We’ve all probably heard of ‘Zakat Ul Fitr,’ especially close to the end of Ramadan. A phrase that sounds so similar to ‘Zakat’ and the celebration of ‘Eid ul Fitr’ that you can automatically assume that it is related to both charity and a celebration. But what’s actually the big deal about it?
Throughout the year, we often find ourselves giving charity as a voluntary or obligatory act through different types of projects and causes. And amongst the various types of giving in Islam, Zakat Ul Fitr is an obligatory act a Muslim must carry out, through the commandments of the Prophet ﷺ.
So what is Zakat Ul Fitr, and what makes it unique in its own way?
Zakat Ul Fitr (sometimes referred to as Sadaqat Ul Fitr) is different from all other types of giving, as its payment must be given at a certain time, involving certain recipients, for specific reasons.
It is an action that is done within the last few days of Ramadan, as a means of purification from potential sins that we may have committed as we completed our obligatory fasts.
Generally, the effects of giving Zakat Ul Fitr aims to humble ourselves, to enjoy Eid celebrations with others through donations, as well as gaining an awareness of humanity and that one’s impoverished circumstance should not isolate them from celebrating such joyous occasions.
The payment that is donated from this obligatory act, is called ‘fitrah,’ a term derived from the Arabic word ‘fitr’ referring to nature or natural disposition.
The term also links with the Arabic word ‘iftar’, which refers to the breaking of one’s fast after abstaining from food and drink for a period of time.
This underlines once again the unity that Zakat Ul Fitr aims to create, by allowing all, rich or poor to celebrate Eid festivities in one way or another.
Why do we need pay Zakat Ul Fitr?
Zakat ul Fitr needs to be paid on behalf of all Muslims. This includes even infants, young children, the elderly, the unemployed, the rich and the poor, so long as they have food in excess of their needs.
Why does one need to pay Zakat Ul Fitr?
Ibn ’Abbas (RA) narrated, ‘The Messenger of Allah ﷺ enjoined Zakat-ul-fitr on the one who fasts (i.e. fasted during the month of Ramadan) to purify him from any indecent act or speech and for the purpose of providing food for the needy.” (Abu Dawud)
Zakat Ul Fitr needs to be paid as a means of purification from the potential harms that may have been present whilst one was fasting, during the month of Ramadan. Backbiting, gossiping, being unproductive with our time are all harms that can affect the amount of rewards from our fast, stressing Zakat Ul Fitr as an essential duty to fulfill for purification.
We should view this as a blessing from Allah, giving us the opportunity to secure our fasts to the best of our abilities. After a whole month of fasting from food, drink and other worldly desires, Allah SWT’s mercy gives us another chance to conclude the month with the best of endings until the following year’s Ramadan.
Even in the past, it was an obligatory act for slaves to pay their Zakat Ul Fitr, and if conditions were as such today, both the free and slaves would still need to make this obligatory payment.
Who is eligible for Zakat Ul Fitr?
Ibn 'Abbas RA narrated that: “The Messenger of Allah ﷺ enjoined zakat ul fitr, to be paid in Ramadan to feed the poor…” (Abu Dawud)
Here, it is specified that Zakat Ul Fitr needs to be paid directly to poorer people. Therefore, other types of charity such as the building of a mosque, schools and similar projects are of that which Zakat Ul Fitr should not contribute towards.
How much do we have to pay to give Zakat Ul Fitr?
“It was proven from the Messenger of Allah ﷺ that he enjoined zakat ul fitr on the Muslims, one sa’ of dates or one sa’ of barley, and he commanded that it be given before the people went out to the (‘Eid) prayer.”
At the time of the Prophet ﷺ, one ‘saa’ of food was equivalent to four madd. One madd is the amount given to how much can be scooped up with two hands on one individual is put together.
In todays society, physically donating this volume of foodstuffs can become extremely challenging (think operational costs, delivery, risk of food becoming spoiled etc)
Whilst there is certainly nothing wrong with still doing it, the modern application of this Hadith has allowed us to instead donate a monetary value and assign this to an Islamic charity that specifically collects Zakat Ul Fitr.
