The Sadaqa Al-Fitr Food Contribution for Ramadan

Making Certain That the Needy Have Food During the Holidays

Sadaqa
Red Crescent workers carry humanitarian supplies in Iraq, 2005.

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Sadaqa Al-Fitr (also known as Zakatul-Fitr) is a charitable donation that is commonly made by Muslims before the holiday (Eid) prayers at the end of Ramadan. This donation is traditionally a small amount of food, which is separate and in addition to the annual payment of Zakat, which is one of the pillars of Islam. Zakat is a general charitable donation that is calculated annually as a percentage of extra wealth, while the Sadaqa Al-Fitr is a tax on individuals, to be paid equally by every Muslim man, woman, and child at the end of Ramadan.

Origins

Scholars believe that the idea of Zakat is a pre-Islamic concept that has been and continues to be an important factor in shaping Islamic societies and culture. A few of the verses in the Quran about performing prayer and giving alms are specifically addressed to the Children of Israel (Quran 2:43; 2:83; 2:110), indicating that Islamic religious laws were to apply to resident unbelievers as well.

Zakat was closely regulated and collected in the early Muslim community. In most Islamic societies today it is not controlled or collected by official bodies, but simply an annual payment made by observant Muslims. The purpose of alms-giving in Muslim society is as a sincere voluntary donation, to bring spiritual benefit to the donor and material benefit to others. It is an act that purifies the wealthy sinners, a concept found in Phoenician, Syriac, Imperial Aramaic, Old Testament, and Talmudic sources.

Calculating Sadaqa Al-Fitr

According to the Prophet Muhammad, the amount of Sadaqa Al-Fitr given by each person should be an amount equivalent to one sa'a of grain. A sa'a is an ancient measure of volume, and various scholars have struggled to interpret this amount in modern measurements. The most common understanding is that one sa'a is equivalent to 2.5 kilograms (5 pounds) of wheat.

Rather than wheat grain, each individual Muslim—man or woman, adult or child, sick or healthy individual, old or young family member—is asked to give away this amount of one of a recommended list of nonperishable food staples, which may be a food other than wheat. The senior member of the household is responsible for paying the total amount for the family. So, for a family of four individuals (two adults and two children of any age), the head of the household should purchase and give away 10 kilograms, or 20 pounds, of food.

Recommended foods may vary according to the local diet, but traditionally include:

  • Flour/wheat
  • Rice
  • Barley
  • Corn
  • Dates
  • Raisins

When to Pay Sadaqa Al-Fitr, and to Whom

Sadaqa Al-Fitr is linked directly to the month of Ramadan. Observant Muslims must make the donations in the days or hours just prior to the Eid Al-Fitr holiday prayer. This prayer occurs early on the first morning of Shawwal, the month following Ramadan.

The beneficiaries of Sadaqa Al-Fitr are members of the Muslim community who do not have enough to feed themselves and their family members. According to Islamic principles, Sadaqa Al-Fitr is traditionally delivered directly to individuals in need. In some places, that means one family may take the donation directly to a known needy family. In other communities, the local mosque may collect all of the food donations from members for distribution to appropriate other community members. It is recommended that the food is donated to one's local community. However, some Islamic charitable organizations accept cash donations, which they then use to purchase food for distribution in famine- or disaster-affected regions.

In modern Muslim communities, Sadaqa al-Fitr can be calculated in cash and paid to charitable organizations by texting donations to cellular telephone companies. The companies deduct the donations from users' accounts and offer messages for free, which is part of the companies' own Sadaqa al-Fitr donations.

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