Suhoor vs. Fajr start times – when is dawn, not dawn?!
There continues to be debate about the end of Suhoor and the start of Fajr, which often causes confusion and consternation between friends and family. I’ll try to clear up some of the points here, as usual I only vouch for the Hanafi school of Jurisprudence.
For a start, the word Suhoor (aka Sehri, Sahur, Sahari!) is the Arabic word that refers to the pre-dawn meal that should be eaten with the intention to then fast the rest of the day. Incidentally ‘Sahoor’ translates literally as ‘of the dawn’ – which is interesting to note.
So we come to Fajr, this is the early morning prayer (usually it’s still dark out there when you offer it). The first of the 5 daily prayers. The time for when you can actually begin this prayer is actually a tough one to work out in the UK, let’s pretend you don’t have that calendar on your fridge to follow and you had to work out the time for fajr all by yourself – just using your senses. How would you do it?
Well, wake up very early. Well before dawn. Then go outside into your garden or a similar open space and look towards the east from where the Sun will eventually rise. What you will notice is that it gradually starts to get lighter & lighter – even before the Sun has actually made an appearance. Now, if you are lucky and live on the East Coast (else just pretend there are no buildings or hills in your way) & you could see to the horizon – the first inkling of light can be seen far in the distance. Yet where you are it is still quite dark. This is kinda when the Sun is roughly at an angle of 18 degrees BELOW the horizon. This is the time when many mosques/communities use as the start time for Fajr and is technically described as the Astronomical Dawn! But others use a different definition, that of 15 degrees, which means Sehri ends roughly 1 hour and 15 minutes (specifically during July, and in the UK) than for those who use the 18 degree calculation.
Now, the clear distinction of the END of night is an indication of the beginning of Fajr. This is totally the same time as when Suhoor ends, i.e. when you have to stop eating/drinking and make your intention to fast
“…and eat and drink, until the whiteness of the day becomes distinct from the blackness of the night at dawn…” Al-Quran, Surah Al-Baqarah [02-187]
[this doesn’t mean you should get a black and white string and hold them up to compare, it’s talking about what you can see & distinguish in the sky!]
So…as soon as ‘dawn’ starts that is when Suhoor ends, not 10 or 20 minutes before. The debate/argument/disagreement is about which definition of Dawn we use, whether dawn is at:
- 18 degrees (Astronomical Dawn – when it all still seems very black where you are)
- 12-15 degrees (Nautical Dawn – getting lighter, but still pretty dark)
- 6 degrees (Civil Dawn – enough daylight to go outside and do something outdoorsy)
- or when the Sun hits the horizon at 0 degrees (by which time it will be really quite bright)
Others will talk about a True Dawn and a False Dawn preceding it, with the true dawn as 15 degrees and the false dawn as 18 degrees. Confused? Don’t blame you. Many people are. You are actually supposed to go out and make the observation yourself, from your home city – but for many living in urbanized areas this is very difficult to do.
Therefore the key question remains is at how many degrees below the horizon is the Sun when we have sufficient light WHERE WE ARE STANDING to be able to differentiate between the whiteness of day and darkness of night and hence declare ‘Dawn is here!’??? I’ll go with 15 degrees, which would concur with the statement from Al-Quran that there be sufficient light to see the difference in night/day, and which the majority of Hanafi fiqh jurists agree.
Once you know the time for Fajr start that you agree with you can happily drink that last glass of water, then go and pray your Fajr salaat. No delays, no faffing about. There is no need for this practice of ending Suhoor early, it is not what is stated in the Quran yet it seems to be more and more popular as a customary practice.
You won’t find me doing it…
Keeping this in mind, the practice in Ramadhan in some organisations is that Suhoor ends at 16 degrees (False Dawn) whilst the Adhan (call to prayer/beginning of prayer) of Fajr is called out after the sun reaches 15 degrees (True Dawn) below the horizon. This time difference period is often referred to as Subh-Sadiq, it lasts about 10 minutes and unless you are very skilled at observing the dawn period is very difficult to determine with the naked eye (hence we all use our fridge magneted calendars!)
Having said all that, with the complications of determining exactly when Fajr starts – it can make sense to end Suhoor a minute or 2 before Fajr starts. Just common sense really, a surety in a world full of doubts/ambiguities/complications. However you can eat or drink ALL the way up till the very start of Fajr, if you are holding a glass of unfinished water – FINISH it. Even if Fajr has started. It was never the practice of the Prophet (pbuh) or his companions, so relax! Stay clear from the obsessive behaviour around this issue, even a few minutes into Fajr MAKES NO DIFFERENCE.
Often, other websites will recommend you consult your local Ulema (knowledgeable people) for guidance on this issue. This confounds the problem further, who is your local ulema? If like me you have over 90 mosques within 10 miles, and use more than one regularly…which do you follow? In this age of technology and many conflicting opinions the real truth is often buried. Dig it out.
Also many people say fasting in Islam is from Sunrise to Sunset – this is INCORRECT. It is from the first light of Dawn to Sunset, as explained dawn starts well before actual sunrise. Sometimes the difference can be nearly 2 hours – which is the valid period within which you can read Fajr!