Zakat al-Fitr II: Potato?
By Shaykh Muhammad Afifi al-Akiti

I am writing to you to inquire about the proper grain to distribute in the West for Zakat al-Fitr. I understand that you have lived in the UK for some time now, and Canada is culturally very similar to it.  Virtually the only grain that people use whole these days is rice.  However, I'm not sure if it is valid to distribute rice given that bread is possibly more common in our diets than rice.  To make a long story short, I'd like to know exactly what to distribute:

* White rice.
* Brown rice.
* Whole wheat kernels.
* Whole wheat flour
* White flour
* Something else?

Although it is short, may this facilitate those who have to perform the "Prostration of Forgetfulness for their Fast of Ramadan" in the lands of the Far West:

If the Hanafi option of paying the value of the staple food in money (the Qawl Qimah) is not exercised, then in my balad [town] (there is no difference between Balad al-Jum‘a and Balad al-Zakat; [Ibn Ashmuni, 91]) there is more than one common aqwat [food] to choose from (but the Sa‘ unit [according to Habib Zayn’s reckoning, it will not be more than 3000g* approximately (Ibn Sumayt, 100)], however, must be made up of one type only—it cannot be mixed—and the staple given out as Zakat al-Fitra must be in raw form so that the recipient can prepare/cook it in his/her own way), and in Oxford, the ‘umum qut [staple food] includes potatoes and whole wheat kernels (the qawl mu‘tamad is Qawl Habb over Qawl Daqiq, so flour will not suffice), but for the present year, not rice (even if the recipient is a Malay, because it is not the common food for the ahl balad here, even though the majority is non-Muslim). Obviously, therefore, the potato option today (in places where this is a valid choice) is more practical for the recipient (ghayr ta‘assur al-‘amal li-mustahiqq al-zakat) than the wheat in the case of those who do not wish to opt for the dispensation [rukhsa].

However, the better option [afdal] of the two according to our jurists is still the wheat, since, firstly, it is said to have a higher nourishment value [ziyada al-salahiya l-l-iqtiyat] in the scale [fi-ma yu‘tabaru bi-hi al-a‘la wa-l-adna] transmitted by our school. The well known Dabit in this mas’ala is:

al-i‘tibAru fi l-a‘lA bi-ziyAdati l-iqtiyAti li-anna l-maqSUda lA bi-ziyAdati l-qImah
[The consideration lies in the higher nourishment value, as the point is not the value of the price].

Secondly, the potato is not specifically included in the original 14 types of permissible foodstuffs [ajnaz mujzi’ah], which some of our jurists have generously sorted in code into the following verses [of Rajaz]:

bi-LlAhi sal shaykha dhI ramzin HakA mathalan #
‘an fawri tarki zakAti l-fiTri law juhilA
HurUfu awwalihA jA’at murattabatan
asmA’a qUti zakAti l-fiTri law ‘uqilA

[By God, ask a scholar with the code to transmit the exemplar,
for if ignorant, one will easily neglect the Zakat al-Fitr.
The first letters will produce in (descending) order,
if deciphered, the names of the staples for Zakat al-Fitr.]

(In al-Bajuri, 1:280, Fath al-'Allam, 3:426, etc.)

.- .-.. .- --.- .-- .- -

1. Wheat [bi-LlAhi = burr]
2. Rye [sal = sult]
3. Barley [shaykha = sha‘ir]
4. Sorghum [dhI = dhurra]
5. Rice [ramzin = ruzz]
6. Chick-pea [HakA = hummus]
7. Indian pea [mathalan = mash]
8. Lentil [‘an = ‘adas]
9. Beans [fawri = ful]
10. Dates [tarki = tamr]
11. Raisin [zakAti = zabib]
12. Farmer’s cheese   [l-fiTri = al-aqit]
13. Yoghurt [law = laban]
14. Curd [juhilA - jubn]

Ma sha’ Allahu kana!

Although the potato was not specified among the original ajnas mujzi’ah (because it was not part of the normal Middle Eastern diet before its introduction in the 19th century by Western colonials, and none of our medieval fuqaha’ discussed it), I have nevertheless confirmed this with more than one of our jurists years ago when I first arrived in Britain regarding its permissible status for Zakat al-Fitr by: (1) drawing an analogy to one of the established types of food (such as one of the grains [habb]); and (2) that it does not belong to any one of the non-permissible food-types (such as meat or fish). Years later, alhamdullilah, I found out (to my delight and great surprise) from the materia medica of Ibn al-Baytar, that subject to textual scrutiny, the “potato” [baTATis] may have a lexical connection with, or in fact be called by the Arabs, “Zabib al-Barri/al-Jabal” or better still, the “Habb al-Ra’s” [Jami‘, 2:153].

