What Is Fitrana and How Can You Give It?

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The Short Answer

Fitrana is the Urdu word for the Arabic al-fitr, which, in technical usage, refers to Zakat al-Fitr, or the special Zakat, or obligatory alms, of “Breaking the Fast” at the end of the month of Ramadan.

What are Fitrana’s other names?

Fitrana is also called Zakat al-Fitr, Sadaqat al-Fitr, “the Charity of Breaking the Fast” of Ramadan, and Zakat al-Fitrah, the Alms of Human Nature, or the Human Creation. It is known by this last name because it is a required charity for every Muslim at the end of Ramadan, no matter one’s age or gender.

“Fitrana” refers specifically to the name of the obligatory payment, called fitrah in Arabic. It derives from the Arabic word fitr, which literally means “the ‘nature’ upon which God created the human being.”

The Arabic word fitr also means “fast-breaking” and the “meal of fast-breaking,” that is, breakfast (iftar). Iftar is the meal one eats after an extended period of not having eaten. It is named the Alms of Human Nature, or of Human Creation, because eating is considered the resumption of a natural and defining human activity, and because not eating — fasting — for extended periods, especially preceding and including the time of sleep, and then eating is a natural human bio-rhythm.

Where does this specialized meaning of Fitrana come from?

The Fitrana payment first became mandatory alms in the second year (2H) after the Prophet’s migration (hijrah), on him be peace, from Mecca to Madinah, which came to mark the beginning of the Islamic lunar calendar of 12 divinely created months. The fitrana ruling occurred in Sha‘ban, the eighth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. It precedes Ramadan, the fasting month.

The ruling for the Fitrana alms payment (Zakat al-Fitr) at the end of Ramadan came at the same time as God’s revealed commandment in 2H for Muslims to commemorate the beginning of the Quran’s revelation to the Prophet Muhammad, on him be peace. This took place 15 years before, in the month of Ramadan (the ninth month of the Islamic lunar year).

The Quran tells us in these verses of prescription that fasting during Ramadan reestablishes one of the original human forms of worship. Ramadan commences with the appearance of that ninth lunar month’s new crescent and ends with the appearance of the 10th lunar month of Shawwal’s crescent. Alternatively, it ends when Ramadan reaches its 30th and last possible day.

O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you as it has been prescribed for those who have believed before you, so that you may be ever God-fearing.

It is for a specified number of days. … It was the month of Ramadan in which the Quran was first sent down as guidance for all people, having in it clear proofs of divine guidance and the criterion for right and wrong. So whoever among you bears witness to the month shall then fast it (Surat Al-Baqarah, 2:183-85).

How is the Fitrana different than the yearly Zakat payment?

The main difference of fitrana from Zakat al-Mal, the Obligatory Alms of Wealth, and other kinds of charity is that the fitrana is imposed on the individual Muslim, and not on his or her measures of wealth or earnings. Its time is also fixed to Ramadan, and specifically that month’s completion.

Is the fitrana alms required of every Muslim?

Yes.

The Prophet, on him be peace, specifically called the Ramadan Fast-Breaking Alms a Zakat, and the Quran says:

And duly establish the Salah-Prayer and give the Zakat (Surat Al-Baqarah, 2:110 and Surat Al-Nisa’, 4:77).

The Companions of the Prophet, on him be peace, reported:

The Messenger of Allah, God bless him and grant him peace, “imposed” the Zakat of Fast-Breaking [at the close of Ramadan] at the measure of one sa‘ (4 double-handfuls) of dates or one sa‘ of barley, on every Muslim, free or bondsmen, male or female.

Virtually all Islamic scholars say this wording levies “obligatory” alms on each Muslim. The wording of other reports from the Prophet, on him be peace, also directly “command” every Muslim to give this obligatory alms payment at the conclusion of Ramadan.

Are there different rulings for fitrana alms among Muslim scholars?

There is a minor technical difference between the four major schools of Islamic Law in terms of categorization that touches on fitrana. The Hanafis distinguish the “obligatory” as consisting of two categories: (1) Fard, or an obligatory command, is an explicit prescription of Revelation that relates to the soundness of one’s belief. And (2) wajib, or a mandatory duty, is categorized as a non-explicit, practical instruction.

But all schools hold the fitrana payment as religiously compulsory. This means fitrana carries a strong legal ruling analogous to scholarly consensus, or ijma‘.

Why do Muslims pay the fitrana at the end of Ramadan?

The fitrana has two main purposes: one individually spiritual, the other communal.

fitrana as a spritual act

Fasting is an act of worship (‘ibadah) that God has taught the human being. It helps free the soul from its worldly appetites for a time, giving the soul’s heavenly nature a release from its earthy demands in order for one to elevate himself or herself in nearness to God. As the Quran puts it: So that you may be ever God-fearing.

