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It is reported that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “Remember! Zakat al-Fitr is Wajib (strongly recommended, just short of obligatory) on every Muslim, man or woman, free or in servitude, adult or child.” (Tirmidhi)
Literal meaning of Zakat (or Zakah) is the process of purification. Fitr is from the word Fitrah and its literal meaning is (one’s) nature or natural state. Hence the meaning of Zakat al-Fitr is to purify one’s nature.
Ibn Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Prophet made the Zakat al-Fitr obligatory for the purpose of: purifying our fasting from vain talk and shameful mistakes, to make arrangements for the poor and the needy for food and clothing (for the festival of Eid). (Abu Dawud, Ibn Maja)
Every adult Muslim, with sufficient food for the family for a day, should pay Zakat al-Fitr for himself/herself and all his/her dependents. Even those who did not fast should pay it. Zakat al-Fitr should also be paid for the child born or the person died before the Fajr (dawn) on the day of Eid.
At the time of the Prophet, payment of Zakat al-Fitr was made in terms of weight of grain. It is one Sa for each person. One Sa approximately equals to 3.15 kg or 6.94 lbs. The Muslim jurists agree that Zakat al-Fitr can also be paid in cash equivalent to the cost of 3.15kg/6.94 lb. of grain including rice, wheat, lentils, corn, and dry cheese.
Prophet Muhammad (saw) has said, “Whoever paid it (Zakat al-Fitr) before Eid Prayer, it is acceptable Zakat before Al’lah. Whoever paid it after Eid Prayer, it is just a charity.“ The companion of the Prophet used to pay it a few days earlier. (Bukhari)
Zakat al-Fitr should be paid early enough so it will reach the needy and the poor before the Eid day. It will enable them to use it for food and clothes and give them the opportunity to enjoy the happiness of Eid-ul-Fitr.
Zakat al-Fitr should be paid directly to the needy and the poor. However, you can also pay it to an organization, which would distribute it in accordance with the teaching of Islam. Remember! It is still your responsibility. So, make sure before paying that the organization will distribute it according to the teaching of Islam and before Eid Prayer.