Charity organizations delaying the payment of zakat ul-fitr till after the day of 'Eid
Every Ramadan, our organization receives huge sums of zakat ul-fitr from people who stipulate that we distribute their zakat before the day of 'Eid.
- Is the organization entitled to save the sums from zakat money to spend on the poor and the destitute over the course of the year in spite of the payers' stipulation to distribute their zakat before the day of 'Eid?
- Is the organization entitled to spend part of the collected sum on building a charitable clinic the proceeds of which will benefit the poor and the destitute and on other charitable projects with the same purpose?
1- According to the majority of scholars and the Hanafi scholar, Al-Hasan Ibn Ziyad, zakat ul-fitr must be paid before the end of the day of 'Eid. The majority of Hanafi scholars have maintained that the time for its payment extends throughout one's lifetime although they hold that it is recommended to pay it before the 'Eid prayer. They further concurred that its obligation is not waived if its prescribed time elapses because its observance at its prescribed time is among the rights of God the Almighty. Its postponement can be atoned for by making repentance and asking for forgiveness since the rights of God are founded on His Magnanimity.
Paying zakat ul-fitr to deserving recipients is among the rights of man [as opposed to the rights of God] which is not waived except by its performance because it is based on a precise fulfillment of the duty. Therefore, if a person pays his zakat ul-fitr before the day of 'Eid to a charitable organization which undertakes its distribution to deserving recipients, then he has fulfilled the obligation and it is thereby confirmed that he paid it at its prescribed time. According to the opinion of the majority of scholars, a person is held accountable if he does not pay it at its prescribed time. The legal entity responsible for collecting zakat ul-fitr is legally required to give it to deserving recipients before sunset of the day of 'Eid to the extent possible, so as to achieve its objective of meeting the needs of the poor on the day of 'Eid and providing them with abundance. According to the majority of scholars, it is for this objective that its delay was prohibited, indicated in the words of the Prophet who said, "Suffice them [from asking] on this day" (recorded by Al-Darqutni and al-Hakem in 'Ulum Al-Hadith and al-Baihaqi through Ibn 'Umar, may God be pleased with them both).
The organization can avoid any delay in the distribution of zakat ul-fitr by calculating the annual average sum it usually collects and distributes a corresponding sum from its budget among deserving recipients before the end of the prescribed time for zakat which is the day of 'Eid. There is no harm if the organization later finds that the collected sum is less than the sum it distributed. But if it exceeds the distributed sum, the organization must distribute the remaining sum anytime in a manner that fulfills the interest of the poor and the destitute even if this means delaying its payment till after sunset of the day of 'Eid. The reason is because these types of organizations are legal entities that carry out some charitable tasks associated with the welfare of the poor and destitute, previously undertaken by the state treasury. It is permissible for these organizations to distribute zakat ul-fitr on behalf of others, just as it is permissible to dispose of zakat on behalf of the recipients from among the poor and the needy in the manner that best benefits them and contributes to their welfare. This is all by way of charitable deeds for which the organization will be rewarded by God. However, as long as there are those who are in need during the 'Eid, it must be noted that the organizations' expenditure on the general needs of the poor and the needy must not undermine the primary purpose of zakat ul-fitr of seeing to the welfare of the poor and needy on the days of 'Eid by spending zakat ul-fitr on other categories of zakat and other charitable deeds. This is the case in some societies where many people are unable to find enough provisions to suffice them and their dependents on the day of 'Eid.
The above provisions apply only when the zakat payer does not make any stipulations about when he would like his zakat ul-fitr to be distributed. But if he stipulates that the organization distribute the sum he deposited before the day of 'Eid and the organization agrees to this condition, then it has no other alternative than to follow his wishes. This is because the organization is commissioned to distribute the zakat on his behalf and the time and manner of the agent's disposal of zakat is contingent upon the permission of the commissioner, explicit or otherwise.
You can avoid this responsibility by making a general announcement of distributing zakat ul-fitr in the legally prescribed manner that fulfills both the obligation for the zakat payer and the objectives of this duty. If the zakat payer is satisfied with this announcement without going into details, then so be it. Otherwise, the organization must comply with the conditions of the zakat payer.
2- According to the majority of scholars, the channels of zakat ul-fitr are the same as those of zakat on property. The ultimate goal of zakat is fulfilling the needs of the poor, the destitute and the needy. Zakat must be paid to people and not to buildings—to those who pray in mosques and not to the mosques themselves. For this reason, the principle in zakat on property is that it must be transferred into the ownership of its recipient. Unlike zakat on property, it is not lawful to extend the scope of the expenditure of zakat ul-fitr to various charitable deeds. This is because the purpose of zakat ul-fitr—as previously mentioned—is to fulfill the needs of the needy and suffice them on the day of 'Eid, thereby allowing them to share in the joy of such a day along with their fellow brothers and sisters. There is no objection to paying part of the zakat funds on projects benefitting the poor which they will own. However, the zakat must not be used to build clinics or otherwise.
And God Almighty knows best.