Sheikh Sa`ûd al-Funaysân, former professor at al-Imâm University
The matter of paying the cash value of the food as Zakâh al-Fitr – in lieu of giving the food itself –is a matter of disagreement among scholars.
I hold the opinion that giving the monetary value in cash is permissible, as this is what is most needed in these times.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Let them (the poor) be satisfied on that day (of `Id).”
This hadîth lends support the opinion that cash can be given in lieu of food. The poor people do not only need food. They have many other needs.
This was the opinion of al-Hasan al-Basrî. He said: “It is permissible to give dirhams (silver currency) as Zakâh al-Fitr”
`Umar b. `Abd al-`Azîz, during his reign as Caliph, wrote to his governor in Basra to receive half a dirham from each person as Zakâh al-Fitr.
I believe that giving food was more practical in the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him) due to the lack of money at that time, where people were accustomed to dealing in the barter of commodities and foodstuffs.
And Allah knows best.
Source: Islam Today