Let’s begin with the terminology itself. We already learned that the Arabic word Zakat (زكاة) means growth and purification. Al fitr comes from the word إفطار or “breaking the fast” because it marks the breaking of the long fast at the end of the month of Ramadan. It is also considered a moment of celebration since it is offered on the morning of Eid day. “Al mal” in zakat al mal means whatever is acquired for its benefit and has a monetary value. However, for the purpose of this article we will limit the meaning of it to the zakatable items. The most popular and common zakat asset people are familiar with is wealth. Wealth is normally acquired in the form of money. As for gold, silver, goods and stocks, they are equivalent to money or “al mal” and have their own zakat rules as well.
What do I need to know about giving zakat al mal?
There are a few conditions that you need to fulfil before you can calculate and give your zakat.
1. The most common zakatable assets from which zakat is calculated are five:
In this brief explanation we will limit our discussion to the most common zakatable asset: money.
2. All the money you have in your possession should reach a minimum amount called نصاب nisab or threshold. This is to ensure that zakat is not taken out of your income, instead it’s taken out of your savings or what we call excess wealth.
The nisab is the market value of 85g of gold at the time of calculating the zakat. On the day this post was written the market value of 85g of gold was $4675. Once your money reaches this amount or above, you should then mark that day on your calendar.
3. After reaching the nisab ($4675) or above, you need to monitor your wealth throughout the year. It does not matter how much your money grows. What matters is that it does not fall below the nisab. Otherwise if it does, then the zakat calendar year is broken, and once you reach the nisab again you ought to restart counting for the year again. Once a full year passes while you are in possession of your over the nisab weath, you are then required and obligated to give zakat. It is always recommended that you mark your zakat due date on a memorable month or day such as Ramadan or the first day of the new hijri year.
How is Zakat al mal calculated?
According to the sunnah of the Messenger of Allah, the amount of zakat that you owe on your excess wealth is 2.5%. Whatever amount you have in your possession for a full year, you will need to give zakat from that entire amount.
If you had $5000 for the first time in March of 2019, then you owned a nisab. You will need to mark your calendar for March next year to pay zakat. If your money fluctuated throughout the year like it went up to 8k and then down to 6k and continued to go up and down it should be fine. You don’t have to worry about it. As long as it does not go below the nisab, by the end of the zakat year i.e. March 2020, then you will need to calculate your money and pay 2.5%.
For this example let’s assume that in March 2020 the money you had in your possession was $10000. 2.5% of that is $250. This is how much zakat you owe. It does not matter which month of the zakat calendar year you earned that money. As long as it was within the zakat year then you add it to the entire zakatable amount. So for instance if your money remained at $5000 from March 2019 through January 2020 and then you earned another $5000 in February 2020, by March you pay zakat on the entire amount which is the $10000 not just the first $5000. And if you had $20000 for the most of the year, then a month right before zakat was due you lost $15000, then you owe zakat on the remaining amount if it was still above the nisab, i.e. the remaining $5000 only.
What if I owe debts and have to pay bills?
Your zakatable money should be free of any immediate debt that could bring it down below the nisab. The immediate debt is the bills you owe for the month your zakat becomes due. Even if you’re on a long term payment plan for a large amount of debt such as mortgage, student loan or 18 months furniture payment plan, you only need to deduct the monthly payment or the amount you plan to pay off as part of your immediate debt.
Example: Let's say you had $10000 in your possession by the end of your zakat year. However, you had $700 rent for that month, $500 car payment and $800 credit card payment. The sum total is $2000. In this case your zakatable amount will be $10000 minus the $2000. You only pay zakat on $8000 which is still above the nisab.
If your debt for that month grows big enough to bring down the zakatable amount you own below the nisab then you do not pay zakat for that year. For instance, if your bills for that month came out to $7000, and we deduct that from the $10000 you have, then you are only left with $3000. This is below the nisab of $4675 and you do not owe zakat on $3000.
Who should I give my zakat al mal to?
