Paying zakat-ul-fitr in cash or as food products
How should zakat-ul-fitr be paid—in cash or as food products?
Zakat-ul-fitr is an obligation for every person or head of a family who has food in excess of what he needs to feed himself and his family on the last day of Ramadan. Its payment becomes due towards the end of Ramadan. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) emphasized its importance by saying that God’s acceptance of our fast is contingent on the payment of zakat-ul-fitr. It is a small sum, but the fact that it is payable for every person in the family, including the youngest of children, even one born immediately before sunrise on the day of ‘Eid, increases its total sum. The purpose is to relieve the poor of their needs at least on the day of ‘Eid.
Many scholars argue that zakat-ul-fitr must be paid in kind, from the staple diet of the local community of the payer. Again, the purpose here is to satisfy the needs of the poor. The majority of scholars prefer that it be paid in the form of grains such as wheat, barley or corn. Dates and other staple foods are also acceptable
However, many contemporary scholars argue that this is not a fixed ruling. They maintain that in communities where food is scarce or hard to get, zakat-ul-fitr must be paid in kind and it is not acceptable to pay a poor person the cash equivalent of the zakat. On the other hand, in a community where grains and agricultural produce are available in abundance, there is no need to insist on paying zakat-ul-fitr in kind. Cash may be much better for the poor. They further point out that in our modern times, homes are not equipped with the tools necessary to make bread and the like. In many communities, the poor who receive sizeable quantities of grains or flour or in communities which enjoy abundance of them find no alternative but to sell all or most of what they receive. Such a situation will inevitably lead to their depreciation and this will affect them adversely. Paying the cash equivalent of zakat-ul-fitr is better because it benefits the poor and allows them to buy whatever they need. Hence, it is acceptable to pay zakat-ul-fitr in cash. The criterion, however, is the availability of food, especially staple foodstuff, in abundance.
And God Almighty knows best.