Some Muslims confuse their annual Zakah with Zakatul-Fitr while some who understand the difference still observe the two in the month of Ramadan merely to attract more reward in the month of Ramadan.
Zakat is simply the calculation of your dues on your assets and the fourth pillar of Islam, while Zakatul-Fitr’s scope and implication transcend what we must do in the case of the former. However, we should remember that Zakat becomes due, one year after a person’s wealth reaches the value of Nisab (minimum amount paid) and according to most scholars, a Muslim’s wealth has to remain above that Nisab level throughout the course of the year. This means he must be free from all indebtedness and liabilities.
Again, it is done annually at a predetermined period. If one chooses to pay it in every Muharram or every Zhul-Qada, so be it. So, it is impossible for the whole Ummah to have reached the obligation of paying Zakah, at the beginning or end of Ramadan. We should be clear in our minds that this type of Zakah is not tied to the month of Ramadan. But paying it in Ramadan is more rewarding.
An individual can bring forward his Zakah due date, in order to take advantage of the multiple blessings of Ramadan. In fact, to make it easy on the recipients whose needs have to be met, one might choose Ramadan for the extra Sadaqah he gives out.
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Zakatul-Fitr however is done with staple food consumable in a particular area. In this part of the world, grains such as rice, garri, beans etc are given as Zakat or its money equivalent. Every free Muslim must pay Zakatul-Fitr for himself, his wife, children, and all his dependants. It is only obligatory for those who have more than what is required to give as zakat-ul-fitr. A Muslim traveller is also enjoined to pay his zakat where he spends the last two days of Ramadan. If a person dies before Maghrib on the last day of Ramadan, Zakatul-Fitr would not be obligatory upon him even if he had fasted all the other days of the month, but if a child is born after Maghrib on the last day of Ramadan, it would be obligatory to pay Zakatul-Fitr on his or her behalf. Some scholars even noted that zakat should be paid on the foetus of a baby in the womb of the mother. A man must pay on a wife whose divorce is not yet concluded. If you have more than one bowl of staple food in your house, then it is obligatory upon you to give it to others who don’t have.
In essence, the rationale behind it is to make those who are not happy during the festive period happy. It also helps in serving as a buffer for our fast especially where we have some shortcomings. And since every Muslim needs this, it is therefore obligatory on him whether rich or poor. The Prophet (s.a.w) said: “Make them (i.e. the poor and destitute) rich on the day of `Eid-ul-Fitri. Put succinctly, for anyone who has more than a bowl of staple food or excess of what he can take for a day at home is qualified to give Zakatul-fitr to the poor and needy to make them happy during the celebration. In essence, everybody should be happy on Eid day.
“The Zakah are only for the Fuqaraá (poor), and the Masaakeen (the needy) and those employed to collect (the funds); and for to attract the hearts of those who have been inclined (towards Islam); and to free the captives; and for those in debt; and for Allah’s Cause, and for the wayfarer (a traveler who is cut off from everything); a duty imposed by Allah. And Allah is All-Knower, All-Wise.” Q9:60.
You may also start from a day before the ‘Eid but before the Eid prayer.
Prayer of the day
Allahuma ar-zuquni fihi fadhala lailatul Qadri, wa swayirr umuri fihi minal usuri ilaal-yussuri. Allahumo inaka afuuwu, tuibul-afwa faa afuwa nii.
O Allah, on this day, bestow on me the blessings of Laylatul Qadr, change my affairs from being difficult to being easy. O Allah! You are forgiving, and you love forgiveness. So forgive me.