Allah, the Exalted One, commanded those paying zakah to set it aside from the good portion of their property and forbade paying it from the bad portion. He says: “O you who believe! Spend of the good things you have earned and from that which We bring forth from the earth for you, and seek not the bad [with intent] to spend thereof [in charity] when you would not take it for yourselves save with disdain. And know that Allah is free of all wants and worthy of all praise” [alBaqarah 267].
Abu Dawud, an-Nasa’i and others reported from Sahl ibn Hanif from his father that: “The Messenger of Allah, upon whom be peace, forbade paying zakah with two kinds of dates called ju’rur and habiq. People used to set aside the worst of their fruit for sadaqah but were later on forbidden to do this by Allah: ‘And seek not the bad [with intent] to spend thereof [in charity]’ [al-Baqarah 267].”
While mentioning this verse, al-Bara’ said: “This was revealed in relation to us [al-Ansar – the Helpers], because we were owners of palm trees. A man may bring from his palm trees [dates] depending on how much he had, a cluster or two, and hang it at the mosque, and the people of the Saffah who had no food would come to the cluster and beat it with their rod. The green and unripe dates would fall off and they would eat them. There were people who did not seek good. Someone would bring a cluster of bad or inferior quality dates [shis and hashaf] or an already-broken cluster [before it had ripened] and hang it at the mosque. At this time, Allah revealed the ‘ayah: ‘And seek not the bad [with intent] to spend thereof [in charity] when you would not take it for yourselves save with disdain’ [al-Baqarah 267].” Al-Bara’ continued: “If one of you receives as a gift something similar to what he gives away, he would not accept it except out of feigned pleasure.” Said al-Bara’: “As a result of that, each one of us used to offer the good part of what he had.” It was narrated by at-Tirmizhi who said: “It is good and sound.”
In his summation of the subject, ash-Shaukani says: “This [the preceding hadith] means that the owner is not allowed to set aside the bad from the good on which zakah is due, especially in regard to dates as well as, by analogy, the various other categories on which zakah is due. Furthermore, the collector of zakah is not allowed to take it.