Practically speaking, the Arabic word that “God-fearing” translates to is the unique religious term taqwa. It means to keep mindful of God so that one becomes habituated to doing what He commands and resolute in holding back from what He forbids.

The fasting rite demands more than merely depriving the body of drink, food, and passionate fulfillment. It trains the human spirit to master the physical receptacle that houses it. A perfected fast, therefore, requires the faster to abstain from improper speech (In the past, fasting included not speaking at all. See Mary, mother of Jesus, peace on him: Indeed, I have vowed a fast to the All-Merciful. Thus, I shall not speak today to any human being (Surat Maryam, 19:26)); and to keep our hands from wrongful uses and our hearts from impure thoughts.

This is fasting in its purity, a difficult station for most human beings to reach. Hence, the fitrana, the obligatory alms at the breaking of Ramadan’s month-long fast, is an atonement of sorts for the imperfections in our fasting according to this ideal. It purifies our fast from the contaminated acts our tongues, hands, and hearts may have polluted it with while observing the Ramadan fast.

fitrana in the community

Muslims (and the Heavenly community) celebrate the completion of Ramadan’s fast with one of only two great festivals in the Islamic year: Eid al-Fitr, the Commemoration of Fast-Breaking.

On this day of gratefulness to God and gathering in His remembrance (may Allah return it to us soon), every Muslim in every locality is to usher it in with an obligatory charity, communal Salah-Prayer, and a feast.

The fitrana is that required charity, and its payment enables ever Muslim to joyously participate in the other two obligations. Its distribution before the Eid prayer provides the fasting, believing poor with the food resources to whole-heartedly glorify God, celebrate the Eid Prayer, and share the day’s merriment and delight with their children and families. The Prophet, on him be peace, notably said, about the fitrana: “Gratify [the poor] on this day” (Al-Shawkani, Nayl Al-Awtar).

Who must pay the fitrana?

A number of the Prophet’s Companions, God be pleased with them — particularly some associated with preserving and conveying the statements of the Prophet, on him be peace, like Abu Hurayrah and Ibn ‘Umar — note that fitrana is a universal Muslim obligation. That is, every Muslim is liable for its payment. In the words of Abu Hurayrah, it is due on “every Muslim, free or bondsmen, male or female, young or old, poor or rich” (Bukhari).

Most scholars agree that fitrana comes due on every single Muslim without exception. The Hanafis (and Zahiris) hold that the individual obligation for its payment includes Muslim women, married or unmarried, from their own wealth. The other legal schools require husbands to pay the fitrana on behalf of their Muslim wives. The Hanafi position seems stronger in light of the hadith just cited. In the end, however, the fact remains its payment must be made for each individual.

If children possess wealth, the fitrana comes due out of their individual holdings. If children do not have their own wealth, their guardians pay it on behalf of both sons and daughters as an obligation.

Some scholars obligate only a father as guardian to pay it for his child, while it is not due on the orphan (in Islam, the fatherless). Few scholars hold that fitrana amounts to only a faster’s obligation, as it amends the faster’s mistakes or purifies one’s fast from moral contaminants, but this is regarded as weak.

The position that the fitrana payment is due for every Muslim, “young or old,” is the stronger and more widely held opinion. This does not include the unborn child still in the womb, according to most scholars, though the practice of some of the most prominent Companions, like ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan, Allah be pleased with him, seems to encourage fathers to pay it for their unborn babies, and this is a salutary charity in any case.

The majority position is that each Muslim bears the obligation to pay the fitrana, even the poor, as its obligation falls on the person, not on a person’s wealth. The single exemption is for one who does not possess enough food, shelter, clothing, and essential life-needs for Eid day. (For a discussion on basic needs, see What Qualifies Wealth for Zakat?) Debt does not exempt one from paying the fitrana, unless that debt comes due on the day of Eid itself and its payment reduces one to total insufficiency of basic needs for that day.

Can the payment of fitrana be an equivalent value of money?

Yes, according to most contemporary scholars.

The report from the Companion Abu Sa‘id Al-Khudri (and other Companions, God be pleased with them) forms the basis for the amount and kinds of fitrana.

“We used to pay Zakat al-Fitr at the end of Ramadan when the Messenger of Allah, God bless him and grant him peace, was among us with one sa‘ of food, one sa‘ of dates, one sa‘ of barley, one sa‘ of raisins, or one sa‘ of dried yoghurt. We continued to do this until Mu‘awiyah came to us in Madinah and said: ‘I think two mudds of Syrian wheat is equivalent to one sa‘ of dates.’ People accepted this.”

Most hadith collections add to this that Abu Sa‘id then said:

“But I continued paying it the same way I used to.”

A sa‘ is a volume measure equal to four double-handfuls, and a mudd is a quarter-sa‘, one double-handful. A chart of volume measures used at the time of the Prophet, on him be peace, follows:

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The point most scholars today make is that this hadith clearly shows value equivalency. Wheat, at the time, was rare in Arabia and deemed of comparatively higher worth.

