Zakat Papers

A Fiqhi Analysis on the Payment of Zakat al Fitr

The method of distributing Zakat al-Fitr is a debate that resurfaces every single year. The opinion of the Maliki, Shafee and Hanbali schools is that it must be paid in food and any other way would be sinful and not accepted. The Hanafi school of thought and a few other scholars such as Al-Hasan Al-Basri and Umar Ibn Abdulaziz were of the view that it can be paid in value. Others have said that it can only be paid in value in the case of need or if it is in the best interest of the needy. This paper will aim at going through the evidence for each opinion and their validity. This paper will also discuss the use of gift cards as a method of payment. This has become more common nowadays and some institutions have started using them as a method of distributing Zakat al-Fitr. Is this a new concept permissible as a method of distribution? These will be the main topics discussed in this paper.
A Fiqhi Analysis on the Payment of Zakat al Fitr
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1 Zakat al-Fitr

Zakat is the third pillar of Islam after the Shahada, and it is mentioned more than 30 times in the Holy Quran. There are two types of Zakat that Allah has obligated upon the Muslims. Zakat al-Maal and Zakat al-Fitr. Our main discussion in this paper is Zakat al-Fitr. Some of the scholars have said that this pillar was prescribed in the second year after migration.

1.1 Definition

The literal meaning of Zakat is to increase and grow. When it is said about a person, it means to improve, to become better. Consequently, Zakat is blessing, growth, cleanliness, and betterment. The more technical meaning is purification. In Shari'ah the word Zakat refers to“the determined share of wealth prescribed by God to be distributed among deserving categories. It is also used to mean the action of payment of this share”. Here, to give Zakat implies purifying your wealth and soul by giving a portion of your wealth to those in need every year at the end of the month of Ramadan.

1.2 Its Ruling

Zakat al-Fitr is an obligatory Sadaqah paid by all Muslims before Eid al-Fitr. It is a mandatory charity due on every Muslim regardless of age or gender as long as they have the means to fulfill this requirement. Ibn Umar (Radia Allahu Anhu) reported that the Messenger of Allah (salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam) made Zakat al-Fitr compulsory on every slave, freeman, male, female, young and old among the Muslims, one saa’ of dried dates or one saa’ of barley. The measurement of saa’ is a measure of volume that was mainly used in Madinah and it equals four Mudd. Each Mudd is the equivalent of two hands full next to each other. It is important to note that the measurement of a saa’ is not agreed upon. The scholars of Hijaz see it as being equal to five and one third Ratl. The scholars of Iraq estimate it as being equal to eight Ratl. There is unanimous consensus by all the scholars of its obligation. Imam Ibn Al-Mundhir, may Allah have mercy on him, said: “And they (the scholars) are unanimously agreed that Sadaqat al-Fitr is obligatory, and they are unanimously agreed that Sadaqat al-Fitr is obligatory for a person, if he is able to pay it on behalf of himself, and his children”.

2 Method of payment

There is a difference of opinion between the scholars as to the method of payment. There are three opinions:

2.1 Opinion 1 – Payment in the form of staple food items

The first group which is the majority of the Muslim scholars, including Imam Malik, Imam AsShafie, and Imam Ahmed, believe that Zakat al-Fitr has to be paid in the form of staple food items. Paying it in any other method than this would be impermissible and invalid. Imam Ibn Qudamah, may God have mercy on him, said: “The value is not sufficient, because it deviates from the original text”7. Al-Nawawi said: “It is not acceptable to pay the cash value of Zakat al-Fitr in our view. This was also the view of Maalik, Ahmad and Ibn al-Mundhir”.

2.1.1 Proofs and Analysis

1. Ibn Umar (Radia Allahu Anhu) reported that the Messenger of Allah (salla Allahu alaihi wasallam) made Zakat al-Fitr compulsory on every slave, freeman, male, female, young and oldamong the Muslims, one saa’ of dried dates or one saa’ of barley”.

  • This group says that when the Prophet (salla Allah alaihi wa sallam) obligated Zakat al-Fitr didn’t mention the value and had it been acceptable then he would have mentioned it in case it was needed.

2. Abu Sa’eed alkhudri (Radia Allahu Anhu) said: “we used to give Zakat al-Fitr in the amount of one saa’ of dates, or one saa’ of barely, or one saa’ of cheese, or one saa’ of raisins”.

2.2 Opinion 2 – Payment in the form of value

The second group believe that it is permissible to pay Zakat al-Fitr in value. Among them are the Hanafi scholars, and it is the opinion of al-Hassan al-Basri, Sufian at Thawri, and Umar bin Abdul Aziz who made it a state policy during his reign. It was also attributed to Ash-hab and Ibn al-Qasim from the Maliki School of law. This is also the opinion of many contemporary scholars such as Sheikh al-Qaradawi may Allah have mercy on him, Sheikh Salah As-Sawi and the Assembly of Muslim Jurists in America.

