Articles explaining fasting times
Why is there a difference in the starting times for fasting?
The time for Fajr prayer is from the first light of true dawn (Subh Sadiq) until the sun rises. Fasting starts from the start of Fajr time, i.e when the first light of true dawn appears. This means that it is from the time when the first rays of light from the sun appear in the horizon. Currently there is a difference amongst various organisations as to when this occurs.
How did the Muslims calculate this historically?
In the earlier days Muslims would witness the time and make a judgement. About a thousand years ago, Muslims scientists like Al Biruni and Ibn Al Haytham calculated that the time at which the first rays of light are visible is when the sun is about 18 degrees below the horizon.
Therefore for the last thousand years, the prayer times have been calculated by using the formula of 18 degrees.
Has there always been a difference?
No, the difference has arisen because of the global geographical location of the United Kingdom within the Northern hemisphere of the Earth. This has caused some people to question whether the formula for 18 degrees is applicable to global places such as the United Kingdom.
Has technology made this issue easier to solve?
Technology gave us the formula of 18 degrees, but that formula is based upon actual observations. The only advantage technologically is the ability to use optical aids, and to avoid light pollution and establish the correct times.
How were the new times derived?
The new timings that many organisations have adopted are based upon either the adjustment of the angle to 15 degrees, or the actual witnessing by individuals and some scholars from Blackburn.
Is there a problem with the new timings?
Quite simply put, there does not seem to be any justification to change the angle to 15 degrees. Also, the times that were based upon sightings in Blackburn have been questioned regarding their reliability. Less than thirty sightings were reportedly made, and the area from which the observations were made is subject to light pollution. Furthermore, additional observations made nearer to London, without light pollution have indicated that 18 degrees is indeed the correct formula. Therefore there seems to be little evidence to change.
Some have also argued that due to the hardship of the longer day, short timings should be accepted. However, fasting is for Allah, and is done according to Allah’s instructions. We have not been given the option to change the times for Fajr in order to make things convenient, whether it is 4 am or 7 am.
Does it make a difference which times I follow?
It can make a great difference, in that potentially, the fasting may not be accepted by Allah. Imagine if a person fasts for the whole day, but eats an hour before time because he thought the fast was too long. Can the fast be regarded as valid? Likewise, someone who is eating in the morning when the fast has already started would have invalidated his fast.
Why has Hendon Mosque adopted this particular timetable?
Hendon Mosque has always based the prayer times throughout the year upon the calculation of 18 degrees from data which is available from the Royal National Observatory. This has been the practice of Hendon Mosque and indeed almost every other Mosque including Regents Park Mosque historically. However, last year, Regents Park Mosque provisionally adopted a new timetable using the 15 degrees formula. The management of Hendon Mosque have been actively engaged in discussions relating to this issue, but do not feel there is any evidence to alter the universally and historically accepted times.
Which times should I follow?
In Islam we have a principle which advises us to err on the side of caution. Thus it is better to be safe than sorry. We would strongly advise all Muslims to remember their duty to Allah and follow the command of Allah diligently.
We at Hendon Mosque therefore recommend following the timings based on 18 degrees which have been universally accepted and adopted by the scholars for over a 1000 years.
NB The management are aware about the likely concerns of the public due to the timings being adopted. Hence we are actively working with a wide range of Islamic organisations in the London area in pursuit of finding a solution that is accepted and endorsed by the majority of scholars.
Written by Shaikh (Dr) Haitham Al-Haddad
Having written this and respectfully disagreeing with others, I urge all to maintain the Islamic etiquette of differing. We should not allow such differences to disunite us or place enmity in our hearts. May Allah keep us united, keep our hearts pure, and forgive our shortcomings.
The occurrence of Ramadan along with the beginning times of Isha, Maghrib and Fajr prayers during summer leads to confusion for some Muslims living in Europe, North America and Canada, and of course, given that the accuracy of prayer times is ever more so sensitive during Ramadan, it is important for the Muslim community to confirm the correct time for commencing fasts. This article will discuss the starting times of the fast, known to some people as sehri, suhur, or imsak. It will also recommend a time for the Isha prayer as well as the taraweeh (night prayer) during the holy month.
