Zaakat AI Fitr [Fast Breaking Alms]

Allaah has commanded Zakaatul-Fitr (Fast breaking alms) at the end of Ramadan, before eid prayer. Although this obligation was established by the Prophet  (salallaahu alayhi wa Sallam) it has the power of all the established commands of Allaah, for the power to legislate and prescribe a rule has been granted to the Messenger of Allaah (salallaahu alayhi wa Sallam) by Allaah. He says:
"He who obeys the Messenger obeys Allaah; but if any turn away, We have not sent you to watch over their (evil) deeds. " (Q4[Aal-Imran]:80)
Also, Allaah says "…So take what the Messenger assigns to you, and deny yourselves that which he withholds from you  (Q59[Hashr]:7)
The giving of Zakaatul Fitr is mandatory on every Muslim, Old, young, man and woman, etc. Abdullah bin 'Umar (RA) related:
"The Messenger of Allaah has commanded the fasting person to observe Ramadan fast breaking alms, one Sa'a, (a unit of measurement about two kilos and forty grams) of dates on a bondsman, a freeman, on every man and woman, young and old ... " (Bukhari)
This narration indicates that those eligible to give these alms are virtually every living Muslim, provided he or she possesses more than the prescribed amount of provisions, in such a way that, after giving alms, there will remain enough food for him and his family for at least 24 hours.
However, there is no obligation of these alms on the unborn foetus, unless the parents or the guardian gives it voluntarily on its behalf. Thus, it is incumbent on every able believer to give for himself, and for those that he is responsible for: wife and children, and next of kin, if they cannot give for themselves. If they can give, it is better that they do so, because every believer is commanded to do so. In the event that the person does not possess the amount, alms-giving is not mandatory. But, if he possesses half of the amount, it should be given. Allaah states:
"So fear A1laah as much as you can." (Q64[Taghabun]:16)
And the Messenger of Allaah said: "If I command you with something, do it as much as you can." (Bukhari).
Spiritual Reasons For These Alms
The wisdom behind this obligation is, among other things, to extend a benevolent helping hand to needy Muslims so that they will not have to beg from their fellow wealthier believers on this happiest occasion of the year in a Muslim's life,  the end of Ramadan fast and the festivity of ' Eid Prayer.
On the other hand, it helps the faster cleanse his fast from any shortcoming, or un-Islamic act during Ramadan. It is also to express gratitude to Allaah for helping the servant live through another Ramadan. In a hadeeth reported by Ibn Abbas (RA) he said:
"The Messenger of Allaah (salallaahu alayhi wa sallam) has mandated the obligation of fast breaking alms as a cleanser of the faster from (what one may have done) mistakes or obscene acts, and to provide for the poor. Whoever gives it before Eid prayer, it is an accepted alms, but whoever gives it after Eid prayer, it is only a charity like any ordinary charity." (Abu Dawud)
What Should be Given?
Unlike regular Zakaat, the items recommended for giving are foodstuff: dates, wheat, barley, rice, oats, raisins, or any foodstuff that can be stored naturally. Indeed, any type of food that is a staple in a given region of the vast Muslim world will do. If the staple is rice, you give rice, if it is dates or raisins, you give dates and raisins, etc.
Abdullah bin Umar (RA), said:
"The Messenger of Allaah has established the fast breaking alms of Ramadan, sa'a, a beaker of dates, or a beaker of barley, and barley was then part of our food." (Bukhari)
Abu Sa'eed AI-Khudri (RA) also said:
'We used to give during the time of the Messenger a sa'a, a beaker of food, and our food was barley, raisins, dry milk, and dates." (Bukhari) 
Thus, for these alms, items like cloth, cash or currency, furniture, dishes and general goods are not acceptable. Giving money, instead of food, is contrary to what the Messenger (salallaahu alayhi wa sallam) commanded. If the believer desires to help the needy more, giving money along with the prescribed food, is excellent and will be rewarded by Allaah.
However, if monetary equivalent of Zakaatul Fitr is given to an organization which will in turn buy food grains with it for distribution to the poor, then there may be nothing wrong with this arrangement. Allaah knows best.
