This alms tax provides for the needs of those who are less fortunate and fosters…
I. Details about the situation
Qasim is the head of his household, which includes his wife Layla, who also works full time and contributes to the expenses of the family, and their two children Kulthum, 19, who is away at college and still supported by her father, and Taqi, 15, who is in high school. Layla’s parents are spending the month of Ramadan with them and will return to their home on the 6th of Shawwal. Qasim and his family also have an annual iftar dinner on the eve of Eid al-Fitr during which they host another local family of four who normally stay until midnight. Qasim, Layla, Taqi, Layla’s parents and their four guests gather before sunset and begin their evening together by reciting the supplication for the farewell of the month of Ramadan narrated by Imam Zayn al-Abidin (p). After hearing from authentic sources that the next day will be Eid al-Fitr, they sit down to enjoy their iftar dinner and spend the evening joyously awaiting the day of Eid. The guests depart at 11pm and the family starts cleaning up and preparing for bed when the doorbell rings. To their surprise, Layla’s brother and his wife, who is a Christian, have come to visit for a few days. Qasim already took out the money for zakat al-fitrah at the time of maghribayn prayers, but doesn’t know if the amount is correct based on the iftar visitors and those who arrived at their home later in the evening. What should he do?
Alms tax or zakat is one of the obligatory acts of worship that God has mandated. The Holy Quran states, “Certainly, the faithful have attained salvation —those who are humble in their prayers, who avoid vain talk, who carry out their [duty of] zakat” and “Lasting happiness will be for those who purify themselves [pay zakat]”. Regarding the latter verse, it is reported that Imam al-Sadiq (p) said, “Giving zakat [al-fitrah] is the completion of fasting”. Therefore, this obligation must not be ignored and should be discharged with full understanding of the applicable conditions and rules.
Every sane person who has reached the age of religious obligation (bulugh) whose annual finances are secured through available assets, wealth, or ability to earn must pay zakat al-fitrah on behalf of themselves and their dependents, whether they must support them or not, and whether they are near or far, Muslim or non-Muslim, young or old. If the conditions of zakat al-fitrah are met by maghrib on the night before Eid, it becomes obligatory upon the duty-bound person and is required even if the conditions are met after maghrib, based on obligatory precaution. Thus, the person must make an intention to pay it out of obedience to God and seeking His nearness, and they must set it aside on the night of Eid and pay it to the deserving recipient on the day of Eid. The amount of zakat al-fitrah is one sa’ of food, which is equivalent to 6.6 pounds or 3 kg, and it is permissible to pay the monetary value instead, which is the price of the food at the time of payment and in the place where the zakat is being used.
Furthermore, the following additional details should be noted:
- Zakat al-fitrah is not obligatory on someone who is insane or unconscious, nor is it obligatory on someone who is poor.
- It is not obligatory to pay the zakat al-fitrah for a newborn child unless he or she was born before maghrib of the night before Eid.
- It is obligatory for the host to pay zakat al-fitrah for a guest who arrives before sunset on the eve of Eid al-Fitr and stays in their house (i.e., spends the night and is considered to be their dependent, albeit only temporarily).
- The zakat al-fitrah of a guest who arrives at a person’s house after sunset on the eve of Eid al-Fitr must be paid by the host based on obligatory precaution provided that the guest is considered to be the host’s dependent; otherwise, it is not.
- If a person is invited to break their fast (iftar) on the eve of Eid al-Fiṭr, they are not considered to be the host’s dependent and the guest’s zakat al-fitrah is not the responsibility of the owner of the house.
- If a dependent person’s zakat al-fitrah becomes obligatory for someone else, they do not have to pay it themselves.
- It is not permissible to transfer the zakat al-fitrah outside the area in which a person resides if there are deserving poor people there, based on obligatory precaution.
- Zakat al-fitrah can be given to the needy directly, and it is even permissible to give it during the month of Ramadan, or based on recommended precaution it should be given to the qualified jurist who can appropriately distribute it or to his authorized representative with the intention that he will distribute it accordingly.
- It is permissible to take out zakat al-fitrah before the eve of Eid and give it to a person or organization to distribute it when the time comes.
Assuming that the amount of zakat al-fitrah for that year is $10 per person, Qasim will need to pay $60, which will include himself, Layla, Kulthum, Taqi and Layla’s parents. Layla is also obligated to pay zakat al-fitrah for herself and anyone who is considered her dependent because she has a job and supports the family with her husband. However, if the spouses agree, then it is permissible for Qasim to pay it on behalf of all of them. Alternatively, the spouses can jointly pay the zakat al-fitrah for themselves and their dependents based on the amount or percentage they contribute to maintain the family (50%/50%, 60%/40%, etc.). Moreover, even though Kulthum is away at college, she is still their dependent, making it their responsibility to pay it for her.
Qasim, or Qasim and Layla based on the previously mentioned details, can opt to adhere to obligatory precaution and pay an additional $10 each for Layla’s brother and sister-in-law or he can follow the fatwa or ruling of the next most knowledgeable jurist (i.e., al-aalam fa al-aalam) in this matter.
 The Holy Quran, Chapter 23, Verses 1-4
 The Holy Quran, Chapter 87, Verse 14
 Man la yahdaruhu al-faqih, Shaykh al-Saduq, Vol. 2, Page 183
 A poor person is one who does not possess the means to meet his annual expenses either all at once or gradually, such as in the form of monthly payments.