Difference between Zakat and Sadaqat al-Fitr

<QUESTION>

I just starting working this year (at the end of July 2003) and I have accumulated about $5500 (USD) before taxes and maybe $4400 after taxes. I thought that if one accumulated $1000 (USD) or more in a year then zakah would be obligatory on them. And considering that I earned more than $1000, I paid 2.5% from what I received on my pay checks and paid that this morning as "zakah al fitr." It came to $110. After I had already given the money (before the Eid salat) , I was informed that the zakah al fitr was only $7 in my masjid.
Will it count that I paid my zakat al fitr properly ($7) and the rest can be "sadaqah" (if it is really true that the regular zakah is not obligatory on me) although I intended for it all to be zakat al fitr and with the intention to please Allah Most High when I put the money in the envelope?

Also, I still have debt that is not paid off fully and I paid what I thought to be my "zakat al fitr" with money that I normally would have paid my bills with or other necessities. I say this because my friend told me that the obligatory zakah would be from the money that one has set aside like in a savings account that is not needed to pay bills or other necessities.

Is zakah obligatory on me? If not, when will it be? Also can you please recommend a good, easy to understand book (in English) on zakah (and charity)?

<ANSWER>
In the name of Allah, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful,

You have become slightly confused between the regular Zakat al-Mal and Zakat/Sadaqa al-Fitr. They are both separate things and the rulings for both also differ. In order to distinguish between the two, it would be better to term the first one “Zakat” whilst the second one can be called “Sadaqa al-Fitr”.

Zakat is an obligation ordained by Allah Most High upon every Muslim who becomes the owner of a specific amount of wealth known as the “Nisab”. If one’s wealth is equal or more than this specific amount, Zakat will become obligatory upon him. This Nisab is the equivalent in cash, gold silver, merchandise, etc of 6.12 grams of silver or 87.48 grams of gold.

Now, when one becomes the owner of (the above mentioned) Nisab for the first time in his/her life, then that (Islamic) date should be kept in mind. Then the following year on the same (Islamic) date, if one is still the owner of Nisab, one will be considered as Sahib al-Nisab and Zakat will be obligatory at the rate of 2.5% on the total Zakatable assets. It makes no difference whether the wealth increases or decreases during the course of the year, neither is it necessary that every part of the wealth remains in one’s possession for the whole year. However, if due to some reason all the wealth is lost, then when one becomes the owner of Nisab once again, that will be the new date and Zakat will be calculated thereupon. (See: Bada'i al-Sana'i, 2/96-98 & al-Lubab fi Sharh al-Kitab, 1/145)

Thus, you should fix a date for the calculation of your Zakat. If you are unsure as to when exactly you became the owner of the equivalent of the above mentioned Nisab for the first time, then make a precautionary estimation, and from now on calculate your Zakat each year on that date. Whatever you own on that date, 2.5% of it will have to be given to the poor and needy as Zakat of your wealth.

However, you may subtract from the total the amount you owe to others, for Zakat is not obligatory on wealth that one owes to others.

As far as Sadaqa al-Fitr is concerned, it is something that is paid on Eid al-Fitr by every Muslim who is the owner of the same Nisab mentioned above, but in any form. Normal Zakat is obligatory on certain types of wealth, such as cash, gold, silver, business goods, livestock and agricultural produce, whereas Sadaqa al-Fitr becomes necessary upon every individual who owns the Nisab even if it is in the form of cloths, furniture, etc. The only one dispensation is that, it will be considered after subtracting one’s basic and personal needs. (See: al-Hidaya, 1/292)

For example: Muhammad does not have any Zakatable items (cash, gold, silver, etc) in his possession, but he has other assets equal to the value of Nisab and these assets are in excess of his personal and basic needs, such as having a surplus car or he has surplus furniture, etc… In this case, although the normal yearly Zakat will not be obligatory upon Muhammad but he will have to pay the Sadaqa of Eid al-Fitr. The amount that needs to be paid for Sadaqa al-Fitr is half Sa’ of wheat or one Sa’ of barley or date. This, according to modern terms is 2 kilograms.

It is permissible to pay the value of these in cash. It is preferable to give cash when the above items such as wheat, barley, date, etc… are easily available. When these items are scarce, then it is better to give them instead of cash.

Therefore, the seven dollars that you were informed about was Sadaqa al-Fitr and not Zakat, and as explained earlier, Sadaqat al-Fitr is necessary on Eid al Fitr and you pay it before the Salat. Paying more than the actual amount (as you mentioned that you paid more than seven dollars) does not invalidate your Sadaqa al-Fitr. Rather, the remainder will also be considered to be an act of charity, thus you will be rewarded thereupon.

However, it should be remembered that, making an intention is obligatory (fardh) for the fulfilment of Zakat. If an intention is not made, then Zakat will not be valid.

Imam al-Quduri (Allah have mercy on him) states:

“It is not valid to pay zakat without an intention coinciding with the payment, or coinciding with the setting-aside of the obligatory portion. One who gave all of his wealth in charity, without intending zakat, its obligation is waived from him.” (Mukhtasar al-Quduri, 1/137)

Thus, when paying the 2.5% from the total amount of your wealth (which was $110 in your case), if you made the intention of paying the yearly Zakat al-Mal, then your Zakat will be considered paid. If however, you did not make such an intention, then you will have to repay the sum as Zakat to those who are eligible to receive it.

For a detailed and simple guide to Zakat, refer to my booklet “Simplified Rules of Zakat” obtainable from the contact information provided. I hope I have been of some help to you in clearing the matters with regards to Zakat and Sadaqa al-Fitr.

And Allah Knows Best

[Mufti] Muhammad ibn Adam
Darul Iftaa
Leicester , UK