When does the fasting day starts?

I have a dispute with the some brothers here who are insisting that the fasting day starts with the adhan being called in the Masjid, that it is not up to the individual to make his own neeyet to start the fast. They will not accept that it is impossible to use that criteria as the majority of people will not be at the Masjid at the break of dawn.

Can you give me the Hanafi ruling on this aspect as well as the other Madhabs, if you have it available?


Wa Alaikum as Salaam,
With respect to the official time of starting of fast, it is at the time the night ends and the true morning begins (Al Fajr As Sadiq). Hence, one can continue to eat Suhoor as long as the night exists, but must stop eating as soon as the true morning enters. The time to stop eating has no direct connection to the start of the Azan for the Fajr Salaah, since in most places the Azan of Fajr is given after the true morning has entered. For example, in our country ( at present), the true morning enters at approximately 4:33 am, however, the Fajr Azan at many mosques is given at 5:00 am. If one continues to eat until 5:00 am (when the Azan starts) then he is actually eating after the day of fasting has started and his fast will be nullified. In this case, one is required to stop eating before 4:33 am (when the true morning will enter).
Hence, the fasting day begins from the break of dawn (the entering of the true morning when the night has ended) and not necessarily from the Azan of Fajr. This is the view of all the scholars (Imam of all the four Mazhab and all other sound and reliable scholars), and this is based on the teachings of the Holy Quran and the Sunnah.
With respect to the law contained in the Holy Quran, Allah says:-
‘And eat and drink until the white thread of the dawn becomes distinct to you from the black thread. Then complete the fast until night’ (2:187) (The white thread being distinct from the black thread means when the break of dawn (true morning) can be distinct from the night).
The above verse has been explained in the hadith recorded by Imam Bukhari in his Sahih compilation. It states that Adi bin Hatim (RA) narrated, ‘when the verse was revealed (saying), ‘Until the white thread appears to you, distinct from the black thread’, I took two hair strings, one black and the other white, and kept them under my pillow and went on looking at them throught the night but could not make anything out of it. So, the next morning, I went to the Messenger of Allah and related what I did. He then said to me, ‘it means the darkness of the night and the whiteness of the dawn’. (Sahih Al Bukhari Hadith #1916- Chapter on Fasting).
From this, it shows the allowance to eat and drink is until the whiteness of the dawn appears and not beyond this. There is no indication in the verse nor any hadith that the fasting day begins with the Azan of Fajr.
Regarding this, the great 7th Century Hambali scholar Ibn Qudama (died 620 AH) writes in his famous work on the Fiqh of Imam Ahmad:- ‘Fasting which is ordained in the Shariah is to refrain from all breakers (of fast) from the time Fajr enters (that is, the true dawn, which brings about the Fajr time) until the setting of the Sun. This is what has been narrated from Umar (RA), Ibn Abbas (RA), Ata as well as, the overwhelming majority of scholars have also stated the same. The proof for this is the statement of Allah (regarding eating and drinking before observing the fast) in which He says, ‘And eat and drink until the white thread of the dawn becomes distinct to you from the black thread’-this means when the whiteness of the day at early dawn becomes distinct from the darkness of the night- and this achieved only when the true time for Fajr enters.
Ibn Qudama then quotes the statement of Ibn Abd Al Barr and says ‘Ibn Abd Al Barr said with respect to the statement of the Prophet (SAS), ‘Certainly Bilal calls the Azan at night (for the Tahajud prayer) so eat and drink until Ibn Umm Maktoom calls the Azan (since he calls the Azan as soon as the break of dawn enters for Fajr), this is a clear indication and proof that ‘the white thread’ is the true morning and that Suhoor cannot be taken except before the time for Fajr. This is Ijma (unanimous verdict of all scholars) and no one has opposed this. The day which is wajib (essential) to fast is that which starts from the appearance of the true morning at Fajr time until the setting of the sun. This is the verdict of all the scholars of Muslims. (Al Mughni vol.3 pg 86 Published-Maktaba Al Jumhooriya Al Arabiya Cairo Egypt).
That which has been quoted by Ibn Qudama has gained the unanimity of all scholars and Imams which include Imam Abu Hanifa, Imam Shafi, Imam Malik and Imam Ahmad (A.R). No one from among the scholars of the past and present has gone against this.
A point which needs to be understood is that during the time of the Prophet (SAS), Bilal (RA) used to call the Azan during the period of the night at a time when the Tahajud Salaah used to be performed. Hence, it was the appropriate time of Suhoor (Sehri) and so, the Prophet (SAS) told the Sahabahs that they can continue to eat and drink since it was the night period. However, Abdullah bin Umm Makhtoom (RA) used to call the Azan as soon as the break of dawn for Fajr entered which signaled that one must stop eating at that time since the true morning (of Fajr time) had entered. It is for this reason, the Prophet (SAS) told the Sahabahs to continue to eat during Bilal’s Azan, but they must stop as soon as Abdullah bin Umm Makhtoom (RA) begins his Azan.
This clearly shows that the fasting day officially begins from the break of dawn or the time Fajr enters. The only reason that the Sahabahs were allowed to eat until Ibn Umm Makhtoom’s (RA) Azan was that he called the Azan immediately as soon as the Fajr time entered (at the break of dawn). His Azan signaled the end of the night and the beginning of Fajr time. This however, is not the practice of many mosques through the world. Today, the Fajr Azan is normally called a little while after the break of dawn enters. For example, in our country (Trinidad) (at present) the break of dawn (where Fajr) enters is 4:33 am, but the Fajr Azan, in all the mosques is given at 5:00 am. Therefore, if someone ate at the time when the Azan is given (at 5:00am) then his fast will be invalid since he ate after the Fajr time has entered which is against the teachings of the Holy Quran and that of the Prophet (SAS). In this case, a person will have to stop at 4:33am (for the latest) because this is the time Fajr enters where the fasting day begins.
Therefore, with respect to the present day custom in Masjids through the world where the Fajr Azan is given 15-20 minutes after the Fajr time (break of dawn) has entered, it would not be said that the fasting day begins from the time the Azan is given at the Masjid. In fact, no one will be allowed to eat until the Fajr Azan. They must stop eating before the break of dawn enters.
Allthe scholars of the different mazahib have ruled in this manner, and the great Shaikh, Ibn Baz has also given the same ruling.
In this regard, he wrote, ‘It is obligatory upon the believer to refrain from things that break the fast, such as eating, drinking and other than them, when it becomes clear to him that the Fajr time has entered’. (Fatawa Islamiya Vol. 3 pg 252 –The book of fasting). At another place, the Shaikh wrote that ‘one may base his verification on charts that list the times of the entry of Fajr’ (Fatawa Islamiya Vol. 3 pg 255).
With respect to the niyat, this is something which is personal to each person. Hence, each person has the right and liberty to make his/her own niyat. The Prophet (SAS) said, ‘Actions are based on intentions, and for each person is what he intended’. (Bukhari).
Hence, each person can make his/her niyat when he wishes to do so at the time of starting the fast. One can do it at home or in the masjid. There is no formal manner prescribed for this in the Shariah. It must be understood that niyat is a personal matter and it is the action of the heart. One is therefore required to have a firm intention in his heart regarding the observance of the fast. Once this is done, then this is sufficient.
If one goes further to utter his intention with the tongue then this is good and it is commendable.(Kitabul Fatawa Vol. 3 pg 386).
And Allah knows best,
Mufti Waseem Khan