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What is Zakat-ul-Fitr? This is one of the most common questions that often pop up, especially around Ramadan, on an annual basis. Indeed, some Muslim organizations have gone so far as to call it Sadaqat-ul-Fitr. In different geographical locations, it may also be known by the terms Fitrah, and Fitrana. People do this to differentiate it from the third pillar of Islam, the obligation of paying Zakat. However, as we will see in the course of the article, the two are entirely different things. They are independent of each other and have their own set of rulings and requirements. The obligation of paying Zakat-ul-Fitr can be verified with an authentic Hadith from Sahih Bukhari. In it, Ibn ‘Umar narrates that the Prophet (PBUH) instructed people to pay Zakat-ul-Fitr before going for the Eid prayer on the morning of Eid.
What is Zakat-ul-Fitr? How is it different from Zakat?
Zakat-ul-Fitr is an obligatory (wajib) charity that every Muslim is required to give (if he can afford it). Unlike the pillar of Islam Zakat, this charity doesn’t require you to have a certain amount of wealth, possessions, or belongings to qualify for being a giver of it. A Muslim man who is the head of a household must pay Zakat-ul-Fitr for himself and for those who he supports and spends money on: for example, his wife, children, old parents (if they are not independent), etc. In a Hadith in Sahih Muslim, it was reported that the Prophet (PBUH) instructed every free man, slave, male, and female to pay Zakat-ul-Fitr. Therefore, it is clearly to be given on behalf of everyone, young and old. This is, as long as a person has wealth, that will suffice him for the whole day of Eid.
When is Zakat-ul-Fitr given?
This form of charity becomes obligatory on a Muslim when the last day of Ramadan draws to an end. That is when the sun has set, and the fast has been opened. It must be paid before the commencement of the Eid prayer. If that deadline is missed, then it cannot be made up. By missing it, a person has sinned and must repent to Allah and seek His forgiveness. However, he should give it as a standard form of charity, since it’s the right of the poor. It is also permissible to provide the Zakat-ul-Fitr one or two days in advance, before the day of Eid. Schools of thought have various rulings, but giving it one or two days earlier appears to be a common ground.
It may not always be possible for a person to locate the needy himself and distribute the charity. In such cases, there is no harm if an individual gives the Zakat-ul-Fitr to a deputy, a trustworthy organization, or a masjid that will distribute the charity for others. If an Imam or an organization is collecting the amount, they must distribute it before the Eid prayer as well.
How much is Zakat-ul-Fitr?
Unlike the pillar of Islam, this form of charity is a fixed amount and does not change based on the amount of money or possessions one has. According to several reliable Hadith, that amount is one sa’. Various Hadith also mention what exactly was recommended to give as Saqadat-ul-Fitr. The items mentioned range from dates, barley, cottage cheese, dried raisins, wheat, dried yogurt, and more. Essentially, it is acceptable to give the same amount of any form of local staple food, for example, rice.
Now the next question is: How much is a sa’? A sa’ is an ancient form of measurement. Scholars have determined it to be between 2.5kg to 3kg in terms of weight. Another common query is whether it is permissible to give money. According to what has been recorded in the Sunnah, this was never done during the Prophet’s (PBUH) time. Thus, we should stick to what he (PBUH) did and distribute the appropriate amount of staple food.
Who is eligible for Zakat-ul-Fitr?
In a Hadith narrated in Sunan Abi Dawood, Ibn ‘Abbas said that the Prophet (PBUH) urged the Muslims to give the Sadaqat-ul-Fitr to those amongst the Muslim community who were needy. Hence, it is primarily the poor and desolate people of the community who should benefit from this form of charity. For people living in Western countries or where needy Muslims may not be easily accessible, it is permissible to send charity to another country instead, where poor Muslims in need may be found.
Purpose of Zakat-ul-Fitr and consequent benefits
The purpose of this charity lies in the importance of Eid-ul-Fitr. There is a heavy emphasis in the Sunnah on the significance of the two Eids. It is meant to be a joyous moment for the whole community. In Eid-ul-Adha, Muslims offer sacrifice and subsequently give charity to the poor in the form of portions of their sacrifices. Similarly, Sadaqat-ul-Fitr is geared towards helping the downtrodden members of society also to have some joy in their lives. They should also have the means to celebrate Eid-ul-Fitr.
Upon giving charity, we also realize the plight of our Muslim brothers and sisters who are less fortunate than us, which helps us to develop compassion. When giving charity to those in need, the bonds of the community are further strengthened.
The act of giving also acts as a counter-balance for the sins we may have committed during Ramadan, as outlined in a Hadith in Sunan Abu Dawood. This also aids our spiritual development as believers, as we learn about the necessity for generosity and compassion towards those who are less fortunate than us. Additionally, as Allah explains in Surah Baqarah, Verse 261, any wealth we spend for His cause can only benefit us, as He multiplies the consequent rewards.
Muslims must not take Zakat-ul-Fitr lightly
The importance of Zakat-ul-Fitr has been clearly outlined above, and Muslims have to be aware that it is an obligation that we are held sinful for not fulfilling. Unfortunately, in the modern-day world, this form of charity remains something that many Muslims are ignorant of. As believers, we also have the duty to spread the word to our colleagues, friends and other acquaintances in order to benefit the Muslim Ummah and community. Most Muslim countries are currently suffering from high levels of poverty. The gap between the rich and poor seems to be ever-increasing. Seeing others spend a joyful Eid while they go to bed, hungry, only increases resentment amongst the poor. If we don’t play our part and fulfill our obligation towards Allah and His beloved creation, it will hurt us, both in this life, and the hereafter.