Zakat ul-fitr is a type of sadaqah which must be paid by every Muslim, young and old, male and female, at the end of the month of fasting (Ramadan).
Al-Bukhari and Muslim relate from Ibn ‘Umar that he said: “The Prophet, upon whom be peace, enjoined the payment of one sa’ of dates or one sa’ of barley as zakat ul-fitr on every Muslim, young and old, male and female, free and slave.”
The Purpose of Zakat ul-Fitr
Zakat ul-fitr was made obligatory in the month of Sha’ban in the second year of the hijrah. Its purpose is to purify one who fasts from any indecent act or speech and to help the poor and needy. This view is based upon the hadith reported by Abu Dawud, Ibn Majah, and ad-Daraqutni from Ibn ‘Abbas. The Messenger of Allah, upon whom be peace, enjoined zakat ul-fitr on the one who fasts to shield one’s self 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 ‘id salah, and it is sadaqah for the one who pays it after the salah.
Zakat ul-fitr is incumbent on every free Muslim who possesses one sa’ of dates or barley which is not needed as a basic food for himself or his family for the duration of one day and night. Every free Muslim must pay zakat ul-fitr for himself, his wife, children, and servants.
Amount of Zakat ul-Fitr
The required amount of zakat ul-fitr is one sa’ of wheat, barley, raisins, dry cottage cheese (aqit), rice, corn, or similar items considered as basic foods (qut). Abu Hanifah made it permissible to set aside, as a zakat ul-fitr, an equivalent value and also said that if the payer pays in wheat, one-half of a sa’ would be sufficient. Abu Sa’id al-Khudri reported: “We used to give on behalf of every child, old person, freeman, and slave during the lifetime of the Messenger of Allah, upon whom be peace, one sa’ of food, or one sa’ of dried cottage cheese, or one sa’ of barley, or one sa’ of dates, or one sa’ of raisins as zakat ul-fitr. We continued to do so until Mu’awiyyah came to us to perform pilgrimage (hajj) or a minor pilgrimage ( ‘umrah). He then addressed the people from the pulpit and said to them: ‘I see that two mudds of wheat of Syria equals one sa’ of dates.’ The people accepted that.” However, Abu Sa’id contended: “I would continue to give as I used to give, namely, one sa’ as long as I live.” This is related by most hadith narrators. At-Tirmizhi remarks: “Some of the scholars gave one sa’ from every charitable item [which is accepted as a sound practice].” Ash-Shaf’i and Ishaq sustain this view but some other scholars gave one sa’ from every charitable item except wheat, of which only half a sa’ would be sufficient. This is the saying of Sufyan, Ibn al-Mubarak, and the scholars of Kufah.
The jurists agree that zakat ul-fitr is due at the end of Ramadan. They differ, however, about the exact time.
Ath-Thauri, Ahmad, Ishaq, and ash-Shaf’i (in his later opinion), and Malik (in one of his reports) are of the opinion that it is due at the sunset of the night of breaking the fast, for this is when the fast of Ramadan ends. Abu Hanifah, al-Layth, ash-Shaf’i (in his original opinion), and the second report of Malik say that zakat ulfitr is due at the start of fajr on the day of ‘id.
These two different views acquire relevance if a baby is born after sunset but before dawn on the day of ‘id; the question then is whether zakat ul-fitr is obligatory for the baby or not. In accordance with the first view, it is not since the birth took place after the prescribed time, while according to the second view, it is due because the birth took place within the prescribed space of time.
Paying Zakat ul-Fitr in Advance
Most scholars believe that it is permissible to pay zakat ul-fitr a day or two before ‘id. Ibn ‘Umar reports that the Messenger, upon whom be peace, ordered them to pay zakat ul-fitr before the people went out to perform the ‘id prayers. Nafi’ reports 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. Ash-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.
The founders of the four accepted Islamic legal schools agree that zakat ul-fitr is not nullified simply by not paying it on its due date. If such is the case, it becomes a debt on the one responsible for it until it is paid. They also agree that it is not permissible to delay it until the day of ‘id, but Ibn Sirin and an-Nakha’i say that this can be done. Ahmad says: “I hope that there is no harm [in the delay of its payment].” Ibn Raslan says that there is a consensus that its payment cannot be delayed just because it is a type of zakah. Thus, any delay is a sin and is analogous to delaying one’s prayers without an acceptable excuse. This is proved by the following hadith: “If one pays zakat ul-fitr before the salah, it is considered an accepted zakah. If he pays it after the salah, it is considered an ordinary sadaqah.”
