Ramadan Conundrums

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يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمُ الصِّيَامُ كَمَا كُتِبَ عَلَى الَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَّقُونَ

O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may attain Taqwa [2: 183]


The month of Ramaḍān is fast approaching.  There will of course be many good reminders that are mentioned in the coming weeks concerning this blessed month.  Everyone who is able and obliged to fast, will no doubt be seeking to reap the benefits that the month offers.

Our intention here though before the start of this month, is to discuss some of the oddities that often occur and hopefully dispel some of the issues surrounding them.

I. The missing 15-minutes

For those who live outside of a Muslim-majority land, there is a tendency to overly rely upon printed timetables.  These timetables set out the designated times for prayer as well as the start and end times for fasting.  One of the most curious points is that quite a number designate the start time for the commencement of the fast approximately fifteen minutes prior to what is considered to be the start of dawn.  Some have argued, that this is on the basis of ‘being safe’ so as not to overeat into dawn.  Others argue that it is required, ‘just in case.’

Despite an extensive search of the Qur’anic text and Prophetic Sunnah, we have been unable to locate any textual justification for this position.  To try and argue that it is in some sense obliged or mandated, would necessarily fall within the definition of an innovation, as this has no legal precedent whatsoever.

وَكُلُوا وَاشْرَبُوا حَتَّىٰ يَتَبَيَّنَ لَكُمُ الْخَيْطُ الْأَبْيَضُ مِنَ الْخَيْطِ الْأَسْوَدِ مِنَ الْفَجْرِ ثُمَّ أَتِمُّوا الصِّيَامَ إِلَى اللَّيْلِ

…and eat and drink until the whiteness of the day becomes distinct from the blackness of the night at dawn, then complete the fast till night [2: 187]

II. Delaying the breaking of fast at sunset

Another unusual oddity relates to breaking or opening the fast at sunset.  In some quarters at least, there is an unusual understanding of what constitutes piety.  Rather than holding to the Prophetic words of hastening to open the fast, some will delay this event as much as possible.  Either it is because of an over-reliance upon a set timetable; that there is somehow an additional benefit to be gained by the delay, or that it is an act borne of piety.  Yet adopting such a position flatly contradicts the clear instructions of the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him).   Piety cannot be attained by turning away from what he (peace be upon him) has instructed.

وَأَطِيعُوا اللَّهَ وَالرَّسُولَ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُرْحَمُونَ

And obey Allah and the Messenger that you may be shown mercy [3: 132]

حدثنا عبد الله بن يوسف أخبرنا مالك عن أبي حازم عن سهل بن سعد أن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم قال لا يزال الناس بخير ما عجلوا الفطر

Abdullah ibn Yusuf narrated to us Mālik reported to us from Abu Ḥāzim from Sahl ibn Sa’d that the Messenger of Allah peace be upon him said: The people will remain on the right path as long as they hasten the breaking of the fast.

[Ṣaḥīḥ Bukhāri]

III. Arguing over Taraweeh [التراويح]

Many are quick to try and depict themselves as being the vanguard, custodians or even the true upholders of the Prophetic Sunnah.  Often this manifests in the need to highlight to others that their actions are not in accordance with what the Prophet (peace be upon him) commanded.  During Ramaḍān, this can be seen in the attitude taken towards the prayer of Tarāwee.

Debate tends to range though over a single point: the number of units of prayer to be performed.  Arguments are presented to justify either a minimalist position (praying eight) or a maximum one (praying twenty).  Advocates of praying twenty, on balance, seem to be the sterner in their position.  As well as providing some textual evidence to substantiate the basis of twenty units of prayer, there is also an over-the-top emphasis upon statements such as: ‘this is the consensus’ (ijma’); ‘this is the Prophetic Sunnah’ and the like.  Although not openly expressed, there seems to be an implied suggestion that those who pray less than twenty have in some sense deviated.

Absent from the debate however is placing this prayer within its overall context.  Fundamentally, prayer is only of two types or divisions: obligated (farḍ / wājib) or voluntary (ta’ṭawa’ah).  That distinction was lucidly analysed by Ibn Ḥazm in the book of prayer at issue (Mas’ala) 275.  Indeed, the distinction is made quite clearly in number of Prophetic ḥadith.  Some obvious examples are as follows:

