I feel compelled to put this together because I’ve seen the following errors being committed even since I was a young boy. In sha Allah, you can help me spread the word by sharing this article with your community, friends and family.
What is Zakat ul-Fitr? Think “Iftar”, Zakat Ul-Fitr is the charity that we pay at the end of Ramadan.
Here is the foundational hadith that establishes the obligation of Zakat ul-Fitr:
Ibn `Umar reported that the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam), made Zakat al-Fitr compulsory on every slave, freeman, male, female, young and old among the Muslims; one Saa` (a measurement: four double handfuls) of dried dates or one Saa` of barley.
[Sahih Bukhari – Arabic/English, vol. 2, p. 339, no. 579]
To understand Zakat ul-Fitr, here is a good summary of it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zakat_al-fitr
But unfortunately, our community makes some basic errors in the payment of Zakat Al-Fitr that must be clarified. Error One: Paying at Eid Salah
Some people go to Eid prayers and drop money into the donation box thinking that they have paid their Zakat ul-Fitr.
No, Zakat al-Fitr, which is food, must be in the hands of the needy family BEFORE Eid prayer.
If someone goes to Eid prayer and pays then it is GUARANTEED that the money will NOT arrive on time. And thus the person paying is sinful for having missed the payment of Zakat al-Fitr.
May Allah forgive us.
Error Two: Snail mailing the money overseas
Basic principle as before: the Zakat al-Fitr, food, MUST be in the hands of the needy BEFORE Eid prayer. One cannot mail the money overseas and have it arrive in the hands of the needy after Eid prayer is over.
However, if one is able to get the Zakah al-Fitr to the needy overseas BEFORE Eid prayer is conducted in their locality, then in sha Allah it’s alright.
Error Three: Not paying
Yes, as simple as this error is, it is HARAM to skip the payment of Zakat Al-Fitr. EVERYONE must pay Zakat Al-Fitr, every member of the household. So if you have 8 people in your house, Zakat Al-Fitr must be paid x 8, even if the youngest member is just a few days old.
Error Four: Confusing Zakat ul-Fitr with Zakat ul-Maal
We are talking about Zakat al-Fitr here (think “Iftar”, i.e. Ramadan). Zakat Al-Maal (Maal literally means wealth), is the Zakah due on ones money – and that could be due any time during the year depending on when it was due.
Error Five: Giving money instead of food
Although some scholars have allowed giving money instead of food, the spirit of Zakat Al-Fitr is to give food to the needy of the community, NOT money.
The Companion of the Prophet, Abu Sa`eed al-Khudree, radi Allahu ‘anhu, said, “In the Prophet’s time, we used to give it (Zakatal-Fitr) as a sa` of food, dried dates, barley, raisins or dried cheese”.
[Bukhari – Arabic/English vol. 2, p. 340, no. 582]
Error Six: Giving one’s Zakah al-Fitr to a charitable building project
Some people mistakenly give their Zakah Al-Fitr to a charitable building project: like the building of a Masjid, or Islamic school. There is a difference of opinion on this issue, but suffice it to say that the spirit of Zakah Al-Fitr is that the needy should have plentiful food on Eid.
All eight types of recipients of Zakah mentioned in the Quran are HUMANS, not “building projects”.
Error Seven: Giving Zakat ul-Fitr to non-Muslims
Charity is given to both Non-Muslims and Muslims. However, Zakah al-Fitr charity is something exclusive to the MUSLIM poor and needy. Hence, one could not give Zakah Al-Fitr to any needy person on the street. “Regular” charity can be given to them, but not Zakah Al-Fitr.
Error Eight: Delaying distribution
Sometimes Masjids might collect Zakah Al-Fitr money and then put it in a bank. It doesn’t reach the needy for months and months. The correct method is to give Zakah Al-Fitr immediately when it is due.
These are my eight. You are welcome to share other common errors in the comments below.
In sha Allah, if you have Zakah questions, I encourage you to seek counsel from your local sources of knowledge. People you can speak to directly.