The Importance of Sahur
By Tajuddin Shu'aib
In the Name of Allāh, Most Gracious, Most Merciful;
All the praise and thanks are due to Allāh; May peace and blessings of Allāh be upon His Messenger.
Sahur is a light meal taken shortly before the break of dawn and that this meal is a highly recommended Sunnah. Anas ibn Malik (radiāllahu`anhu) related that the Messenger of Allāh (Sallallāhu 'alaihi wa sallam)said: "Take your early morning meal for in that is a blessing." [Bukhari and Muslim].In another report by Miqdam bin Ma'a Diyikarib (radiallāhu`anhu) the Messenger of Allāh (Sallallāhu 'alaihi wa sallam) said: "Take this early morning meal for it is a blessed meal."
In both Hadiths the statement underscores the importance of sahur, and to caution anyone from thinking they can just stay without a meal all night and continue with fasting. This may explain why the statement came as a command. Although it is not mandatory to eat sahur, it is highly encouraged so that anyone intending to fast will make an effort to take sahur.
The crux of the matter is not to show how strong you are, but how obedient you are. Sahur, above all, ensures that the devotee has the energy he or she will need during the course of the day, and it makes the fast easier.
What Constitutes Sahur?
Sahur can be achieved by a large meal, a small meal, or even by a sip of water or soup. In a report by Abu Sa'eed Al-Khudri (radiallāhu`anhu) the Messenger of Allāh (Sallallāhu 'alaihi wa sallam)said, "Sahur is a blessed meal; do not neglect it even if it is a mouthful of drink. For Allāh and the Angels bless those who observe it." (Ahmad)
What reaches Allāh is the intent that you have made a genuine effort to obey Allāh in fasting. This is why it is recommended to make intention with the sahur, to emulate the Prophet (Sallallāhu 'alaihi wa sallam), and to eat the food to gain strength and energy during fasting, so as to get the reward from Allāh. The hadith also contains the information that during the course of this meal the faster receives a special blessing that cannot be found elsewhere: that Allāh Subhānahu wa ta’ala blesses your meal and that the angels seek on your behalf forgiveness for you during sahur. Thus, with sahur you receive both physical and spiritual blessings.
The Time of Sahur
The time for sahur begins from midnight until the break of dawn. It is recommended, however, to delay it till shortly before the time of Subuh (morning) prayer.
In a Hadith by Zaid bin Thabit (radiAllāhu`anhu) he related that: "We ate sahur with the Messenger of Allāh (Sallallāhu 'alaihi wa sallam) then we went to pray Subuh". I asked the Messenger of Allāh (Sallallāhu 'alaihi wa sallam) `What was the time period between sahur and prayer?' He responded `The time period between them is the equivalent of the time it takes to recite fifty verses in Al-Qur'an.'" [Bukhari and Muslim]
This citation is instructive in that it settles the question of whether one should stop eating before morning prayer (Subuh or Fajr), or before sunrise, as we see in certain prayer times tables showing the so-called shuruq (the sunrise, which some think is the time to stop eating). The Hadith is explicit. The recommendation to delay Sahur is only to the hour or so before (Subuh). The mentioning of the period of recitation of fifty verses (ayats) is a cushion or a grace period in which food or drink should not be taken. All the reports that recommend delay of Sahur must be understood in this way.
During the time of the Messenger of Allāh (Sallallāhu 'alaihi wa sallam), the tradition of two adzāns (or call to prayer) was established, and it has continued up until now in some Muslim countries. The first adzan is to indicate the beginning of sahur: the adzan of Abdullah Ibn Umm Maktum (radiallāhu`anhu) .The second is the adzan of Bilal Ibn Rabah (radiallāhu`anhu): the adzan of Solāh, a morning prayer.
However, if you hear the second adzan while you are eating or drinking, you should immediately stop eating in preparation for fasting.