Zakat al-fitr is fundamentally different from the types of zakat we have been looking at previously. The zakat we have looked at so far has been zakat on superfluous wealth whereas zakat al-fitr is a poll tax, a tax on the individual, in which the amount of wealth they have plays no part. The two types of zakat are also completely independent of one another. Payment of the zakat on your wealth does not absolve you from paying zakat al-fitr and payment of zakat al-fitr does not absolve you from having to pay zakat on your wealth if you have sufficient to warrant it.
Who pays zakat al-fitr
Zakat al-fitr was imposed by the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, as an obligation to be paid by or on behalf of every Muslim at the end of Ramadan, no matter what their age, sex, economic circumstances or social status. A man must pay for all those for whose upkeep he is normally responsible – wives, children, slaves or other dependents. People who live alone must, of course, pay for themselves individually. The point is that zakat al-fitr is owed by every single Muslim at the conclusion of the month of fasting and its importance is made clear by the fact that in one hadith the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, made the acceptance of the fast by Allah dependent upon its payment.
The amount and form of payment of zakat al-fitr
The amount owed by every individual as zakat al-fitr is one sa’a of the staple food of the people in the locality where they live. As we saw above the sa’a is a measure equivalent to just over two litres, so in a place where the staple food is bread the zakat al-fitr is that quantity of wheat per person, where it is rice, then it is rice, and so on. Where various foods are eaten then it could take the form of whatever grain or pulse or dried fruit are acceptable in that area.
The time of payment and distribution of zakat al-fitr
Zakat al-fitr falls due on the last evening of the fast of Ramadan after the ‘Id has been announced and is best discharged before the ‘Id prayer the following morning, although there is no harm in paying it after the prayer. It is also permitted to pay it during the last couple of days of Ramadan. It should be given to people in the community who are known to be poor. Unlike other types of zakat it can be distributed individually and does not have to be centrally collected, although there is no harm in doing that.