Dawn and Sehri/Suhur/Suhoor Timings Confusion for Ramadan in the UK 1430/2009

Bismillah. (Apologies that this is a little late, since half the month has passed, but it will still be useful insha’Allah.)

Much confusion has been caused by varying dawn timings on mosque timetables, even within the same UK city. Variation is caused by different fatwas on how low (as an angle, in degrees) the sun is below the horizon when dawn first breaks. The major fiqhi schools differ between 15 and 18 degrees.

The timings can vary by up to an hour. For example, in London: the East London Mosque (ELM) uses the rule of 15 degrees, I believe. The Regent’s Park Mosque (RPM) uses 17.5 or 18 degrees, following a fatwa from the World Fiqh Academy (al-Majamma’) based in Mecca.

The RPM timings are therefore much earlier than ELM, making the fast much longer. The Muslim World League (MWL) London uses RPM timings but subtracts another 10 minutes at the beginning of the fast, following the disputed, “cautious” method of imsak.

The MWL fast was thus *a whole hour* longer than the ELM one at the beginning of Ramadan this year, approximately 17 vs. 16 hours! The difference reduces to about half an hour by the end of the month, as the days shorten and the end of Ramadan coincides approximately with the autumn equinox.

At Tawhid Mosque (TM) in Leyton, we usually use a 90-minute rule for dawn and nightfall (before sunrise and after sunset, respectively) in working out prayer times throughout the year. For Ramadan, we’ve adjusted the dawn rule to 100 minutes, to be safe, but this is still slightly shorter than the ELM timings.

Only observations of dawn can settle this matter. A few nights before Ramadan, 18/19 August 2009, we had an exceptionally clear night in London. The stars and planets, especially Jupiter and Venus, were much clearer than is normal. I observed the dawn in the morning and first saw it above local rooftops at 4.27am. My estimate of dawn over the horizon, allowing also for light pollution, was between 4 and 4.20am. This was confirmed by Dr. Ameen Kamlana, observing simultaneously in Ashford, Kent. Timings that morning were: sunrise 5.49am (1-2 min variation possible), ELM dawn 4.03am, TM dawn around 4.11am with the 100-min rule.

I observed the dawn again this morning after another clear night. In fact, every time I have observed it around the UK over the years, the timing is close to the 15-degree or the 90-100-minute rules. Many other observers have also preferred the 15-degree timings, including (I think) Maulana Yaqoob Miftahi in Northern England and Refi Shafi (Abu Rumaysah) in High Wycombe.

The 17.5 or 18 degree timings are far too early in my view, indicating dawn when there is actually pitch darkness on the horizon. Perhaps the reason for this is that 18 degrees corresponds to the beginning/end of astronomical twilight, when even sensitive telescopes are unaffected by tiny amounts of scattered sunlight. However, this is not the same as dawn that is visible to the naked eye. Furthermore, as Ramadan moves through midsummer over the next few years, 18 degrees is not attained in most or all of the UK, so this method will provide no timings whatsoever.

Perhaps the jurists who issued the Majamma’ fatwa were wrongly advised about the nature of “first light” ? However, Dr. Musharraf Hussain of the Karimia once told me that 18 degrees is an established Hanafi position. Others, such as the imam of Brick Lane mosque, told me that 15 degrees is, too.

The Majamma’ perhaps needs to reconsider its ijtihad, which has another inconsistency: it uses a 17.5 degree rule equally for dawn and nightfall, although the majority of schools hold that the two are not symmetrical since they depend on white and red twilight, respectively. Imam Abu Hanifah, of course, held that they were symmetrical, both being white threads of dawn/twilight.

Summary: this is all a matter of ijtihad, so the public are free to follow their preferred authorities.

I advise brothers and sisters to observe the dawn and make up their own minds. 15 degree timings are perhaps preferable to 18 degree ones, especially since they make involve less hardship in the fast and seem to correspond far better with the dawn visible to the naked eye.

Note: several narrations in Tafsir Ibn Kathir have Companions/Successors describing the dawn breaking over the mountains of Mecca and Medina. This would indicate that there is no need to be obsessed with sea-level horizon timings, within reason. Allah asked us to begin fasting when the dawn becomes apparent. However, I have never found a good answer to a work colleague’s question, “What do Muslims do, who live in deep valleys?”

All the above is for discussion. Please contribute your views, observations, experiences, etc.

And Allah knows best!

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8 Responses to “Dawn and Sehri/Suhur/Suhoor Timings Confusion for Ramadan in the UK 1430/2009”

  1. Muadh Khan Says:

    Asslamo Allaikum Dr Saheb,

    Many Scholars in the Hanafi Madhab agree with 15 degrees in fact Mufti Rasheed Ahmed Ludhyanwi (RA) who was an expert in these matters concludes 15 degrees and also gives a Fatwa that Isha can be prayed at 12 degrees Shafaq Ahmar (according to Imam Abu Yusuf (RA)) & Imam Muhammad (RA).

    Mufti Rasheed Ahmed Ludhyanwi (RA) also states that 18 degrees is darkness

    The complete discussion is in Ahsanul-Fatawa.

    http://www.central-mosque.com/fiqh/twilight.htm

  2. usamahasan Says:

    wa ‘alaykum as-salam, Muadh saheb, and thank you for a valuable comment and link.

