Question # 90: What is the status of zakatul fitr? Fardh, sunnah? If someone never gave it in his entire life, should he pay for all the times missed?
bismi-llahi r-raḥmani r-raḥīm,
Assalamu ‘laikum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh,
All praise and thanks are due to Allah (سبحانه و تعالى), and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger (صلى الله عليه و سلم).
First of all, we implore Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) to help us serve His cause and render our work for His sake.
Shorter Answer: Zakat ul-fitr is obligatory (fard) on every free Muslim who possesses one sa’ of dates or barley which is not needed as a basic food for himself or his family for the duration of one day and night. Every free Muslim must pay zakat ul-fitr for himself, his wife, children, and servants. The one who has not given it for his entire life must give it for all the past years, and also repent and pray for forgiveness, because Zakat ul-fitr is the right of the poor and needy, so it cannot be waived.
STATUS OF ZAKAT UL-FITR
lbn ‘Umar (رضي الله عنه) narrated that, “The Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) enjoined the payment of one sa’ of dates or one sa’ of barley as Zakat ul-fitr on every Muslim slave or free, male or female, young or old, and he ordered that it be paid before the people go out to perform the ‘Id Prayer.” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim) For Zakat ul-fitr to be obligatory certain conditions must be met.
- The first of these conditions is that the payer of this Zakah must be Muslim because it is an act of worship which, as said by the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم), is a means of purification for the fasting person, and Islamic fasting is not valid on the part of a disbeliever nor is he worthy of purification.
- The second condition in this regard is that a payer of Fast-breaking Zakah must be free, because a slave is not legally asked to pay Zakah as he and whatever his hands possess belong to his master. That is why the latter is to pay Zakat ul-fitr for his slave.
- Another condition, which is set by Abu Hanifah unlike Malik, Ash-Shafi’i, and Ahmad, is that the Muslim must have the nisab (of Zakah in general) so that it can be obligatory upon him to pay this Zakah of fast-breaking. ln contrast, Malik, Ash-Shafi’i and Ahmad maintain that Zakat ul-fitr becomes obligatory upon a person if he possesses what is more than the food needed for a day and its night, and it is not a stipulation that he possesses the nisab because this Zakah is ordained as a way of helping the poor people, and whenever there is a poor person there is another one who is poorer than him. (‘500 Questions and Answers on Islamic Jurisprudence’ by Muhammad M. ‘Abdul-Fattah)
LIFE-TIME DELAY IN GIVING ZAKAT UL-FITR
It has been narrated that Ibn ‘Abbas (رضي الله عنه) said “The Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) enjoined Zakat ul-fitr as a means of purification for the fasting person from blunder and obscenity and as a means of feeding for the needy. Whoever pays it before (the ‘id) prayer, it will be an accepted Zakah (from him); and whoever pays it after the prayer, it will be a (mere) act of charity,” (Narrated by Abu Dawud and Ibn Majah)
[According to Malikis,] “It is forbidden to postpone one’s offering of the fast-breaking zakah past the Day of Fastbreaking itself; however, the obligation to offer it is not waived with the passing of this day. Rather, it continues to be an unfulfilled obligation until the person concerned has offered it on behalf of himself and everyone for whose financial support he is responsible if he was in a comfortable financial condition on the eve of the Day of Fastbreaking.” (‘Islamic Jurisprudence According to the Four Sunni Schools’ by ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Jaziri)
The one who has not given it must give it for past years, and also repent and pray for forgiveness, because it is the right of the poor and needy, so it cannot be waived; rather it must be given to them. The four madhhabs (schools of thought) are agreed on this. (Islam Q&A)
Allahu A’lam (Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) knows best) and all Perfections belong to Allah, and all mistakes belong to me alone. May Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) forgive me, Ameen.
 One sa’ equals 3 kilograms approximately