Sadaqat Al-Fitr (or Zakat Al-Fitr) is prescribed by the Shari'ah based on the general indication of the texts of the Quran and the Sunnah, as well as by scholarly consensus. Allah The Almighty Says (what means): "He has certainly succeeded who purifies himself. And mentions the Name of his Lord and prays." [Surah Al A'la 87:14-15]
The Commander of the Believers, ‘Umar ibn ‘Abdul-Azeez would command the Muslims to give Sadaqat Al-Fitr and recite the above mentioned verse. As for the Sunnah, it was narrated on the authority of Ibn ‘Umar that he said, "The Messenger of Allah, sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, enjoined the payment of one Saa' (double handful) of dates or one Saa' of barley as Zakat-ul-Fitr for every Muslim, slave or a free person, male or female, young or old, and he ordered that it should be paid before people went out to offer the 'Eid Prayer." [Al-Bukhari and Muslim]
"Ibn ‘Umar used to give Zakat-ul-Fitr on behalf of every young and old person. He even used to give on behalf of my children. Ibn ‘Umar would give Zakat-ul-Fitr to those who had been officially appointed for its collection. People used to give Zakat-ul-Fitr (even) a day or two days before the 'Eid." [Al-Bukhari]
It was narrated on the authority of Abu Sa'eid Al-Khudri that he said, "We used to give one Saa' of food, or one Saa' of barley, or one Saa' of dates, or one Saa' of cottage cheese or one Saa' of raisins (dried grapes) as Zakat-ul-Fitr." [Al-Bukhari and Muslim]
It was narrated on the authority of Ibn ‘Abbaas that he said, "The Messenger of Allah, sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, made Zakat-ul-fitr obligatory as a means of purifying the fasting person from idle talk and foul language and to feed the needy. Whoever pays it before the prayer, it is an accepted Zakat (for him), and whoever pays it after the prayer, it is simply a type of charity.” [Abu Daawood and Ibn Maajah] [Al-Haakim: Saheeh; it meets the conditions stipulated by Al-Bukhaari] [Al-Albaani: Hasan]
It was narrated on the authority of Qays ibn Sa‘d that he said, "The Messenger of Allah, sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, ordered us to pay Sadaqat-ul-Fitr before the obligation of Zakaah. Once Zakaah was ordained, he neither ordered nor forbade us while we were still paying it." [An-Nasaa'i, Ibn Maajah and Ahmad] [Al-Haafith in Al-Fat’h: Saheeh]
The scholars have unanimously agreed on the obligation of Zakat Al-Fitr, which has two stipulations:
1- Its amount (one Saa’) should be over and above one’s own need and the need of his dependants for the day and night of 'Eid.
2- It should be given upon (and not before) the arrival of its due time, which is sunset of the last day of Ramadan.
Zakat Al-Fitr is an individual obligation upon every Muslim who can afford it. It was ordained, along with fasting, in the second year after Hijrah (prophetic emigration). The recipients of Sadaqat Al-Fitr are the same recipients of general Zakaah, based on what Allah The Almighty Says (which means): "Zakaah expenditures are only for the poor and for the needy…" [Surah Al Tawbah 9:60]
The amount to be given of Sadaqat Al-Fitr is a single Saa' for each Muslim, but it can be less than one Saa' if the Muslim does not find any more than that. Sadaqat Al-Fitr is obligatory upon every Muslim individually, and the Muslim is not obligated to give it on behalf of others according to the preponderant opinion of scholars. However, one can give it on behalf of those under his care with their consent. An exception to this ruling is the slave, for whom Sadaqat Al-Fitr is, of course, an obligation, but in his case it is alright for his master to pay on his behalf. The Prophet, sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, said: "There is no charity to be paid on the slave (i.e. for owning him) except Sadaqat Al-Fitr." [Muslim]
It is recommended that the Muslim gives Sadaqat Al-Fitr on behalf of the fetus if it becomes four months old as ‘Uthmaan did so, and he was one of the four Rightly-Guided Caliphs regarding whom we are ordered to follow their practices.
