Zakah al-Fitr is a zakah which is given at the end of the month of Ramadan by every Muslim, small or old, male or female, whether free or a slave.
This was explained by the great exegete [mufassir] of the Qur’an, the noble Companion, ‘Abdullah bin ‘Abbas when he said, ‘The Messenger of Allah, may Allah praise and send peace and blessings upon him, obligated Zakah al-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 prayer (of ‘Id), it is an accepted zakah, whoever gives it after the prayer, it is to be regarded as sadaqah.’1
In the view of the majority of scholars, both early and latter generations, it is obligatory. This is due to the saying of Ibn ‘Umar, ‘The Messenger of Allah obligated Zakah al-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.’2
It is obligatory upon the Muslim, male or female; whether a 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 ‘Id 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, whether young or old, free or a slave, provided that the dependant is not able to give the zakah 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, peace and blessings be upon him, gave to the Muslims.
With regard to 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 the person on whom it is a duty upon another to provide for. If someone were to give on behalf of a dependant who is a disbeliever, there is no harm in this insha'Allah in accordance to the Hanafi school.
It is best for Zakah al-Fitr to be given to the poor and indigent. They are the first two categories of the eight to whom Zakah is normally given to. This is due to his (peace and blessings be upon him) saying, ‘…and as food for the indigent’. The majority of scholars are of the opinion that Zakah al-Fitr is not to be given to non-Muslims.
It is possible for a person to give his and his dependants Zakah al-Fitr to one person just as it is possible that the Zakah al-Fitr of one person be distributed amongst a number of indigent people.
It is best that it be given one or two days before the ‘Id prayer, meaning that it should be given on the twenty-ninth day of Ramadan onwards; al-Bukhari records, ‘They would give Zakah al-Fitr a day or two before (‘Id).’
In the case that one giving Zakah al-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 ‘Id. This is because in this case someone else is acting on his behalf and he is not giving Zakah directly; the person to whom he is giving money is acting as his representative and hence he is not actually giving the Zakah at the time he hands over the money.
It is best for a person to give it before his ‘Id prayer and that to not delay it till after the prayer due to the saying of Ibn ‘Umar, 'The Prophet 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 ‘Id congregations will be held, and he decides to pray in the second congregation, for example, then the deadline for his Zakah al-Fitr is extended until just before he prays his prayer.
Zakah al-Fitr should be given as staple food 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 items, provided that the food can be stored, such as pasta. The proof for this is the hadith of Abu Sa‘id al-Khudri who said, ‘We would give zakah al-Fitr as a sa‘ of food, or a sa‘ of barley, or a sa‘ of dates, or a sa‘ of dry cheese, or a sa‘ of raisins.'3
A sa‘ of food in modern day usage translates to approximately 2.25kg.
The majority of scholars say that this is not permissible whereas the Hanafis say that it is. It is best for a person to not give its monetary value but give it as food because this is what the texts specify. 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, Zakah al-Fitr is a very specific form of Zakah and one cannot make an analogy between it and the Zakah of one's wealth and property: its source is different, the ones upon whom it is obligatory are different and its timing is different. As such, it cannot be said that it has the same purpose and can be associated to it in this manner.
If a Muslim finds one who is deserving of Zakah al-Fitr, he must give them a sa‘ of food. If he does not find anyone, he can give an 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 in demanding situations. Our state of affairs here, where it is hard to find the poor and indigent; the difficulty that exists in trying to give it as food; along with the dire need that exists in other lands presents a compelling case for the allowance of food to be distributed in other countries.
3. Agreed upon.