Shawwal is the first of the three months of Hajj, and is also known as Ashhur al-Hajj (month of Hajj). Although the major acts of Hajj are performed in the first ten days of Zul-Hijjah, the period from the 1st of Shawwal up to the 10th of Zul-Hijjah is held to be the time of the Hajj since it is permissible to perform some of the acts of the pilgrimage during it including tawaf-ul-qudum followed by Sa’i, and Umrah, which if performed, can be affiliated to Hajj making it Hajj of Tamattu.
The first day of Shawwal is marked by the festival of Eid-Ul-Fitr, a day when all sins are forgiven as a reward for fasting and prayers in the month of Ramadan. It is mandatory for the all Muslims, if they are able, to pay sadaqa-ul-fitr to the poor so they too may enjoy the day with others and it is Sunnah to pay this prior to offering the 2 rakaahs of Eid prayers. The salat is obligatory on every male Muslim and can be preformed any time between ishraq and zawal.
Nafi` reported on the authority of Ibn `Umar that Rasulullah (SAW) would order that zakat al-fitr be distributed among the poor and would say, “Spare them (i.e., the poor) begging on this day (the day of Eid).” (Ahmad)
Al-Bukhari reported that Ibn ‘Umar said: “Rasulullah (SAW) made zakat al-fitr obligatory” and Ibn `Umar said in the end of this hadith, “People used to give zakat al-fitr (even) a day or two before the `Eid.”
This indicates that there was unanimity on the permissibility of paying zakat al-fitr one or two days before the day of Eid. Besides, paying it one or two days earlier than its due time does not contradict its aim, i.e., satisfying the need of the poor on the day of Eid, since this zakah or part thereof remains with the poor until the day of Eid.
The six fasts of Shawwal:
It is Sunnah to fast for six days in Shawwal, as narrated in the following hadith by Abu Ayyub Ansari (RA) that Rasulullah (SAW) has said, “If one throughout his life keeps the fasts of Ramadan and keeps six consecutive fasts in Shawwal it will be as though he has kept a whole life time of fasts, and if one fast for six consecutive days in Shawwal it will be as though he has fasted all year round.” (Muslim)
This can be explained in the following manner, the one who brings a single pious deed will be rewarded for ten, the fasts of Ramadan are, therefore, equal to fasting for ten months while the six fasts of Shawwal are equal to fasting a further two months, giving a total of twelve months or one year.
The practice of offering a sacrifice on the 15th day of this month is an innovation which has no religious significance associated with it.