The purpose of Zakat al-FitrFeeding the needy at Ramadan’s end [Archives:2004/788/Community]

November 8 2004
Different kinds of crops in which Zakat Al-Fitr is paid as Islamic Shariah recommends, however, people can pay it in money instead.
Different kinds of crops in which Zakat Al-Fitr is paid as Islamic Shariah recommends, however, people can pay it in money instead.
By Adel Al-Khawlani
Yemen Times Staff

Zakat is one of the major religious duties in Islam. It is the obligatory charity that every submitter, or Muslim, should pay year around.
Its literal meaning means to grow (in goodness) or 'increase', 'purifying' or 'make pure'.
Every Muslim is required to pay Zakat al-Fitr at the conclusion of the month of Ramadan as a token of thankfulness to God. 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 al-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.

Who pays Zakat al-Fitr
Zakat al-Fitr is incumbent on every free Muslim who possesses one Sa' of dates or barley which is not needed as basic food for himself or his family for the duration of one day and night.
Every free Muslim must pay Zakat al-Fitr for himself, his wife and children. This is the opinion of Imam Malik, Al-Shafi'i, and Ahmad. Imam Abu Hanifah, however, said that it is only obligatory for one who possesses a nisab (a minimum amount of property) after fulfilling the costs of his house, servant, horse, and weapon.
Moreover, we have to bear in mind that Zakat al-Fitr is obligatory for everyone who lives until the sun sets on the last day of Ramadan. This is the point of view of the Shafi'is, Hanbalis, and Malikis. Likewise, a person who has a baby on the last day of Ramadan should pay Zakat al-Fitr for the baby.

When Zakat al-Fitr is due
The jurists agree that Zakat al-Fitrr is due at the end of Ramadan. They differ, however, about the exact time. Al-Thawri, Ishaq, Malik (in one of two reports), and Al-Shafi'i (in one of his two opinions), are of the opinion that it is due at the sunset of the night of breaking the last day fasting. Other jurists are of the opinion that Zakat al-Fitr can be submitted even at a time preceding the prayer of Eid. It is not preferable to submit it after the prayer of Eid.

What food can be given
The jurists hold different views as to the types of food, which must be given as Zakat al-Fitr. The Hanbali view is that the kinds of food, which can be given, are five: dates, raisins, wheat, barley, and dry cottage cheese.
Imam Ahmad is reported to have said that any kinds of staple grain or dates are also permissible, even if the above five types are available. The Malikis and Shafi'is are of the view that 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 al-Fitr in money.
Ibn Al-Qayyim highlighted these different viewpoints and concluded that the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, prescribed Zakat al-Fitr as one Sa' of dates, barley, raisins or dry cottage cheese. These were the main staple kinds of food in Madinah.
As for people of other territories, what they should pay is one sa' of their staple grain, such as corn, rice, etc. But if their main staple food is other than grain, such as milk, meat, fish, etc., then they should pay one Sa' 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 al-Fitr
The amount of Zakat al-Fitr, as referred earlier, is one Sa' of food. There is consensus on this amount among the scholars with regard to all types of food except wheat and raisins. As for these two types the Shafi'is, Malikis and Hanbalis agree that the prescribed amount is one Sa', however the Hanafis say it is sufficient to pay half Sa' from wheat and they differed with regard to raisins.
After discussing the arguments of these two opinions al-Qaradawi reached the following conclusion: wheat was not a common food amongst them during the time of the Prophet so he did not prescribe one Sa' of it as he did with the other types of food.
As for those of the Companions of the Prophet who prescribed half Sa' of wheat instead of one Sa' of barely or dates like Mu'awiyah and other Companions, he views that they did so by analogy, since the value of wheat was more than those of other types of food which were equal.
But according to their opinion, he says, the value should be considered and taken as the criterion and this will cause instability and confusion for it changes from place to another and from time to time.
He mentioned that in Pakistan the value of wheat is less than that of dates, then how should we pay of it half the amount (i.e. Sa') that we should pay of dates? He also mentioned that nowadays raisins are more expensive than wheat and dates. The only solution for these problems, he says, is to regard Sa' as the criterion and basis.
Al-Qaradawi explains why the Prophet appointed Sa' 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 al-Fitr in money makes its value unstable.
That is why the Prophet prescribed it with a stable measure that is an amount of food, which fulfils the needs of one family for one Sa' provides a family with food for a whole day.

The amount of Sa'
Sa' is a certain measure which equals 4 handfuls of an average man. The contemporary equivalent weights of Sa' differs according to the stuff which is weighted. For example a Sa' of wheat equals 2176 grams and a Sa' of rice is 2520 grams while a Sa' of beans equals 2250 grams etc.
Therefore some scholars are of the view that the criterion should be the measure not the weight for there are kinds of food, which are heavier than others. But I think this is the case if the equivalent weight of a certain kind of food is not known. If there is no available measure or weight with the person, then he should pay 4 handfuls.
Nowadays, it is not that problem because ministries of religious affairs in Muslim countries and mosques and Islamic centres in Western countries announce the value of Zakat al-Fitr every year.
Anyhow, 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.

Payment in money
As it is mentioned earlier, the Hanafis permitted the payment of Zakat al-Fitr in money. This is the view of Al-Thawri, Al-Hasan al-Basri, and 'Umar ibn 'Abd al-'Aziz. However, the three schools did not permit this. Their argument is that the Prophet did not do so and hence its payment in money contradicts the Sunnah of the Prophet.
But some contemporary scholars support the Hanafi view since this is easier nowadays for the payer particularly in cities where people use only money for dealings. In many countries across the world, the payment in money is more useful to the poor. He also mentioned that when the Prophet 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 in particular we will discover that the second view is more convenient with the spirit of Islamic legislation and the present condition of Muslims.
As we usually see when Muslims living in the West decide to transfer their Zakah funds or some of them to needy Muslims in Muslim countries, then the payment in money is more convenient.