The word fitr means the same as iftar, breaking a fast and it comes from the same root word as futoor which means breakfast. This is a duty which is wajib (required) of every Muslim, whether male or female, minor or adult as long as he/she has the means to do so.
According to Islamic tradition (Sunnah), Ibn Umar said that Muhammad made Zakat al-Fitr compulsory on every slave, free man, male, female, young and old amongst the Muslims; one Saa` of dried dates or one Saa` of barley. [Sahih Bukhari] The head of the household may pay the required amount for the other members.
Abu Sa’eed al-Khudree said: “On behalf of our young and old, free men and slaves, we used to take out during Allah’s Messenger’s (peace be upon him) lifetime one Sa` of grain, cheese or raisins”.[Sahih Muslim]
The main purpose of Zakat al-Fitr is to provide the poor with a means with which they can celebrate the festival of breaking the fast (`Eid al-Fitr) along with the rest of the Muslims.
Every Muslim is required to pay Zakat al-Fitr at the conclusion of the month of Ramadan as a token of thankfulness to God for having enabled him or her to observe the obligatory fast. Its purpose is to act as a levy on the fasting person. This is based on the hadith: The Prophet of Allah (PBUH) said, “The fasting of the month of fasting will be hanging between earth and the heavens and it will not be raised up to the Divine Presence without paying the Zakat al-Fitr.”
To purify those who fast from any indecent act or speech and to help the poor and needy. The latter view is based upon the hadith from Ibn Abbas who related: “The Prophet of Allah enjoined Zakat al-Fitr on those who fast to shield them from any indecent act or speech, and for the purpose of providing food for the needy. It is accepted as zakah for the one who pays it before the Eid prayer, and it is sadaqah for the one who pays it after the prayer.” [Abu Dawood]
Zakat al-Fitr is only wajib for a particular period of time. If one misses the time period without a good reason, he has sinned and cannot make it up. This form of charity becomes obligatory from sunset on the last day of fasting and remains obligatory until the beginning of the Eid prayer (i.e. shortly after sunrise on the following day). However, it can be paid prior to the above mentioned period, as many of the sahabah (companions of the Prophet) used to pay Sadaqah al-Fitr a couple days before Eid.
After the spread of Islam the jurists permitted its payment from the beginning and middle of Ramadan so as to ensure that the Zakat al-Fitr reached its beneficiaries on the day of Eid. It is particularly emphasized that the distribution be before the Eid prayers in order that the needy who receive are able to use the fitr to provide for their dependents on the day of `Eid.
Nafi` reported that the Prophet’s companion Ibn Umar used to give it to those who would accept it and the people used to give it a day or two before the `Eid. [Bukhari]
Ibn Umar reported that the Prophet ordered that it (Zakat al-Fitr) be given before people go to perform the Eid prayers. One who forgets to pay this Zakat al-Fitr on time should do so as soon as possible even though it will not be counted as Zakat al-Fitr.
The amount of Zakat is the same for everyone regardless of their different income brackets. The minimum amount is one sa` (four double handfuls) of food, grain or dried fruit for each member of the family. This calculation is based on Ibn Umar’s report that the Prophet made Zakat al-Fitr compulsory and payable by a sa` of dried dates or a sa` of barley.
The Companion of the Prophet, Abu Sa`eed al-Khudree said: “In the Prophet’s time, we used to give it (Zakatal-Fitr) as a sa` of food, dried dates, barley, raisins or dried cheese”. [Bukhari] . According to the majority of Sunni scholars One Sa’a is approximately between 2.6 Kg to 3 Kg. The distribution of Zakat al-Fitr is the same as that of Zakah, and is included within its broader sense. Those who may receive Zakat al-Fitr are the eight categories of recipients mentioned in Surat Al-Tawbah, [9: 60]. They include: