Zakat al-fitr is a kind of charity (sadaqah) that is obligatory at the time of breaking the fast of Ramadan.
Why zakat al-fitr is legislated
Ibn `Abbas said: “The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) made zakat al-fitr obligatory as a means of purifying the fasting person from idle talk and foul language, and to feed the poor. Whoever pays it before the prayer, it is an accepted zakat, and whoever pays it after the prayer, it is just a kind of charity (sadaqah).”( Abu Dawud)
It was said that this is what was meant by the verse in Surah Al-A`la:
But those will prosper who purify themselves, and glorify the name of their Guardian-Lord, and (lift their hearts) in Prayer. (Al-A`la 87:14-15)
Waki` ibn Al-Jarrah said: “Zakat al-fitr for the month of Ramadan is like the two sajdahs of sahw (prostration of forgetfulness) for the prayer. It makes up for any shortcomings in the fast as the prostrations make up for any shortcomings in the prayer.”
Ruling on zakat al-fitr
The correct view is that it is fard (obligatory), because Ibn `Umar said: “The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) made zakat al-fitr obligatory,” and because of the consensus of the scholars that it is obligatory.
When it has to be given
It becomes obligatory when the sun sets on the last day of Ramadan. Anyone who gets married, has a baby born to him or becomes Muslim before the sun sets on that day, has to give zakat al-fitr [on behalf of himself and/or his new wife or new baby], but if that happens after sunset, he does not have to give it.
Whoever dies after sunset on the night of fitr, zakat al-fitr must be given on his behalf. This is what Ahmad stated.”(Al-Mughni)
Who is obliged to pay it?
1. Zakat al-fitr is obligatory on Muslims.
2. It is obligatory on those who are able to pay it. Ash-Shafi`i said: “Everyone who, at the beginning of Shawwal, has enough food for himself and those whom he is supporting, for that day, and has enough to give zakat al-fitr on behalf of them and himself, should give it on behalf of them and himself. If he only has enough to give on behalf of some of them, then he should give on behalf of some of them. If he only has enough for himself and those whom he is supporting, then he is not obliged to give zakat al-fitr on his own behalf or on behalf of those whom he is supporting.” (Al-Umm)
3. The Muslim should give on his own behalf and on behalf of those on whom he spends, such as wives and relatives, if they cannot give it on their own behalf. If they are able to, it is better for them to give it themselves, because the command is addressed to them in the first place.
A man has to pay on behalf of himself and his wife – even if she has money of her own – and his children and parents if they are poor, and his daughter if she is married but the marriage has not yet been consummated. If his son is rich, he does not have to give zakat al-fitr on his behalf. A husband has to give zakat al-fitr on behalf of a divorced wife whose divorce is not yet final (i.e., she is still in the `iddah of a first or second talaq), but not in the case of a rebellious wife or one whose divorce is final.
It is not obligatory to give zakat al-fitr on behalf of a fetus that is still in the mother’s womb, but if this is done voluntarily, there is nothing wrong with it.
If someone who is obliged to give zakat al-fitr dies before giving it, it must be given from his estate, even if the person who was supporting him also dies, the obligation still stands.
If a servant has set wages that are paid to him daily or monthly, the employer does not have to give zakat al-fitr on his behalf, because he is a hired worker, and one is not obliged to spend on a hired worker.
Concerning giving zakat al-fitr on behalf of an orphan, Imam Malik (may Allah have mercy on him) said: “The guardian should give zakat al-fitr on behalf of the orphans some of whose wealth is under his control, even if they are minors.”
Amount of zakat al-fitr
The amount to be given is one Sa` of food, according to the measure of Sa` used by the Prophet (peace be upon him), because of the following hadith.
Abu Sa`id al-Khudri (may Allah be pleased with him) said: “At the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him) we used to give it in the form of a Sa` of food…”(Al-Bukhari)
The weight of the Sa` [which is a measure of volume] varies according to the type of food concerned, so when giving zakat al-fitr by weight, one must make sure that what is given is equivalent to a Sa` of that type of food. A Sa` is approximately equivalent to three kilograms of rice.
Types of things that may be given
What should be given is food for human consumption, such as dates, wheat, rice or other kinds of food that humans eat. Abu Sa`id Al-Khudri (may Allah be pleased with him) said: “At the time of the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him), we used to give a Sa` of food on the day of Fitr.” Abu Sa`id said: “And our food was barley, raisins, aqit (dried yoghurt) and dates.” (Al-Bukhari)
It should be given in the form of the staple food that is used locally, whether it is wheat, rice, dates or lentils…
The time for giving zakat al-fitr
It should be given before the `Eid prayer, as is stated in the hadith that the Prophet (peace be upon him) “commanded that it should be given before the people went out to pray.” (Al-Bukhari)
There is a time when it is preferable to give it and a time when it is permissible to give it.
The time when it is preferable to give it is on the day of `Eid, because of the hadith quoted above. The time when it is permissible to give zakat al-fitr is one or two days before `Eid.
It is disliked to delay giving it until after Salat Al-`Eid; some scholars said that this is haram and is counted as qada’ (making up a duty that has not been performed on time), on the basis of the hadith, “Whoever pays it before the prayer, it is an accepted zakat, and whoever pays it after the prayer, it is just a kind of charity.”(Abu Dawud) If a person delays giving it with no excuse, he has committed a sin but he still has to make it up.
To whom it may be given
Zakat al-fitr may be given to the eight categories of people to whom zakat of properties may be given. This is the opinion of the majority of scholars. According to the Malikis, one of the opinions of Ahmad and the opinion of Ibn Taymiyyah, it should be given exclusively to the poor and needy.
(Ash-Shafi`i said): Zakat al-fitr should be divided among those among whom zakat of properties is divided, and it should not be spent anywhere else.
It should be noted that it is not permissible for the one who gives zakat al-fitr to buy it back from the one to whom he has given it.
Payment and distribution
It is preferable for the person who is giving to share it out himself. (Ash-Shafi`i said): I prefer to share out zakat al-fitr myself rather than give it to the one who is collecting it.
However, it is permissible to appoint a trustworthy person to hand it over to those who are entitled to it, but if he is not trustworthy, then it is not allowed.
Imam Ahmad (may Allah have mercy on him) stated that it is permissible to share out one Sa` among a group of people, or to give many Sa`s to one person.
Malik said: “there is nothing wrong with a man giving zakat al-fitr on behalf of himself and his family to one needy person.”
It is permissible for a poor person, if he receives zakat al-fitr from someone and he has more than he needs, to give it on his own behalf or on behalf of one of those who are dependent on him, if he is sure that the food is OK (i.e., it is the right type of food and the quantity is sufficient).
Where to Give zakat al-fitr
Ibn Qudamah (may Allah have mercy on him) said: “As for zakat al-fitr, it should be shared out in the country where it became obligatory, whether a person has wealth there or not, because it is the reason why zakat became obligatory…”
We ask Allah to accept the worship of all of us and to join us with the righteous.
May Allah bless our Prophet Muhammad and all his family and companions!
Source: Taken from the author’s “Zakat Al-Fitr”