions in this collection only for the benefit of our diverse readers.