Islam and the Quran

The Time for Dawn (Fajr) Prayer



There are numerous verses, hadiths and practices of the Messenger of Allah that clarify the time of dawn prayer.  One of the relevant verses is the following:

أَقِمِ الصَّلاَةَ لِدُلُوكِ الشَّمْسِ إِلَى غَسَقِ اللَّيْلِ وَقُرْآنَ الْفَجْرِ إِنَّ قُرْآنَ الْفَجْرِ كَانَ مَشْهُودًا

“Offer the prayer from the decline (westwards shift) of the sun till (the beginning of) the chill of the night, and during the accumulation of red lights of dawn. The accumulation of red lights of dawn is certainly visible.” (Al-Isra / The Night Journey 17:78)

The part of the verse relevant to the issue is  “accumulation of red lights of dawn”. Accumulation corresponds to the translation of the word قرآن (qur’an). Qur’an means, to gather, to accumulate. As a noun, qur’an is the thing that accumulates, or that is gathered. [1] As a noun, fajr (الْفجْر) refers to the redness of dawn that reaches from the Sun to the eastern horizon during early hours of the morning.[2] That means, fajr is the morning light, which is also called subh = الصُّبْح.[3]  الصُّبْح= subh basically means redness. The dark redness on hair is called الصَّبَحُ = sabah,[4]  lion feather which is colored as the mixture of red and white from birth is called  asbah = الأَصْبَحُ.[5] All of these indicate that the accumulation, which is the sign of morning, is to be sought in red light; and it is called mashhood (مشهود) since it is seen by eye.

Fajr (الْفجْر), as an infinitive; means splitting, shedding and eruption.[6] Lights of the sun start to erupt from the horizon until the end of night.  These create a weak light dome resembling a dome created by water’s eruption from thin pipes laid in a single row.  Red and white colored lights mix into the darkness of the night.  As the sun approaches the horizon, colors start to become clear and distinguished.  Thereafter, a light accumulation occurs which looks like the waters erupting from pipes that turn into a pond below.  The expression qur’an al-fajr  =قُرْآنَ الْفَجْرِ  in the verse states for accumulated red lights.  The time of prayer does not begin before this accumulation, the period prior to that is called false-dawn (fajr al-kazib), and the one after that is called real dawn (fajr as-sadiq).[7] The following saying of the Messenger of Allah explains this:

ليس الفجر المستطيل في الأفق ولكنه المعترض الأحمر

“The light that stretches upwards in the horizon is not the dawn. Dawn is the redness that stretches transversely.”[8]

This saying of the Prophet is a varied expression of the foregoing verse.  During that moment, white lights coming from the sun become intensified, creating a second line on the redness.

The following verse expresses the white and black light lines that occur together with the redness that accumulates in the horizon.

و كلوا واشربوا حتى يتبين لكم الخيط الأبيض من الخيط الأسود من الفجر

“Eat and drink until the black line could be fully distinguished by you from the white line due to dawn (redness)” (Al-Baqara/ The Cow 2:187)

A white line arises on the redness that that accumulates and stretches towards both sides of the east horizon.  At that point what lies between the observer and the horizon is like a black line.  The redness fills the upper edge of this line.  One of the sayings of the Messenger of Allah in relation to this time is the following:

فَكُلُوا وَاشْرَبُوا حَتَّى يَعْتَرِضَ لَكُمُ الْأَحْمَرُ

“Eat and drink until the redness spread transversely according to you”.[9]

صَلَّى الْفَجْرَ حِينَ بَرَقَ الْفَجْرُ وَحَرُمَ الطَّعَامُ عَلَى الصَّائِمِ

“Gabriel used to lead me for praying twice near the Qa’ba. …He lead me for dawn prayer during the shining of redness, when the fasting person is prohibited from eating”.[10]

The Messenger of Allah said the following as narrated by Samura b. Jundub:

“لَا يَغُرَّنَّكُمْ نِدَاءُ بِلَالٍ وَهَذَا الْبَيَاضُ حَتَّى يَنْفَجِرَ الْفَجْرُ، أَوْ يَطْلُعَ الْفَجْرُ”.