Allah Almighty mentioned in the Quran eight categories who are eligible to receive zakat. In Surah at-Tawbah we read:
۞ إِنَّمَا ٱلصَّدَقَـٰتُ لِلْفُقَرَآءِ وَٱلْمَسَـٰكِينِ وَٱلْعَـٰمِلِينَ عَلَيْهَا وَٱلْمُؤَلَّفَةِ قُلُوبُهُمْ وَفِى ٱلرِّقَابِ وَٱلْغَـٰرِمِينَ وَفِى سَبِيلِ ٱللَّهِ وَٱبْنِ ٱلسَّبِيلِ ۖ فَرِيضَةًۭ مِّنَ ٱللَّهِ ۗ وَٱللَّهُ عَلِيمٌ حَكِيمٌۭ
“Alms-tax is only for the poor and the needy, for those employed to administer it, for those whose hearts are attracted ˹to the faith˺, for ˹freeing˺ slaves, for those in debt, for Allah’s cause, and for ˹needy˺ travellers. ˹This is˺ an obligation from Allah. And Allah is All-Knowing, All-Wise.” 9:60
These eight categories are:
1- The poor, one who begs and asks around and whose need is so obvious to others.
2- The dignified needy, one whose need is not obvious to others but does not go around asking.
3- The zakat collectors, those who are employed to administer the zakat in collection and distribution.
4- Those whose hearts are inclined to the faith, Muslims and non-Muslims.
5- Freeing slaves.
6- Those who are in debt due to their financial commitment to others.
7- For Allah’s cause.
8- For the wayfarer and needy travelers.
In the past there used to be a special department in the society to collect the zakat and give it to the poor. Today, people give zakat to many organizations and to their Islamic centers and they will carry the duty to deliver it to the rightful recipients.
What do I need to know about giving zakat al fitr?
Since zakat al fitr is all about celebrating the breaking of fast, no one on Eid day should remain hungry. The poor who may not be able to find anything to eat on the morning of Eid will be provided for through zakat al fitr. This is why it is primarily offered in the form of stable food. Depending on the actual need of the recipient, some schools of thought allow giving zakat al fitr in the form of cash money.
In a Hadith, Ibn Omar may Allah be pleased with him said:
قَالَ فَرَضَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم صَدَقَةَ الْفِطْرِ عَلَى الصَّغِيرِ وَالْكَبِيرِ وَالذَّكَرِ وَالأُنْثَى وَالْحُرِّ وَالْعَبْدِ صَاعًا مِنْ تَمْرٍ أَوْ صَاعًا مِنْ شَعِيرٍ
"The Messenger of Allah enjoined Sadaqatul Fitr upon young and old, male and female, free and slave; a Sa' (measurement cup) of dates or a Sa' of barley." (Reposted by an-Nassai)
It was also made obligatory as a final form of offering, hopefully to make up for some of our shortcomings during the fast of the month of Ramadan.
In the hadith of Ibn Abbas who said:
عَنِ ابْنِ عَبَّاسٍ، قَالَ فَرَضَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ ـ صلى الله عليه وسلم ـ زَكَاةَ الْفِطْرِ طُهْرَةً لِلصَّائِمِ مِنَ اللَّغْوِ وَالرَّفَثِ وَطُعْمَةً لِلْمَسَاكِينِ فَمَنْ أَدَّاهَا قَبْلَ الصَّلاَةِ فَهِيَ زَكَاةٌ مَقْبُولَةٌ وَمَنْ أَدَّاهَا بَعْدَ الصَّلاَةِ فَهِيَ صَدَقَةٌ مِنَ الصَّدَقَاتِ .
“The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) enjoined Zakatul-Fitr as a purification for the fasting person from idle talk and obscenities, and to feed the poor. Whoever pays it before the (Eid) prayer, it is an accepted Zakat, and whoever pays it after the prayer, it is (ordinary) charity.” (reported by Ibn Majah)
What do we give as zakat al fitr?
Zakat al fitr should be offered in the form of traditional stable food, that is non-perishable food items. And it should be offered based on the custom of the land. At the time of the Prophet, wheat, barley, and dates were the most popular and available stable food items to them. Today there is rice, beans, dried fruits and so many other items.
How much and how do you calculate zakat al fitr?
Zakat al fitr is calculated in the form of volume. The sunnah measurement at the time of the Prophet was one Saa’ صاع per person. Cupping average size hands together is a quarter of a Saa’. Therefore, a Saa’ is four times that amount. Weighing items for zakat al fitr can be inaccurate because the volume of different items weigh differently.
Zakat al fitr is given on behalf of every individual in the family, man or woman, young or old. A Saa’ is measured for each individual. Therefore, a family of four owes four Saa’ of dates, rice or beans. It is okay to give different items for zakat al fitr. It is permissible to give a Saa’ of rice, another of beans and so on.
When do you give out zakat al fitr and to whom?
It is permissible to give zakat al fitr in the last few days of Ramadan until right before Eid Salat. Anything given after Eid does not count as zakat. It will only count as charity.
The recipients of zakat al fitr are the poor and needy. It should not be used for any other charity work or project.