No scholars sanction a Zakat payer to do any of the following:
Let one’s Zakat payment extend to the coming year’s payment
Pay Zakat in increments over time after its due date
Amend one’s Zakat calculation after its due date based on the Zakat payer’s changed wealth circumstances
Sanction forgiveness of missed Zakat payments that remain as outstanding debt
There are specified exemptions for delaying a Zakat payment beyond its due date, within limits, and established prophetic practices that permit a Zakat payer to remit its payment in advance.
God has obligated all Muslims to pay Zakat, alms of purification, yearly out of the different kinds of growing (or growable) wealth He has given them (see Is Zakat Due on All Wealth?). This is called Zakatable wealth.
The question of untimely payment (advanced or delayed) only applies to Zakatable wealth in the form of growth holdings; that is, wealth in the form of trade goods, money, livestock, precious metals, gems, etc. (The other category of Zakatable wealth is gains from the earth. This must be paid at time of harvest or, according to most scholars, when it is extracted from the earth (see What Requirements Qualify Wealth for Zakat?)).
Zakatable growth holdings become due exactly one Islamic lunar year after their threshold amount has come into a payer’s possession.
The Zakat year is called a hawl and equals the passing of the 12 lunar months of the Islamic, or hjri, calendar.
The Zakat threshold is called nisab, which literally means ‘origin’ or ‘beginning.’
(To understand how to calculate nisab for Zakat, see Nisab and Zakat Calculation in a Nutshell. To see how the nisab Zakat threshold and the hawl lunar year intersect, see the graphs in Can Zakat Be Used to Pay Debts? For a detailed discussion on Zakat calculation and nisab and Zakat rates, see How is Zakat Calculated on Wealth?)
Three Reasons to Pay Your Zakat On Time
one: zakat’s unique religious nature
Alone among Islam’s rites, Zakat is both an obligation of divine worship (in the legal category of ‘ibadat), as the Third of the Five Pillars upholding Islam, and a transactional financial duty (in the legal category of mu‘amalat) owed to the poor and deserving.
Zakat’s hybrid nature accounts for most of the scholarly discussion and differences over its rulings based on how scholars and legal schools categorize it in Law (fiqh). But this divergence of juristic views converges to bolster the prohibition against delaying Zakat’s payment beyond its due date.
Scholars who count Zakat as a worship obligation reject delaying its payment on the grounds that it is of the essence of all time-delimited worship forms – fasting Ramadan, the salat-prayers, and Hajj-pilgrimage (three of Islam’s Pillars) – to fulfill them in, on, and for their appointed durations.
God has obliged one able to perform these rites of worship to do so whenever their occasions and conditions occur. When their time of expiration draws near and they remain unfulfilled, they become imminent obligations of the moment (wajib al-waqt). One who misses them not only loses their reward but bears the burden of sin. Moreover, one remains in debt to God for their fulfillment, albeit as belated (qada’) acts.
Jurists who consider Zakat a financial duty assert that postponing its payment injures the divinely designated poor, needful, and deserving who become Zakat’s rightful owners upon its due date.
two: islam’s ethic of immediacy
In general, Islam exhorts believers to cultivate a disposition of hastening competitively to do righteous deeds – race one another to good works (Surat Al-Baqarah, 2:148) – and to rush toward life’s felicitous ends: race one another to the forgiveness of our Lord – and to a Garden whose breadth is as the breadth of all heaven and earth (Surat Al-Hadid, 57:21).
The Quran and its Messenger, on him be peace, continuously exhort us to act immediately in carrying out our rites of worship and moral transactions. We cannot know the hindrances or impediments our destinies may bring us, including the loss of our wealth or the time of our death.
Islam’s call to swiftness in good deeds and promptness in virtuous acts applies all the more urgently to Zakat (and to sadaqah, voluntary charity, in general) since it aims to relieve the poor and stricken of suffering and hardship.
three: unpaid zakat destroys wealth
The Prophet, on him be peace, gave a more vital temporal warning to people about paying their Zakat on time. “A person’s obligatory alms does not remain mixed with his other wealth without obliterating it” (Bukhari, in his Tarikh Al-Kabir, The Large History of Hadith Narrators).
When is it permissible to delay Zakat?