So we can now end this discussion and complete the verses above with the following couplet:

wa-zAda ba‘DuhumU qUta z-zakAti wa-dhA #
baTATisun yA akhI fa-khudhhu lA taghfulA

[Some of them have added to the staple for Zakat (al-Fitr);
this one is the potato, my brother: get it and don’t forget!]

Wallahu wa-rasuluhu a‘lam wa-ahkam bi-s-sawab!

*!!Be-aware!!* Notes on the 1 Sa‘ unit [= 4 Mudd or 2 Qadah]: Although the Qawl Sahih is that the Sa‘ is a measurement in volume [kayl] and not in weight [wazan] (Ibn Ashmuni, 24), nonetheless for reasons of convenience for the Zakat-giver [muzakki], some of our jurists from our land still prefer to translate and report the measurements in grams [e.g.: Ibn Ashmuni, 25; Fath al-Qadir, 20-1].

Measurements for the Nisab of Zakat and its modern metric equivalents as a matter of rule should only be used as a general guide for its minimum limit [tahdid], since the original shar‘i measurements (in Sa‘, Mudd and Wasq, etc.) were based on rough-and-ready techniques (e.g. using scoops of hands) during the lifetime of the perfect Messenger of Allah (may His peace and blessings be upon him!), after which they were translated into a more accurate but still a medieval metrological standard in Baghdad and other places.

As a result, different metric equivalents have been calculated by contemporary jurists (such as al-Kuwarani) as well as by non-Muslim researchers (such as Hinz). The varying results of the ijtihad to translate the Prophetic units into a very accurate metric one done by any of our scholars today, in spite of the wide variations, are all equally acceptable, just as it was acceptable in medieval times that almost every balad had its own weights and measures and ritl standard [‘iyar] (this diversity is a lesson for us all in the fifth legal principle of “al-'Adatu muHakkamatun” [norms of society dictate our rules or form a basis for legislation]). Indeed, let anyone who finds the lowest metric result point to the minimum acceptable value, even if because of the khilaf it becomes desirable and religiously more scrupulous, especially when dealing with Zakat, to go for the highest result which represents the optimum one [ihtiyat]; and let every one of us get what he or she intended thereby from their ‘amals!

Although measurements in weight depend on density, hence the weight for a Sa‘ of one type of staple will undoubtedly be different from another (the reason the minimum standard is in volumes as per the Qawl Sahih), the value of 3000 grams related above by Habib Zayn and others is indeed a good rough value to take in order to cover all types of staple and even in most cases exceed the minimum limit of some by a multiple of times. Nevertheless, the optimum value of the Sa‘ in litres has been found by some (with Germanic precision) to be 4.2125 litres. Perhaps—wallahu a‘lam—it is a sign—ma sha’ Allah—of varying social practices [‘adat] in selling and buying agricultural commodities that they are usually measured by the farmer-producers in volumes but paid for by the ordinary shop customers in weight!

May this be of benefit.

From the balad of Oxford al-Baritaniya,

Muhammad Afifi al-Akiti
4 Ramadan 1425
19 X 2004

Select Bibliography:

al-Bajuri. Hashiya ‘ala fath al-qarib. 2 vols. Bulaq, 1288 H.

al-Jurdani. Fath al-‘allam bi-sharh murshid al-anam fi al-fiqh ‘ala madhhab al-sadah al-Shafi‘iyah. Edited by Muhammad al-Hajjar. 4 vols. Cairo: Dar al-Salam, 1990.

al-Kuwarani. Fath al-qadir fi ‘aja’ib al-maqadir. Surabaya: Maktabat Muhammad Ibn Ahmad Nabhan wa-Awladuhu, 1339 H.

Ibn Ashmuni, Ahmad. Fiqh al-Zakat fi tadqiq wa-ta‘miq ahkam anwa‘ al-zakawat wa-bayan qadr al-nisab bi-awzan wa-mikyal baladina al-Indunisi. Kediri: al-Ma‘had al-Islami al-Salafi, 1411 H.

Ibn al-Baytar. al-Jami‘ li-mufradat al-adwiyah wa l-aghdiyah. 4 vols. Bulaq, 1291 H.

Ibn Sumayt, Zayn. Hidayat al-talibin fi bayan muhimmat al-din. Jakarta, n.d.

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