Paying zakat al-fitr with any kind of staple food
Answered by Shaykh Amjad Rasheed
Translated by Shaykh Hamza Karamali, SunniPath Academy Teacher
The main staple of the area in which I live is wheat, and it is difficult to pay zakat al-fitr in wheat because the Shafi`i’s stipulate that the staple must be given in whole grains without grinding it into flour. The difficulty with this position is that Muslims in most lands only use wheat in the form of flour and they will be unable to benefit from whole grains, especially since they often don’t have access to equipment that grinds wheat grains into flour.
I have read that there is difference of opinion in our school whether or not zakat al-fitr may be paid in a staple that is not the main staple of the area. Is this true? Is it permissible to follow this position in view of the above circumstances?
There are three positions in our school about the type of food that must be given to the poor as zakat al-fitr: the first—which is the most correct (asahh) position in the school—is that one is obligated to pay zakat al-fitr in the main staple that people of the area are accustomed to; the second is that one is obligated to pay zakat al-fitr in the main staple that one is personally accustomed to; and the third is that one may pay zakat al-fitr in any staple food [h: even if the people of the area are accustomed to a different staple, or if one is oneself accustomed to a different staple].
This third position has been derived by major Shafi`i scholars from the stated positions of Imam Shafi`i (Allah be pleased with him). In fact, a group of major Shafi`i scholars have even ascribed this position explicitly to Imam Shafi`i (Allah be pleased with him). This position is the immediately obvious meaning of the hadith related by Abu Sa`id al-Khudri (Allah be pleased with him), who said, “While the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) was among us, we used to pay zakat al-fitr for children and adults, for freemen and bondsmen, as a sa`  of food, or a sa` of aqitt , or a sa` of barley, or a sa` of dates, or a sa` of raisins.” (Bukhari and Muslim)
Imam Nawawi says in al-Majmu`, by way of explaining these three positions,
The third [position] is that one may [pay zakat al-fitr] In any staple food, even if it is different from the staple that one is accustomed to oneself, or if it is different from staple that most people of the area are accustomed to. This position is based on the immediately obvious meaning of the hadith related from Abu Sa`id al-Khudri. This third position was related by the author [i.e., the author of the text that Imam Nawawi is commenting on, Abu Ishaq al-Shirazi] and by the vast majority of Shafi`is as a position derived by scholars from the words and principles of Imam Shafi`i (wajh). Abu Ishaq al-Marwazi, Qadi Abu al-Tayyib (in al-Mujarrad), Bandaniji, Mawardi, and others have related it as an explicit position of Imam Shafi`i himself. Mawardi said, “He explicitly ruled according to this position in some of his books.” After mentioning the dominant position of the Shafi`i school, Qadi Abu Tayyib—in his book al-Mujarrad—deemed this third position to be the most correct position according to his own personal opinion.
Based on all of the above, one understands that this third position is a strong position within our school that is permissible to follow and adopt for one’s own personal practice.
[h: It is therefore permissible for you to pay zakat al-fitr in another staple that people consume whole, such as rice. It is also permissible to follow the Hanafi school, which holds that it is permissible to pay zakat al-fitr in money.]
 A volumentric measure prevalent during the time of the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace). It is equivalent to 2.03 liters.
 A staple food made of dried milk.
السؤال: هل يجوز الأخذ بالقول عندنا الذي يُجَوِّزُ إخراجَ الفطر من غير غالب قوت البلد؟
الجواب: اعلم أن في الواجب إخراجه في صدقة الفطر عندنا ثلاثة أقوال؛ أولها وهو الأصح في المذهب: أن الواجب غالب قوت البلد. والثاني: الواجب غالب قوت الشخص نفسه. والثالث: التخيير بين جميع الأقوات. وهذا الثالث وجهٌ لبعض الأصحاب، بل نقله جماعةٌ من الأصحاب وغيرهم قولاً عن إمامنا الشافعي رضي الله عنه ورحمه، وهو ظاهرُ خبر الصحيحين عن أبي سعيد الخدري رضي الله عنه وأرضاه قال:” كنا نُخْرِجُ إِذ كان فينا رسولُ الله صلى الله عليه وسلم زكاةَ الفطر عن كل صغير وكبير, حُرٍّ أو مملوك, صاعاً من طعام, أو صاعاً من أَقِط, أو صاعاً من شعير, أو صاعاً من تمر, أو صاعاً من زبيب “.
قال الإمام النووي في “المجموع” في بيان الأقوال في المسألة:” والثالث: يتخيرُ بين جميع الأقوات؛ فيُخرجُ ما شاء وإن كان غيرَ قوته وغيرَ قوت أهل بلده؛ لظاهر حديث أبي سعيد الخدريِّ, وهذا الثالثُ حكاه المصنفُ -يعني الشيرازي- والجمهورُ وجهاً, وحكاه أبو إسحاق المروزي والقاضي أبو الطيب في “المجرد” والبَنْدَنِيجي والماوردي وآخرون قولاً للشافعي، قال الماوردي: نصَّ عليه في بعض كتبه, وصحَّحه القاضي أبو الطيب في “المجرد” اختياراً لنفسه بعد أن نقل أن المذهب غالب قوت البلد “. انتهى بتوضيح.