By Dr. Saūd bin ̔Abdullah al-Finisān | Translated and Abridged by Suhaib Webb
All praise is to Allah. May His peace and blessings be Upon the Messenger of Allāh, [Muḥammad], Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him.
Zakāh al-Fiṭir is obligatory according to the Majority of Scholars. Some scholars from the Zāhiri, as well as Shafi’ī and Mālikī schools, held that it was merely recommended, while those who held it as an obligation differed on the method it should be paid falling into two groups:
Those who Prohibited Paying it with its Cash Equivalent:
This group argues that the only way to pay zakāh al-fiṭir is with one of the items mentioned in the Prophetic traditions. Three of the four great Imams held this opinion- Mālik, al-ShāfI’Ī and Aḥmed. Their evidence is the Prophet’s statement, related on behalf of ̔Abdullah bin‘ Omar who said,
“The Prophet [sa] prescribed the payment of zakāh al-fiṭir as, a Sa̔ [four handfuls] of dates, wheat or barley.’” Other narrations state, “Or cottage cheese. To be spent upon the elderly and the children.”
Proof taken from this Hadith:
If it were allowed to pay zakāt al-fiṭir with its cash equivalent the Prophet [sa] would have mentioned it. A Shari’ah axiom states,
“It is not allowed to delay instructions on how to perform when it is time to be performed.”
In addition, the statement attributed to the prophet “Enrich them this day” has a weak chain or, it could mean,on this day of ‘Eid , share your food with them so they are not forced to ask for food while others are celebrating.
The Second Opinion: zakāt al-fiṭir can be Paid in Cash
Those who allowed this included Abū Ḥanifah and his students. Other scholars approved of it as well such as Sufyān al-Thawri, Ḥassan al-Basri who said,“I see nothing wrong in paying it with cash” and the Caliph and ‘Omar bin ‘Abdul ‘Aziz who instructed the tax collectors of Basra to “Take half a dirham (cash) from everyman.” It was also attributed to some of the Companions such as Mu ̔awiyah bin Abi Sufyān.
The Companions Were Concerned with the Value not The Commodity
Ibn Munthir mentioned in his book al-Awṣat:
“The companions (ra) allowed the payment of zakāt to be with a half sa’ of wheat because they saw it equal to the value of a sa’ of dates or barley.” He related this with a sound chain on behalf of a large group of the companions [Allah be pleased with them] such as ‘Uthmān bin ‘Affan, ‘Alī bin Abi Tālib, Abī Hurairah, Jābir bin ̔Abdillāh, ̔Abdillah bin al-Zubair and Asmāh bin Abi Bakr.
Ibn Hajar mentioned in al-Fath: When ‘Abdullāh bin ̔Abbās (Allah be pleased with him) was the mayor of Basra, he ordered that zakāt al-Fiṭ̣ir given with a sa ̔ of dates, barley, cottage cheese or a half sa’ of corn seeds.
When ̔Ali ibn Abi Talib (Allah be pleased with him) was in charge of Basra, the prices fell considerably so he ordered that all of the above mentioned commodities (in the Prophetic Narration) be combined to equal one sa’ and paid in bulk. This proves that the Companions (Allah be pleased with them) concern was with the value.
The Companions and the Maqāṣid of al-Sharī ̔ah (Objectives of Islamic Law)
Imām al-Bukhārī mentions the statement of Ibn ̔Omar [Allah be pleased with him] that the Companions “used to dispense zakāt al-fiṭ̣ir a day or two before ‘Eid”, while the Prophet [sa] was reported to have designated its distribution on the day of ‘Eid. This proves that they assessed the needs of the poor so they could use their charity to prepare flour, dough or bread. (by the ‘Eid celebration)
Definitive Consensus on using what is Most Beneficial
The scholars reached unanimity that a country is allowed to dispense zakāt al-fiṭ̣ir using foodstuffs other than those mentioned in the hadith in order to fulfill the needs of the poor. Today we must ask, “Do most of today’s poor have a need for anything greater than cash?”
Why the Scholars Differed
The crux of this difference centers around the following question:
“Is consideration given to the commodity or is it given to the value?”
The majority contend the former, going with the explicit meaning of the relevant texts, while the second group looks at the needs of the poor, addressing them based on changes in price and values. This practice is done with regards to zakāt on properties as well. (it is based on looking at the needs of the poor)
Anas mentioned that Abū Bakr , Allah be pleased with them both, wrote to him concerning what Allah had instructed his Messenger, Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him, to do in the case of someone whose Zakāt payment should have been one year old she-camel, which he did not have, while he did have a two year old she-camel. It should be accepted from him and the zakāt-collector would give him twenty dirhams (coins) or two sheep in compensation. If he had no one year old she-camel but did have a two year old male camel, it should be accepted from him and he would not receive anything in compensation.” Related by al-Bukhāri in his Sahīh.
Ṭāwūs said that Mu’ādh said to the people of Yemen, “Bring me small or second-hand garments for zakat instead of barley and millet. It will be easy for you and good for the Companions of the Prophet in Madina.” Related by al-Bukhāri in his Sahīh.
Understanding these Evidences
Based on these evidences, if it were forbidden to dispense zakāt al-fiṭir with its cash equivalent or something similar, Islamic law would have made it crystal clear. For example, the Prophet, Allah’s peace and blessing be upon him, would have been reported to have said something like:
“You are forbidden to pay zakāt in cash. Indeed, zakāt should only be paid with food” or something similar.” (please note this is not an actual statement of the Prophet, Allah’s peace and blessing be upon him.
Since nothing of this sort was related on behalf of the Prophet, Allah’s peace and blessing be upon him, it proves that the underlying reason behind zakāt al-fiṭir is serving the needs of the poor and the underprivileged; and a purification for the shortcomings of the fasting person.
There is an axiom in Islamic law that states,
“Needs reach the degree of necessities when demanded.”
That being said, it is well known that the raw food items mentioned in the Prophet’s statement above are no longer relevant to people [in their raw form] today. Since it was acceptable to exchange those raw foods, which the Prophet specified with other goods, then it is surely allowable to, based on ijtihad, replace them with what is most needed.
The distribution of those things mentioned in the hadith is contingent to the needs of the poor, just as distributing cash (instead of the items mentioned in the hadith) is as well. This will allow them to purchase what is needed such as different types of food, or to purchase what is satisfying for them and their families on the day of ‘Eid. The hadith related by al-Daruqtuni, although its chain is weak, “Enrich them this day” strengthens that contention because the needs of today’s poor are not restricted to food exclusively, but extend to clothing and other things which are necessities (paying the bills and rent for example). Therefore, the underlying reason for the designation of those things mentioned in the hadith is need.
An important Shari’ah axiom states,
“Rulings run according to their principle causes.”
Therefore, it is permissible to pay zakāt al-fiṭir with cash if there is a real need and benefit to the poor.
Those Eligible for zakāt al-fiṭir
It is not allowed to give zakāt al-fiṭir to a person unless he is from the following: the poor, the destitute, those in debt and those who are stranded as noted in the 9th chapter of the Qur’an verse 60. As for the other groups mentioned in the verse, then they are exempted from taking it because they are allowed to take from the general zakāt fund as well as the spoils of war.
And Allah knows best
Originally published by Olama Ashareah