When is the Fajr prayer?
The beginning time for the Fajr prayer is the start of the time for fasting according to all Muslim scholars. The basis of this consensus is the verse,
"And eat and drink until the white thread (light) of dawn appears to you distinct from the black thread (darkness of night), then complete your Saum (fast) till the nightfall.” 
The Prophet (peace be upon him) instructed the Companions, “The athan (call to prayer) of Bilal should not prevent you from eating Sahoor (predawn meal) because he gives athan at night, therefore keep eating and drinking until you hear the athan of Abdullah ibn Umm Makktum. He (Abdullah ibn Umm Makktum) gives athan when the fajr comes out.” 
The Fajr referred to in the hadith is the true Fajr: al-Subh al-Sadiq.
Samrah ibn Jundub related that the Prophet stated, “The vertical light (al-Fajr al-Mustateel which is the false Fajr) should not prevent you from eating (Sahoor). You can eat and drink until the light appears to spread (al-Fajr al-Mustateer – the true Fajr).” 
How do we decide on how to ascertain the correct time for Fajr?
Although most scholars agree on both the shar’ῑ signs given in the divine text concerning the start of Fajr, they disagree on how to interpret the shar’ῑ signs as actual astronomical phenomena. And even when an interpretation is decided on, scholars differ on how to deal with fasting and the five daily prayers due to the abnormality in the timing of prayer during summer in Europe and North America.
Shar’ῑ signs and Mushāhadah
After confirming the shar’ῑ sign for the start of fasting and the Fajr prayer, how do we decide on al-subh al-sadiq in actuality? Is it when we, either as individuals or as single communities, actually see it (mushāhadah) or merely when we confirm that the actual astronomical phenomenon takes place even though it has not been seen? If it is when the astronomical phenomenon actually takes place, how do we decide that it definitely has done so?
Much has been written on the topic and thus a repetitive discussion need not take place here. However, I will provide key points that should allow us to decide on the matter. The only way to decide the start of al-subh al-sadiq is the mushāhadah of the phenomenon, that is, a global and widespread witnessing of this phenomenon in which we can confirm the presence of the light on the horizon, i.e. al-Subh al-Sadiq. This mushāhadah produced a formula that was used as a criterion to establish that the prayer time had started even if a specific mushāhadah for that place or time did not take place due to numerous factors such as weather conditions, weakness of eyesight, or ignorance of the actual interpretation of the shar’ῑ sign itself. For example, if a person intends to break his fast but is unable to see the sun set due to some reason, then he may still break his fast when the supposition that the sun has set in accordance with its regular occurrence. Similarly, a person cannot continue eating his predawn meal claiming that he could not see al-subh al-sadiq himself. One may know the time of al-subh al-sadiq either by comparing it to the previous day, the testimony of a second person, or by calculation. In fact, he can record the prayer timetable for a complete year and then use it in the following years - he does not need to witness the shar’ῑ signs every time a prayer time comes in. Allah said about prayer times,
“Perform As-Salat (Iqamat-as-Salat) from mid- day till the darkness of the night (i.e. Zhuhr, ‘Asr, Maghrib, and Isha prayers), and recite the Qur’an in the early dawn (i.e. the Morning Prayer). Verily, the recitation of the Qur’an in the early dawn is witnessed.” 
The verse establishes that prayer times are linked to actual astronomical phenomena rather than seeing it with the naked eye – this in contrast to the hadῑth concerning the start of Ramadan which is linked to the notion of physically sighting the moon and not depending on astronomical actualities.
The Prophet peace be upon him said, “Fast when you see the moon and cease your fast when you see the moon.” 
It is the consensus of classical Muslim scholars that astronomical calculations cannot be used as a replacement for actually sighting the moon (for Ramadan) with the naked eye. This is the difference between sighting the moon, which is needed to confirm the start of the month of Ramadan or Hajj, and the sighting of the twilight which is used to decide prayer times.
