Difference between ‘Imsak’ and ‘Subh’ time on calendar for fasting?


In my Ramadhan calendar there is a column for ‘Imsak’ time and another one for ‘al-sobh’ prayer. If I drink water after Imsak but before al-sobh time is my fasting void?


I will begin with some clarity to the meaning of ‘Imsak’, which is ‘to refrain from whatever that voids your fasting, such as eating and drinking’.

In a nutshell, you need to find out whether the ‘Imsak’ time in that calendar is referring to the actual time for the Morning Prayer (Salat al-Sobh), in which case drinking would be impermissible, or it is introduced as a precaution before Morning Prayer starts, in which case there would be no obligation for Imsak yet.

Here is the detailed answer:  

Jurisprudentially the time for fasting begins exactly when the time for al-sobh (Morning) Salat begins and ends when the time for Maghrib prayer begins. The Almighty Allah states:

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”.
(Surah al-Baqarah, Ayah 187)

Therefore, jurisprudentially we don’t have two times i.e. one for the start of fasting, and another for the start of the Morning Prayer. Rather, their timing is jurisprudentially identical. The controversy however is about converting the description of the above Ayah into today’s astronomical calculation as I will briefly explain: 

I. The Institute of Geophysics of Tehran University[1] has calculated the Morning Prayer time on the basis of the sun being -17.7 degrees below the horizon (before sunrise). This is the official Salat time in Iran and the authorities of the holy shrines in Iraq also follow the same calculation method.

II. There is also a jurisprudential principle that “you may continue an action until you are certain that its circumstance has changed” (The Principle of Continuity). That means eating and drinking are permissible until you are certain that dawn has appeared (Morning Prayer time). Thus, the holy Qur’an states: “eat and drink until…”

III. Therefore, according to the above calculation method and the ‘principle of continuity’ the Morning Prayer for example in Sydney-Australia on the 8th of May is 5:11am, which means it is also the time for Imsak and eating and drinking from that time onward is forbidden. However, there is no obligation for Imsak before this time. Nonetheless, observing Imsak a few minutes earlier to avoid any possible human error would be wise.

IV. By the same token, it is wise to offer your Morning Prayer a bit later than the above time to ensure you have prayed within time. For example, wait for 5 minutes for Adhan to finish, then offer the Nafila for the Morning Prayer – which according to a Prophetic narration will benefit you more than owning the whole world – and then offer your Morning Prayer. Perhaps that is why some Shi’a Salat times in Lebanon – while following the calculation method of the Institute of Geophysics – announce their Morning Prayer time as ‘Imsak’ and introduce the time for Morning Prayer about ten minutes later. Similarly, the authorities in the holy shrines in Iraq call the Adhan according to the same calculation method, but delay the congregational prayer for about ten minutes by calling a second Adhan and invite the pilgrims to offer their Nafila before the Morning Prayer starts. The Ramadhan Salat times of the Imam Husain Islamic Centre also recommends that one delay offering his/her Morning Prayer for about ten minutes.

V. It is worth noting that jurisprudentially there is no obligation to refrain from eating and drinking until you are certain that the time for Morning Prayer has begun. On the other hand, it is not permissible to break your fast until you are certain that the time for Maghrib prayer has arrived. Thus, precaution is more necessary at Maghrib than before dawn.

[1] In the settings of alQibla app you can find this calculation for your local city.

Answered by: Sheikh Mansour Leghaei

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