حَدَّثَنَا قُتَيْبَةُ، حَدَّثَنَا إِسْمَاعِيلُ بْنُ جَعْفَرٍ، عَنْ أَبِي سُهَيْلٍ، عَنْ أَبِيهِ، عَنْ طَلْحَةَ بْنِ عُبَيْدِ اللَّهِ، أَنَّ أَعْرَابِيًّا، جَاءَ إِلَى رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم ثَائِرَ الرَّأْسِ فَقَالَ يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ أَخْبِرْنِي مَاذَا فَرَضَ اللَّهُ عَلَىَّ مِنَ الصَّلاَةِ فَقَالَ‏ الصَّلَوَاتِ الْخَمْسَ، إِلاَّ أَنْ تَطَوَّعَ شَيْئًا

 Qutayba narrated to us Ismā’il ibn Ja’far narrated to us from Abu Suhayl from his father from Ṭalḥa ibn Ubaidallah, that a Bedouin with unkempt hair came to the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him).  He said: O Messenger of Allah, inform me what Allah has obligated upon me regarding prayer.  He replied: The prayers are five, except if you offer something voluntarily (ta’ṭawa’ah’).

[Ṣaḥīḥ Bukhāri]

حدثنا أمية بن بسطام حدثنا يزيد بن زريع حدثنا روح بن القاسم عن إسماعيل بن أمية عن يحيى بن عبد الله بن صيفي عن أبي معبد عن بن عباس أن رسول الله لما بعث معاذا على اليمن قال إنك تقدم على قوم أهل كتاب فليكن أول ما تدعوهم إليه عبادة الله، فإذا عرفوا الله فأخبرهم أن الله قد فرض عليهم خمس صلوات في يومهم وليلتهم 

 Umayah ibn Bisṭām narrated to us Yazeed ibn Zureeh’ narrated to us Ruḥ ibn al-Qāsim narrated to us from Ismā’il ibn Umaya from Yaḥya ibn Abdallah bin Ṣayfi from Abu Ma’bad from Ibn ‘Abbās may Allah be pleased with him that when the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) sent Mu’ādth to Yemen, he said (to him): You are going to a people of the book. Firstly, invite them to worship Allah and when they come to know Allah, inform them that Allah has enjoined on them five prayers in every day and night;

[Ṣaḥīḥ Bukhāri]

ثنا عَبْدُ بْنُ حُمَيْدٍ أَنَا عَبْدُ الرَّزَّاقِ أَخْبَرَنَا مَعْمَرٌ عَنْ الزُّهْرِيِّ عَنْ أَبِي سَلَمَةَ بْنِ عَبْدِ الرَّحْمَنِ بْنِ عَوْفٍ عَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ قَالَ: كَانَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ يُرَغِّبُ فِي قِيَامِ رَمَضَانَ مِنْ غَيْرِ أَنْ يَأْمُرَ فِيهِ بِعَزِيمَة

 Abd ibn Ḥumayd narrated to us Abdar-Razzāq reported to us Ma’mar reported to us from al-Zuhri from Abi Salama ibn Abdur-Raḥman ibn Auf from Abu Hurayrah, he said, the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) used to exhort to the qiyām during Ramaḍān without commanding them to observe it as an obligatory act.

[Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim]

Whether an individual wishes to pray eight, twenty, or otherwise, then there shouldn’t be any cause for dispute, because fundamentally, it is a voluntary (ta’ṭawa’ah) prayer.  To those who would retort that this flouts the Prophetic Sunnah, we would reply with the following: if you are truly people who wish to cling to the Prophet Sunnah, let us see you act in accordance with the Prophetic Sunnah in totality, not simply what you deem to highlight to the neglect of other areas.  In particular, we would encourage you to publicise and adhere to the Prophetic word as set out in the authentic ḥadith that was reported by Imām Tirmidhi and others:

حدثنا هارون بن إسحاق الهمداني، حدثني محمد بن عبد الوهاب، عن مسعر، عن أبي حصين، عن الشعبي، عن عاصم العدوي، عن كعب بن عجرة، قال خرج إلينا رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم ونحن تسعة خمسة وأربعة أحد العددين من العرب والآخر من العجم فقال اسمعوا هل سمعتم أنه سيكون بعدي أمراء فمن دخل عليهم فصدقهم بكذبهم وأعانهم على ظلمهم فليس مني ولست منه وليس بوارد على الحوض ومن لم يدخل عليهم ولم يعنهم على ظلمهم ولم يصدقهم بكذبهم فهو مني وأنا منه وهو وارد على الحوض

Hārun ibn Isḥāq al-Ḥamdāni narrated to us Muḥammad ibn Abdul-Wahhāb narrated to me from Mis’ar from Abi Ḥuayn from ash-Sha’bi from ‘Aāim al-Adawi from Ka’b ibn ‘Ujra, he said the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) came out to us, we were made up of nine; five and four. The first of the numbers for the Arabs, and the latter for the non-Arabs. He said:

Listen, have you heard that after me there will be rulers – whoever enters upon them and condones their lies, and supports them in their oppression, then he is not from me and I am not from him, and he shall not drink with me from the aw. And whoever does not enter upon them, nor help them in their oppression, nor condones their lies, then he is from me, and I am from him, and he shall drink with me at the aw.

