What is Zakat al-Fitr?
Zakat al-Fitr is charity given to the poor at the end of the fasting in the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. It is a duty which is obligatory of every Muslim, whether male or female, minor or adult as long as he/she has the means to do so.
Zakat al-Fitr provides the poor with a means in which they can celebrate the festival of breaking the fast (`Eid al-Fitr) along with the rest of the Muslims.
Who must pay it?
Zakaat al-fitr must be given on behalf of all Muslims, young and old, male and female, free and slave. With regard to a foetus, it is not obligatory to give it on his behalf according to scholarly consensus, but it is mustahabb, because ‘Uthmaan (may Allah be pleased with him) did that.
How much is it? What form must it be given in?
Zakat al-fitr should be paid in the form of staple food items for where you are living.
Abu Sa’eed al-Khudri (may Allah be pleased with him) said: “At the time of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) we used to give one saa’ of food, or one saa’ of dates, or one saa’ of barley, or one saa’ of raisins.”
Some of the scholars have interpreted “food” (ta’aam) in this hadeeth as referring to wheat; others interpreted it as meaning the staple food of the country, whatever it is, whether it is wheat, corn, pearl millet or whatever. This is the correct view, because zakat is a form of help from the rich to the poor, and the Muslim does not have to help with anything other than the staple food of his country.
What must be given is a saa’ of any kind of staple food, i.e., a saa’ of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), which is four complete scoops as scooped up with two hands. In modern weights this is equivalent to approximately three kilograms. If a Muslim gives a kilo of rice or some other staple food of his country, that is sufficient even if it is not one of the types mentioned in the hadeeth, according to the more correct of the two scholarly opinions. There is nothing wrong with giving the equivalent amount by weight, which is approximately three kilograms.[i]
It is not permissible to pay the value in money, according to the majority of scholars; this view has the stronger evidence. Rather it must be given in the form of food, as the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and his companions (may Allah be pleased with them) did. This is also the view of the majority of the ummah. We ask Allah to help us and all the Muslims to understand His religion properly and adhere to it steadfastly, and to guide us, for He is the Most Generous, Most Kind. (Majmoo’ Fataawa al-Shaykh Ibn Baaz, 14/200.)
Shaykh Ibn ‘Uthaymeen (may Allah have mercy on him) estimated it in grams as being 2100 grams, as it says in Fataawa al-Zakat, p. 274-276.
This discrepancy occurred because a saa’ is a measure of volume, not weight.
The scholars worked it out by weight so that it would be easier to work out. It is well known that the weight of grains varies; some are light and some are heavy, and some are in between. In fact the weight of a saa’ of the same kind of grain may vary, and new may weigh more than old. Hence if people err on the side of caution and give more, that will be better.[ii]
When is it due to be paid by?
Every Muslim is required to pay Zakat al-Fitr at the conclusion of the month of Ramadan, anytime between the 28th of Ramadan, and the Eid prayer as a token of gratitude to Allah. Whoever gives it before the prayer, it is zakaat al-fitr, and whoever gives it after the prayer, it is ordinary charity.
Who should it be given to?
Those to whom it must be given are the poor and needy. It was proven that Ibn ‘Abbaas (may Allah be pleased with him) said: The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) enjoined zakaat al-fitr as a purification for the fasting person from idle and obscene speech, and to feed the poor.
Zakaat al-fitr should be given to poor Muslims even if they are sinners so long as their sin is not something that puts them beyond the pale of Islam. What is meant by poor is those who appear to be poor, even if they are in fact rich. The one who is paying the zakat should seek out good poor people as much as possible. If he finds out later that the one who took it was actually rich, that does not affect the one who gave it, rather he has discharged his duty, praise be to Allah.[iii]
Note: Zakat al-Fitr should not be confused with Zakat on wealth (which is the 3rd Pillar of Islam)