Q: I have noticed a difference between the calculations for the time for Fajr. One calculation is almost 20 minutes more than the other. How can I be sure which one to use?
A: In the name of God, The Beneficent The Merciful to whom all praise is due…
The issue is an attempt by some astronomers and physicists to specify the time for Fajr. The majority of Muslims worldwide like to use what scientists refer to as the astronomical dawn which is when the sun is 18 degrees below the horizon. This calculation is probably what the Prophet (PBUH) was referring to as the “false dawn” in the Hadiths. For this reason a group of scientists started using a 15 degree calculation for the “true dawn” alluded to in the Hadiths.
Obviously the Prophet (PBUH) and his companions used to decide upon the onset of Fajr based upon the naked eye. The scholars of Islamic Law agree that if one is told that the Fajr time is so and so and they see no trace of it at that time then they should eat until they see the actually break of dawn. Similarly, if someone said you can wait until such and such time and you go out and see dawn then you cannot eat regardless of what calculation they have given you.
Some people get confused with the concept of being safe in the matters of disagreement on this one. Being safe in the religion is when there is no empirical way to be sure about the ruling and you don’t feel confident in or don’t know the proof for permissibility. You see we have a principle taken from the Hadiths, “Certainty cannot be removed by doubt”. So in the case of discerning the time for Fajr, we hold that the certainty is that it is still night until the actual dawn is witnessed as mentioned in the meaning of sura al-Baqarah,
“So eat and drink until dawn becomes clearly distinct from the night.” (2:187)
The scholars in commenting on this point to many Hadiths that say that the false Fajr comes up vertically for a maybe 15 or 20 minutes before the true dawn which is known as the literal meaning of the abovementioned verse a light line looking like a string that extends across the horizon.
“Don’t be fooled by the athan of Bilal when the light shows vertically, rather wait for the athan of Abdullah bin Umm Maktoom when the light is horizontal across the horizon.” (Muslim 1094)
It is well known that for Fajr there were two athans Some scholars noted that the athan of Bilal is at the false Fajr in order to get people up for Suhoor and to warn those already up to complete their food. Some also pointed out that why would we accept the athan of Ibn Umm Maktoom who was a blind man. They noted that it he is making the athan when it is very clear to the people that dawn has emerged.
Surely, Fajr will be different for different places on the Earth due to the difference in position of the Earth to the sun. Others and I across the country have gone to an elevated place to watch the horizon in different places across the country. Some said they saw it minutes after the 18 degree calculation and some didn’t see it until up to many minutes after the 15 degree angle! I have yet to meet anyone who has seen it as early as the 18 degree angle as used by most much less the 19 degree angle use by Umm Al-Qura.
There are many scholarly councils and prominent scholars who by naked eye have cast serious doubt into the 18 degree angle. These include HizbulUlema UK, Nasir al-DeenAlbani, Muhammad bin Salih al-Uthaymeen, etc…
This is a very serious issue that must be properly understood. If you pray before true dawn, your prayer will be invalid. Similarly if you eat idly relying on a calculation then your fasting is not accepted. We are using the 15 degree angle here as a safe measure for those who can’t get outside and check for whatever reason or are concerned that they don’t see it because of the tall trees. This is because when we went to Lake Norman to view the horizon, we couldn’t see it until minutes after the North America calculation which uses a 15 degree angle which is the closest one available, but it can change a few degrees as the year goes round because of the changing of the Earths position to the sun. This is why it is probably safe here in Charlotte to use the North America calculation for fasting and never pray less than 15 minutes thereafter.
God knows best.
For further reference please read the following