We reviewed request no. 1440 for the year 2008 which includes the following:
An organization operates in extremely poor areas with numerous needs. These include a need for food, clothes and money to satisfy the daily requirements of the poor. At the beginning of every Ramadan, the organization faces the problem of whether to pay zakat ul-fitr in cash or grain since a group of youths insist on the impermissibility of paying it in other than grain. They even attack those in charge of the organization and demand that they purchase grains with all the money in the zakat ul-fitr fund. What is the ruling for paying zakat ul-fitr in cash?
It is established in Hanafi jurisprudence that the amount of zakat ul-fitr is half a sa' (2.4 kg) of wheat grain, wheat flour, a mixture of wheat and barley flour, raisins or one sa' of dates or barley. Since, the obligatoriness of the above kinds of foodstuff refers to their material value and not necessarily to their specific kinds, it is therefore permissible to pay the equivalent value of any of the above in cash, trade goods or any other form.
Imam Sarkhasy wrote in Al-Mabsut (vol. 3, pp. 107-8): "It is permissible in our school to pay the equivalent value of wheat, since the objective of zakat is to fulfill the needs of the people and this is met by either paying it in cash or in the form of wheat grain." Imam Al-Shafi'i (may Allah have mercy upon him) contends otherwise and the reason for these differences of opinion is because zakat had been originally been prescribed to be paid in kind.
Abu Bakr Al-A'mash (may Allah grant him mercy) said, "It is better to pay zakat in the form of wheat grain instead of paying its cash equivalent because this is closer to the original command [for zakat] and further from scholarly contention. It is therefore more religiously precautious." The jurist Abu Ja'far (may Allah have mercy on him) who has an opposing opinion, said, "It is better to pay the cash equivalent of zakat because this is closer to benefitting the poor since it will allow them to purchase their immediate needs. The reason for specifying wheat and barley at the time of the Prophetwas because they were used as a medium of exchange in al-Medina. But here where currency is the medium of exchange, it is preferable to pay the cash equivalent of zakat."
This is likewise the opinion of a group from among the successors and scholars reckoned to be among them, including:
- Al-Hasan al-Basri. He was reported to have said, "There is no objection to paying zakat ul-fitr in dirhams."
- Abu Is-haq al-Suba'i: Zuhair reported that he heard Abu Is-haq say, "I was pesent at the time of the Companions and they paid the cash value of zakat ul-fitr."
- 'Umar Ibn 'Abdul-'Aziz: Waqi' narrated through Qura who said, "We received a letter from 'Umar Ibn 'Abdul-'Aziz concerning zakat ul-fitr. It said, 'Half a sa` for each person or its equivalent of half a dirham.' "
These non-prophetic traditions were reported by Imam Abu Bakr Ibn Abu Shayba in Al-Mussanaf (vol. 2, p. 398). Al-Thawri and Is-haq Ibn Rahwiya likewise maintained the same opinion, citing the permissibility of giving zakat ul-fitr in cash though they restricted this permissibility to cases of necessity as mentioned by Imam An-Nawawi in Majmou' Sharh Al-Muhadhdhab (vol. 6, p. 112).The Hanbali scholar, Sheikh Taqiy ad-Din Ibn Taimiya, likewise maintained its permissibility in cases of need and overriding public welfare. He wrote in Majmu' Al-Fatawa (vol. 25, pp. 25-83): "The apparent opinion is that it is not permissible to pay the equivalent value of zakat without there being a need or interest therein. Otherwise, there is no harm."
The opinion maintaining that the obligation of zakat-ul-fitr is fulfilled by giving out the equivalent value in cash was mentioned in a report from Imam Ahmed which Al-Mawardi cited in Al-Insaf (vol. 3, p. 182).
The opinion we choose for fatwa which, in our view meets the objectives of Islamic law and is compatible with the interests of the people, is the permissibility of paying zakat ul-fitr in cash. This is the opinion of Hanafi scholars and the opinion implemented in their school concerning zakat in general, kaffarat, vows, land tax and so forth. As previously mentioned, it is likewise the opinion of a group from among the Successors.
Allah the Almighty knows best.