Zakatul-fitr or sadaqatul-fitr means "the purifying charity of breaking the fast". It is a prescribed amount of food given by the Muslims during the last few days of Ramadan or on the morning of Eid prior to the prayer.

Zakatul-fitr was ordained by the Wise Legislator for two reasons:

to purify those who fasted, cleansing their fast from marring things such as indecent talk and minor sinning,
to feed the poor Muslims so that they have enough provision during the Eid.

Ibn `Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) reported:

"The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) ordained zakatul-fitr to purify the fasting person from indecent words or actions, and to provide food for the needy. It is accepted as zakah for the person who gives it before the Eid prayer; but it is a mere sadaqah for the one who gives it after the prayer."

Zakatul-fitr is a fard (obligation) for those capable of giving it. This is stated clearly in the Hadith of Ibn `Umar (may Allah be pleased with him):

"Allah's Messenger has ordained zakatul-Fitr, in the amount of one saa` of dates or one saa` of barley, for the Muslims - slave or free, male or female, young or old; and he ordered that it be given before the people went out to the (Eid) prayer."

This Hadith further indicates that it is an obligation for every (capable) Muslim individual, regardless of age or social status.

The responsibility of giving out zakatul-fitr falls upon the head of the household; he should give it on behalf of himself and those under his care: young and old, male and female, free and slave. Ibn `Umar said:

"Allah's Messenger ordained sadaqatul-fitr for those under your custody: young and old, free and slave."

As for the person who does not have the financial ability to give it, he is exempt because of general texts in the Quran and Sunnah, such as Allah's saying:

Allah does not require from any soul more than its capacity.

[Noble Quran 2:286]

And the Hadith narrated by Abu Hurayrah:

When I give you a command, do as much of it as you are capable.

Some scholars further require that it be given on behalf of a fetus. However, there is no evidence for this; and the fetus is not considered to be a young person - neither in the language nor the common understanding of people.

The practice of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and his companions was to give zakatul-fitr in the form of food. Abu Sa'eed al-Khidri (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated:

"(At the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him)) we used to give out zakatul-fitr as one saa` of ta`am (food), one saa` of barley, one saa` of dates, one saa` of aqit (dried yogurt), or one saa` of raisins. At that time, our food used to be barley, raisins, aqit, and dates."

The scholars differ in understanding the "food" referred to in this report. From this report, it is easy to conclude that it refers to grains and other types of food which can be measured with a container. This is confirmed by various reports from the sahabah (may Allah be pleased with him). For example, Ibn `Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) said:

"The sadaqah of Ramadan is one saa` of food. Thus, he who brings wheat, it will be accepted from him; he who brings barley, it will be accepted from him; he who brings dates, it will be accepted from him; he who brings rye, it will be accepted from him; he who brings raisins, it will be accepted from him..."

The above Hadiths further indicate that one may not give it in the form of money; nor may one give it using other types of food, such as meat or butter. Since it is an act of worship, it must be performed in accordance with the Sunnah. However, one may determine the approximate monetary value of the goods that he wants to give, and give that to an individual or organization that he trusts to buy the correct types. It is important that when it reaches the recipients, it is in a form permissible by the Sunnah.

The above Hadiths indicate that the amount of zakatul-fitr is one saa` of the various types of food that can be measured. There is one exception to this: In the case of wheat, the Prophet (peace be upon him) commanded the people to give two mudds, which are equal to half a saa`. This was practiced by Mu`awiyah (may Allah be pleased with him) in Damascus.

The saa` was a fixed measure of capacity or volume. It varied from one place to another; but the Prophet (peace be upon him) standardized it by stating:

Weights are according to Makkah's weights; and measures are according to al-Madinah's measures.

Thus, the amount should be measured according to al-Madinah's saa`, which is still available to this time. However, this measure is not accessible to most people. Because of this, many scholars have estimated it approximately to four full handfuls (with the hands put together) of an average man.

This demonstrates that it is wrong to measure zakatul-fitr by weight, because the weight of one saa` varies for different materials. However, if the relationship between weight and capacity is determined for a specific material, the weight of one saa` of that material may then be used.

Time To Give It Out

As is clear from Ibn `Abbas's report above, zakatul-fitr should be given on the Eid day, no later than the prayer.

It has further been reported that Ibn `Umar used to give it out one or two days before the Eid. This provides a basis for giving it a few days before the Eid.

But it is wrong to give it too early in the month of Ramadan. Doing that would conflict with its wisdom of being atonement of the sins during the month, and provision for the needy on Eid; it further conflicts with the practice of the sahabah (may Allah be pleased with him) and the Salaf.

However, it is permissible to give it early to those who collect it, trusting that they would not deliver it to those who deserve it before the end of the month. This was done at the time of the sahabah, when the collectors used to finish collecting it one or two days before the Eid.

Collecting It

It is permissible to appoint individuals to collect zakatul-fitr from the people; it is also permissible to give from it to those collectors if they need and deserve it. Ibn `Umar used to do so.

It is further recommended to appoint a person to take care of the collected zakatul-fitr. The Prophet (peace be upon him) appointed Abu Hurayrah to this job, as he (may Allah be pleased with him) said:

"Allah's Messenger (peace be upon him) entrusted me to look after the zakah of Ramadan."

People Who Deserve It

Zakatul-fitr should be distributed to the miskin (the needy), as was stated in the Hadith of Ibn `Abbas. It may not be distributed among all of the eight types to which the normal zakah is given.

A miskin is not a person in complete poverty, but is one whose financial means are very limited.

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