The Purpose of Zakat-ul-Fitr

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.” Al-Qaradawi comments on this hadith by saying that there 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, (PBUH) 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 (PBUH) said, “Fulfil their need on this day (i.e., the day of `Eid)”. Who must pay Zakat-ul-Fitr Every free Muslim must pay Zakat-ul-Fitr for himself, his wife, children, and servants. The rationale behind it was stated to be the purification of one who fasts from any indecent act or speech. And since every Muslim needs this, it is therefore obligatory upon every fasting Muslim, whether rich or poor, who possesses one measurement in excess of his main staple food for the duration of one day and night. This is because so long as the essential rationale is shared by all Muslims, then they also share the same obligation.” It is a virtuous wisdom of Islam that it makes this Zakah obligatory not only on the rich, but also upon nearly every Muslim, for you can hardly find a person who does not possess one measurement of food above his main staple food for the duration of one day and night. The wisdom behind this obligation, therefore, is to prepare the poor to practice benevolence and feel the dignity and honour of giving in charity. Moreover, we have to bear in mind that Zakat-ul-Fitr is obligatory for everyone who lives until the sun sets on the last day of Ramadan. Accordingly, whoever dies before the sun sets on the last day of Ramadan is exempted. Likewise, a person who has a baby on the last day of Ramadan should pay Zakat-ul-Fitr for the baby. When Zakat-ul-Fitr is due The jurists agree that Zakat-ul-Fitr is due at the end of Ramadan. Time of payment It is not permissible to delay giving Zakat-ul-Fitr after the day of `Eid (i.e. one may give it up to the time of the `Eid prayer). However, there are some jurists who think that it is permissible to delay giving it even after the `Eid prayer If it is not paid before `Eid prayer, one is not exempt from it. It becomes a debt payable even after death. The heirs must not distribute the deceased’s legacy before payment of the deceased’s unpaid Zakat-ul-Fitr.[16] Most scholars believe that it is permissible to pay Zakat-ul-Fitr a day or two before `Eid. Ibn `Umar reported that the Messenge (PBUH), 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. 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. What type of food can be given and permissible substitutes It is permissible to give any kind of food as long as it is the main staple in that particular region or the main food of the person. As for the Hanafis, they permit paying the value of Zakat-ul-Fitr in money. But if their main staple food is other than grain, such as milk, meat, fish, etc., then they should pay one measurement of that particular food. This is the opinion of the majority of scholars and is the preferred point of view, since it achieves the purpose of fulfilling the needs of the poor on the day of `Eid with the staple food of their region. The calculation of Zakat-ul-Fitr The amount of Zakat-ul-Fitr, as we referred earlier, is one measurement of food. Al-Qaradawi explains why the Prophet appointed a particular measurement 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 (PBUH) prescribed it with a stable measure. That is an amount of food which fulfils the needs of one family. For one measurement of food provides a family with food for a whole day. Food measurements Food measurement means the equivalent in mudus, kongo, peregi or basket in the Nigerian local parlance. The contemporary equivalent weights of these differ according to the stuff which is weighted. For example a measurement of wheat should equal 2.2 kilograms, rice is 2.5 kilograms, beans equal 2.3 kilograms etc. 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. Money Payments As it is mentioned earlier, the Hanafis permitted the payment of Zakat-ul-Fitr in money. He also stated that the purpose of Zakat-ul-Fitr is to fulfill the needs of the poor and this is achieved also by payment in money and that in most cases and most countries the payment in money is more useful to the poor. He also mentioned that when the Prophet (PBUH) prescribed it from food, it was easy for the payer and useful for the recipient during that time. But nowadays to pay it in food is not useful for the poor because he cannot make use, for instance, of wheat or dates unless he sells them with any price, generally low, to buy his needs with the money. Al-Qaradawi excluded the times of famines where the payment of food is more useful for the recipients and said that the criterion is the benefit of the poor so if food proves to be more useful as in times of famines and catastrophes, then its payment in kind is better. But if money is more useful, then its payment in money is better. Nowadays, if we consider the condition in the Muslim world in general and that of Muslims in the West and in Africa, we will discover that the payment with money is sometimes more convenient with the spirit of Islamic legislation and the present condition of Muslims. Muslims now gather and transfer their Zakah funds or some of them to needy Muslims in Muslim countries. Here, the payment in money is more convenient.

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