I am in America; is it ok to give rice for Zakat Al-Fitr? I am giving it to an Arab family; does the food have to be an American staple food? And if before I did not pay too much attention to Zakat Al-Fitr because my father was giving it, do I have to give for all those preceding times too?
All perfect praise be to Allah, the Lord of the worlds. I testify that there is none worthy of worship except Allah and that Muhammad is His slave and Messenger.
Zakat Al-Fitr should be given out from the staple food that most people eat in the country where it is due; whether it is rice or other foods, according to the most preponderant view of the scholars.
Ibn Al-Qayyim said in I’laam Al-Muwaqqi'een:
“As for the people of a country or locality whose food is other than what is mentioned in the hadith, then they should give out a Saa‘ (3L [volumetric]) from their staple food, like those whose food is corn, rice, figs, or other grains. If their food is other than grains, such as milk, meat, or fish, then they should give out their Zakat Al-Fitr from their food whatever it is; this is the opinion of the majority of the scholars, and it is the truth which cannot be opposed. This is because what is meant is to fulfill the need of the poor on the day of Eid and to console them with the staple food of the people of their country.”
Therefore, it is obligatory on you to give out the Zakat Al-Fitr from the common food of the majority of the people in your country, regardless of its name, and you can give it out from what you eat if it is better than what the majority of the people eat in your country. It is not valid to give it out from a worse quality than what they eat if you are capable of giving it out from what they eat.
The commentary on Risaalat Ibn Abi Zayd Al-Maaliki reads:
“If the person is one who treats himself with a higher quality food than what the people eat, then it is desirable for him to pay the Zakat Al-Fitr from what he eats, but if he gives it out from the staple food of the country, then this is sufficient. In case he eats food of a lesser quality than the common food of the people of the country and he is able to give it out from the staple food of the people of the country, then he is obliged to give it out from the staple food of the people, and it is not sufficient for him to give it out from what he himself eats.”
As for your saying that you did not pay too much attention to Zakat Al-Fitr because your father was giving it out, then if the custom in your country is that the father gives out Zakat Al-Fitr on behalf of his children whom he is not obliged to spend on, then him paying out the Zakat Al-Fitr on your behalf is sufficient, even if you were not concerned about it or intended it, as stated in Al-Fawaakih Ad-Dawaani Sharh Risaalat Ibn Abi Zayd Al-Maaliki:
“If his family gives it [the Zakat Al-Fitr] on his behalf, it is sufficient on condition of giving it out from the food that he usually eats and on condition that he advised them to do so, or if it is the custom that they give it out on his behalf; otherwise, it is not valid due to the lack of intention on part of the person whom the one who gives out the zakah is not obliged to provide for, contrary to someone whom the one who gives out the zakah is obliged to provide for, as, in this case, the intention of the one who gives out the Zakat Al-Fitr is sufficient.”
However, if this is not the custom of your people or you did not entrust him to give out the zakah on your behalf, then, in this case, it is not sufficient for you if your father is no longer obliged to provide for you due to the lack of intention (on your part). So you have to give it out for those years.
Sharh Ar-Risaalah reads, “Zakat Al-Fitr is not waived by the passing of its time from someone who is required to pay it.”
Allah knows best.
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