by Fattah Tolulope Alabi
Every Muslim is required to pay Zakat-ul-Fitr at the conclusion of the month of Ramadan as a token of thankfulness to God for having enabled him to observe fasts. Its purpose is to purify those who fast from any indecent act or speech and to help the poor and needy. This view is based upon the hadith which reads, “The Messenger of Allah, upon whom be peace, enjoined Zakat-ul-Fitr on those who fast to shield them from any indecent act or speech, and for the purpose of providing food for the needy. It is accepted as Zakah for the one who pays it before the `Eid prayer, and it is sadaqah for the one who pays it after the prayer.” For Muslims payment of Zakat ul Fitr are two purposes: one is related to the individual; for completion of his fast and compensation for any shortcomings in his acts or speech. The other is related to society; for the spreading of love and happiness among its members, particularly the poor and needy, during the day of `Eid.It also purifies one’s soul from such shortcomings as the adoration of property, and from miserliness. Furthermore, it purifies one’s property from the stain of unlawful earnings. It is also a cure for ailments. The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “It would be better that you treat your patients with charity.”
In addition, it provides for the needs of the poor and the indigent and relieves them from having to ask others for charity on the day of `Eid. The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Fulfil their need on this day (i.e., the day of `Eid)
Sadaqat al-Fitr is a duty which is wajib (required) of every Muslim, whether male or female, minor or adult as long as he/she has the means to do so. According to Islamic tradition (Sunnah), Ibn ‘Umar said that Muhammad made Zakat al-Fitr compulsory on every slave, freeman, male, female, young and old among the Muslims; one Saa` of dried dates or one Saa` of barley.
The head of the household may pay the required amount for the other members. Abu Saa’eed al-Khudree said: On behalf of our young and old, free men and slaves, we used to take out during Allah’s Messenger’s (upon whom be God’s peace and blessings) lifetime one Saa` of grain, cheese or raisins”.
When Zakat-ul-Fitr is due
The jurists agree that Zakat-ul-Fitrr is due at the end of Ramadan. They differ, however, about the exact time. Al-Thawri, Ishaq, Malik (in one of two reports), and Al-Shafi`i (in one of his two opinions), 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. However, Al-Layth, the Hanafi school, Al-Shafi`i (in his other opinion), and the second report of Malik say that Zakat-ul-Fitr is due at the start of Fajr (dawn) on the day of `Eid because it is an act of worship connected with `Eid, so the time of its payment should not be before `Eid just as sacrifice on the `Eid of Adha.
These two different views acquire relevance if a baby is born after sunset but before dawn on the day of `Eid; 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 obligatory because the birth took place within the prescribed space of time.
Time of payment
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.
Its generally accepted that 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. After explaining the different views regarding the time of payment, Sheikh `Atiyyah Saqr stated that these differences of opinion among the jurists justify some leniency for Muslims in regard to the time of payment, and therefore a Muslim can pay at any of these times. He also took the view that paying it at different times gives the poor and needy the opportunity to benefit from Zakat-ul-Fitr and fulfil their needs for longer periods.
In my opinion these differences are due to taking into consideration both the needs of the poor and the opportunity of attaining the wisdom behind the obligation of Zakat-ul-Fitr. Therefore, the most acceptable and practical approach is to apply whichever practice fulfils the purpose and wisdom behind Zakat-ul-Fitr, that is bringing happiness to the poor on the day of `Eid and giving their children a chance to enjoy this day as others do.
The calculation of Zakat-ul-Fitr
The amount of Zakat-ul-Fitr, as we referred earlier, is one Saa` 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. After discussing the arguments of these two opinions renowned scholar Sheikh al-Qaradawi reached the following conclusion: wheat was not a common food amongst them during the time of the Prophet so he did not prescribe one Saa` of it as he did with the other types of food. As for those of the Companions of the Prophet who prescribed half Sa` of wheat instead of one Saa` of barely or dates like Mu`awiyah and other Companions, he views that they did so by analogy, since the value of wheat was more than those of other types of food which were equal. But according to their opinion, he says, the value should be considered and taken as the criterion and this will cause instability and confusion for it changes from place to another and from time to time. He mentioned that in Pakistan the value of wheat is less than that of dates, then how should we pay of it half the amount (i.e. Saa`) that we should pay of dates? He also mentioned that nowadays raisins are more expensive than wheat and dates. The only solution for these problems, he says, is to regard Saa` as the criterion and basis.
Scholars explain why the Prophet appointed Saa` as the measure and did not prescribe it in money saying that in his opinion there are two reasons for this: First, money was still rare among the Arabs particularly the Bedouins. They did not have their own currency. So if the Prophet had prescribed it in money, he would have caused hardship to them. Second, the purchasing power of money changes from time to time. For instance, the purchasing power of a certain currency sometimes becomes low and other times high, so paying Zakat-ul-Fitr in money makes its value unstable. That is why the Prophet prescribed it with a stable measure that is an amount of food which fulfils the needs of one family. For one Saa` provides a family with food for a whole day.
The amount of Saa` (Measurement)
Saa` is a certain measure which equals 4 mudds (a mudd equals a handful of an average man). The contemporary equivalent weights of Saa` differs according to the stuff which is weighted. For example a Sa` of wheat equals 2176 grams, a Sa` of rice is 2520 grams, a Saa` of beans equals 2250 grams etc. Therefore some scholars are of the view that the criterion should be the measure not the weight for there are kinds of food which are heavier than others. But I think this is the case if the equivalent weight of a certain kind of food is not known. If there is no available measure or weight with the person, then he should pay 4 mudds. Nowadays, it is not that problem because ministries of religious affairs in Muslim countries and mosques and Islamic centres in Western countries announce the value of Zakat-ul-Fitr every year. Anyhow, this is the obligatory amount which every Muslim should pay. It is better and recommended that one pays an extra amount, particularly for those who are wealthy, for they will be rewarded for it.
Lastly, it’s important that Muslims ensure that payment of Zakat ul Fitr is made before the eid prayer.
Allahumo innaka afwun thuibal afwa fa’fu anni ( O Allah, You are All Forgiving and You Love Forgiveness so forgive me)
Fattah Tolulope Alabi writes from Ibadan, Oyo State. Follow me on Twitter @LabiTolu