I have been asked to make a legal/fiqhi assessment (only on the issue of the Ikhraj [payment]) of the services offered by one nationwide Malay society catering for the Muslims from South East Asia (hereafter, referred to as "they") in the United Kingdom for Zakat al-Fitr [the Obligatory Charity of 'Id al-Fitr] for the year 1425.
In my assessment, for this year, the Zakat Committee of their Society has not been able to set up the necessary mechanisms (ways in which the staple food itself is delivered as Zakat, for instance); therefore, the service for Zakat Fitra - also known as Zakat al-Badan [the poll zakat], which can be paid to the Amils (their Committee in this case), whose members will act as the individual Amils [i.e., the Zakat agents] - is not in accordance with the minimum legal requirements of the Shafi'i (and also the Maliki and Hanbali) school. Indeed, according to the majority position [Jumhur], the Fitra will be invalid [Batil] if its value (such as in monies) - instead of one Sa' unit [a prophetic measurement unit consisting of four mudds, equivalent to roughly no more than 3000 metric grams] of the staple food itself per person - is paid as Zakat. After consultation with other Shafi'i jurists from our lands, the staple food in this country [ghalib qut al-balad] has been found to be not of one but of two types: wheat and potatoes. I have advised those who do not wish to opt for their services or those who have no plans to commission another to do their Zakat Fitra "back home" in the Nusantara, to distribute their Zakat locally by giving out food.
Owing to the practical difficulties [ta'assur al-'amal] faced by some (such as those who simply do not have the time to distribute the Zakat themselves but have to rely instead on the Amils), their Committee of Amils have decided, nonetheless, to offer the services of the Amil for the Fitra, thus allowing those in their community who wish to exercise the option of performing taqlid, i.e., following instead the minority position in this case, namely the Hanafi school, and thus paying the monetary value of the staple food. In this way, their services should also give an option for those in their community in the United Kingdom who wish to pay their Fitra LOCALLY rather than commissioning someone "back home" to pay their Fitra, even when "back home" it would be done completely according to our school.
Their Zakat Committee, which is made up solely of the Amils, has concurred that the Fitra value (based on the value of whole wheat kernels) for the year 1425 is, rounded off, £3 per head. I strongly recommend that their Amils, when distributing the Fitra to its deserving recipients here in the United Kingdom, advise the Zakat recipient to use his or her Fitra monies to buy food (instead of clothing, for instance), since this is the primary purpose of this Zakat.
If their Zakat Committee intends to offer their services online for their members, I have advised that there should be a secure 'aqd [contract] form provided on the relevant Internet page where the Zakat-giver (usually the Wali [responsible member] of the family on behalf of his members) will be able to authorize the Committee to distribute the Zakat on his or her behalf. The Zakat will be considered paid once ALL of the following actions are completed:
1. the intention [niyya] to do so is made (there should be a page reminding the Wali about this before "signing" the contract) AND 2. the payment [ikhraj] of the required amount is made AND 3. a contract is "signed" where the Zakat-giver commissions [tawkil] the Amil.
The Zakat-giver is alone responsible to make sure that ALL of the above are performed, and only then shall the commission come into effect (so that even if the Amils respond by electronically accepting [qabul] the contract, and payment has not been made, then there is no commission by default). Once commissioned, however, the Amil(s) will be responsible to Allah ta'ala - and it is no longer the responsibility of the Zakat-giver from this point onwards - for distributing the Zakat properly to the eligible recipients (by being in part or wholly: the Sa'i [the one collecting the Zakat], the Katib [the one recording it], the Hashir [the one matching the payee to recipients], and the Qasim [the one distributing it]).
++Fai'da++ It is Mubah [permissible; the Malay "harus"] to pay Zakat al-Fitra throughout the blessed month of Ramadan; the Wajib [obligatory] time to pay is between the sunset of the last day of Ramadan and the sunset of the first of Shawwal; but it is Mandub [recommended; the Malay "sunnat"] to pay during the time after the Subh prayer and before the 'Id prayer of the day, and it is Makruh [offensive] to delay paying it after the prayer; it becomes Haram to pay after the day of 'Id (but those who missed the payment before the sunset without a good excuse must [Wajib] still make it up [Qada'] immediately). Note, however, that if one is uncertain, for whatever reason (including confusion as to the local calendar [taraddud fi l-taqwim]), that he or she can pay during the Wajib time, then it is best [Afdal] to pay before it becomes Wajib to do so.
!!Tanbih!! On the niyya of the Fitra:
It is a necessary condition [shart] for the Zakat-giver to make the intention of zakat in order for the Zakat to be valid (whether it is for the obligatory-but-sometime Zakat in savings [Zakat al-Mal] or for the obligatory-and-always Zakat of Fitra in Shawwal).
A recommended example of the sigha [wording] of the niyya for the one paying for himself or herself is:
nawaytu an u'addiya zakAta l-fiTri 'an nafsI farDan li-Llahi ta'AlA
[I intend to carry out the Zakat of 'Id al-Fitr for myself as an obligation to God Most High]
The sigha of the niyya for the Wali paying for his or her dependents* is:
nawaytu an u'addiya zakAta l-fiTri 'an nafsI wa-'iyAlI farDan li-Llahi ta'AlA
[I intend to carry out the Zakat of 'Id al-Fitr for myself and for my dependents as an obligation to God Most High]
*The immediate dependents include those whom the Wali is obliged to support [nafaqa]: his loving wife, his or her incapable parents, and his or her children (including adults who are incapacitated, mentally or physically, or who are still studying religion somewhere), and so on. If the Wali intends to pay Zakat al-Fitra for other than his immediate dependents (such as one of his distant relatives, and so on), he must obtain the consent [idhn] from the respective person(s), otherwise the Zakat paid on their behalf is not valid. May this be of benefit, and may our Zakat and our Fasts and our Prayers and our Recitations be accepted in this holiest of months; and may Allah have mercy on those who missed the opportunities left open for us in this month!
M. Afifi al-Akiti
6 Ramadan 1425
21 X 2004