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Weekly word: zakat al-fitr

August 18, 2010

Simple “zakat” is the 2½ percent Islamic tax on wealth often given during Ramadan.  (Note:  some Islamic scholars insist that zakat should be paid within one year of accumulating wealth that surpasses the threshold taxable nisab amount rather than at Ramadan.)

Zakat al-fitr is a smaller, more specific type of zakat paid in food on Eid, the last day of Ramadan.  Brill explained it this way:

By zakat al-fitr (zakat of the breaking of the fast) is meant the obligatory gift of provisions at the end of the month of Ramadan, which according to Tradition was ordered by the Prophet in the year 2 and fixed as regards the amount (the latter is however not certainly historical).  There were differences of opinion regarding the relation of this zakat to the general one and regarding the question whether it was obligatory.  According to the view which finally prevailed, the zakat al-fitr is obligatory (according to the Malikis only sunna) and has to be handed over by every free Muslim for himself and all persons whom he is legally bound to support at latest on the first of the month Shawwal which follows Ramadan.  A man is exempted only if he possesses the bare necessities of life for himself and his family.  The amount of this zakat is 1 sa (=1/60 wask) or 4 mudd of the usual foodstuffs of the country for each member of the household.

Compared to basic zakat (which some people call zakat al-mal), zakat al-fitr is a smaller tax that may be of less direct use for terrorist financing.  However, much like zakat, zakat al-fitr always carries a thinly veiled threat against Muslims for non-payment.  Take for instance this passage of the Sahih Bukhari, in which Muhammad swore that most occupants of hell are women for failing to pay zakat al-fitr:

On ‘Id ul Fitr [Eid al-Fitr] or ‘Id ul Adha Allah’s Apostle (p.b.u.h) went out to the Musalla. After finishing the prayer, he delivered the sermon and ordered the people to give alms. He said, “O people! Give alms.” Then he went towards the women and said. “O women! Give alms, for I have seen that the majority of the dwellers of Hell-Fire were you (women).” The women asked, “O Allah’s Apostle! What is the reason for it?” He replied, “O women! You curse frequently, and are ungrateful to your husbands. I have not seen anyone more deficient in intelligence and religion than you. O women, some of you can lead a cautious wise man astray.” Then he left. (Volume 2, Book 24, Number 541)

In Christianity, tithing is voluntary.  Under Islam, failing paying zakat and zakat al-fitr are punishable by eternal damnation.

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