Zakat al-Fitr is a form of zakat that is traditionally paid at the end of the holy month of Ramadan. This type of Ramadan donations is intended to help zakat collectors and poor Muslims celebrate the feasting of Eid al-Fitr. These gifts are designed to allow poor Muslims to join in on the feasting with their fellow believers without having to worry about damaging their finances beyond repair. This tradition dates back some centuries, all the way back to Classical Islamic times when the faith was new to the world and Islamic society was still taking form. Among the elements of civilization taking shape was the systems by which wealth was circulated through society, of which zakat was a principal part of these systems taking shape over a thousand years ago.
The payment of these donations is not specified in the Qur’an itself, and there have been quite some arguments over the centuries over the proper value and methods of payment for transferring these donations between individual Muslims and the larger society. Some of these arguments have been the matters of extensive debate among Islamic jurists and sometimes conflicts have emerged over disagreements over the transfer of zakat, notably the Ridda Wars early in the history of Islamic society.
Still, while the Qur’an does not lay down a specific amount (though the Prophet does frequently call upon Muslims to be generous through zakat), the most trusted hadiths each have extensive commentary on the value of a charity donation paid to those who need it most. Most of the hadiths agree that a Muslim should pay Zakat based on their net worth rather than a flat payment. The net worth of a Muslim in the sense of Islamic donations is the nisab. Almost all of the most trusted hadiths consider the value of a Muslim’s zakat donations to be based on their nisab, though there are few points of agreement between the hadiths as to which assets should be worth how much in Zakat donations. In most Islamic sects, a straightforward value of 2.5 percent of a believer’s nisab is considered to be a fair value for their annual zakat contribution, though many of the most trusted hadiths also include numerous rules and standards for a more precise amount.
Sadaqah is a similar concept to zakat, but rather than being a necessary form of Islamic donations, sadaqah donations are seen as a purely voluntary payment intended to foster bonds of community between Muslims, and in recent times, their non-Muslim neighbors. This form of giving is considered to signify strictly voluntary charitable contributions done out of friendship, love, compassion for the less fortunate, a sense of religious duty or plain old compassion. Whatever the reason for this giving, it is considered to be a highly honorable thing in the eyes of believers, as well as most people around the world for that matter. Whether it’s giving canned goods to a local food bank or sending money to help fund a vaccination drive far overseas, sadaqah is seen as an act of pure compassion for others in Islamic thought and society.
Naturally, Islamic society has, for the most part, kept up with modern times. Most Muslims are not adverse to modern technology, and while some compromises have been made with modern systems of finance (hence Islamic banks and their presence in the global banking and financial systems), Islamic Society is making peace with the twenty-first century. One outgrowth of the fusion of faith and technology is the capacity to pay zakat online. While only a handful of Muslim majority nations still make zakat mandatory, many Muslims do still pay zakat as a matter of faith.
Most recent zakat donations are sent to Islamic charities intended to further assistance to Muslims across the world. Many traditionalists do feel that zakat funds should go exclusively to Muslims, so most Islamic charities do focus on assisting Muslims in need. However, most Islamic jurists agree that the funds do not necessarily need to go solely to Muslims and that Zakat can be paid to any cause that the individual believers find most worthy. Indeed, many Muslims in Western countries believe that their zakat donations can be put to great use funding local libraries, homeless shelters and other charitable groups where they live.