Explaining Zakat Al-Fitr

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This is a simplified “how to” on the charity due at the end of the month of Ramadan known as “Zakat al Fitr.”

Many people, especially new muslimsm get confused about this “Zakat al Fitr” thing. Don’t be scared. Don’t get overwhelmed. It is really quite simple.

What is it?

Zakat al fitr is a very specific form of charity that is paid at the end of Ramadan.  It fulfills two main purposes. First, it permits those who have no food to be able to buy or eat food in order to partake in the Eid celebration with the rest of the community.  Second, it is a means of purifcation for any mistakes we made during fasting. It is a beuatiful act of worship that we should be certain to try to partake in.  This zakat goes to the people in need of it and was traditionally given at the time of the prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, in the form of staple foods such as dates, barley, cottage cheese, and raisins, not in cash.

Do I have to pay it?

Yes. the only people who dont have to pay it are those that essentially do not have food to eat or share.  Remember that it is also a way for you to make ammends for any mistakes you made in your fasting thereby patching up any holes through God’s infinite Mercy 🙂

How do I pay it? Cash or food?

You can pay in cash by bringing it to your local mosque a few days before Eid.  It should be paid prior to Eid, so go to your local mosque and put in the “zakat al fitr” box.  If you can’t find one then ask a manager or the imam of where you can pay it. You may hear people tell you that it cannot be paid in money but must instead be paid with food items. Both are legitimate opinions, but in today’s day and age the easiest thing to do living in America is to pay it in cash.  There are scholars who have issued legal rulings on the permissibility of cash donations for Zakaat al fitr as it is easier to distribute and easier for recipients to handle.

How much do I pay?

If cash, the mosque usually has a zakat al fitr rate listed it may range between $8-$20.

If food, you want to give four salad bowl sized amounts of food.  This is something that is kind of rare in the West as the needy are usually more easily taken care of by providing cash rather than physical food.  However, your local community may do it this way or you may personally choose to do it this way.

When do I pay it?

You pay it during Ramadan prior to the day of Eid. Some say you can pay it anytime starting on the first day of ramadan up until Eid.  Others say you can only pay it a few days prior to Eid.  All should be acceptable.  Just pay it prior to Eid and the best thing to do is just go with what ever your local mosque asks in regard to when it is paid.  The zakat al fitr should be in the hands of the recipients prior to the Eid prayer.

What if I live isolated or extremely far from a mosque?

You can mail a donation to your nearest mosque but make sure you title it “Zakat al fitr” or if you cant do that you can pay it online on a number of websites. A simple google search of “pay zakat al fitr online” will reveal several options but bear in mind the zakaat should be in the hands of the recipients prior to the Eid prayer and donating online may not get it in their hands in time.

Can I just give it to anyone? 

The recipients for this zakaat must be one of the 8 listed in the Qur’an.  Giving to your local masjid is probably most ideal so they can be sure it goes to the correct recipients.

What if I didn’t pay it prior to Eid? 

Then pay it late.  You can give the money to the imam and let him know what it is for.

Disclaimer: This is not a detailed explanation but rather a simple guide for those who have no idea what “zakat al fitr” is.  All of the nuances of differing opinions are not mentioned here. If you are particular about what legal schools you follow please consult your teacher, imam, shaykh, or whatever to get the rulings based on that school.  It is also encouraged that each Muslim take the steps necessary to learn the basics of zakaat and other aspects of worship according to one of the traditional islamic schools of law for the sake of consistency and personal reference.

Terminology:

Zakaat: purifying charity

al fitr: literally means the “breaking”

Eid: means celebration. Eid al fitr is the Eid that follows Ramadan and is on the first day of Shawwal.  Eid Al adha is the second eid of the year and is in the last month on the islamic calendar coinciding with the Hajj (greater pilgrimage)

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