18 degrees below the horizon for Fajr, and either 17 or 18 degrees for Isha
It is with this in mind that we may conclude that an individual’s mushāhadah for prayer times must not negate the accepted criterion that was originated by global and widespread mushāhadah (of when twilight occurs and disappears) established in different countries and throughout the centuries. That criterion is the basis for the decision of both Muslim jurists and astronomers that Fajr should be calculated when the sun is at 18 degrees below the horizon for Fajr, and either 17 or 18 degrees for Isha. It should be noted that the slight choice offered for Isha times is insignificant and thus there is no need to discuss it here.
Many scholars at different times throughout the course of history, and in many different regions of the world, have sighted (with the naked eye) the shar’ῑ signs given in the divine text and calculated that it corresponds with 18 degrees below the horizon criterion, a fact that they have then recorded. Given that so many scholars from different places of the world and at different periods during the last thousand years have come to produce the same calculation lends overwhelmingly more weight to the 18 degree formula than a few people gathering in one part of the world during the same period to come up with a divergent opinion. This is not a matter of differences amongst schools of thought as the overwhelming majority of scholars amongst various sects and schools of thought agree with the 18 degree formula. I have recently discussed the issue with Mufti Taqi Uthmani (in the company of other scholars) who stated that he himself along with 99% of the scholars of the Indian sub-continent viewed the 18 degree formula to be the correct calculation for prayer times.
What is the correct mushāhadah for Fajr?
Muslim astronomers as early as Mohammed ibn Jabir ibn Sinan, famously known as Albategnius (d. 929 CE), confirmed that Fajr and Isha shar’ῑ signs are visible when the sun is 18 degrees below the horizon. Other scholars stated that there is a consensus in regards to this conclusion. Among the very last conferences at which this issue was discussed thoroughly was the one organized by the Fiqh Council of the Muslim World League in 1986 where scholars and astronomers from various backgrounds and schools of thought confirmed that Fajr appears when the sun is at 18 degrees below the horizon in the east. They also confirmed that Isha time appears when the sun is at 17 degrees below the horizon from the west. This decision was reiterated by the same Fiqh council in 2007 in response to a query sent to the council by the Central Mosque in Belgium.
The following table shows the various institutes that are referred to for the Fajr and Isha times currently in use in many countries:
Convention Fajr Angle Isha Angle
University of Islamic Sciences, Karachi: 18
Islamic Society of North America (ISNA): 15* (Now changed to 17.5 - HMIC Webmaster)
Muslim World League (MWL ): 18
Umm al-Qura, Makkah: 19*
Egyptian General Authority: 19.5*
* I could not verify it myself through their literature; however this is what is widely attributed to them.
As you may see from the timetable, most of these institutes consider 18 degrees as the minimum degree for calculating Fajr time with the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) providing somewhat of an anomalous calculation.
Hizbul Ulama (UK) and their mistaken understanding of mushāhadah
The Hizbul Ulama timetable is one that has been adopted by a number of mosques around the UK including the recent ‘Unified prayer timetable for London’ adopted by East London Mosque and Regents Park Mosque. The fact that these organisations have sought to unite the Muslim community is an extremely praiseworthy matter, indeed unity is one of the most important factors that leads to the strengthening of the Muslim community and I commend them for their sincerity. However, I sincerely believe that the Hizbul Ulama have overlooked many important fundamentals such as being unable to identify the main criterion for deciding prayer times – they mistakenly assume that it is through individual mushāhadah. As a result of this, they have never compared their mushāhadah with the mushāhadah of others both within the UK and outside of it. They have opposed the overwhelming number of jurists and contradictorily claim that last year’s mushāhadah may be used for this year whilst maintaining that an individual may only pray when he himself has seen the shar’ῑ sign!