    Mufti Ludhyanwi (RA)’s view does seem to be the most accurate one, and Allah knows best.

  3. usamahasan Says:

    Here is some correspondence with someone called “bmk” from another forum:

    assalamu aleikum

    if you try to make an observation in the city of London (as the author of this article did), your observation is corrupted by heavy light pollution, and the corresponing angle may be up to 8° off the value you would get in a dark location. Observations of Fajr in really dark locations give 17-19 degrees.

    Here is a nice site (http://www.windows.ucar.edu/tour/link=/the_universe/Stars/Orion_view.html) where one can test the level of real darkness in a location by looking at the number of stars visible in Orion. In order to do a correct observation you need a visibility limit of magnitude 6. So please run this simulation with visbility 6, and then tell me if that is what you see on the London night sky.

    – bmk –

    Dear bmk,

    wa ‘alaykum as-salam.

    Thank you for the valuable comment.

    I live in East London on the edge of Epping Forest and the county of Essex – the dawn observations were done looking E/NE across a relatively-dark forest.

    I’m not convinced that dark skies give 17-19 deg for fajr, but willing to be persuaded.

    Thank you for the Orion simulator – even in London, on a clear night, we can see magnitude 5 stars.

    I attach another comment from the blog, supporting the 15-degrees view. [Muadh Khan’s comment, above]

    ws, U

    As-salamu aleikum
    thank you for your interesting comment.

    i live in Stockholm, Sweden. i have never seen anything beyond magnitude 5 here neither.

    First time in my life i ever saw a dark night sky – on a country side
    estate in the mountains of Murcia, Spain – it was an overwhelming
    experience. I seriously doubt anything like it could ever be seen in an
    urban area.

    So what angle do you get when you observe Fajr/Isha in your location?

    If your limiting magnitude is 5, that corresponds to a night sky
    background illumination of approximately 20, and the expected angle of
    Isha you would observe could be less than 12 degrees (refer to the
    diagrams in the article).

    Apparently the link i sent before did not get through – here it goes:

    “*Islamic Prayer Times – Observation and physical aspects*”

    http://privat.bahnhof.se/wb042294/alltomislam/prayertimes-references/prayertimes_observations-eng.html

    also on http://www.birka.st > Prayer times > Physical aspects

    Regarding the deobandi ikhtilaf on angles:

    The Imams of the Hanafi madhhab have not mentioned anything about angles.

    Their ikhtilaf was about what defines Isha, not about how it is measured.

    Ludhyanwi’s statement is a minority stance within the deobandi discurse.
    The link in your quote pretty much summarizes everything.

    /- bmk -/

    Thank you, excellent links and research, well-presented in tables etc. Will be very useful when the issue of Ramadan timings hits us again over the next few years.

    To answer your question, I had gone by the observations in Blackburn, London and High Wycombe, all of which suggested a 15-degree rule. Your links mean we need to rethink this. An added fiqhi question is: if the sky is permanently light-polluted, is it valid to use total-darkness rules or do we go by twilight phenomena relative to the permanent state of the night sky in urban areas?

    I found this sad and sobering:

    Conclusion

    Cinzano et. al. write the following conclusion to their article:

    “93 per cent of the United States population, 90 per cent of the European Union population and about 40 per cent of the World population live under a zenith night sky that is brighter than they would have in the same location with a first quarter moon at 158 elevation (based on Krisciunas & Schaefer 1991) and zero light pollution. They therefore effectively live in perennial moonlight. They rarely realize it because they still experience the sky to be brighter under a full moon than under new moon conditions. We also found that for about 80 per cent of the United States population, two-thirds of the European Union population and more than one-fourth of the World population the sky brightness is even greater than that measured on nights close to full moon in the best astronomical sites (e.g.Walker 1987). ‘Night’ never really comes for them because this sky brightness is slightly larger than the typical zenith brightness at nautical twilight (Schaefer 1993).”

    U

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  6. Bin Ali Says:

    Shaykh Nuh Keller is of the opinion of 18 degrees. He based this on his observations in the middle of the Jordanian desert, far away from any light pollution. I think he mentions this in his translation of Imam Nawawi’s Maqasid.

    Alhamdulliah there is geniune ikhtilaf on the issue.

  7. Rehan Says:

    Salam,
    Please tell us the time table for this year. Almost same has happened this year.
    As per 18 degree method, we are getting fajr timing in 1 AM in the morning but other online websites are showing other timings that varies from 2 AM to 3.30 am.

    please guide.

    We are following this website which is almost accurate- http://todayramadantimetable.com

    • Usama Hasan Says:

      wa ‘alaykum as-salam. 1am is midnight during British Summer Time (Daylight Saving TIme). During midsummer this year, which coincides with Ramadan, the sun does not reach 18 degrees at all, so that method is invalid. The later start times are better, since fasting is not supposed to begin from midnight!

      At least two bodies: the Tower Hamlets Council of Mosques and the new UK branch of the European Council for Fatwa and Research, have adopted a simpler method: “Begin the fast an hour before sunrise.” As I’ve mentioned repeatedly, some of the Sahaba began the fast at sunrise, or just before.

      Consult people of knowledge, pray to God for guidance on this matter, and follow your heart.

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