While it is rightly understood as a prescribed part of Ramadan to be paid by the devout, it is easy to approach it as one would their taxes, as a matter of duty and obligation as the days of fasting and nights of prayer come to a close, and sometimes, as a last minute task not to be forgotten.
Folded into the last days and minutes of the month, the significance of this seemingly minor act can get lost.
“Therefore turn in prayer to your Lord and sacrifice (to Him only).” – Surah Al-Kawthar 108:2
Meaning in Action
Zakat-ul-Fitr connects the personal and spiritual life of a Muslim with history, community and culture. As an obligation prescribed by God (Allah ) it connects one’s faith with ones actions, and one’s life with the lives of others. Zakat-al-Fitr is sometimes also called Fitrana or Fitrah, related to the Arabic word iftaar, which means breaking a fast, as is done daily in Ramadan. Zakat-ul Fitr thus refers to what is to be given when the month of fasting comes to an end. Fitrah, can also refer to the “natural way”, as mentioned in the Qur’an:
… the natural way that God has instilled in all people … (30:30)
Looked at through this larger context, Zakat ul Fitr, like any act of giving to others, reflects a natural part of who we are, an innate part of us, and therefore an essential way we fulfill our own humanity and connect with others in a respectful and meaningful way.
Similarly, the word zakat comes from the same Arabic verbal root as tazkiyya, which literally means purification. In relation to other religious acts in the Islamic tradition, fasting (sawm) during the month could be understood as a purification of body, heart, and mind, while prayer (salah) a purification of one’s soul and our time spent, just as the various forms of zakat refer to the purification of ones’ wealth and actions. So while it may be a “religious tax” in the formal sense, both zakat in general and Zakat-ul Fitr specifically, are meaningful acts that extend beyond obligation, connecting to the faith of a Muslim through gratitude and recognition of God (Allah ) as the Sustainer and Provider, with a rightful claim over our wealth.
The practical benefit of Zakat-ul Fitr, for oneself and in connection to others, is best expressed through prophetic clarity:
“God’s Messenger , ordained Zakat-ul Fitr to purify the fasting person from indecent words or actions, and to provide food for the needy. [Abu Dawud and Ibn Majah]
Giving during Ramadan as an act of faith, Zakat-ul Fitr is a ‘special’ kind of charity because it purifies the fasting person of the shortcomings in his or her observance of fasting during the month. No one’s fast is perfect. We all say things or do things that we should not do, or could do better. We may speak ill of another person during the course of the month, look at something we are not supposed to, or not mindfully connect our actions in the month with intention and meaning.
Community Care and the Wisdom of Giving
As a tradition rooted in t