According to the Hizbul Ulama timetable, the length of the Maghrib twilight in winter is either equal or longer than that of summer when it is well known that summer has longer days. Similarly, their timetable posits that the length of the twilight in London is almost the same as that of Makkah although London is of high latitude (L 51° 30) whereas Makkah al-Mukarramah is of much lower latitude (L 21° 25). It is examples such as these (of which there are more) that simply demonstrate the unreliability of the Hizbul Ulama methodology in ascertaining the correct prayer times.
Advice for the laity and mosque committees
No one can claim that one should merely follow the textual evidences since the issue is related to interpretation. It is true that some individuals might not be convinced with a particular conclusion, yet it would be destructive to the deen of Allah to leave it to individual choice. The Muslim is obliged to abandon many of his own conclusions for those agreed upon by the consensus of the scholars which is invariably based upon the Qur’an and Sunnah. Indeed, an individual might adopt a particular conclusion himself, but he should not instruct others to abandon the mainstream Islamic opinion for his own personal conclusion. I appeal to committees of mosques not to conclude on any matter which is divergent from those adopted by the overwhelming majority of Muslims. The basis for this is the authority given by the sharῑ’ah to the consensus of Muslim scholars. The Prophet stated that his Ummah would never agree on an error and thus the minority opinion cannot stand against the vast majority where the overwhelming majority is in fact equivalent to consensus.
Why shouldn’t individuals follow their own mosques?
Individual acts of worship are matters that a person will be questioned about, and those acts of worship that are not linked to other Muslims are not included in acts of worship that a person can give up for the sake of unity or to merely blindly follow others. Although people should pray in congregation at their local mosques, the start of fasting is not connected to the timing of the local mosque. Therefore, the person should exert effort to identify the correct position that will free him from any burden on the Day of Judgment.
What about the issue of tabayyun?
The overwhelming majority of classical scholars adopted the 18 degree calculation for Fajr and 17 or 18 degrees for Isha, and for this reason there is no real disagreement that might be used as a justification for ijtihad or adopting the easiest option. Moreover, tabayyun should take place when we are not quite sure whether the light of Fajr is apparent. However, those who adopt the 18 degree formula are certain of the appearance of the Fajr light and thus tabayyun is achieved without adopting a lower degree.
What about Isha? What can we do during the summer period when the twilight persists?
According to the 18 degrees calculation, there is a period during summer (for countries above a certain latitude) where the Maghrib twilight does not actually disappear - a phenomenon known as the persisting twilight (where the shar’ῑ indications for the occurrence of Isha do not become visible). The time for Isha is too late whilst the time for Fajr is too early immediately before and after this period. For example, this period starts in London on 26th May whereby the persisting twilights remain until approximately 12:35 and Fajr starts at around 1: 15 a.m. The period ends around the 19th July where Fajr is 1:18 a.m. During the period of absence of shar’ῑ signs scholars have suggested two main methods:
1) Estimation, or
2) Adopting the time of the last day when the shar’ῑ signs were visible.
Estimation creates a big gap between the last day the sign is visible and the day after. Similarly, it creates a big gap between the day the signs are not visible and the day after. The only consistent method is adopting the time of the last day in which the sign was visible all the way up until it becomes visible again. This is a systematic method in which no large gaps are witnessed between different days.
There is also a level of flexibility to the start of Isha times when it tends to begin very late. Scholars have different approaches on what should be done when Isha becomes very late since hardship will be incurred in offering the prayer at such a late hour. The two main approaches are:
a) combining the Maghrib and Isha prayer, and
b) estimating Isha time.