Distribution of Zakat ul-Fitr
The distribution of zakat ul-fitr is the same as that of zakah– that is, it has to be distributed to the eight groups of beneficiaries mentioned in the ‘ayah: “The alms are only for the poor …” [atTaubah 60]. The category comprising the poor is considered the most deserving. This is also supported by the hadith: “The Messenger of Allah, upon whom be peace, enjoined zakat ul-fitr as a purification for the one who fasts from any indecent act or speech, and as food for the needy.”
Al-Baihaqi and ad-Daraqutni relate from Ibn ‘Umar who said: “The Messenger of Allah, upon whom be peace, enjoined the zakat ul-fitr, and also said: ‘Free them from want on this day.'”
Giving Zakat ul-Fitr to a Zhimmi
Az-Zuhri, Abu Hanifah, Muhammad, and Ibn Shubrumah make it permissible to give zakat ul-fitr to a zhimmi. Allah, the Exalted One, says: “Allah allows you to show kindness and deal justly with those who did not war against you on account of religion and did not drive you out from your homes. Lo! Allah loves those who are just” [al-Mumtahanah 8].
Are There Other Claims on Wealth Besides Zakah?
Islam views wealth realistically–as an essential aspect of life and the main means of subsistence of individuals and groups. Allah, the Exalted One, instructs: “Give not to those who are weak of understanding [what is in] your wealth which Allah has made a means of support for you” [an-Nisa’ 5]. This amounts to saying that wealth is to be distributed to meet the basic needs of food, clothing, lodging, and other indispensables, and that no one is to be lost, forgotten, or left without support. The best way to distribute wealth so that everyone’s basic needs are met is through zakah. It does not place any burden on the wealthy yet at the same time it meets the basic needs of the poor and relieves them of the hardships of life and the pain of deprivation. Zakah is not a favor (minnah) that the wealthy bestow upon the poor; rather, it is a due (haqq) that Allah entrusted in the hands of the rich to deliver to the poor and distribute among the deserving. Thus, the eminent truth about wealth and property is established–that is, wealth is not exclusively for the rich but for both the rich and the poor. This becomes obvious because of Allah’s judgment concerning the distribution of booty (fay’). Allah warns: “. . . that it does not become a commodity taken by turns among the rich of you” [al-Hashr 7]. This means it is an apportionment of wealth between the rich and the poor, not something restricted to the wealthy. Zakah is an obligation due on the property of those able to pay and is to be used to meet the basic needs of the poor and the needy so that they could be kept away from hunger and they could be given a sense of security and general well-being. If the amount of zakah is not enough to alleviate the conditions of the poor and the needy, then the rich can be subjected to further taxation. How much should be taken is not specified. Its quantity will be determined by the needs of the poor.
In his interpretation of alBaqarah 177, al-Qurtubi says: “The saying of Allah, the Exalted One: ‘And to spend of your wealth out of love for Him’ gives credence to those who maintain that there is a due on wealth other than zakah known as mal addir.” Others hold that the preceding ‘ayah alludes to the obligatory zakah. According to ad-Daraqutni’s report from Fatimah bint Qais, the first view is more convincing. She relates: “Indeed, there is a due on one’s holdings other than the prescribed zakah.” Then he recited the following Qur’anic verse: “It is not righteousness that you turn your faces to the East or to the West, but it is to believe in Allah, the Last Day, the Angels, the Book, the Messengers, and to spend of your wealth out of love for Him on your kin, orphans, the needy, the wayfarer, or those who ask, and on the ransom of slaves…” [al-Baqarah 177]. Ibn Majah mentioned it in his Sunan and at-Tirmizhi in his Jami’. The latter says that Ibn Majah’s has a different chain of narrators than his. Besides, Abu Hamzah and Maymun al-‘A’war consider Ibn Majah’s chain of narrator not credible. This hadith is related by Bayan and Isma’il ibn Salim from ash-Shu’bi, who said that it is sound.
The latter says: “If there is a question about its authenticity, it is rendered clear by the context of the ‘ayah [al-Baqarah 177]. In this statement: ‘… to be steadfast in prayer, and to give zakah,’ Allah mentions zakah with salah, which substantiates the fact that ‘to spend of your property out of love for Him’ does not refer to obligatory zakah, for that would be redundant in the ‘ayah–and Allah knows best.”
