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?
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?