The Fiqh Council of the Muslim World league issued a decree during their 19th assembly in Makkah al-Mukarramah held on 8/11/2007 concerning prayer times for countries situated between the latitudes of 48 and 66 degrees North and South,
‘To clarify this decree further in order to answer the specific problematic scenario put forward to the Council, the Council views the previous decree instructing the use of referring (to other regions) for reference, for countries with latitudes between 48 and 66 degrees North and South, to be specifically for the case where astronomical signs for the times are non-existent. As for the case where the signs of prayer times do occur but the disappearance of twilight, indicating the start of Isha, is very late, the Council views it as being obligatory to pray Isha in its legally specified time. However, whoever experiences difficulty in waiting to pray it in its time, like students, office-workers and labourers during the days of their work, they can combine prayers in accordance with the textual evidences relating to the removal of burdens from the Ummah. One example of this is the narration of Ibn ‘Abbas, and others, may Allah be pleased with them, “The Messenger of Allah combined Zhuhr and ‘Asr, and Maghrib and Isha in Madinah without (cause of) fear or rain”. Ibn ‘Abbas was questioned about this to which he replied, ‘He wanted to not burden his Ummah’. The condition for this though is that the practice of combining should not be the norm for all people in that country for this whole duration because this will in effect change the concession of combining into a permanent and intended obligatory action from the onset. The Council also views the adoption of approximating and distributing the times in such a situation all the more (appropriate).’
Praying Isha at its time according to 18 degrees is the best scenario that should be adopted as long as the time falls before the middle of the night (midway between Maghrib and Fajr). However, since the sharῑ’ah stipulates that certain forms of hardships allow for some concessions, praying Isha before the time obtained is a form of combining prayers that some scholars have allowed in cases of hardship and necessity. It is known in the sharῑ’ah that the rigorousness applied to Fajr, Zhuhr and Maghrib is not like that of Isha and Asr as their times merge with Maghrib and Zhuhr respectively in cases of necessity. We should pray Isha before the middle of the night and long before Fajr in order to avoid combining it with Fajr. If the best scenario cannot be followed, I suggest that Isha be prayed at the latest time people can pray it without hardship, such as 11:00 p.m. This time should be maintained until the time returns to earlier on in the day. In regards to Ramadan, taraweeh or qiyam al-layl (including the witr), it should be prayed after the Isha prayer and finish at a time that allows for people to have the predawn meal. Having written this and respectfully disagreeing with others, I urge all to maintain the Islamic etiquette of differing. We should not allow such differences to disunite us or place enmity in our hearts. May Allah keep us united, keep our hearts pure, and forgive our shortcomings.
Islam21c requests all the readers of this article, and others, to share it on your facebook, twitter, and other platforms to further spread our efforts.
 Qur’an 2:187
 Al-Bukhari and Muslim
 Sunan al-Tirmidhi
 Qur’an 17:78
 Narrated by Abu Hurairah and Abdullah ibn Umar; al-Bukhari and Muslim
POSTED: 26 SAFAR 1422, 20 MAY 2001
Q.) Living here in the Washington DC, USA I would like to know if we should perform Fajr and Isha at 15 degrees or 18 degrees? Below is an excerpt from Khalid Shaukat's website. He is an expert in Astronomy here in the USA and holds the opinion that we should use 15 degrees. I have also asked other Islamic Astronomers and they say that 18 degrees is the more safer of the two. Please spread some light in this issue.
The website is www.moonsighting.com. It contains the following statement: "Fajr & Isha are calculated for Sun being 15 degrees below horizon, a value adopted by ISNA, which is based on sound principles of Qur'an and Sunnah, as applied in the light of modern scientific calculations." [Adil Khan]
A.) After a good deal of research and continuing observation my father Mufti Muhammad Shafi as well as other 99% of the Ulema in Pakistan and India are unanimous on the point that the time of Isha and Fajr begins when the Sun is 18 degree below the horizon. This basis has been confirmed by scientific as well as religious research carried by a large number of scholars in both fields.
by Mufti Ebrahim Desai
Q.) What is the time of Fajr in North America? Is it when the sun is 15 degrees or 18 degrees below the horizon?
A.) A depression angle of the sun of 15 degrees for the start of Fajr should be used with extreme caution. It is much safer to stick to 18 degrees. It is only if local observations in a place have shown that the is no morning twilight visible in a particular place until the sun depression angle is 15 degrees or less (throughout the year) that 15 degrees may be used. If this is not the case, then 18 degrees should be used.
To download a powerpoint presentation, click here.