One must pay Zakat on its due date, excepting five valid exemptions:
One has liquid assets (cash or investments readily convertible to cash) not immediately accessible (like denominating gold or other precious commodities, cash in accounts, stocks, marketable securities, bonds, mutual funds, money-market funds, etc.)
One has designated one’s Zakat for poor relatives or desperate community members not immediately (but soon) accessible
One is in the process of assessing the need levels of Zakat’s intended recipients (which will soon be completed and one’s Zakat distributed)
A recognized Zakat authority has postponed its collection’s due date for a legitimate reason, as the Companion ‘Umar ibn Al-Khattab, God be pleased with him, once did as Caliph because of famine. (Drought, economic depression, and the like are analogous causes. The next year, when famine had abated, ‘Umar collected the Zakat for both years at the same time.)
One has paid his or her Zakat in advance. Three conditions must also validate this delay:
The Zakat payer must have calculated the due Zakat, set it aside, and guaranteed its payment with replacement assets in the event of its destruction or loss
The delay must be of short duration, with payment made in full not installments
The due Zakat payment may not be combined with other kinds of the Zakat payer’s wealth with different Zakat due dates
Scholars hold it a sin and forbidden to delay Zakat payment beyond its due date in the absence of these legitimate reasons and requirements. Abu Hanifah calls delay intensely reprehensible, and the scholars of his school deem it sinful, even if that delay without cause amounts to only a day or two.
The majority of scholars rule that one can pay Zakat in advance of its due date (even years of it, according to the Hanafis). This is only with regard to the kinds of Zakatable wealth one has that come due after a year (hawl); namely, designated growth holdings, again, like money, business assets, livestock, and the like.
Advance payment of Zakat has two conditions:
One must possess the wealth from which he or she will pay in advance in an amount that meets or exceeds its Zakat threshold (nisab)
One must calculate and pay Zakat on one’s principal asset separately from the return on that principal and any added gains from it, according to the Shafi’i and Hanbali schools. This is because one does not owe what has not yet come into one’s possession, determinable only at the Zakat due date. The Hanafis do not impose this condition. They consider return and gain inherently reliant on and related to the principal asset.
The Shafi‘is, Hanafis, and Hanbalis all sanction advance Zakat payment. The Malikis, and some other scholars, in the minority, prohibit it, except in two cases: (1) when the urgent need of people in distressed circumstances compels its early collection for transport to other localities in time for distribution by the end of the Zakat year; and (2) when the schedule of Zakat collectors sets its collection time relatively near its due date.
Scholarly disagreement about the permissibility of paying Zakat in advance stems from how jurists classify Zakat, according to the great Maliki jurist Ibn Rushd:
Those who consider [Zakat] a rite of worship, like Salat-prayer, prohibit its payment in advance of its set time. Those who liken it to deferred obligatory dues permit its voluntary payment in advance. (Bidayat Al-Mujtahid)
He cites a proof used by Imam Shafi‘i for his position of the legality of advanced Zakat payment, a report attributed to the Companion and fourth Caliph Ali ibn Abi Talib, God be pleased with him. The Prophet, on him be peace, “requested [in a loan to the Muslim community] the alms of [his uncle and Companion] Al-‘Abbas before its due date” (Nasa’i). Strengthened by augmenting and similar prophetic reports, this supports the validity of advanced Zakat payment.
In an authentic report, the Prophet, on him be peace, indicated that he owed (on behalf of the Muslim community) Ibn ‘Abbas’ due Zakat for that year “and another equal amount too” (Muslim). According to commentators, he had taken two years of Zakat in advance from Ibn ‘Abbas on behalf of the community (Shawkani).
Scholars that support the legality of advanced Zakat payment liken it to a debt paid before its due date, Zakat being a debt of worship owed to God and a financial obligation owed to His designated Zakat recipients.
They consider Zakat’s due date a prerogative of latitude to ease one’s financial obligation, which one may voluntarily forego and pay in advance, like paying off a debt in advance.
In sum, one cannot delay a Zakat payment one owes beyond its due date, except for narrowly restricted reasons and a small window of time.
One may pay a Zakat payment in advance of its time, if there is benefit or need.
Payment of Zakat at its due date is best.
And Allah knows best.