Zakat Al-Fitr was declared by the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) as a prerequisite 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.
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.” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)
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 al-Fitr prayer. Because it can be given until the Eid al-Fitr time, it is called Zakat Al-Fitr.
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 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. (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 al-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.