Sadaqah al-fitr is composed of two words: sadaqah and fitr. Sadaqah literally means charity. One of the exquisite features of the Arabic language is that many words stem from one root word or root letters; hence all the words derived from that root share a common meaning. Sadaqah originates from the root letters saad daal qaaf, which give a meaning of honesty. Similarly, the word sadaaq which means dowry and sadq which means an upright spear are derived from the same root. Hence, in harmony with the rules of morphology, all these words share a common meaning. They all connote the meaning of truthfulness and honesty. In sadaqah (charity) a person is showing his truthfulness in belief by extending charity. As for the word sadaaq (dowry), a person is displaying his true desire to marry a particular woman by advancing a stipulated amount. With regards to sadq (an upright spear), it takes this root to flaunt its honesty for the damage it can cause.
Fitr literally means to break away or separate. Breaking the fast is called iftaar, as one separates and disunites from the state of fasting. The word fitr in sadaqah al-fitr is used in the sense of one’s separation with Ramadhan. (Mu’jam al-lugat al-fuqaha 316)
The great Hanbali jurist Ibn Qudamah explains the terminology saying, “Sadaqah al-fitr is basically that charity which is binding upon the separation of Ramadhan.” The genitive construction (Idhaafah) is to show cause (sababiyyah), in other words, fitr is the cause of sadaqah, hence the pairing of the two words. (Al-mughni 4/282 dar ‘aalam al-kutub)
In the second year of hijrah, many injunctions were revealed to the Muslims. The phenomenon of the changing of the Qiblah from Masjid al-Aqsa to Ka’bah occurs. Soon after in the month of Sha’baan, the Muslims are ordered to fast in the month of Ramadhan. During the blessed days of Ramadhan the historic battle of Badr takes centre stage. Two days prior to the end of Ramadhan, the messenger of Allah addresses the companions and instructs them to discharge of sadaqatul fitr. Not long after, the rules pertaining to the zakaat are dictated. (Rad al-muhtaar 3/310 dar al-kutub al-ilmiyyah)
Sadaqah al-fitr holds many names:
1) Zakaat al-fitr
2) Zakaatu Ramadhan
3) Zakaat as-sawm
4) Sadaqah as-sawm
5) Sadaqatu Ramadhan
6) Sadaqah ar-ru’oos
7) Zakaat al-abdaan
(Ashraf al-hidaayah 3/158 Dar al-Ishaa’at)
Sadaqah al-fitr is a multipurpose compulsory donation at the dawn of Eid al-fitr. Not only does it serve the needy; it is a mechanism which benefits those who render it. It is a gesture of compassion to those whose socio economic status isn’t at par with us. It saves them from asking on such a joyous occasion. This donation brings a smile on the face of the weak Muslims; a day in which all Muslims should be smiling. As for those who forward such an endowment, it is a means of purifying their worship of Ramadhan and a compensation for any deficiency therein.
Abdullah Ibn Abbas (Allah be pleased with him) narrates, “The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) declared the payment of Sadaqah al-fitr as obligatory; it purifies the fasting person from any indecent act or speech, and is a source of feeding the poor. If one pays Sadaqah al-fitr before the salaah, it is considered an accepted charity, if he pays it after the salaah, it is considered an ordinary charity.” (Abu Dawud p.263 Dar al-kutub al-ilmiyyah)