Collecting zakat ul-fitr to finance the marriage of poor Muslim girls
Is it permissible to use zakat ul-fitr to finance the marriage of poor Muslim girls?
Zakat ul-fitr is a duty upon every Muslim who has any sum of money in excess of what he needs to feed himself and those whom he is obliged to support on the last day of Ramadan. It is estimated normally by a certain measure of the staple food (flour, barley, corn, dates, rice, raisin, etc.) of the city or area in which he lives. Zakat ul-fitr may be paid in cash if such produce is plentiful and widely available and if the cash substitute is more beneficial to the recipients, as is the case nowadays in most Muslim countries. Every head of a Muslim family is required to pay zakat ul-fitr for himself and his dependents including his wife and children whom he supports and also for either or both of his parents if they are among his dependents. It is also payable on behalf of every child, even one who is born a few minutes before the ‘Eid prayer on the first day of the month of Shawwal. Some scholars are also of the opinion that it is payable for an unborn child as long as the pregnancy is confirmed.
The purpose of zakat ul-fitr is to make the poor feel rich or at least provide them with a means for self-sufficiency on the day of ‘Eid which is a joyous occasion succeeding the month of fasting. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) impressed upon his followers to make the poor feel in need of nothing on that day. Zakat ul-fitr becomes payable a few days before the end of Ramadan. Some scholars however argue that it may be paid at any time during Ramadan while others insist that it must be paid on the last day of Ramadan.
In light of the foregoing, it becomes evident that financing the marriage of Muslim girls from zakat ul-fitr is inconsistent with its purpose. Marrying off Muslim girls is, undoubtedly, a worthy cause since it enables poor girls to have homes and families of their own. But if you collect zakat ul-fitr and establish a fund to finance the marriage of poor Muslim girls, you are actually depriving the community of fulfilling the goal for which zakat ul-fitr was instituted, namely, providing the poor with self-sufficiency on the day of ‘Eid. Moreover, Islamic marriages are not costly for the girls or their families. From the Islamic viewpoint, it is the groom who should pay the mahr [dowry] to his bride so that the marriage can go through. Moreover, he has to provide her with a home and look after her. Social traditions in some parts of the Muslim world have made marriage a difficult task for either one of the two parties or both. Islam is not responsible for that. The community should change its traditions and bring them in line with Islamic teachings. We should not make Islamic legislation subservient to social traditions. If, according to the traditions of certain Muslim societies, a girl should give her husband some articles of gold upon her marriage, we should make it clear that this is not part of an Islamic marriage.
Zakat ul-fitr is payable to the poor of the Muslim community. It is indeed the purpose of all zakat to help the poor overcome the burden of poverty. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) instructed the governor of Yemen to take zakat from the rich among them and give it to their poor. This applies more strongly to zakat ul-fitr, whose recipients are poor Muslim people.
Having said that, I should add that when the Muslim community is affluent and poverty is virtually non-existent in it, zakat may be paid to the poor from among the Christians and Jews. At the time of Umar Ibn Abdul Aziz, one of his governors wrote to him complaining that he could not find any poor person to zakat to. Umar instructed him to pay it to poor Christians and Jews.
And God Almighty knows best.