By Femi Abbas
Linguistically, the Arabic word Zakah simply means purity. But semantically, it means the spiritual purification of wealth in one’s possession which some other people are not endowed with.
In Islam, there are two types of Zakah. One is called Zakatul-Mal (meaning charity paid on possessed wealth), the other is Zakatul-Fitr (meaning feasting charity). The one is a whole pillar of Islam while the other is an attribute of another pillar of Islam called Ramadan fasting.
As for Zaatul-Fitr which is an organ of Ramadan fasting, its payment is obligatory on all Muslims (adult or minor, male or female).
This Zakah is called Zakatul-Fitr (feasting charity) to facilitate a festive mood for the poor ones in the society.
Zakatul-Fitr can be doled out in grains or in cash. Although the preference is for grains, nevertheless, if you give grains to a wretched person who cannot afford any amount of money to turn it into an edible meal how will grains alone be useful for him? This is why some jurisprudential Islamic scholars thought of applying the principle of Qiyas (analogical deduction to it) and it is not illegal in Islam.
To say that Zakatul-Fitr must be paid only in grains is to be extreme especially when the recipients of such charity may be forced by poverty to sell the grains given to them for cash.
The Prophetically recommended measure of grains to be given as charity is called Muddu and each person must give four of it out in terms of valid grains.
Zakatul-Fitr must be given out either on the eve of ‘Idul-Fitr or before observing Salatul-Fitr on ‘Id day. Completing Ramadan fasting without paying Zakatul-Fitr is a spiritual question mark which a Muslim must be ready to grapple with before Allah.