By the end of Ramadan, Muslims anticipate the great reward for their devotion and dedication to their Creator, Allah Almighty. Muslims earnestly implore Allah to accept their fasting. Zakat al-fitr is meant to cement the relationship between the members of the Muslim society, to alleviate the pain of the poor, and to cultivate the sense of brotherhood and solidarity.
Zakat al-fitr can be paid in cash if cash is better from the point of view of the recipient.
In his discussion on this issue and on the scholarly debate around it, the eminent Muslim scholar Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi states the following:
In my opinion, those muftis and preachers who annually attach those who permit the payment of zakat al-fitr in cash are wrong for the following four reasons:
First, it is not permissible to deny or attack the opinion of any party in matters of ijtihad (personal reasoning) over which the scholars disagree and have divergence of opinions over it. According to the Sharia, A mujtahid (one who is qualified for making ijtihad) is not required to apply anything but the opinion which he concludes on based on his ijtihad. If he is in right, he will be rewarded twice—for his ijtihad and correctness on a certain matter; but if he is wrong (in his conclusion), he will be rewarded once—for exerting his effort (ijtihad).
The highest assertion of a mujtahid about himself should be that of Imam Ash-Shafi`i (may Allah be pleased with him): “ I believe I am right, with the possibility that I might be wrong; and I believe the contrary opinion is wrong with the possibility that it is correct”
Every matter that has no indisputable canonical texts with indisputable import is certainly a matter of ijtihad, and the matter that we are dealing with is undoubtedly of this kind. The majority of people are allowed to follow one of the madhhabs approved by the Ummah, as this is the possible means for one who is unqualified to make ijtihad. Allah the Almighty says: (Allah burdens not a person beyond his scope) (Al-Baqarah 2:286) and (So keep your duty to Allah and fear Him as much as you can) (At-Taghabun 64:16). Moreover, the Prophet (peace and blessing of Allah be upon him) is reported to have said, “If I order you to do something, then do of it as much as you can” (agreed upon).
Second, if we dealt with this matter according to the above-mentioned basis, we would see that Imam Abu Hanifah and his companions, Al-Hasan Al-Basri, Sufyan Ath-Thawri, Caliph `Umar ibn `Abd Al-`Aziz, and many other scholars permitted paying the value of zakah, including zakat al-fitr, in cash. Both supporters and opponents of the opinion depended on many pieces of evidence and considerations. I have detailed this matter in my book Fiqh Az-Zakah, in a chapter on paying the value as a way to give zakah.
Sheikh Ibn Taymiyah reached an opinion that is considered a compromise between these two parties: “Paying the value of zakat al-fitr in cash with no need or interest to do so, is impermissible. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) estimated the act of repayment in zakat by two sheep or 20 dirhams and he (peace and blessings be upon him) did not depend upon the value; for if he permitted paying the value unlimitedly, the owner might pay bad kinds and cause harm. As for paying the value of zakat al-fitr in cash because of the need, interest, or justice, it is permissible. For example, if a Muslim sells the fruits or the crops of his land for some dirhams, he can pay the tenth of these dirhams and he should not be asked to buy fruits or plants if he was just with the poor. Also, if he has five camels he is obliged to give a sheep as zakah, but if he does not find a sheep to buy, he can pay the value in money and he is not asked to travel to another city to buy a sheep. In addition, if those who deserve zakah ask him to pay it in cash because of an interest, he can do so. It was narrated that Mu`adh ibn Jabal (may Allah be pleased with him) said to the people of Yemen, “You can bring me khamis and labis (local textiles) instead of the actual plants and fruit, for this will ease things for you and will be more useful to the poor Muhajirun and Ansar in Madinah.” It was narrated that he said these words concerning zakah, and it was said that they were related to jizyah” (Majmu` Fatawa Ibn Taymiyah, 25/82-83, Saudi edition).
The cause of disagreement between the two schools: is that One School considers the total objectives of the Sharia in giving zakat and does not neglect the texts of the hadith, while the other School gives priority to the texts only.
The opinion that permits the giving of zakat al-fitr in cash was in effect during the age of the Tabi`in (the generation following the Companions) and was supported by many scholars and a caliph. Ibn Abi Shaybah narrated on the authority of `Awn: I heard the letter of `Umar ibn `Abdul-`Aziz was read to `Adiyy, the ruler: “The people of the divan should take from every Muslim half a dirham.” The same reported that Al-Hasan said: There is no harm in paying the value of zakat al-fitr in dirhams; that Abu Ishaq said: I met them while they were paying the value of zakat al-fitr in dirhams; and that `Ata’ narrated: I used to give the value of zakat al-fitr in silver dirhams (Musannaf, 4/37-38).