Traditionally, most scholars did not approve payment of fitrana in money. They restricted its payment to the food items the Prophet, on him be peace, mentioned, or to food staples common to the Muslims of the region in which it was being paid.

However, the jurist Abu Hanifah, and some other prominent individual scholars, did allow for its payment in value.

Payment in value is now widely accepted among Muslims, with many Zakat-collecting agencies, like Zakat Foundation of America, converting that currency payment into foodstuffs for distribution at the time of Eid to the destitute, refugees, the displaced, and the egregiously poor.

Note: The fitrana must be transported to reach the poor (its most desirable recipients) even in other countries, on the day of Eid.

Fitrana paid in money is generally much more useful today than donations of food items. Most scholars, moreover, consider the foodstuffs mentioned by the Prophet, on him be peace, to have been common among the community of the time, and, therefore, most beneficial and useful to its poor. For this reason, these scholars are of the view that these items are exemplary suggestions that establish the relative value and purpose of the fitrana.

In this regard, most scholars today establish the value of fitrana as equal to what will “gratify” or “enrich” a poor person in food for the day of Eid based on the cost of a common food staple or type in the place where that recipient lives.

The Hanafi position seems most relevant in this. It does not rule as to which type of fitrana is best to give — food items (as expressed in the hadith or analogized based on it) or its value in money. Rather, it emphasizes the payment method that proves most beneficial to the poor recipient of the fitrana.

Can the fitrana payment exceed the minimum?

Yes. Indeed, one is encouraged to pay more than the required minimum, if able. ‘Ali, Allah be pleased with him, reportedly said “when Allah gives you prosperity, you too should give more” (see Zad Al-Ma‘ad, also Fiqh az-Zakat, 586).

When should fitrana be paid?

Scholars have traditionally focused the question of the fitrana payment due time on its last allowable time. The Shafi’is, Malikis, and Hanbalis say this is sunset of Ramadan’s last fasting day. The Hanafis and others (including another Maliki position) say before the Eid Salah-Prayer.

Some hold that the best time for payment is early on the day of Eid. Others allow payment a day or two before. Still, others say it is obligatory to pay the fitrana before the Eid Prayer, based on a statement of the Companion Ibn ‘Abbas: “It is accepted as Zakat for one who pays it before the Eid Prayer. It is a charity like other charities for one who pays it after” (Al-Shawkani, Nayl Al-Awtar).

Al-Shafi‘i says the fitrana can be paid any time in Ramadan. Abu Hanifah rules it can even be paid at the beginning of the year, like Zakat al-Mal, Obligatory Alms on Wealth.

All scholars deem it sinful to delay its payment until after Eid day.

Abu Sa‘id, God be pleased with him, said: “We used to pay, during the lifetime of the Messenger of Allah, God bless him and grant him peace, on the day of fast-breaking,” (meaning the day of Eid, without specifying any time marks, like the Eid Prayer or sunrise).

The point of these late-date payments is to ensure the happiness and distribution to the poor on Eid day. This is for their gratification, in compliance with the Prophet’s instruction, on him be peace.

In our current context, distribution of Zakat al-Fitr to its intended recipients (the poor) for its intended social reason (to “gratify” them on Eid day) becomes much easier to manage when it is paid early in Ramadan. Alhamdulillah, the latitude for this option in the unparalleled enlightenment of Islam’s multiple schools of law seems now a mercy and a sign.

Who can receive fitrana?

The scholars agree that poor Muslims are legitimate recipients of fitrana (Ibn Rushd, Bidayat Al-Mujtahid).

One poor person may also receive fitrana payments from more than one giver, without restriction, though scholars dislike dividing a single payment among many recipients, as it seems to go against the purpose of fitrana, which is sufficing a poor person on the day of Eid.

The fitrana cannot be given to people who the payer is already responsible for — a man’s wife, child, parents, and so on. In this, its ruling is exactly like Zakat al-Mal. It may also not be given to the disbelieving or the wealthy.

Most scholars rule that fitrana can be given to the poor and needy, or to all eight Zakat categories (see Surat Al-Tawbah, 9:60). It is a choice.

The Hanbalis and Malikis say fitrana belongs exclusively to the poor, even if it must be sent to another country at the payer’s cost (according to the Malikis).

The Shafi’is rule that the same eight categories of eligible recipients for Zakat al-Mal apply just as well to fitrana, if the payer is not distributing his or her own payment.

The Prophet’s statement, on him be peace, to “gratify” the poor, explicitly puts the poor in a prior position for fitrana in each community.

Some notable Muslim scholars used to give something of the fitrana in humanitarian relief to monks who had taken vows of asceticism, though the majority of scholars reject this.