IV. The Witr Prayer

Though less contentious than that of the prayer of Tarāwee, the Witr prayer does at times cause some discussion and confusion.  Here again, we would hasten to point out, that this prayer is also from the type or division of that which is deemed voluntary (ta’ṭawa’ah).  It is not a prayer that is obligatory. To show a couple of examples, Imām al-Nasā’i records in his Sunan:

أَخْبَرَنِي مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ إِسْمَاعِيلَ بْنِ إِبْرَاهِيمَ عَنْ أَبِي نُعَيْمٍ عَنْ سُفْيَانَ عَنْ أَبِي إِسْحَاقَ عَنْ عَاصِمِ بْنِ ضَمْرَةَ عَنْ عَلِيٍّ رضى الله عنه قَالَ الْوِتْرُ لَيْسَ بِحَتْمٍ كَهَيْئَةِ الْمَكْتُوبَةِ وَلَكِنَّهُ سُنَّةٌ سَنَّهَا رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم

Muḥammad ibn Ismā’il ibn Ibrāhim reported to me from Abu Nu’aym from Sufyān from Abu Isḥāq from ‘Ạāṣim ibn Ḍamra from Ali may Allah be pleased with him, he said: ‘Witr is not essential like the obligatory prayers, but it is the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah peace be upon him.

حدثنا القعنبي عن مالك عن يحيى بن سعيد عن محمد بن يحيى بن حبان عن ابن محيريز أن رجلا من بني كنانة يدعى المخدجي سمع رجلا بالشام يدعى أبا محمد يقول إن الوتر واجب‏ قال المخدجي فرحت إلى عبادة بن الصامت فأخبرته فقال عبادة كذب أبو محمد سمعت رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم يقول خمس صلوات كتبهن الله على العباد فمن جاء بهن لم يضيع منهن شيئا استخفافا بحقهن كان له عند الله عهد أن يدخله الجنة ومن لم يأت بهن فليس له عند الله عهد إن شاء عذبه وإن شاء أدخله الجنة

Al-Qa’nabi narrated to us from Mālik from Yaḥya ibn Sa’eed from Muḥammad ibn Ḥabbān from Ibn Muḥayriz that a man from the tribe of Kinānah, named al-Mukhdaji, heard a person called Abu Muḥammad in Shām saying: The witr is wājib.  Al-Mukhdaji said: So, I went to Ubādah ibn al-Ṣāmit and reported it to him.  Ubādah said: Abu Muḥammad told a lie. I heard the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) say: There are five prayers which Allah has prescribed on his servants. If anyone offers them, not losing any of them, and not treating them lightly, Allah guarantees that He will admit him to paradise.

[Sunan Abu Dāwud]

As with the Tarāwee, there isn’t only one set way of praying Witr.  There is in fact, a wide reported variance of how it can be performed.  For a more in-depth discussion of this, together with the requisite evidences, one can refer to the issues from Ibn Ḥazm’s book of prayer, numbered 290/292.


The month of Ramaḍān is fast approaching and it will leave us just as quickly as it came.  No one ultimately knows whether they will see through this forthcoming month, or for that matter live until the next.  Perhaps this short reminder will help us to focus our minds upon what is important from what is peripheral and make the most of our time while we can.

وَسَارِعُوا إِلَىٰ مَغْفِرَةٍ مِّن رَّبِّكُمْ وَجَنَّةٍ عَرْضُهَا السَّمَاوَاتُ وَالْأَرْضُ أُعِدَّتْ لِلْمُتَّقِينَ

And hasten to forgiveness from your Lord; and a garden, the extensiveness of which is (as) the heavens and the earth, it is prepared for those who have Taqwa [3: 133]

وَإِذَا سَأَلَكَ عِبَادِي عَنِّي فَإِنِّي قَرِيبٌ أُجِيبُ دَعْوَةَ الدَّاعِ إِذَا دَعَانِ فَلْيَسْتَجِيبُوا لِي وَلْيُؤْمِنُوا بِي لَعَلَّهُمْ يَرْشُدُونَ

And when my servants ask you concerning me, then surely, I am very near.  I answer the prayer of the supplicant when he calls on me, so they should answer my call and believe in me that they may be guided [2: 186]

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