The scholars agree that should a need arise, even when zakah has been paid, the Muslim community is bound to contribute toward the alleviation of the problem.
Malik says: “It is obligatory for the people to ransom those taken as prisoners of war, even if doing so consumes all their property. The consensus on this subject strengthens our view, and we seek success only through Allah.” According to al-Manar, the ‘ayah “… and to spend your property out of love for Him . . .” [alBaqarah 177] means that one should give the property for the sake of Allah or for the love of giving it.
Imam Muhammad ‘Abduh’s comments are: “The giving of property in excess of the due zakah is considered one of the basic elements of piety (birr) and is enjoined like the prescribed zakah.”
Whenever the exigency calls for it, sadaqah other than zakah is given. That could be before the completion of the year (hawl) or after the payment of zakah. The contribution is not based on a specific amount of nisab but on the ability to give. Thus, if someone possesses only a loaf of bread and sees a person who is more hard-pressed than himself, he should give it to that person. The hard-pressed person is not the only one who has a right to be satisfied, but Allah has also ordered the believers to give non-prescribed sadaqat to the following: kin, orphans, needy, wayfarers, beggars, and slaves.
Kin (zhawi al-Qurba), recipients of sadaqah
The kin are considered the most deserving people for the sadaqah gift because of the common blood relationship. When a man is in need and some of his relatives are rich, naturally he looks to them for help because they are of one family. Also, it is natural for a man to feel more sympathy and pain with his hard-pressed and needy relatives than with strangers. He is humiliated by their degradation and elevated by their honor. Therefore, any well-to-do person who cuts off his kin from assistance and lives in luxury while his relatives are in a state of misery is devoid of natural feeling or lacks belief and is far away from goodness or piety. On the other hand, for one who maintains close links with his kin, his sustenance is assured and his relationship is of beneficence to his kin.
Orphans (wal-yatama), recipients of sadaqah
In the case of orphans whose guardians have died, their support and upbringing depends on wealthy and well to-do Muslims so that they will not become a problem to themselves or other people.
The Needy (wal-masakin), recipients of sadaqah
Because they are unable to earn enough to maintain themselves and have become contented with the little they have and abstain from begging, it is necessary for the well-to-do to help them.
: Wayfarere (wab nisabil), recipients of sadaqah
In the case of the wayfarer cut off from family and relatives, as if traveling were his household, consideration requires kindness for him as well. Thus, to sympathize with him and help him in his travels is, within the meaning of Islamic law, an encouragement which invites one to journey throughout the earth.
Beggars (was-sa’ilin), recipients of sadaqah
In the case of beggars forced to ask people for their needs, they should be helped. A person may also ask for help in order to redress another’s need. However, the shari’ah does not approve of begging, except under dire circumstances. Even then, one should not trespass limits.
Sadaqah other then Zakat
The legitimacy of giving sadaqah other than that of zakah is not restricted by a time limit or definite nisab. The amount designated for expenditure need not be a certain percentage (for example, a tithe, a one-quarter tithe, or a one-tenth tithe). It is an open-ended matter that is left to the beneficence, generosity, and condition of the one who gives. The protection of a revered (muhtaram) man from destruction and harm is an obligation upon whoever can help him, but more than that, it is left unquantified.
People overlook most of the public rights which the Qur’an supports, for these rights seek to establish an honorable and just social life. People spend only a smalI amount on the needy and even less for beggars because they are considered the least deserving nowadays. This is due to the fact that beggars have made begging a profession (hirfah), even though most of them are well-to-do.
