There is disagreement among Islamic scholars on whether it is permissible to eat before or after fajr (the pre-dawn meal) during Ramadan. The majority opinion is that it is permissible to eat and drink during the entire night until the adhan (call to prayer) for fajr. However, some scholars believe that one should stop eating and drinking when there is enough time before fajr for the food to pass through the body. This is typically interpreted as stopping eating approximately 10-15 minutes before fajr. After fajr and before maghrib (sunset), eating and drinking are prohibited.
When Does Fasting Begin and End During Ramadan?
The daily fast during Ramadan begins at fajr (dawn), which is defined as when there is enough natural light to distinguish between a black and a white thread. It ends at maghrib (sunset) when the disk of the sun has disappeared completely beneath the horizon.
During this period of fasting, Muslims must abstain not just from eating and drinking, but also from consuming oral medications and intravenous nutritional fluids. They must also abstain from smoking and sexual intercourse during fasting hours.
The timings for fajr and maghrib are determined by the position of the sun and vary by location and season. To determine the precise time, Muslims consult published prayer timetables that take into account the position of the sun.
The timing of fajr is critical in determining when the fast begins each day. There are two main opinions on when fajr occurs:
1. When the white thread can be distinguished from a black thread in natural light. This is known as the fath al-mithal opinion.
2. When the first light of dawn appears on the horizon. This is known as the fath al-sadl opinion.
The first opinion results in a later fajr time while the second results in an earlier fajr. In practice, Muslim communities and scholars differ on which opinion to follow. Some adhere strictly to one opinion or the other, while others take a more flexible approach by averaging the two times.
In addition to fajr, there is the concept of imsak, which refers to the time when one must stop eating in anticipation of starting the fast. Imsak occurs before fajr, providing a buffer between eating and the start of the fast at dawn.
The length of the imsak period is not agreed upon unanimously. Some scholars say it should be 10-15 minutes before fajr, while others say it can extend to an hour or two before dawn. Many mosques and Islamic centers announce an imsak time for practical purposes.
During Ramadan, the time between imsak and fajr constitutes a gray area where eating is discouraged by some scholars but permitted by others.
Eating Before Fajr: Permissible or Not?
Whether or not to eat before fajr is a matter of scholarly debate stemming from differences in interpreting the Islamic texts on this issue. There are two main opinions:
1. Eating before fajr is permissible until the adhan is called.
This view is held by the Shafi’i, Hanbali, and Maliki schools of Islamic law. Proponents of this opinion point to texts permitting eating late into the night during Ramadan. They argue that as long as one stops eating by the time the fajr adhan is called, they have fulfilled their obligation and their fast is valid.
2. Eating should stop before fajr to allow time for digestion.
This view is held by the Hanafi school and some modern scholars. Supporters of this view point to texts that prohibit eating “when dawn approaches” or “when the dawn white appears.” They argue that one should stop eating an hour or two before dawn to ensure no food remains in the stomach at fajr.
The permissibility of eating before fajr has several practical implications:
– Muslims who adhere to the first opinion may continue eating late into the night as long as they stop upon hearing the morning adhan. They can have suhur or pre-dawn meals very close to dawn.
– Muslims who follow the second opinion must stop eating approximately 10-15 minutes before the start of fajr. The exact cutoff time varies based on different scholarly interpretations.
– In some communities, the local mosque or scholars may advise congregants to stop eating at the designated imsak time as a precaution.
– Muslims who aren’t sure about scholarly differences on this issue may take a flexible approach, stopping eating an appropriate amount of time before fajr based on their own health considerations and local guidance.
Eating After Fajr: Prohibited
There is scholarly consensus that eating after fajr and before maghrib is prohibited during Ramadan. Once the fajr adhan is called, the period of fasting has begun until sunset.
Some evidence that eating is prohibited after dawn includes:
– “Then complete your fast till nightfall.” (Quran 2:187) This verse indicates fasting is from dawn to sunset.
– “Eat and drink until the white thread becomes distinct from the black thread of dawn.” (Sahih al-Bukhari) This hadith indicates eating is only permitted until dawn.
– “If the downcast glance does not cause sexual appetite, or the stomach any hunger, know that the (time of dawn) has come.” (Sunan al-Tirmidhi) This hadith highlights that hunger and eating are not permitted after dawn.
Intentionally eating or drinking after dawn invalidates the fast and requires qada (making up missed days). Accidentally eating or drinking does not break the fast but does require fidyah (expiation) according to most scholars.