2.2.1 Proofs and Analysis

1. Al-Imam al-Bukhari has agreed with the Hanafi scholars on this matter. He dedicated chapter (33) [Zakat may be paid in kind or value] for this matter within the Book of Zakat. He included a chapter in his Saheeh entitled “Zakat in Kind or Value”, in which Tawoos related that Mua’th (Radia Allahu Anhu) said to the people of Yemen, “Bring me charity inkind: clothing instead of barely and grain. It will be easier for you and more beneficial for the Prophet’s companions in Madina”.

  • Even though this hadith is not classified as a sahih hadith it is a strong proof since Imam al Bukhari included the narration in the chapter so it can be used as supporting evidence.
  • Muath Ibn Jabal was the one whom the Prophet described as being the most knowledgeable of halal and haram.
  • It seems that Muath did not understand the Prophet to literally mean that food must be collected. From the narration we see that what he understood was that        the objective was to make it easier on the payer while also keeping it more beneficial for the receiver.

2. It was also the view of Abu Ishaaq al-Subaie, one of the most knowledgeable of the Taabe’een. Abu Ishaaq says, "I attended their (the predecessors) paying of the Zakat o fRamadan in dirhams”. This proves the permissibility of distributing Zakat based on its value.

  • He was a senior Tabee from Al-Kufa and he witnessed Ali Ibn Abi Talib give a khutbah. He met many of the companions during his time. Ali Ibn Al-Madani said that Abu Ishaaq heard from 38 of the Sahaba.

3. The objective of paying Zakat al-Fitr is to fulfill the needs of the poor and the needy. We get this from the hadith, “Free the poor people from the burden of asking on such a day(eid)”. Even though the hadith is classified as weak, however the meaning is understood to be the ‘illa or the main reason for Zakat al-Fitr. This fulfillment may be achieved by giving them staple food items or their value from another kind.

4. There is no explicit evidence prohibiting giving this Zakat in the form of cash. The opinion of the first group of scholars is relying mainly on following the practice of the Prophet (sallaAllahu alaihi wa sallam) and his companions during the early days of Islam.

  • Dr. Salah As-Sawy said: “And the Sharia of extensive wisdom only commanded the people in the time of prophet-hood to give food so that they can all be able to fulfill this obligation upon them, and not be burden some upon them or difficult. This is since currency rarely existed in those times in the land of the Arabs, nevertheless Bedouin areas, and even more particularly the poor. So, if the command was for actual money to be given for the obligatory Zakat on every individual, this would have been impossible for the poor altogether, and it would have been difficult for the rich whose wealth was cattle, slaves, and food. As for the food, it is easily available for all. No home is void of it except those who are direly impoverished.Therefore, it was of the greatest benefits, and the deepest of wisdom to leave the money that was difficult and rare, and give the food that was easy to find, and be given to all the people. So, if the conditions change and the value is more beneficial, and the benefit in that is more apparent and more complete, then it appears there is no harm”.

5. The application of the first opinion is not very practical and can lead to inefficiency.

  • From a logistical point of view, to purchase large amount of rice for distribution would make things very difficult for organizations and masajid. That is because doing so would require the rental of a warehouse, many volunteers, or paid staff for purchasing, organizing, and distributing the food. One of the five main maxims in Islamic Law is that Hardship shall bring alleviation. (Al-Mashaqqah tajlibu al-taysir). This means that whenever difficulties present themselves, the Law makes provisions to facilitate matters. Paying in Value would alleviate many of these hardships and challenges.
  • Many people who have observed the application of the first opinion have noticed some inefficiencies. One of them is that since the number of payers is a large number, many of the receivers of Zakat would be receiving multiple bags of rice. However, many of the receivers are not in need of so much rice and would rather receive something else instead of the extra rice. What ends up happening is that the receiver will go sell the rice for a lesser price. This results in more work for the receiver and the loss of value. Some have even witnessed with their own eyes a needy person receiving the bag of rice and then reselling it to the seller for a lesser price. So, the bag of rice is purchased for $10, which is then given to the needy person who then sells it to the same seller for $9 or less. In the end the needy loses one dollar which goes as profit to the seller.

2.3 Opinion 3 – Payment according to whatever is more beneficial for the poor

The third opinion is a middle path between the first two opinions, and it is the opinion of Shaykh al Islam Ibn Taymiyyah. He said that it is only permissible if need arises, or there is a clear benefit for the recipient while observing the concept of justice and fairness. He confirmed that this is another opinion in the Hanbali School of law.

2.3.1 Collecting Zakat as Money and distributing it in the form of food

One of the ways governments and organizations try to make Zakat al-Fitr distribution easier is by collecting cash from each household and then purchasing staple food and distributing it to the needy. For those who follow the first opinion which is giving Zakat as a staple food, there is no problem in doing this because the organization takes the position of a wakeel which basically makes them as representative agents for them. The individual would have to make sure that the organization is trustworthy, and he would make his intention when giving theZakat to the organization. This was practiced in the early days of Islam when Islam spread, and the number of Muslims increased. It was narrated that Umar Ibn Abd Al Aziz would take half a dirham from all the salary owners at his time.

