In the name of Allah, Most Merciful, Bestower of Mercy.
All praise is for Allah. And may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon the Messenger, his Companions and those who follow his guidance.
Allah has legislated for you at the end of Ramadān acts of worship that increase you in nearness to Allah. He has prescribed for you the Sadaqah of Fitr that purifies the fasting people from vain speech and sins. Allah has obligated it upon the young, the old, male, female, the free and the slave. It is an obligatory charity of the body to help the poor and the destitute.
The Messenger (ﷺ) commanded with Zakāt-Fitr at the end of Ramadan, one Sā’ of dried dates or barley, “payable by the young and old, free and slave.” (Abu Dawūd 1620) “He commanded that it be handed out before the people leave their homes for the Eid Prayer.” (Bukhārī, Muslim)
Ibn Abbās said: “Allah’s Messenger obligated Zakāt Al-Fitr as a purification for the fasting person from loose talk, indecent speech and to feed the poor.” (Abu Dawūd) Abu Sa’īd said: “We used to give four cupped handfuls of grain or barley or dates or dried curds or raisins.” (Bukhārī)
A Muslim pays it for himself and for those he is responsible for such as his wife, children and others who he is obligated to provide for. It is also recommended to pay it on behalf of the unborn child. It is to be paid in food and not in cash or clothing.
It is to be given to the poor of the land where he spent his Ramadān. It is not permitted to send it to another country while there are people of need and those deserving in his own land. If there is not in his land people who are in need and deserving, then he can send it to the poor of the land which is closest to him. In that case, he may appoint someone to hand it out on his behalf.
The time for its distribution begins from the setting of the sun on the night before ‘Eid until the establishment of the ‘Eid prayer. It is also permitted to hasten it before ‘Eid by a day or two days. However, to delay it until the morning of ‘Eid before the ‘Eid Prayer is better.
To delay its payment until after the ‘Eid Prayer without an excuse is not allowed -— and in that case, he should still pay it during that day. And if it is delayed beyond the day of ‘Eid, it is still to be given as an atonement (qadā). This makes clear that Zakāt Al-Fitr must be given by everyone who has the ability and that it must be discharged before the ‘Eid Prayer, even if it is by a day or two.
So, the best time to give it is between the setting of the sun on the night before ‘Eid until the ‘Eid Prayer. The time it is allowed (for the one who has an excuse) is after the ‘Eid Prayer until the day ends. The time of atonement (qadā) is for the one who did not give it on ‘Eid, then he must still pay it after the day of ‘Eid, and he is sinful for the delay in giving it.
The ones deserving of Zakāt Al-Fitr are same ones deserving of Zakāt Al-Māl among the poor, the destitute and so on. One can give the food (of Zakāt Al-Fitr) directly himself to those in need or deputise someone on his behalf or give it to those appointed to distribute it.
The amount that is to be given is a Sā’ (صاع) of wheat, or barley, or dates, or raisins or hard cheese — or that which is the staple food according to the land such as rice, corn, millet and so on. A Sā’ in kilograms is approximately 3kg.
It is not allowed to pay money to the poor in replacement of food because that opposes the texts. The practice of giving cash to people in other countries is not allowed. As stated previously, poor people of your own land must be given your Zakāt Al-Fitr as they have the most right — and those eligible to receive must be given food and not cash. If there is no one deserving or poor in your own land, then it can be sent to other lands in the form of food. This can be achieved through appointing someone who will purchase the food and pass it to the poor. It is not reported from Prophet (ﷺ) nor any of his Companions that they ever gave cash as Zakāt Al-Fitr to the poor.
Imām Ahmad Ibn Hanbal stated: “Cash payment is not to be given (as Fitr to the poor).” It was said to him: “Some people say Umar Ibn ‘Abdul-‘Azīz took it in cash.” He replied: “They leave the saying of Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) and instead say: ‘So-and-so said.’ Indeed ‘Umar said: ‘Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) obligated a Sā’ (of food) as Zakāt Al-Fitr.'”
Furthermore, Allah has legislated for you at the end of this month to make the Takbeer (glorify Allah) from the setting of the sun on the night before ‘Eid until the performance of the ‘Eid prayer. Allah, the Most High, said:
وَلِتُكْمِلُوا الْعِدَّةَ وَلِتُكَبِّرُوا اللَّهَ عَلَىٰ مَا هَدَاكُمْ وَلَعَلَّكُمْ تَشْكُرُونَ – 2:185
“…And that you must magnify Allah (i.e. to say Allahu-Akbar) for having guided you so that you may be grateful to Him.”
The method of Takbīr of Ibn Mas’ūd (may Allah be pleased with him) on ‘Eid Day
لا إله إلا الله
وَ لله الحمد
Ibn Abī Shaybah, no. 5633, Sahīh. See Irwā Al-Ghalīl of Al-Albānī 3/125
(Most of this article was sourced from Majālis Shahr Ramadān Al-Mubārak of Shaikh Al-Fawzān with additions and clarifications from myself)