all of us wish if the blessed month of ramadan could be a month for the whole year. however, by the end of ramadan, true muslims anticipate the great reward for their devotion and dedication to their creator, allah almighty. every muslim earnestly implores allah to accept his fasting. zakat al-fitr was declared by the prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, as a perquisite for the acceptance of fasting. it is meant to cement the relationship between the members of the muslim society, to alleviate the pain of the poor, to cultivate the sense of brotherhood and solidarity in the hearts of the muslims, etc.
zakat al-fitr is incumbent on every free muslim who possesses one sa` (2.176 kilograms or 4.797 pounds) of dates or barley which is not needed as a basic food for himself or his family for the duration of one day and night. every free muslim must pay zakat al-fitr for himself, his wife, children, and servants.
ibn `umar, may allah be pleased with them both, said, "the prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, enjoined the payment of one sa` of dates or one sa` of barley as zakat al-fitr on every muslim, young and old, male and female, free and slave." (reported by al-bukhari and muslim.)
shedding more light on this issue, we'd like to cite for you the following fatwa on zakat al-fitr issued by dr. muzammil siddiqi, president of the fiqh council of north america who states:
zakat al-fitr is a special charity of the month of ramadan. this charity should be given during the month of ramadan anytime before the `eid-ul-fitr prayer. because it can be given until the `eid-ul-fitr time, it is called zakat al-fitr. the prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) urged muslims to pay this charity in the month of ramadan.
various reasons are given by scholars for this obligatory charity. some say that this charity helps the poor and needy and takes care of their needs in the month of ramadan and also makes it possible for them to celebrate the `eid festival with other muslims. other scholars maintain that this charity is meant to expiate (kaffarah) for any mistakes or wrongdoings a person may have done during this blessed month. ibn `abbas said: the prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) enjoined zakat al-fitr so that those who fast are purified of their sins and the poor and needy people are enabled to arrange for their basic needs of food, clothing etc. therefore, the sadaqah (charity) of the person who gives before the `eid prayer is the real sadaqah, but if someone delays and gives it afterwards, his charity will be an ordinary one. (reported by abu dawud and ibn majah.)
zakat al-fitr is obligatory upon every (capable) muslim, whether male or female. the head of the household must pay this amount on behalf of his/her own self and on behalf of their spouse, children and even servants.
the amount of zakat al-fitr was fixed by the prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). it is about 5 pounds of wheat, flour, barley, dates or raisins. some jurists also allow paying cash to the poor and needy. the head of the household must pay this amount on behalf of all the members or the dependant, males or females, adults or children.
this sadaqah should be given during ramadan any time but before the `eid-ul-fitr prayer. the sadaqah should be given to the poor and the needy. individuals can also make the payments to islamic charitable organizations that collect this fund. these organizations then should distribute these funds as soon as possible so that they reach to the needy people on time.