Ibn Hazm says: “It is enjoined upon the rich of every country to support their poor, and the ruler has the authority to force them to do so. This is called for when the pre~,cribed zakah or the holdings of other Muslims are not enough to meet the needs of the poor. In that case, their food and their clothing to protect them from the elements and the eyes of the passer-by would be provided by the rich.” The proof for this is in the saying of Allah, the Exalted One: “Give the kinsman his due, and the needy, and the wayfarer” [al-Isra’ 26]. Allah also says: “[Show] kindness to parents, to near kin and orphans, to the needy, to relatives, to neighbors who are not related to you, to fellow travelers and wayfarers, and [to the slaves] whom your right hand possesses” [an-Nisa’ 36]. Generosity urges support for the above-mentioned people and forbids harming them. Referring to the guilty in the life to come, the Qur’an says that they would ask each other: “What brought you to this hellfire?” They will answer: “We were not of those who prayed, nor did we feed the needy” [al-Muddaththir 42-44]. Thus, Allah links feeding the needy with performing prayers. According to the following hadith, related by authentic sources, the Messenger of Allah, upon whom be peace, said: “He who does not have mercy upon people, Allah’s mercy will be kept from him.” Anyone upon whom Allah bestowed His grace and who sees his Muslim brother hungry, in need of clothes, and miserable, and still does not help him, he will, indeed, deprive himself of Allah’s mercy.
‘Uthman an-Nahdi reported that ‘Abdurrahman ibn Abi Bakr as-Siddiq informed him that the companions of as-Saffah were poor and that the Messenger of Allah, upon whom be peace, said: “He who has enough food for two, let him invite a third, and he who has food for four, let him invite a fifth or a sixth.”
It is related from Ibn ‘Umar that the Messenger of Allah, upon whom be peace, said: “A Muslim is a brother of another, and he should neither do injustice to him nor betray him.” Thus, anyone who lets a needy Muslim go without food or clothes while, in fact, he is able to feed and clothe him would have betrayed him. It is related from Abu Sa’id al-Khudri that the Messenger of Allah, upon whom be peace, said: “He whose holdings exceed his needs, let him support the one whose holdings do not, and he whose food exceeds his needs, let him share it with him who does not have food.” Abu Sa’id al-Khudri says: “Then he mentioned so many kinds of property that we thought no one of us had the right to have anything surplus with us.” This is the consensus of the companions, as it was reported by Abu Sa’id alKhudri. Concerning this tradition, it is reported on the authority of Abu Musa al-Ash’ari that the Prophet, upon whom be peace, said: “Feed the hungry, visit the sick, and ransom the prisoner.”
There are many ‘ayahs in the Qur’an and numerous sound hadith on this subject. ‘Umar says: “If I were to live again the past which I have already lived, I would take the surplus from the rich and distribute it among the poor immigrants (mujhajirun).” This is considered to be the most authentic report.
‘Ali said: “Allah, the Exalted One, has placed a due upon the properties of the rich to meet the needs of the poor. Thus, if the poor go hungry or naked or struggle because of the neglect of the rich, then Allah will hold them [the rich] accountable on the Day of Judgment and will punish them.”
Ibn ‘Umar is reported to have said: “There is a due on your property other than zakah.” It is related from ‘Aishah (the mother of the believers), al-Hasan ibn ‘Ali, Ibn ‘Umar that all of them replied to those who had asked them: “If you are asked for help in cases of blood money, heavy debt, or desperate poverty, then it is a must for you to give them from your holdings.”
It was accurately reported by Abu ‘Ubaidah ibn al-Jarrah and 300 companions that (once) when their provisions had run very low, Abu ‘Ubaidah ordered them to collect what was left and place it into two bags and then allot it to each one equally. Then he said: “It is not permissible for a hard-pressed Muslim to eat the meat of a dead animal or a pig when he can find surplus food from either a Muslim or a zhimmi. It is an obligation of the one who has food to feed the hungry.” This has the consensus among the companions, and there are no contrary views concerning it. It was accurately reported from ashShu’bi, Mujahid, Tawus, and others that: “There is a due on property other than zakah.” If such is the case, then a hard-pressed person is not forced to eat the meat of dead animals or pigs. He has the right to fight for it and, if he is killed, then retaliation by killing (qawad) will be imposed upon the killer. If the property holder who prevents him from receiving his due is killed, then may he have the curse of Allah upon him because he withheld a right (haqq), and he will be regarded as being among the unjust.
Allah, the Exalted One, says: “And if one party of them does wrong to the other, fight those who do wrong until they return to the ordinance of Allah.” Thus, one who withholds a right is an oppressor of his brother. The latter is the possessor of that right. On this basis, Abu Bakr as-Siddiq waged war against those who refused to pay their zakah.
From the preceding, one can see the degree of compassion and commiseration that Islam has for the deprived. Islam, in fact, excels over all other faiths and systems. They are like weak, sputtering candles when placed next to the bright and steady light of the sun of Islam.