Sometimes the advocates of money as a substitute for food present as if there was no money during the time of the Prophet (salallahu alayhi wa sallam). To the contrary, there was money currency known as "dirham" and "dinaar." Giving monetary equivalents as fastbreaking alms relegates this act to a secret charity, rather than alms given as a religious symbol (Sha'eerah), which is to be observed publicly among the Muslims in a way that everybody in Muslim households, young and old, will participate in and bear witness to.
Amount To Give
As for the amount to be given, it is a sa'a, (a prophetic beaker) which is equal to about two kilos and forty grams. In pounds it is about five pounds per believer. If you want to know the prophetic saa, beaker, you weigh five pounds or two kilos and forty grams. Put the weight in a beaker, jar or vessel and notice the level. You then use that as your sa'a to weigh the rest of your alms. Better still, a sa'a, can be purchased at a very reasonable price all over the Muslim world. 
Time of Zakatul-Fitr
Giving these alms is mandatory after sunset on the eve of Eidul-Fitr. If a Muslim dies seconds before sunset, it is not mandatory for his next of kin to give on his behalf. But if he dies seconds after sunset, alms should be given on his behalf. So is the case of the newly born.
As for the time it should be given, there are two time periods: The best and optional times. The best time is the morning of Eidul-Fitr before prayer. Ibn 'Umar (RA) related that the Messenger of Allaah (salallaahu alayhi wa sallam) commanded the Muslims to give alms when fastbreaking people leave for Eid prayer."(Muslim)
In his commentary on the following verse, "But those will prosper who [tazakka] purify them (give alms) and glorify the name of their guardian Lord and [salla] pray." (Q87[A'laa]:14-15) Ibn 'Uyainah said: "the word "tazakka", purify or giving alms, comes before the word "Salla", prayer. This is why it is better to delay 'Eidul-Fitr prayer so that the believers will have enough time to give their alms.
The optional time to give alms is one or two days before Eid, that is on the 28th and 29th day of Ramadan. Legally, you have these three days to give your alms. But it should not be delayed past Eid prayer. In that case, Zakatul-Fitr is not valid.
Compelling Reasons
However, if there is { compelling reason, such as Eid occurring in a place where there is no food to be purchased, or the food is bought, but there is no one to receive it, or the news about Eid 'Comes late in the morning and one does not have enough time to buy the alms, or he depends on someone to give his Zakaat on his behalf, and the person forgets; the alms can be given after Eid because of the valid excuse. This conclusion is reached based on the analogy of one who missed the time of salaat with a valid excuse. The Prophet (salallahu alayhi wa sallam) said:
"Whoever sleeps beyond (the time of) a salaat or forgets it, let him pray it when he remembers." (Bukhari)
Place & Recipients of the Alms
The alms should be given at the place where the Ramadan ends for the faster, home or abroad. If you happen to be in Lagos, Abuja or Kano you give it to the needy Muslims of that area. If there are more poor Muslims in a given place, or there is no one who deserves the alms in your area, or you do not know anyone you may deputize someone to give it on your behalf in a different state or country where Muslims are in need.
The recipients of this Zakaat are the needy Muslims and those in debt. They should be given according to their needs. The Prophet (salallaahu alayhi wa sallam) said:
"Make them self sufficient on this day ... " (Daraqutni)
It may be given to more than one needy person. or all may be given to one person. It is preferable that one should personally share out his Zakaatul Fitr to the poor himself. An-Nawawi (RAH) said:
"AI-Shaafi'i said in al-Mukhtasar: '... I prefer that it should be given to relatives on whom it is not obligatory to spend at all.' He said: 'If he prefers to give it to the one who is collecting it, this should be fine insha Allaah ... but. it is better to share it out himself. .. If he gives it to the Muslim leader or the collector or the one who is collecting the people's Zakaat al-Fitr, and he is given permission to give it, this is fine, but sharing it out himself is better than all of this.'" (AI-Majmoo').
This article was culled from the publications of Deen Communication Limited
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