My question pertains to Zaka’h al-Fitr. According to a hadith of the Prophet (from Bukhari), each person is required to give 6 pounds of barley as Zaka’h al-Fitr before Sala’h of Eid. Now the confusion that I run into is that this obviously goes against the directives of justice established within the Qur’an and Sunnah. For instance, it makes little sense that an established Zaka’t be made for all people regardless of their social standing. This would seem to promote injustice in that individuals who were less fortunate would suffer more. Could you comment or explain the validity of the hadith and my concerns.
Before answering your specific question, I would like to clarify that the Zaka’h al-Fitr is not a universally fixed amount of any particular grain that has to be paid, as you seem to have interpreted from the referred narrative. In fact, the particular grain that is to be given out can vary from person to person (or from family to family), as is clearly narrated in most of the narratives on the topic.
The real spirit of this Zaka’h (sadaqah), as is clarified in a few of the narratives ascribed to the Prophet (pbuh) is to offer a voluntary atonement for the intentional or unintentional and known or unknown shortcomings in our fasts during the month of Ramadhan, on the one hand, and to feed the hungry and the destitute on the blessed day of Eid, on the other. The Qur’an has also prescribed feeding of the poor and the hungry as atonement for some of our mistakes. For instance, in case of inability to fas1 or breaking of an oath2 or intentionally hunting an animal while in ihraam 3 – i.e. in a state of Hajj – or taking back an oath of Zihaar4 etc… It is inherent in all these directives of the Qur’an regarding atonement for a wrong or a mistake that the quality of the food, with which the poor be fed, should be the same as the average quality of food with which the person offering the atonement feeds his family with. This inherent qualification regarding the quality of the food has been explicitly mentioned in one of the cases referred to above (Al-Maaidah 5: 89).
Keeping the above explanation in perspective, it should be clear that the real directive regarding the Zaka’h al-Fitr is that of feeding the poor with the average quality of food that is generally eaten in a household. The specification of grains in the narratives ascribed to the Prophet (pbuh) is primarily due to the fact that the bulk of the average food consumed in an Arab household, generally, consisted of grains. Furthermore, the options given in the choice of grains, mentioned in these narratives is due to the variance in the average consumption of these grains in a particular household. In other words, a household that generally consumed barley should give barley as Zaka’h al-Fitr, while a household that generally consumed wheat, should give wheat. The amount of the particular grain given as Zaka’h al-Fitr for each person of the household should be equal to the average daily food requirement of one person.
In view of the above explanation, it should be clear that the principle of levying Zaka’h al-Fitr on a particular household is clear of all injustice. It is not a universally applied quantity and quality of food that has to be given by each person, irrespective of his financial position. It is, on the contrary, related to the average quality of food consumed by the household in question.
I hope this helps. In case any aspect of question remains unanswered, please feel free in writing back to me at your own convenience.
May God guidance to the path of his liking.