2.4 Conclusion

There are three opinions when it comes to the method of distribution of Zakat al-Fitr. The first and the majority opinion is that it can only be distributed as staple food. The second opinion says that it can be distributed in the form of food or its value. The third opinion says that the method will depend on what is better and more beneficial for the poor and needy.

3 Distributing Zakat al-Fitr in the form gift cards

The second of part of this paper will be discussing the concept of giving gift cards as Zakat al-Fitr. It will discuss the definition, the ruling, proofs, and some of the benefits.

3.1 Definition

One of the payment methods for Zakat al-Fitr that is being discussed these days is the method of giving gift cards instead of food or cash. The definition can vary depending on how it is categorized. In this paper we are not referring to pre-paid credit cards that are issued by financial institutions. Gift cards are a type of stored-value payment card issued by retailers that are preloaded with a specific value for future purchases. Sheikh Joe Bradford defines them as being “certificates that are honoured upon presentation by the single merchant or affiliated group of merchants for goods or services. This purchase of this card creates an obligation on or a promise from a merchant or group of merchants to provide goods or services at a future date. These cards represent the obligation to provide goods and services up to the cash value originally purchased but are not in themselves same as cash". We can see from the above definition that these gift cards are not considered as money. This is an important distinction because it plays a role in some of the fiqhi rulings regarding the use of it.

3.2 The Ruling of paying Zakat al-Fitr as cash and distributing it in the form of gift cards

There is some confusion amongst people regarding the permissibility of the use of gift cards and more specifically as a method of distributing Zakat. Under the same premise of the second opinion of distributing Zakat al-Fitr in value, there should be no issue with giving gift cards as a substitute for cash. It is important to note that the gift cards should be for a vendor that sells staple foods or items of necessities. This will eliminate the possibility of it being used to purchase luxurious of unnecessary items.

3.3 Proofs and Analysis

Below are the proofs for the permissibility of distributing Zakat al-Fitr as gift cards.

1. The default in non-worship transactions is permissibility. This is a rule that the scholars of the principles of Islamic Jurisprudence have agreed upon. This means that any action that is not an act of worship is permissible unless there is evidence from the sharia to say otherwise.

  • It is important to note that what is being referred to here is not the actual act of distributing Zakat al-Fitr because that would be considered an act of worship. The use of gift cards is considered a means (waseela) for the completion of the act of worship, like the use of a microphone when making adhan.

2. The use of certificates to represent value is a concept that goes back to the times of the Sahabah may Allah be pleased with them. It is narrated in the book of transaction in the Muwataa of Imam Malik that,

  • “He had heard that receipts were given to people in the time of Marwan ibn alHakam for the produce of the market at al-Jar. People bought and sold the receipts among themselves before they took delivery of the goods. Zayd Ibn Thabit and one of the Companions of the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, went to Marwan ibn al-Hakam, and said, "Marwan! Do you make usury halal?" He said, "I seek refuge with Allah! What is that?" He said, "These receipts which people buy and sell before they take delivery of the goods." Marwan therefore sent guards to follow them and to take them from people's hands and return them to their owners”.

i. In this narration we see that certificates were used during the times of the Sahaba, and they Never disapproved the use of them. They only had a problem with the way they were being sold in the market, not the use of them. By analogy we can see that gift cards are very similar in nature to the sukuk mentioned in the narration.

3. All the proofs that were discussed in the second opinion would apply here as this would go under the category of value.

3.4 Benefits of Using Gift Cards

1. Combining between all three opinions: Using gift cards as a method of distributing Zakat al-Fitr can almost be considered a reconciliation between all three opinions. That is because when a gift card that was issued by a supermarket is given to the needy person, they can go to the market and purchase the food that will alleviate their need for the day of Eid. At the same time, they can get other things that they might need that day. This is better for the needy person because they can decide for themselves what is best for them to enjoy Eid with their family which is the main objective of this Zakat.

2. It is much easier for organizations and charities to purchase and distribute gift cards to the needy instead of purchasing the food themselves. Doing this will avoid the challenges that were mentioned earlier and benefit both the giver and the receiver.

3. Meeting CRA requirements: One of the challenges that charitable organizations face is the strict CRA requirements. Distributing cash to people is a big challenge because there needs to be receipts for each distribution and this becomes a logistical nightmare. Purchasing gift cards avoids this problem and makes the process much simpler and more accountable.

4. The fact that the needy is receiving a “gift” makes it much more acceptable and comforting for the receiving person. Receiving cash can have a somewhat humiliating effect and the Sharia always aims at protecting the honour and dignity of the Muslim.

4 Conclusion

The opinion of the majority of the Muslim scholars is that Zakat al-Fitr must be given to the poor and needy as food, however the evidence shows that distributing Zakat al-Fitr in value is valid and is a better option than food. Using this opinion one can also derive the validity of the use of gift cards as a valid method of distributing Zakat al-Fitr as well. Furthermore, it can also be viewed as an excellent option since it brings more benefit to both the organization distributing the Zakat as well as the person receiving it.

Allah knows best

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