Suhoor is the early morning meal which you must take part in before your early morning prayers (Fajr) just before dawn break. Like breakfast Suhoor is your most important meal of the day during Ramadan. It is your only opportunity to stock up on energy to last you throughout the day.
Think of yourself as a battery, if you’re not charged well enough then you’re bound to run short of power and become exhausted at some point during the day. You need enough energy to sustain yourself and get through the day without running short for Iftar.
When to Start Fasting; Importance of Suhoor
Should one go to sleep before eating, but after sunset, one would have to continue fasting until the next evening. This was changed when the Qur’anic verse that made dawn the start of fasting was revealed. We explained the Hadith which clarifies the meaning of this verse, leaving no doubt whatsoever that we begin fasting with the first rays of dawn.
When this relaxation was given, the Prophet (peace be upon him) taught his companions to exercise it to the full, making sure to have a meal shortly before the beginning of the day of fasting. At the time of the Prophet, two of his companions made the call to prayer at dawn, Bilal and Ibn Umm Maktoom.
Both were among the early companions of the Prophet. Bilal was a former Abyssinian slave who had a very melodious voice. Ibn Umm Maktoom was a blind man whose incident with the Prophet is the subject of Surah 80, The Frowning, of the Qur’an. Each one of them made the call to prayer at dawn time, with Bilal making it first, then Ibn Umm Maktoom.
In order not to leave any room for confusion, the Prophet mentioned to his companions that they should consider the call made by Ibn Umm Maktoom as the signal for starting the fast. Aishah, the Prophet’s wife, mentions that Bilal made his call to prayer when it was still nighttime.
She further quotes the Prophet as saying: “Eat and drink until Ibn Umm Maktoom makes his call to prayer. He does not make it until the break of dawn.” This Hadith is related by Al-Bukhari, and several other versions of it are related by Muslim. Al-Bukhari further quotes a statement added by one of the reporters of this Hadith which states: “The gap between the two calls to prayer made by them was no more than what it took the one to come down and the other to go up.”
We note that the time gap between the two calls to prayer was not more than a few minutes. Yet the Prophet was keen to tell his companions, and all Muslims in future generations, that they need not start fasting before they are absolutely certain that it is due. Some people in later generations began to advise people to leave a gap of time between finishing their meal and the time for Fajr, or dawn prayer.
They did this as a precaution against error. This Hadith and similar ones are clear in that no such time gap is required for any reason. Indeed the Prophet has taught us to leave our meal before the start of fasting, i.e. suhoor or sehri, as late as possible. Anas quotes the Prophet as saying: “Make sure to have your suhoor meal, for suhoor is blessed.” Another Hadith related by Muslim on the authority of Amr ibn Al-Aas quotes the Prophet as saying: “The difference between our fasting and that of the people of earlier revelations is the suhoor meal.”
These two Hadiths stress the importance of making good preparations for a day of fasting by having a meal immediately before it is time to begin the fast. This meal is given a distinctive name, suhoor, which is derived from the root sahar which denotes the night time immediately before dawn.
The Prophet explains to us that it is this meal that distinguishes our fasting from that of the people who received earlier divine messages. It is, therefore, a concession given to us by God so that we are better able to undertake the task of fasting throughout the day. When the Prophet indicated that something has become a distinctive mark of the Muslim community, that indication enhances its significance and makes it highly important for everyone to act upon it.
As the Prophet adds in the first of the last two Hadiths that this meal in the early hours of the morning is blessed, he leaves us no doubt that we should always make sure to have it.
Some people find it difficult to wake up at that early time in order to have a meal. They say that they prefer to go without it rather than interrupt their sleep. Be that as it may, they lose a great deal of blessings by sleeping through that time. They will have to wake up shortly afterward anyway if they want to do their duty and offer the dawn prayer. If they wake up for suhoor they make sure of praying Fajr at the beginning of its time range, which is far preferable.
Moreover, if they allow themselves half an hour extra, they can have a short stint of night worship which is always one of the best rewarded acts of worship. It is far more so in Ramadan, when every good action is rewarded much more amply by God. The best schedule any Muslim can have in the nights of Ramadan is to wake up, say, an hour before dawn, and have half an hour or 40 minutes of night worship before having his suhoor meal. He can then go on to pray Fajr and, perhaps, recite some passages of the Qur’an before going back to sleep, if he wishes to do so. That makes his day and night very blessed indeed.
The Prophet himself used to have suhoor. At times, some of his companions joined him for his suhoor meal. Zayd ibn Thabit, a young companion of the Prophet, reports:
“We had suhoor with the Prophet (peace be upon him) before he stood up to pray.”
Anas, who transmitted this report, asked Zayd: “How much time was there between the call to prayer and your suhoor?” He answered: “About 50 verses of the Qur’an.” This means that the Prophet started his suhoor about 15 or 20 minutes before it was time for Fajr. The recitation of 50 verses of average length, in a mode which is neither fast nor slow, does not take more than that.
We note here that Zayd, who was to become one of the most renowned reciters of the Qur’an and the person to be entrusted with compiling its complete and standard version at the time of Abu Bakr, estimated the time of suhoor by reciting 50 verses. The Arabs at the time used to estimate time by certain familiar actions.
They used to say that a certain action is done over “the time it takes to milk a sheep, or to slaughter a camel, etc.” Zayd, however, chose a different sort of action, which is the recitation of the Qur’an. This serves as an indication that that particular time should be devoted for worship. Moroever, the Qur’an was the most important thing in the life of that Muslim community. Its recitation was the most familiar of actions to them.
To give an accurate estimation of time, Zayd suggested that their suhoor took place earlier than Fajr by the short time which it took to recite 50 verses.
That was a suhoor taken with the Prophet. We note that the Prophet chose the course which he knew was easiest for his companions. He realized that if he had his meal long before Fajr, his companions would have done likewise. Since that is not required by our faith, he left his meal to the latest time possible. His companions realized that and followed his guidance. Sahl ibn Saad, a companion of the Prophet, reports:
“I used to have suhoor with my family before going speedily to join Fajr prayer. My speed would be such that I managed to catch up with God’s Messenger when he was in his prostration,” i.e. sujood.
Again, this Hadith indicates that the Prophet’s companions left their suhoor very late. There was no time left between finishing suhoor and Fajr time. Sahl needed to go very fast to the mosque after finishing his meal, because if he did not walk fast he might have missed Fajr prayer with the Prophet. What the Prophet’s companions did serves as a good example for us to follow. They understood the Prophet’s guidance better than anyone else.
They had the easy resource of checking with him anything of which they were uncertain. By following their example, we also will be following the Prophet’s guidance.