When To Pay Zakaatul Fitr:
It should be paid two days before Eid. This is the view of the Maalikis and Hanbalis. They quoted as evidence the hadeeth of Ibn ‘Umar (may Allaah be pleased with him) who said: They used to give (zakaat) al-fitr one or two days before (Eid). Narrated by al-Bukhaari (1511).
What Can be Given as Zakaatul Fitr:
Narrated by al-Bukhaari (1510) from Abu Sa‘eed al-Khudri (may Allah be pleased with him) who said: At the time of the Messenger of Allah (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) on the day of (Eid) al-Fitr, we used to give (as zakat al-fitr) a saa‘ of foodstuff, and our food at that time was barley, raisins, dried yoghurt, and dates.
So they would give a saa‘ of what they ate as their staple food.
Whatever is not regarded as a staple food of the people, it is not permissible to give it as zakat al-fitr.
What is meant by “staple food” is that which people eat as their basic source of nutrition.
It says in al–Mawsoo‘ah al–Fiqhiyyah (6/44): Staple foods include wheat, rice and other basic foods which are suitable to provide nutrition for people’s bodies on an ongoing basis.
Those to whom it must be given are the poor and needy. It was proven that Ibn ‘Abbaas (may Allaah be pleased with him) said: The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) enjoined zakaat al-fitr as a purification for the fasting person from idle and obscene speech, and to feed the poor. Whoever gives it before the prayer, it is zakaat al-fitr, and whoever gives it after the prayer, it is ordinary charity. This was narrated by Abu Dawood and classed as hasan by al-Albaani in Saheeh Abi Dawood
If there are no poor people in the area, or those who will take it do not really need it and will not eat it, but will instead sell it at half price, and it is difficult to find poor and needy people who will eat it, then it is permissible to send it outside the country. It is permissible to give the price (of zakaat al-fitr) at the beginning of the month to an agent who will buy (zakaat al-fitr) and deliver it to deserving people at the time when it should be paid.
(Al-Fataawa al-Jibreeniyyah fi’l-A’maal al-Da’wiyyah li Fadeelat al-Shaykh ‘Abd-Allaah ibn Jibreen, p. 33)
Who Must Pay Zakaatul Fitr:
Zakaat al-fitr must be given on behalf of all Muslims, young and old, male and female, free and slave. With regard to a foetus, it is not obligatory to give it on his behalf according to scholarly consensus, but it is mustahabb, because ‘Uthmaan (may Allaah be pleased with him) did that.
The majority of scholars, including the four imams and others, are of the view that zakaat al-fitr is due from the Muslim even if he did not fast Ramadaan. No one else differed from that except Sa’eed ibn al-Musayyab and al-Hasan al-Basri, who said that zakaat al-fitr is due only from those who fasted. But the correct view is that of the majority, because of the following evidence:
1) The general meaning of the hadeeth which is the basis for zakaat al-fitr being obligatory:
It was narrated that Ibn ‘Umar (may Allaah be pleased with him) said: The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) enjoined zakaat al-fitr, a saa’ of dates or a saa’ of barley, upon everyone, slave or free, male or female, young or old, and he enjoined that it be paid before the people went out to pray. Narrated by al-Bukhaari (1503) and Muslim (984).
The word “young” includes small children who cannot fast.
2) When charity and zakaah are enjoined, it is usually to help the poor and needy, and is aimed at achieving some degree of social security, and the most obvious case is zakaat al-fitr, which is enjoined upon young and old, free and slave, male and female, and the Lawgiver did not stipulate any minimum threshold (nisaab) or the passage of one year for it to be obligatory. Hence the fact that it is obligatory for those who did not fast in Ramadaan, with or without an excuse, is implied in the purpose for which this zakaah is prescribed.
3) With regard to the argument of those who quoted as evidence the words of Ibn ‘Abbaas (may Allaah be pleased with him): The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) enjoined zakaat al-fitr as a purification for the fasting person from idle talk and obscene speech, and to feed the poor. Narrated by Abu Dawood (1609)
They said: The words “as a purification for the fasting person” means that zakaat al-fitr is obligatory only for those who fasted. Al-Haafiz Ibn Hajar responded to that in al–Fath(3/369) where he said:
My response is that mentioning purification refers to the usual case (as most people fast), just as it is also required of those who did not commit sin, such as one who is very righteous or one who became Muslim a moment before the sun set. End quote.
What this means is that in most cases zakaat al-fitr is prescribed because it is a purification for the one who fasted, but attaining this purification is not a condition of it being obligatory.
Shaykh Ibn Jibreen gave another response, and said:
It is paid on behalf of children and those who are not accountable, and those who did not fast because of an excuse such as sickness or travel. So the purification is for the guardians of those who are not accountable, and it is a purification for the one who did not fast because of an excuse, on the assumption that he will fast once the excuse is no longer in effect, so it is purification in advance, before he fasts or completes his fast. End quote.
Fataawa al–Zakaah (zakaat al–fitr/2)
Delaying Zakaatul Fitr:
If a person delays zakaat al-fitr knowingly, then he is a sinner and he has to repent to Allaah and make it up, because it is an act of worship that remains due even when the time for it has passed. However, if he forgot to pay it on time, then there is no sin on him, but he still has to make it up. With regard to there being no sin on him, the general meaning of the evidence indicates that there is no sin on one who forgets, but he is still obliged to make it up for the reasons given above.
Ibn Abbas – may Allah be pleased with both of them – said, ‘The Prophet prescribed Zakatul Fitr as to purify the one who fasts from meaningless and vulgar talks (during fasting) and to avail the needy. Whosoever, pays it before Eid prayer, it is an accepted alms. But who pays it after the prayer; it is a charity’ i.e. voluntary charity (Sadaqah).