Should You Wake up for Suhoor Before Fajr?
Since the fast begins at fajr, Muslims are encouraged to wake up before dawn to have suhoor, their pre-dawn meal.
Eating suhoor has several benefits:
– It provides energy and nourishment to start the day. Going without food and drink for 15+ hours is challenging, so suhoor helps sustain energy and focus.
– Starting the fast on a full stomach may help reduce hunger pangs and headaches later in the day.
– Suhoor can help prevent dehydration, constipation, and other issues associated with prolonged fasting.
– There are spiritual blessings (barakah) associated with eating suhoor. The Prophet Muhammad (s) emphasized its importance.
When determining what time to wake up for suhoor, Muslims should consider the following:
– Imsak time – Some mosques and scholars recommend stopping eating at imsak, 10-15 minutes before fajr.
– Time needed to prepare and eat suhoor – Most people need at least 15-30 minutes to wake up, make food, eat, and clean up.
– Personal health considerations – Those with medical needs may require more time to eat slowly or take medications.
As a general guideline, waking up at least half an hour before fajr allows enough time for suhoor while following the imsak precaution. But Muslims can determine the time that works best for them based on their local mosque guidance and personal needs.
What to Eat for Suhoor
Suhoor does not have to be elaborate, but should provide adequate nutrition, hydration, and sustenance. Here are some recommended foods and drinks to include:
– High-fiber foods – Whole grains, beans, lentils, vegetables. Fiber provides a slow and steady release of energy.
– Fruits – Dates, berries, bananas, melons supply glucose and important minerals.
– Protein – Eggs, oatmeal or nut butters combined with grains, low-fat dairy products. Provides satiety and sustained energy.
– Water – Hydrates the body and replenishes fluids lost during long fasting hours.
– Juices – Orange, apple, berry juices provide hydration and nutrition from natural sugars.
– Tea/coffee (unsweetened) – The caffeine boost can counteract drowsiness and improve concentration.
– Dates – Eating 2-3 dates is recommended by the Prophet Muhammad (s) to provide quick energy.
Avoid spicy, fried, or gas-producing foods that may cause discomfort when fasting. Moderation is key even in good foods to prevent indigestion issues.
Sample Suhoor Meal Schedule
Here is an example schedule for suhoor two hours before fajr:
12:00 am – Wake up for tahajjud prayers and Quran recitation
12:45 am – Prepare and eat suhoor meal
1:15 am – Pray 2 rakah sunnah suhoor prayers
1:30 am – Sleep / rest until fajr
3:30 am – Wake up for fajr prayers
This allows time for spiritual nourishment through night prayers, provides 1.5 hours for suhoor, and lets you rest again before starting the fast. Adjust the times as needed based on your local fajr time.
Some sample suhoor meals within a balanced diet:
– Oatmeal with fruits, yogurt, eggs or nuts
– Multigrain toast with peanut butter and banana
– Salad with quinoa, vegetables, chicken or fish
– Lentil or vegetable soup with whole grain bread
– Fruit smoothie with protein powder
After Fajr: What Can You Do?
Although eating and drinking are prohibited after dawn, there are other beneficial ways to spend your time after fajr until work or school starts.
– Quran recitation and study
– Voluntary (nafl) prayers – particularly the 2 rakah sunnah prayers
– Personal supplications (dua) and remembrance of Allah (dhikr)
– Reflecting on the deeper spiritual meanings behind fasting
– Exercising to take advantage of lowered leptin levels in the fasted state
– Preparing iftar meals in advance for after sunset or buying groceries
– Showering, grooming, and getting ready for the day
Many Muslims also choose to go back to sleep for 1-2 hours after fajr to rest up for the day. The key is avoiding food or drink, as well as sinful speech and deeds, during fasting hours. Patience, gratitude and increased spirituality are the goals behind fasting.
In summary, the major opinions are:
– Eating is permitted until the fajr adhan according to the Shafi’i, Hanbali and Maliki schools, while the Hanafis say to stop eating 10-15 minutes before dawn.
– Eating suhoor shortly before fajr is recommended to start the fast with energy.
– Drinking water during the night is permitted according to the four schools and can prevent dehydration while fasting.
– Eating and drinking after the fajr adhan is prohibited until sunset.
Muslims should learn the different scholarly views on suhoor and fajr
and follow their local mosque guidance on when to stop eating. With proper
intention and adherence to the rules, Ramadan fasting can be a rewarding
physical and spiritual experience.