“Let you not be cheated by the voice of Bilal, and by that whiteness; let the dawn erupt, or let the dawn arise.”[11]

According to all these verses and prophetic sayings, there are two dawns in every morning, one being prior to, and the other after the accumulation of redness.  The following words of the Prophet of Allah make us easy to distinguish between two dawns:

“كُلُوا وَاشْرَبُوا وَلَا يَهِيدَنَّكُمْ السَّاطِعُ الْمُصْعِدُ، فَكُلُوا وَاشْرَبُوا حَتَّى يَعْتَرِضَ لَكُمُ الْأَحْمَرُ”

“Eat and drink, let you not be distracted by the light that spreads upwards; eat and drink until you see the redness spreading transversely”[12]

The word “as-sati’”  السَّاطِعُ in the hadith, means a thing that spreads and rises, i.e. like a lightning, dust, lightness and odor;[13]al-mus’id”  الْمُصْعِدُ  means something that climbs.”[14] That is, the first dawn is the continuously spreading and rising lightness; and the second dawn is the bulk of red light that divides this lightness from bottom, adjacent to the horizon. The following verse explains this division:

“He is who divides the morning, makes night a rest time, and directs sun and moon in a precise system. This is the measure set by the Most Powerful and All-Knowing” (Al-An’am/ The Cattle: 6/96)

Al-isbâh = الْإِصْباحِ, as an infinitive, means “entry to morning”. Since  الصَّبَحُ = sabah is basically the redness,[15] the clear meanin of isbah is “entry to the time when redness accumulates”. As a name, it signifies both before and after the darkness. Faliq’ul-ısbah = فالق الإِصباح means the divider of these lights.

We would have started the morning with the first lights had the verses and prophetic sayings not divided it into two. Since the time for prayer does not start with the first lights, the time prior to splitting is called the fajr al-kazib. The following verse indicates the tone of lights in the second dawn.

وَالصُّبْحِ إِذَا أَسْفَرَ

And the daybreak when it shines…” (Al-Muddassir 74/34)

Safar = سفر is the appearance and manifestation.[16] In Arabic, the phrase asfara as-subhu = أَسْفَرَ الصبح is used for the time when the east horizon has become clearly enlightened without any doubt.[17] Swear by Allah on a specific thing demonstrates the significance of that thing. The most important thing within that context is the time of dawn prayer. The following saying of the Messenger of Allah is another expression of that verse:

صَلَّى الْفَجْرَ حِينَ بَرَقَ الْفَجْرُ وَحَرُمَ الطَّعَامُ عَلَى الصَّائِمِ

“Gabriel used to lead me for praying twice near the Qa’ba. …He lead me for dawn prayer during the shining of redness, when the fasting person is prohibited from eating”[18]

Bilal was the prayer caller of the Messenger of Allah.  The following words he said to Bilal bear the same meaning with the verse:

نور بالفجر قدر مايبصر القوم مواقع نلهم.

“Wait until the redness spreads such that a man could see where his arrow falls”[19]

The narration by Abu Musa al-Ashari supports this saying:

فأقامَ الفَجْرَ حين انشقَّ الفجْرُ، والنّاس لا يكادُ يعرفُ بعضُهُمْ بعْضاً.

“The Messenger of Allah lead dawn prayer when the redness was spreading.  People would almost not recognize each other.” (Muslim)

Lights that appear in the horizon at that time start to lighten like a lantern.  The words “people would almost not recognize each other” indicate that they started to recognize one another due to the lightness that started to spread.  The following narration also supports this:

حَدَّثَنَا أَبُو الْمِنْهَالِ عَنْ أَبِي بَرْزَةَ كَانَ النَّبِيُّ صَلَّى اللَّهم عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ يُصَلِّي الصُّبْحَ وَأَحَدُنَا يَعْرِفُ جَلِيسَهُ

Abu’l Minhal has narrated the following saying from Abu Barza:  “The Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, used to recognize each of us when leading the dawn prayer.” (Bukhari)

This shows that the lightness that appears in the horizon reaches far inside the masjid.  Abu Ja’far at-Tahawee narrates the following words of Ibrahim an-Nahai, with an authentic evidence of narration:

“Muhammad, peace be upon him, and his friends had not allied on any subject as they did on the issue of tanwir.”[20] Tanwir is the spread of the lightness that enables sight.[21] This demonstrates that the lightness started to spread to environment in the second dawn.

