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, freeman, male, female, young and old among the Muslims; one Saa` of dried dates or one Saa` of barley. [Sahih Bukhari – Arabic/English, vol. 2, p. 339, no. 579] 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 Allaah’s Messenger’s (upon whom be God’s peace and blessings) lifetime one Sa` of grain, cheese or raisins”. [Sahih Muslim – English transl. vol. 2, p. 469, no. 2155]
Zakat ul 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 `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 ul Fitr a couple days before the `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 ul 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 – Arabic/English, Vol. 2, p.339, no. 579] Ibn ‘Umar reported that the Prophet ordered that it (Zakat ul Fitr) be given before people go to perform the (`Eid) prayers. One who forgets to pay this Zakat ul Fitr on time should do so as soon as possible even though it will not be counted as Zakat ul Fitr.