Let us explore the difference between Zakat Al mal and Zakat Al Fitr.
To begin, let’s dive deep into the terminology itself. We have learned that the Arabic word ‘Zakat’ 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 first difference between Zakat and Zakat al Fitr is eligibility. All Muslims must pay Zakat al Fitr regardless of their age or financial status (unless they honestly do not have the means to do so).
The second difference lies in the amount due. The amount attributed to Zakat al Fitr is very small and rarely exceeds RM7 (for Malaysians). Zakat, however, can amount to a larger number because it’s 2.5% of all net savings.
The third and final difference lies in their due dates. Zakat can be paid at any time, with the only condition being that the earnings reflect one year’s worth of net savings (one lunar year). However, zakat al Fitr goes hand in hand with Ramadan. It is paid during Ramadan before the month ends. It needs to be paid before the Eid prayers at the very latest. This is a very specific time frame that all Muslims must abide by.
Who are the recipients of Zakat Al Mal?
Allah Almighty mentioned in the Quran eight categories who are eligible to receive zakat. In Surah at-Tawbah we read:
“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.” (Surah at-Tawbah, 9:60)
The eight categories are:
1- The poor, one who begs and asks around and whose needs areis 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 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 travellers.
In the past, there used to be ONE special department in the society to collect the zakat and give it to the poor.
Today, people give zakat to many organisations and to their Islamic centres and they will carry the duty to deliver it to the rightful recipients.
What is Zakat al Fitr?
Every Muslim, whether male or female, minor or adult, whose total value of his/her zakatable assets (cash, gold, silver, merchandise) plus non-essential items (i.e. assets above his basic needs) minus liabilities (debts) equals or exceeds Nisab (the minimum amount that a Muslim must have before being obliged to give zakat) must pay zakat on the occasion of Eid al Fitr (“Feast of Breaking the Fast”).
“O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you as it has been prescribed for those who have believed before you, so 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”. [(Surah al-Baqarah, 2:183-85])
Meanwhile, in the hadith of Ibn Abbas who said:
“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])
Who are the recipients of Zakat al-Fitr?
All Muslim scholars agree that poor Muslims are legitimate recipients of Zakat al-Fitr (Ibn Rushd, Bidayat Al-Mujtahid).
A poor individual may also receive Fitr payments from more than one giver, without restriction.
But scholars dislike dividing a single payment among many recipients, as it seems to undo Zakat al-Fitr’s objective of sufficing a poor person on the day of Eid.
Zakat al-Fitr also can’t be given to people for whom the payer is already responsible, such as a man’s wife, child, parents and so on — just like Zakat Al-Mal — or to disbelievers or the wealthy.
The majority of scholars say Zakat al-Fitr can be given to the poor and needy alone, or in all eight zakat categories (as mentioned above). It is a choice.
The power of Zakat
During the time of Caliph ‘Umar ibn Abdul Aziz’, zakat distributors had to travel far and wide, but were unable to find anybody poor enough in the region to receive the zakat!
MashaAllah, this shows the true power of Zakat. Therefore, we all should pay Zakat so that eventually, inshaAllah, we can also remove poverty from our society. May Allah Almighty give us the wisdom to understand the importance of Zakat calculation and give us the spirit to fulfil this obligation, for His Sake.