Giving zakat on wealth in the form of food to break another's fast and giving out expiation as raw food
• What is the ruling for giving zakat on wealth in the form of food to break another's fast?
• Is the expiation to be given out as raw or cooked food?
Zakat is one of the pillars of Islam. Islamic law prescribed different ways for spending in charity; it encourages [social] welfare and cooperation in doing good deeds, making donations and maintains the excellence of giving gifts. Moreover, it recommends giving sadaqah [alms] which includes sadaqah embodied in waqf [Charitable endowments] whose benefits are constant. The aim of this diversity is to encourage Muslims to spend in different forms of charity. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: "There are financial dues on one's property other than zakat," after which he recited the words of God: "Righteousness is not that you turn your faces towards the east or west, but [true] righteousness is [in] one who believes in God, and the Last Day, the angels, the Book, and the prophets and gives wealth, in spite of love for it, to relatives, orphans, the needy, the traveler, those who ask [for help], and for freeing slaves; and who establishes prayer and gives zakat; [those who] fulfill their promise when they promise; [and those] who are patient in poverty and hardship and during battle. Those are the ones who have been true, and it is those who are the righteous" (Quran 2:177).
This hadith was reported by al-Tirmidhi and others and contains some weakness, however, it was authentically attributed as a statement of Ibn 'Umar (may God be pleased with them both), al- Sha'bi, Mujahid, and Tawus.
Imam al-'Aini stated in 'Umdaat al-Qari (8/237): "Sufyan ibn '‘Uyayna interpreted the Quranic verse: "Indeed, God has purchased from the believers their lives and their properties [in exchange] for that they will have Paradise" (Quran 9:111) as: the believers are obligated to strive to draw closer to God by spending [in charity] for His sake when they learn of a person's need. For this reason many scholars maintain that there are financial dues other than zakat on one's wealth—a hadith that was reported as a raised chain tradition by al-Tirmidhi."
Among the pious worshippers described by God are those who offer food to others. He says: "And they give food in spite of love for it to the needy, the orphan, and the captive" (Quran 76:8).
Giving food for the sake of God is not restricted to a specific time
This charity may be made both during Ramadan and at other times although in Ramadan its reward is greater. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) encouraged Muslims to break the fast of others; he said: "Whoever breaks another's fast earns the same reward as the one who fasted without diminishing the latter's reward in the slightest" (Reported by al-Tirmidhi who declared it fair and authentic).
Salman al-Farsi narrated that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: "Whoever breaks another's fast will have his sins forgiven and will be saved from Hell-Fire. He will earn the same reward as the fasting person without diminishing the latter's reward in the slightest." They [the companions] said, "O Messenger of God! Not all of us are capable of giving food to a fasting person." The Prophet ([peace and blessings be upon him) replied, "God gives this reward to whoever breaks another's fast with some milk mixed with water, a date, or a drink of water; whoever satisfies the hunger or thirst of a fasting person, God will give him to drink from my fountain on the Day of Judgment and he will never thirst until he enters Paradise" (Reported by ibn Khuzayma in his Sahih).
Mawa`id al-Rahman [literally, tables of the Most Merciful i.e. public dinners held in Ramadan as charity], a common practice nowadays, does not qualify as zakat although it is an honorable act of charity and welfare between Muslims. The reason is because it caters to the rich and poor alike. God determined the channels of zakat in the Quran:
"Zakat expenditures are only for the poor and for the needy and for those employed to collect [zakat] and for bringing hearts together [for Islam] and for freeing captives [or slaves] and for those in debt and for the cause of Allah and for the [stranded] traveler—an obligation [imposed] by Allah. Allah is Knowing and Wise" (Quran 9:60).
God classifies the poor and the destitute as the most deserving of zakat by mentioning them first in the Quranic verse and because the basic principle of zakat is to fulfill their needs. It is for this reason that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) made specific reference to them when he sent Mu'adh to Yemen and told him: "If they obey you in this [Islam], tell them that God has enjoined upon them alms to be taken from their rich and returned to their poor" (Bukhari and Muslim).
In the Quranic verse, the letter 'lam' is prefixed to the noun fuqara` meaning 'for the poor' to indicate possession. Due to this, the majority of scholars stipulate that zakat must be transferred to the possession of the poor, enabling them to spend it on their needs of which they are more knowledgeable than others. However, some scholars permit giving out zakat in the form of material goods when the giver knows of the recipient's needs, thus fulfilling his needs.
Spending money on food to break a person's fast, whether poor or rich, does not qualify as zakat. It is among the other forms of charity and welfare among Muslims such as sadaqat and donations. It cannot be considered zakat except if the person who holds 'Ramadan dinners' stipulates that only the poor, the needy, and the [stranded] traveler from among the Muslims may eat from them. Only then is it permissible to give out food as zakat which is then tantamount to transferring it to their possession. This is the opinion of the Hanafis and some Zaydi scholars as reported by Abu Yusuf.
Ramadan parcels (bags containing staple foodstuff) which is specifically given to the poor can be made from zakat because they fulfill the condition of ownership.
The opinion of the majority of scholars
The majority of scholars agree that items given in expiation must be passed into the recipient's possession. They contend that it is not sufficient to allow others to share in their wealth or use it, but hold that the obligation is one which requires the transfer of possession from one party to another. Because zakat requires a financial transfer, the recipient must take it in the prescribed amount.
They maintain a different opinion. They find it sufficient to invite the poor to eat from food prepared specially for them. They base their opinion on the original meaning of the word 'food' in the Arabic language which denotes 'establishment' and not 'possession' and on the Quranic verse: "...with food equivalent to what you would normally give your own families" (Quran 5:89). Feeding one's family does not mean actually transferring the ownership of one's property to them.
There is no objection to making expiation in the form of cooked food following the opinion of the scholars who permit it. However, it is preferable to give it out as wholegrain because it is recommended to remove oneself from controversy (by taking an approach which is agreed upon to be acceptable).
God Almighty knows best