The following verses express the lightness during that moment:

“Verily We have tried them as We tried the People of the Garden, when they resolved to gather the fruits of the (garden) in the morning. And made no exception (for the will of Allah).Then a visitation came upon it while they slept. And in the morning it was as if plucked. And they cried out one unto another in the morning.Saying: Run unto your field if ye would pluck (the fruit). So they went off, saying one unto another in low tones:No needy man shall enter it today against you.They went betimes, strong in (this) purpose. But when they saw it, they said: Most surely we havegone astray.Indeed we are shut out (of the fruits of our labour)!” (Al-Qalam / The Pen : 68/17-27)

The dawn at the end of night resembles the dawn at its beginning.[22] The following verse highlights the symmetry between the times of dawn and evening prayers.

فَسُبْحَانَ اللَّهِ حِينَ تُمْسُونَ وَحِينَ تُصْبِحُونَ

“Glorify Allah (perform the prayer) as you enter the evening and the morning”  (Al-Room/ The Romans : 30/17)

This issue will be underline when the account is given of evening and night prayers.

Opinions of Schools of Islamic Law

In Hanafi School, the dawn, fajr, is the whiteness spreading through the horizon.[23] During this the horizon becomes clear so as to leave no doubt.[24]

Imam Malik answers a question as follows:  “I have been thinking for a while:  There appears a whiteness arising prior to the dawn, however, the fasting one is not prevented from eating until the whiteness spreading through the horizon transversally appears.  As a matter of fact, the whiteness remaining after the disappearance of the red dawn in the evening does not prevent one from performing the night prayer.[25]

Ibn Kudame, a Hanbali, says as follows:  The time of dawn starts with the rise of second dawn, there is a consensus on this issue.  Narrations related to time demonstrate this definitely.  The second dawn is the whiteness which spreads and dissipates through the horizon.  This is called the “real dawn” (fajr al-sadik).  Because this gives you a correct and precise information about the dawn.  Subh merges whiteness and redness.  This is why a person with white and red skin is called asbah أَصْبَحَ.[26]

Imam Shafi states:  The dawn prayer could be performed until the second dawn appears transversally. One who performs the prayer before the dawn has become clearly visible, should repeat it when it becomes clear so that the prayer could be finished when it is still dawn”.[27]

Abu’l Fadhl Salih, son of Ahmad b. Hanbal, asks his father what the dawn when the fasting person is prohibited from eating and drinking, is: Ahmad b. Hanbal says: there are two dawns; one is the longtitudinal, and the other is transversal. The one which stops eating and drinking is the transversal dawn.[28]

Prof. Abdülaziz Bayındır

[1] قَرَأتُ الشيء قرآنا, means “I have gathered something, added one to another.” قرأت الكتاب قراءة وقرآنا means “I have read the book”, with the same meaning. (Meqayis al-lugha). Because reading takes place as one gathers words and adds one to the other.

The last scripture of Allah is called “Qur’an” since it brings the verse sets together.  (Lisan al-‘arab)

[2] Lisan’ul ‘arab, al-Qamus al-Muhit

[3] Khalil b. Ahmad, al-‘Ayn VI, 111: الفَجرُ: ضوءُ الصباحِ، والفَجرُ: الصُّبحُ

[4] Maqayis al-lugha

[5] al-Qamus al-Muhit I / 227

[6] Al-Mufradat

[7] Abu Ja’far an-Nahhas, Ahmed b. Muhammad b. Ismail (d.338 h), an Arab language scholar, refers the opinions on reading of  قُرْآنَ الْفَجْر as mansoob as follows in his book titled “I’rab al-Qur’an” (Beirut 1421 V.II, p.281).

قال الأخفش سعيد: نصب وَقُرْآنَ الْفَجْرِ بمعنى وآثر قرآن الفجر، وعليك قرآن الفجر. قال أبو إسحاق: التقدير: وأقم قرآن الفجر.