It is permissible to give Zakat Al-Fitr early but only by a maximum of two days before 'Eid as this was authentically reported from Ibn ‘Umar : In a Hadeeth, it was said, "Ibn ‘Umar gave Sadaqat Al-Fitr for those who would accept it, and they used to receive it one or two days before 'Eid Al-Fitr." [Al-Bukhari] However, it is preferable to give it before the 'Eid Prayer due to the Hadeeth which was narrated on the authority of Ibn ‘Umar where it was mentioned that the Prophet, sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, ordered Sadaqat Al-Fitr to be distributed before Muslims go out for the 'Eid Prayer. It is not permissible to delay it until after the 'Eid Prayer, and if it is, it would not be valid. The Prophet, sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, said: "Whoever introduces something to our affairs (i.e. religion) which does not belong to it, it will be rejected."
Therefore, the time for giving Zakat Al-Fitr can be one of three:
1- Permissible: which is two days before 'Eid Al-Fitr
2- Recommended: which is the morning of the day of 'Eid before the Prayer
3- Prohibited: which is after the 'Eid Prayer, when it would not be valid
It is permissible for the Muslim to authorize someone to give it on his behalf. Also, there is no sin on him who delays giving it for a valid reason and therefore gives it late. Sadaqat Al-Fitr can be given out of the common staple-food of the country, and according to the majority of scholars it is not permissible to give the monetary value of the Sadaqat Al-Fitr. The Muslim may give one person many Saa's or one Saa' for many people.
The classical Maaliki, Shaafi'ee and Hanbali positions on the type of Zakat-ul-Fitr offering discusses payment only in terms of weights and measures of provisions, or foodstuffs. It is the Hanafi opinion, however, that holds sway in this matter, which states that Muslims may give the price of Zakat-ul-Fitr, originally determined for grains and dates, in contemporary currency equivalents. They argue this position on the basis of a higher good or more practicable benefit, saying that money enables the needy person to buy what he or she deems to be most desirable or necessary on the day of 'Eid. They point out that a person may, for example, not be in need of a provision of corn, or the like, but rather in want of clothing, or meat, etc.
Finally, it is preferable for the Muslim to give it personally so that he would be sure of delivering it to its due recipients on time.
First: Zakat-ul-Fitr is obligatory for every Muslim and it was ordained even before the obligatory Zakaah on property and wealth. The obligation of Zakat-ul-Fitr remained as it was even after the obligation of Zakaah on property and wealth.
Second: It is obligatory for every Muslim to pay Zakat-ul-Fitr on his behalf and on behalf of those whom he is obligated to provide for, like his wife and children.
Third: If the wife and children earn their living or have money, it is preferable that every person pays it on his or her behalf because they are obliged to pay it. However, it is permissible for their guardian to pay it on their behalf even if they have their own money.
Fourth: It is not permissible for the Muslim to pay the monetary value of Zakat-ul-Fitr. This is the opinion of the majority of scholars, because the Prophet, sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, neither ordered paying it in the form of money nor paid it as such and none of the Companions paid Zakat-ul-Fitr as money despite its occurrence every year. Also, when food is given to the poor man, it benefits him as well as his family. This is unlike giving him money, which he may save and leave his family hungry. Additionally, paying the value of Zakat-ul-Fitr does not manifest this great ritual.
Fifth: The starting time of paying Zakat-ul-Fitr is the night of 28th of Ramadan. The Companions would pay it one or two days before 'Eid. The deadline of paying it is the time of the 'Eid Prayer as supported by Hadeeths.