The amount is based on the price and weight of stable food items such as flour and rice. For many years it has been set around the £5/$6 - £7/$9 range, per person. However in reality, basic food provisions in recent years have skyrocketed in Muslim countries, doubling/tripling in price. I would urgently recommend charities that collect Zakat Ul Fitr to critically review and evaluate an amount that accurately reflects the inflationary pressures in today's economy.
When does Zakat ul Fitr need to be paid?
Zakat ul Fitr needs to be paid within the month of Ramadan, latest just before the Eid prayer upon the conclusion of this holy month.
Ibn 'Abbas RA narrated that the Prophet ﷺ said: “Whoever pays it before the prayer, it is an accepted zakah (i.e., zakat al-fitr), and whoever pays it after the prayer, it is ordinary charity.”
This way, the recipients of this type of charity are able to benefit from the donation on Eid day itself.
However, ibn Umar RA also narrates that ''The Messenger of Allah ﷺ enjoined Sadaqat Ul Fitr in Ramadan.” This allows one to pay their Zakat Ul Fitr a day or two before Ramadan.
What is the difference between Zakat and Zakat Ul Fitr?
The main difference between Zakat and Zakat Ul Fitr is that Zakat ul Fitr is timed just at the closing of Ramadan, whereas Zakat is an annual donation dependent on an individual’s zakat payment date.
Also, Zakat ul Fitr is obligatory on every Muslim of different ages, social status so long as they meet the basic requirement of having food in excess of their needs. However, Zakat is only obligatory upon Muslims who meet the wealth threshold (Nisab) required to make the payment.
Another difference is that whilst a Zakat payment is based on one’s wealth, differing from person to person, the payment for Zakat Ul Fitr is a fixed rate, making every person pay the same amount per person.
What are the spiritual benefits behind Zakat Ul Fitr?
Like every commandment of Allah SWT, this is bound with His Wisdom and has a purpose for the greater good, the concept of Zakat-ul-fitr has its noble wisdom too.
Primarily, giving Zakat Ul Fitr creates a sense of solidarity, allowing poorer people to celebrate Eid ul Fitr. This is a celebration for all Muslims, and is not distinguished between the rich or poor.
To share and indulge themselves within the joys of the celebration makes poorer people no different from all other Muslims. And thus, in regard to this day, the Prophet ﷺ said, “Gratify the poor on this day.” (Al-Shawkani, Nayl Al-Awtar).
Beyond just physically giving Zakat Ul Fitr, weighs the importance of the spiritual development a Muslim undergoes when performing this act.
One main aspect that Zakat Ul Fitr teaches us as Muslim, is the concept of taqwa (God consciousness). This allows us to reflect and not only appreciate the blessings that we have been given by Allah SWT, but teaches us detachment from worldly desires that may preoccupy our thoughts and actions, hindering our connection with Allah SWT.
Moreover, giving Zakat Ul Fitr helps a Muslim be mindful of the Ummah, regardless of everyone’s social statuses and backgrounds. The act of giving this type of charity straight after Ramadan, also helps to keep our acts of worship consistent in times of joy, and not just restricted to the month of Ramadan.
As one can imagine, a Muslim is generally giving to charity a lot more during Ramadan, compared to the rest of the year, mainly due to the spiritual ambience that comes with this noble month, and the multiple rewards that one races to gain.
And so, after being committed to give so much to charity during this time, giving Zakat Ul Fitr reminds us that the purpose of the charity should always be in mind - to connect ourselves to our Lord, to see changes within ourselves, to be grateful of our own situations, and to be wary of people who are destitute, living in unstable conditions.
In essence, this also develops one’s personal character, swaying them from greed and heedlessness when it comes to excessively-eating or overly-indulging into that which is not ideal for them in this life or the next. It teaches one to be humble, selfless and alert of the situation of our Ummah as a whole.
Ultimately, Zakat Ul Fitr is beyond the act of just giving to poorer people. The act is timely (just before Eid), to ensure that those less fortunate are given their opportunity to spend Eid Ul Fitr as a joyous occasion, as are all other Muslims.
Giving Zakat Ul Fitr also gives us the opportunity to purify our fasts from any bad words or actions we may have committed during the month of Ramadan. Spiritually, this not only connects a Muslim to their Lord, making them take accountability for their actions, but it allows them to be grateful and mindful of the many blessings they possess themselves. In turn, we are wary of our struggling Ummah all over the globe and race to help them in these given situations.