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Many of the Muslims residing in Britain, and other countries not ruled by Muslims, ask how one should give Zakat ul-Fitr, therefore in order to clarify the rulings concerning this great symbol of Islam this treatise has been written.
Zakat ul-Fitr is zakat which is given at the end of the month of Ramadhan by every Muslim, young or old, male or female, free or slave.
This was explained by the Exegete of the Qur'an, the noble Companion, 'Abdullah ibn 'Abbas when he said, "The Messenger of Allah sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam obligated Zakat ul-Fitr to serve as purification for the one fasting for any vain speech or indecent behaviour; and also to serve as food for the indigent. Whoever gives it before the salah [of 'Eid], it is an accepted zakat, whoever gives it after the salah, it is to be regarded as sadaqah." [Recorded by Abu Dawud]
In the view of the majority of scholars, early and later, it is obligatory; this due to the saying of Ibn 'Umar, "The Messenger of Allah sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam obligated Zakat ul-Fitr as one sa' of dates, or one sa' of barley upon the slave, the free, the male, the female, the young and the old Muslim. He ordered that it be given before the people leave for the prayer." [Agreed upon and the wording is that of Bukhari]
On Whom is it Obligatory and for Whom?
It is obligatory upon the Muslim, male or female; slave or free, if he finds that he has a surplus of property after having catered for his core needs on the day and night of 'Eid such as food, shelter, clothes etc. He must give this on his own behalf and on behalf of all Muslims who are dependant upon him, be that dependant young or old, free or slave, provided that the dependant is not able to give the zakat on his or her own behalf. If they are able, it is better that they give on their own behalf due to the generality of the address that the Prophet sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam gave to the Muslims.
With regards the young and insane, it should be paid on their behalf by their legal guardian from their own wealth, if they have wealth, or if not, they take the ruling of those who are unable to pay on their own behalf. If a woman is the head of the household, she must pay on her own behalf and for her dependants as previously explained.
The meaning of 'dependant' is that person on whom it is a duty upon a person to provide for. If someone were to give on behalf of a dependant who is a disbeliever, there is no harm in this inshaAllah in accord with the Hanafi school.
What Should be Given and How Much?
Zakat ul-Fitr should be given as that food which constitutes the staple diet of the country in which one resides, hence it is possible that it be given as rice in some countries and flour or wheat in others etc. It is also possible to give it as modern day food stuffs, provided that the food can be stored, such as macaroni. The proof for this is the hadith of Abu Sa'id al-Khudri who said, "We would give Zakat ul-Fitr as a sa' of food, or a sa' of barley, or a sa' of dates, or a sa' of 'aqit (dry crumbled milk), or a sa' of raisins." [Agreed upon]
It is best for a person not to give money, but is it permissible to give the monetary value of that food as Zakat ul-Fitr? The majority of scholars say that this is not permissible whereas the Hanafi school says that it is. It is best that a person not give its monetary value but give it as food because this is what the text speaks of; moreover the specific reasoning of the text further proves that this is what should be given. Therefore it is not possible to exercise ijtihad on this issue by claiming that one is looking to the reasoning behind the ruling. Furthermore Zakat ul-Fitr is a very specific form of zakat and as such analogy cannot be made between it and the zakat of ones wealth and property; its source is different, the ones upon whom it is obligatory are different and its timing is different. Therefore it is not of same category as the zakat that one gives of his wealth and property, it cannot be said that it has the same purpose and hence it cannot be adjoined to it.
To Whom Should it be Given?
It is best that Zakat ul-Fitr be given to the poor and the needy (al-miskin - someone whose level of poverty is more or less than the poor (al-faqir), but does not let others know of his need nor does he beg from others), these are the first two categories of the eight to whom zakat is normally given to; this due to his sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam saying, " … and as food for the needy". The majority of scholars are of the opinion that Zakat ul-Fitr is not to be given to non-Muslims.
When Should it be Given?
It is best that it be given one or two days before the 'Eid prayer, meaning that it should be given on the twenty-ninth day of Ramadhan onwards. Bukhari records that "they would give Zakat ul-Fitr a day or two before ['Eid]".
In the case that one giving Zakat ul-Fitr gives money to an Islamic organisation which acts as a representative on his behalf to convert this money to food, there is no harm in giving the value in money to such an organisation a number of days before 'Eid. This is because in this case someone else is acting on his behalf and he is not directly giving zakat; the person he is giving money to is acting as his representative and hence he is not actually giving the zakat at that time.
It is best that a person give it before his praying 'Eid and that he not delay it till after the prayer due to the saying of Ibn 'Umar that "the Prophet sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam ordered that it be given before the people leave for the prayer." [Agreed upon]
If the person is to pray in a Mosque in which a number of 'Eid congregations will be held, and he is determined to pray in the second congregation, for example, then the time for his giving Zakat ul-Fitr is extended until before he prays his prayer.
How Should One Give Food in these Countries?
If a Muslim finds one who is deserving of being given Zakat ul-Fitr, he must give them a sa' of food. If he does not find anyone, he can give that amount of money which is equivalent to the cost of food in these countries to an Islamic organisation that can distribute it as food in other lands. His intention should be that he is giving this money to a representative who can act on his behalf to buy food. The scholars have allowed this transferral, especially when a need dictates that it be done. Our state here where it is hard to find the poor and the needy, the difficulty that exists in trying to give it as food coupled with the dire need that exists in other lands, is a strong reason allowing one to transfer food to another country.
How Much Should be Given?
A sa' of food which in modern day usage translates to 2.25kg.
It is possible that a person give his Zakat ul-Fitr and the Zakat ul-Fitr of his dependants to one person just as it is possible that the Zakat ul-Fitr of one person be distributed amongst a number of indigent people.
Haytham ibn Jawwad al-Haddad
Al-Muntada al-Islami, 15 Ramadhan 1423H