Sixth: Zakat-ul-Fitr is paid to those who deserve it, such as the poor and the needy, since the Prophet, sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, said: "…and to feed the needy." It is not correct to pay it to neighbors or relatives who do not deserve it, as some people exchange it like the meat of Udh’hiyah (Sacrifice) or ‘Aqeeqah (a celebration of birth). However, this is different. Zakat-ul-Fitr must be given to those who deserve it; the meat of the Udh’hiyah and ‘Aqeeqah, however, can be gifted. It is also incorrect to pay Zakat-ul-Fitr every year to a specific family who was once poor and are not so anymore. It is not permissible for the Muslim to keep on paying them Zakat-ul-Fitr after they have become well-off.
Seventh: It is preferable for the Muslim to give Zakat-ul-Fitr to the poor people in his country; yet, it is also permissible to transfer it to other countries particularly if their people desperately need it and he does not know any poor person who needs it in his country, or that there are other Muslims who can give the needy in his country Zakat-ul-Fitr.
Eighth: Zakat-ul-Fitr involves many pearls of wisdom and benefits, such as:
1- Showing gratitude for the favor of Allah The Almighty that one has completed fasting and finished after Ramadan. Allah The Almighty Says (what means): "...To complete the period and to glorify Allah for that [to] which He has guided you; and perhaps you will be grateful." [Surah Al Baqarah 2:185]
2- It is a Zakaah on the body which Allah The Almighty has sustained for a whole year.
3- It purifies the slave's fasting from the idle talk, foul language and the like. The Hadeeth stated that Zakat-ul-Fitr purifies the fasting person from idle talk and foul language.
4- It gives comfort to the poor and the needy and prevents them from begging on the day of 'Eid, so that they will be happy and satisfied like all other Muslims on 'Eid.
5- It trains the fasting person in generosity and giving, and protects him from stinginess and niggardliness.
Ninth: It is permissible for a group of Muslims or one family to pay their Zakat-ul-Fitr for a single needy person just as it is also permissible for a single Muslim to distribute his Zakat-ul-Fitr among several needy people.
Tenth: Zakat-ul-Fitr becomes obligatory by the sunset of the last day of Ramadan. So, if the Muslim dies before sunset, Zakat-ul-Fitr would not be obligatory for him because he died before it became obligatory for him. Similarly, if the Muslim had a baby after sunset on the night of 'Eid, it would not be obligatory for him to pay Zakat-ul-Fitr on behalf of the baby. Yet, it is recommended to pay it on its behalf.
Eleventh: Zakat-ul-Fitr is not obligatory for the Muslim on behalf of his workers and servants unless this is stipulated in the contract. However, it is permissible for the employer to pay Zakat-ul-Fitr on behalf of his employees as a type of donation and kindness towards them.
Twelfth: If the Muslim forgot to pay Zakat-ul-Fitr at its due time and did not remember to do so except after the 'Eid Prayer, he should pay it. There would be no blame on him because he is excused by his forgetfulness.
Thirteenth: If the Muslim authorized someone to deliver Zakat-ul-Fitr to its legal recipients, it should be delivered to them before the 'Eid Prayer. However, if the poor man asked the giver to keep it with him till the former would come to the latter, it would be permissible for the person authorized to keep it even till after the 'Eid Prayer.
The scope of worship in Islam is universal, in the literal sense. For the Quran tells us that each and every constituent of creation near or far, seen or unseen, animate or inanimate - worships The True and Only God. “Indeed, every being in the heavens and the earth but comes to the All-Merciful as a worshipper.” [Surah Maryam 19: 93] It is only human beings, then, that are called upon to voluntarily join in the wonderful symphony of worshipful creation.
Islam's five pillars are the cornerstones upon which we build such an outstanding and worshipful life. But no such establishment of a dignified life of faith on earth, either personally or socially, can take place without one essential pillar that represents the intersection of our professed convictions and our practical lives. Zakat is that pillar, for it is the primary instrument that Allah has placed at our disposal to spiritually and socially uplift every Muslim and the entirety of our community and thereby to assert a benevolent hand for the commonweal of humanity. And among Zakat's most blessed manifestations - and certainly its most widespread - is the obligatory annual giving of the Zakat-ul-Fitr charity, before the solemnizing of Ramadan by 'Eid prayer.