Actually, there is much evidence that supports this opinion:
A. The Prophet (peace and blessing be upon him) said, “Enrich them (the poor) on this day.” Enriching is achieved through food and also the value, which may even be better, as a poor person who has plentiful food may be forced to sell some of it; whereas the value gives him the chance to buy whatever he wants of food, clothes, etc.
B. Ibn Al-Mundhir narrated that the Companions (may Allah be pleased with them) permitted giving half a saa` of wheat, as they believed that it equaled the value of a saa` of dates or barley. Thus, Mu`awiyah (may Allah be pleased with him) said: I see that two mudds (a mudd equals a handful of an average man) of the Levantine wheat equal a saa` of dates.
C. This opinion seems easier for the Muslims of this age, especially for those who live in the industrialized countries where people deal only with money, and it has a great benefit in most cases for the poor in many cities.
Third, when the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) asked Muslims to give zakat al-fitr from the common foodstuffs, he wanted to make matters easy for them; silver and golden money were rare means of dealing among the Arabs and the majority of people did not own but a few coins. Moreover, the poor were in dire need of the common foodstuffs, such as wheat, dates, raisins, and cheese. Thus, giving zakat al-fitr from the staple food was easy for the payer and beneficial to the recipient. Also, he (peace and blessings be upon him) permitted the owners of the camels and sheep to give cheese as zakat al-fitr in order to facilitate matters for them.
Furthermore, the purchasing power of money varies from one time to another and from one country to another. Thus, estimating the amount of zakat al-fitr by a fixed amount of money would make it fluctuate and be unstable. That is why the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) fixed it by an amount that does not vary or fluctuate. This amount is the saa`, which is usually considered as sufficient food for one family for a day.
Fourth, our scholars agreed that the fatwa changes according to time, place, and status. The one who impartially examines the current status will realize that giving food as zakat al-fitr is only suitable for simple societies in which the poor need food [grain] and the payer finds it easily. In large and complex societies that have a high population density and where food [grain] is rare and the poor do not need it, as they no longer grind, knead, and bakes, the impartial will agree that paying the value of zakat al-fitr in cash is more suitable.
Imam Ibn Taymiyah did well when he permitted the Muslim who sold the fruits of his land for some dirhams to pay the tenth of these dirhams and not to be asked to buy fruits if it was just to the poor. Also, he permitted the owner of the camels who was obliged to give a sheep as zakah to pay the value in money and did not ask him to travel to another city to buy a sheep. This is the true fiqh. Then how can we ask a Muslim in a city like Cairo, where more than 10 million Muslims live, to give grain that has become rare and is of no need to the poor as zakat al-fitr?
There is a big difference between the one who has food and refrains from giving the poor and the one like a city dweller who has nothing but money and does justice to the poor. Zakat al-fitr was made obligatory in order to help the poor and make them not need to go from one place to another seeking food on the day of `Eid while the rich enjoy their wealth with their children. One should ask oneself: Does he make a poor person in no need to go to the market if he gives him a saa` of dates or barley in a city like Cairo, for example? Of course the answer is no, as the poor will surely go to markets to sell them to have the money to buy suitable food for their families! Thus, some of the Muslim scholars took into consideration the objectives for which zakat al-Fitr is legitimized and permitted giving it from the common foodstuffs of the country; this food is not even listed in the Sharia.
As for sending zakah from one country to another, it is permissible if there is a considerable reason: The country where one lives is in no need of zakah; another country is in dire need because of starvation, calamity, or war; or the payer has some relatives in another country needing his help. These reasons permit the Muslims to send their zakah to the poor Muslims who resist the aggressors and suffer from starvation and calamities in Palestine, Afghanistan, Kashmir, Bangladesh, Burma, etc.
As for the difference of the scholars over some fatwas, the Muslim can choose the opinion of the scholar who is known for his vast knowledge, faithfulness, and accuracy and in whom he places his confidence, just as the patient does when doctors differ over his illness. By so doing, the mistake in these matters is forgiven, and every person will get the reward according to what he has intended.
Finally, I would like to say that the hadith that reads “Fasting in the month of Ramadan lies suspended between the earth and heaven; it is only raised (to heaven) by zakat al-fitr“ has not proved to be authentic.