Question # 96: Can Zakat ul-Fitr be paid in cash? If not, what kind of food items can be given?
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Shorter Answer: The majority of scholars are of the view that it is not permissible to give zakat al-fitr in the form of cash, rather it must be given in the form of any staple food, such as dates, barley, raisins, dried yogurt or other foodstuff. But if the staple food of the people of a region or locality is something other than aforementioned, then they have to give a saa‘ of that staple food, such as corn or rice, as the case may be. During the time of Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم), dinars and dirhams were used and yet he (صلى الله عليه و سلم) did not mention them with regard to Zakatul-Fitr, nor do we know of anyone from the Prophet’s Companions giving money for this purpose. However, the Standing Committee for Academic Research and Issuing Fatwas permitted the imam of the mosque and others who are in positions of trust to collect it in money form and distribute it to the poor in the food form.
Long Answer: The majority of scholars (including Malik, al-Shafi’i and Ahmad) are of the view that it is not permissible to give zakat al-fitr in the form of cash, rather it must be given in the form of food, as was enjoined by the Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم). Ibn ‘Umar (رضي الله عنه) said: “The Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) made giving a saa’ of dates or a saa’ of barley as Zakat al-Fitr an obligation for all Muslims, slave and free, male and female, young and old, and ordered that it should be given before the people went out to pray (Salat ul-Eid).” (Al-Bukhari)
[However,] according to the Hanafis …it is also permissible to calculate the amount of zakah due based on the substance’s value and to offer its value in money instead; in fact, this is viewed as preferable since it is of more benefit to the poor… (‘Islamic Jurisprudence According to the Four Sunni Schools’ by ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Jaziri’)
Shaykh Ibn ‘Uthaymeen (may Allah have mercy on him) replied to a question: “What we think is that it is not permissible to give zakat al-fitr in the form of cash under any circumstances, rather it must be given in the form of food. If the poor man wants to sell the food and make use of its price, he may do so, but the one who is giving this zakah has to give it in the form of food. It does not matter if it is the kinds of food that were known at the time of the Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) or is a kind of food that is known nowadays. Rice nowadays may be more beneficial than wheat, because with rice one does not need to go to the effort of grinding it and making dough, and so on. The purpose is to benefit the poor. It was narrated in Sahih al-Bukhari that Abu Sa’eed al-Khudri (رضي الله عنه) said: “We used to pay as Zakat al-Fitr a saa’ of food or a saa’ of barley (which was their food at that time) or a saa’ or dates or a saa’ of aqit (dried yoghurt) or a saa’ of raisins.” So if a person gives it in the form of food, he should choose a food that will most beneficial to the poor; this will vary from one time and place to another.
With regard to giving it in the form of cash, clothing, furnishings or tools, this is not sufficient and does not discharge the obligation, because the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said: “Whoever does an action that is not part of this matter of ours will have it rejected.” (Majmoo’ Fataawa Ibn ‘Uthaymeen)
He further said: “…so if that which has been made obligatory by the tongue of Muhammad (صلى الله عليه و سلم) is a saa’ of food, then it is not permissible to bypass that, no matter what our intellects make us to view as being good…” (‘Ramadhaan Fataawa’ – The Permanent Committee for Islamic Research and Fataawa)
He further said: “…There is nothing wrong with sending zakat al-fitr to another country on the grounds that there are no poor people in one’s own country…” (Majmoo’ Fataawa Ibn ‘Uthaymeen)
Ash-Shaykh Ibn Baz said: “…it is known that during the time of the legislating- and this giving of Zakatul-Fitr, dinars and dirhams (i.e., gold and silver coins) existed- especially in Al-Madinah – among the Muslims. These were the two leading forms of currency at that time and yet he (the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) did not mention them in regards to Zakatul-Fitr. If either of them were acceptable for Zakatul-Fitr, he would have clarified that, as it is not permissible to delay explanation past the time of need. If this explanation had occurred, the Companions (رضي الله عنه), would have acted upon it (i.e., by giving money… We do not know of anyone of the Prophet’s Companions giving money for Zakatul-Fitr, and they were the most knowledgeable people of his Sunnah and the most devout people in following it. If anything like this had occurred among them, it would have been reported just as other things were reported from their statements and deeds that were related to the matters of Islamic legislation…” (Fatawa Islamiyah)
According to Standing Committee for Academic Research and Issuing Fatwas, “…It is permissible for the imam of the mosque and others who are in positions of trust to collect it and distribute it to the poor, but it must reach those who are entitled to it before the Eid prayer… [However,] it is not permissible to use it for building a mosque or for other charitable projects.”
(Most part of the above reply is based on various answers provided by Islamqa.info on the topic)
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.