Ahfesh Said (Abu’l Hasan Saîd b. Mes’ade al-Mücâshee al-Balkhî al-Ahfesh al-Evsat (d. 215/830 [?]) DİA) He says that the reason that the قُرْآنَ الْفَجْر’ in the verse is mansoob is that it means  آثر قرآن الفجر = prefer the qur’an in the dawn, or  عليك قرآن الفجر pay care to the qur’an of dawn; whereas Abu İshaq says this is due to the meaning ofأقم قرآن الفجر   which is “keep up the qur’an”  The commentaries and translations we could access did not constitute any exception o this.  For us, it is not correct to give such a meaning to the verse.  Because prayer is an obligation that should be fulfilled at certain times (see al-Nisa 4:103).  Following the order  أَقِمِ الصَّلاَةَ = Keep up the prayer”, the times are explained in two sections.  The first part is taught by the verse “From the decline of the sun to the pitch dark of night”.  In this section, mid-noon, afternoon, sunset and night prayers are performed.  The second section is the qur’an al-fajr =قُرْآنَ الْفَجْرِ . It is an adverb of time, with an implicit meaning of “fi qur’an al-fajr =قُرْآنَ الْفَجْرِ  في . When fi  في   is ommitted, the word Quran قُرْآنَ  which is majroor, becomes mansoob.  Those who gave the foregoing meaning gave the word mashhood (مشهود) the thing which the angles witness to, cutting off this part of the verse with the prayer times.  This meaning could not be considered appropriate both from the point of Arabic grammar and the context of the text.

[8] مسند أحمد – (ج 33 / ص 25) مسند أحمد بن حنبل – (ج 4 / ص 23) آثر قرآن الفجر

15699 – قَالَ حَدَّثَنَا مُوسَى حَدَّثَنَا مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ جَابِرٍ عَنْ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ بْنِ النُّعْمَانِ عَنْ قَيْسِ بْنِ طَلْقٍ عَنْ أَبِيهِ

أَنَّ النَّبِيَّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ قَالَ لَيْسَ الْفَجْرُ الْمُسْتَطِيلَ فِي الْأُفُقِ وَلَكِنَّهُ الْمُعْتَرِضُ الْأَحْمَرُ

16334 – حدثنا عبد الله حدثني أبي ثنا موسى ثنا محمد بن جابر عن عبد الله بن النعمان عن قيس بن طلق عن أبيه أن النبي صلى الله عليه و سلم قال : ليس الفجر المستطيل في الأفق ولكنه المعترض الأحمر

[9] Abu Dawood, Sawm, 17, Tirmidhi, Sawm 15, Ahmad b. Hanbal 4/23.

[10] Tirmidhi, Mawaqit, 1

[11] Ahmad b. Hanbal, Musnad (ar-Risala print) v. 33, p. 267, Hadeeth No. 20079

[12] Abu Dawood, Vaqt as-sahoor, hadeeth No. 2348, Sunan at-Tirmizi, Ma jae fi bayan al-fajri, hadeeth No. 705.

[13] Lisan al-‘arab

[14] Maqayis al-lugha

[15] Maqayis al-lugha

[16] Maqayis al-lugha

[17] Lisan al-‘arab item سْفَر .

[18] Tirmidhi, Mawaqit, 1.

[19] The book of Musnad of Imam Shafi, 1/51, arranged in parts by Muhammad Arid es-Sindi; presented by Muhammad Zahid al-Kawsari, Beirut 1370 h. 1951 m; at-Tabarani (d. 360 h), al-Mujam al-kabor, tahqeek, Hamdi b. Abldulmaji, Cairo, v IV, p. 277.

[20] Abu Ja’far et=Tahawi (d. 321 h), Sharh ma’ani al-asar (divided into sections, sub-headings and hadeeth numbered by Yusuf Abdurrahman al-Marashli) 1414 h. 1994 m. 1/184.

[21] Mufradat الضوء المنتشر الذي يعين على الإبصار،

[22] Es-Sıhah fî’l-luğa, Lisan’ul-arab.  والفَجْرُ في آخر الليل كالشفق في أوَّله

[23] وَهُوَ الْبَيَاضُ الْمُنْتَشِرُ فِي الْأُفُقِ Serahsi (d. 483 h.), al- Mabsut, 1/141.

[24] Al- Kâsânî (d. 587 h.), Bedâi’us-sanâi’, 1/155. 1406 h. 1986 g

[25] Malik b. Anas (d. 179 h.), el- Mudevvenet’ul-kubrâ, Dar’ul-kutub’il-ilmiyye, 1994/1415, v. I, p. 265

[26] Ibn Kudama (d. 62 h.) el-Muğnî, Kahire 1968/1388, c I, s. 279, 529. paragraph.

[27] Al-Shafi‘i, Kitab al-Umm, I, 93.

[28] Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Kitab al-Mesâil (d. 241 ah) India, III, 202.

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