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Zakatul-fitr was made obligatory in the month of Sha’ban in the second year of the hijrah. Its purpose is to purify one who fasts from any indecent act or speech and to help the poor and needy. This view is based upon the hadith reported by Abu Dawud, Ibn Majah, and Ad-Daraqutny from Ibn ‘Abbas. The Messenger of Allah, upon whom be peace, enjoined zakatul-fitr on the one who fasts to shield one’s self from any indecent act or speech and for the purpose of providing food for the needy. It is accepted as zakah for the person who pays it before the ‘id salah, and it is sadaqah for the one who pays it after the salad.
WHO MUST PAY ZAKATUL-FITR
Zakatul-fitr is incumbent on every free Muslim who possesses on sa’ of dates or barley which is not needed as a basic food for himself or his family for the duration of one day and night. Every free Muslim must pay zakatul-fitr for himself, his wife, children and servants.
THE AMOUNT OF ZAKATUL-FITR
The required amount of zakatul-fitr is one sa’ of wheat, barley, raisins, dry cottage cheese (aqit), rice, corn or similar items considered as basic foods (qut). Abu Hanifah made it permissible to set aside, as zakatul-fitr, an equivalent value and also said that if the payer pays wheat, one-half of a sa’ would be sufficient. Abu Said Al-khudry reported: “We used to give on behalf of every child, old person, freeman, and slave during the lifetime of the Messenger of Allah, upon whom be peace, one sa’ of food, or one sa’ of dried cottage cheese, or one sa’ of barley, or one sa’ of dates, or one sa’ of raisins as zakatul-fitr. We continued to do so until Mu’awiyyah came to us to perform pilgrimage (hajj) or a minor pilgrimage (‘Umrah). He then addressed the people from the pulpit and said to them: ‘I see that two mudds of wheat of Syria equals one sa’ of dates. The people accepted that.” However, Abu Sa’id contended: “I would continue to give as I used to give, namely, one sa’ as long as I live.” This is related by most hadith narrators. At-Tirmidhy remarks: “Some of the scholars gave one sa’ from every charitable item [which is accepted as a sound practice].” Ash-Shafi’y and Ishaq sustain this view but some other scholars gave one sa’ from every charitable item except wheat, of which only half a sa’ would be sufficient. This is the saying of Sufyan, Ibn Al-Mubarak, and the scholars Kufah.
WHEN ZAKATUL-FITR IS DUE
The jurists agree that zakatul-fitr is due at the end of Ramadan. They differ, however, about the exact time.
Ath-Thawry, Ahmad, Ishaq, and Ash-Shafi’y (in his later opinion), and Male (in one of his reports) are of the opinion that it is due to at the sunset of the night of breaking the fast, for this is when the fast of Ramadan ends. Abu Hanifah, Al-Laith, Ash-Shafi’y (in his original opinion), and the second report of Malik say that Zakah ulfitr is due at the start of fajr on the day of ‘id. These two different views acquire relevance if a baby is born after sunset but before dawn on the day of ‘id; the question then is whether zakatul-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 due because the birth took place within the prescribed space of time.
PAYING ZAKATUL-FITR IN ADVANCE
Most scholars believe that it is permissible to pay zakah ul-fitr a day or two before ‘id. Ibn ‘Umar reports that the Messenger, upon whom be peace, ordered them to pay zakatul-fitr before the people went out to perform the ‘id prayers. Nafi’ reports 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. Ash-Shaft’s 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. The founders of the four accepted Islamic legal schools agree that zakatul-fitr is not nullified simply by not paying it on its due date. If such is the case, it becomes a debt on the one responsible for it until it is paid. They also agree that it is not permissible to delay it until the day of ‘id, but Ibn Sirin and An-Nakha’y say that this can be done. Ahmad say: “I hope that there is no harm [in the delay of its payment].” Ibn Raslan says that there is a consensus that its payment cannot be delayed just because it is a type of zakah. Thus, any delay is a sin and is analogous to delaying one’s prayers without an acceptable excuse. This is proved by the following hadith: “If one pays zakatul-fitr before the salah, it is considered an accepted zakah. If he pays it after the salah, it is considered an ordinary sadaqah.
DISTRIBUTION OF ZAKATUL-FITR
The distribution of zakatul-fitr is the same as that of zakah-that is, it has to be distributed to the eight groups of beneficiaries mentioned in the verse,
This means “As-Sadaqah (here it means Zakah) are only for the Fuqara (poor).” (At-Tawbah, 9:60)
The category comprising the poor is considered the most deserving. This is also supported by the hadith: “The Messenger of Allah, upon whom be peace, enjoined zakatul-fitr as purification for the one who fasts from any indecent act or speech, and as food for the needy.”Al-Baihaqy and Ad-Daraqutny relate from Ibn ‘Umar who said: “The Messenger of Allah, upon whom be peace, enjoined the zakatul-fitr, and also said: ‘Free them from want on this day.”
GIVING ZAKATUL-FITR TO A DHIMMY
Az-Zhuhry, Abu Hanifah, Muhammad, and Ibn Shubrumah make it permissible to give zakatul-fitr to a dhimmy. Allah, the Exalted One, says,
Which means “Allah does not forbid you to deal justly and kindly with those who fought not against you on account of religion and did not drive you out of your homes. Verily, Allah loves those who deal with equity.” (Al-Mumtahanah, 60:8).