Shias view on times relating to Fasting

It is made lawful to you to go into your wives on the night of the fast; they are an apparel for you and you are an apparel for them; Allah knew that you acted unfaithfully to yourselves, so He has turned to you (mercifully) and removed from you (this burden); so now be in contact with them and seek what Allah has ordained for you, 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, and have not contact with them while you keep to the mosques; these are the limits of Allah, so do not go near them. Thus does Allah make clear His communications for men that they may guard (against evil). (Qur’an 2:187)

Shias fast until the night, which is Layl, instead of sunset, which is Maghrib like our brothers from other Schools in Islam do.  Now some people try to claim that night starts from sunset, in reality there is no Qur’anic reason to accept this as in the Qur’an the word Layl  is used to mean night and is always used to mean a period of darkness.

In dictionaries of Qur’anic Arabic the following is the meaning given to the words Layl and Nahar:

Nahar:   Day as opposed to Layl (night).  It tends to be defined as from sunrise to sunset or from dawn until sunset. Though some defined it as the time of the spreading and dispersion (some say ‘its collecting together’) of the sight giving light, which is the proper Qur’anic use of it.

Layl:    Night.  It tends to be defined as from sunset to dawn or from sunset to sunrise.  Though if we define it as the opposite of  the time of the spreading and dispersion of the sight giving light, then it would mean the time when there is no sight giving light in the sky.

It is clear that there is no unanimous and unequivocal meaning assigned to this word in the Arabic dictionaries.  These meanings are affected by what became the practice of fasting, as notice that both the definitions of night and day conveniently can have the night starting and day ending at sunset whereas the night ends and the day starts at dawn.  This is an oddly unbalanced and unsymmetrical understanding of day and night.

In the following I hope to analyse the Qur’anic usage of the term Layl and apply it to the relevant verse on fasting.

Thou makest the night to pass into the day and Thou makest the day to pass into the night, and Thou bringest forth the living from the dead and Thou bringest forth the dead from the living, and Thou givest sustenance to whom Thou pleasest without measure. (Qur’an 3:27)

Night entering into day: Dawn-Fajr

Day entering into night: Sunset-Maghrib

We have 2 distinct phases in the day and the night, just like life and death are 2 distinct phases.  The analogy Allah makes should be noted well.  Day and night are as distinct as life and death.

He it is Who made for you the night that you might rest in it, and the day giving light; most surely there are signs in it for a people who would hear. (Qur’an 10:67)

The distinctive essence of day is that it enables vision/perception; you can see things during day.  You can see things during and after sunset but not as the night sets in.  One of the meanings defined for day above fits in with this perfectly.

Therefore, you can know if it is night where you are if it becomes dark in your area. Obviously lamps, moon and stars need to be considered at this point.

I swear by the sun and its brilliance,
And the moon when it follows the sun,
And the day when it shows it,
And the night when it draws a veil over it, (Qur’an 91:1-4)

By the sun and its brightness/light, the brightness which is concealed/covered by the night.  It is important to realise that it is not just the sun which is covered by the night (which would imply that night started at sunset), but also its brightness!

Allah turns over the night and the day; most surely there is a lesson in this for those who have sight. (Qur’an 24:44)

Two separate phases are alternated.  Night and day.  Again, sunset and dawn must be a part of one of these.  Why?

Because both sunset and dawn share the same characteristics.  They must logically belong to only one of the two available phases.

This alternation is something observable.

He has created the heavens and the earth with the truth; He makes the night cover the day and makes the day overtake the night, and He has made the sun and the moon subservient; each one runs on to an assigned term; now surely He is the Mighty, the great Forgiver. (Qur’an 39:5)

Night speeds around (‘wraps around’) the world as the world spins, so while it will be night where you are, it will not yet be so, further off towards the horizon away from you.  This can make sense when you consider that you fast from the point that a line of light in the horizon is framed against the night.  Up to and at this point, there is light in the sky in the vicinity and surrounding area of the horizon.  If we then consider 10:67, the key becomes that it is night at the point where you are.

They said: O Lut! we are the apostles of your Lord; they shall by no means reach you; so remove your followers in a part of the night– and let none of you turn back– except your wife, for surely whatsoever befalls them shall befall her; surely their appointed time is the morning; is not the morning nigh? (Qur’an 11:81)

Following on from the previous point, it is clear that Lut is in the night here with the Angels, however they are able to tell when the day is approaching.  This is likely because as the day is approaching and the night departing, light begins to enter the horizon until we get the white thread and the black thread etc…  So while it is still night where you are, you can see that far off the day is approaching.

And He it is Who has made the stars for you that you might follow the right way thereby in the darkness of the land and the sea; truly We have made plain the communications for a people who know. (Qur’an 6:97)

The stars will be clear to us at the time of night/darkness.

So when the night over-shadowed him, he saw a star; said he: Is this my Lord? So when it set, he said: I do not love the setting ones. (Qur’an 6:76)

At the onset of the night Ibrahim was able to clearly see a planet in the sky.

And keep up prayer in the two parts of the day and in the first hours of the night; surely good deeds take away evil deeds this is a reminder to the mindful. (Qur’an 11:114)

The two ends of the day are in fact the two ends of night but from the direction of the day, and we are told to pray at those times at both ends of the day are approaching the night.  To be noted, these are the periods of light before sunrise and after sunset, as at these points the light of the day is decreasing as the night is approaching.  Of further note is that these times are not called night, rather (the period) approaching the night!  You do not approach what you have already reached.

Keep up prayer from the declining of the sun till the darkness of the night and the morning recitation; surely the morning recitation is witnessed. (Qur’an 17:78)

Here we clearly see how sunset is differentiated from night, which correctly puts it into a phase of the day.  Why a phase of the day?  Because the Qur’an always mentions day and night, no other phase is mentioned along with them.  Furthermore, if we link this with 11:114 we see that the prayer is valid until the night is very dark.

Say: Tell me, if Allah were to make the day to continue incessantly on you till the day of resurrection, who is the god besides Allah that could bring you the night in which you take rest? Do you not then see? (Qur’an 28:71)

Light and night are placed in contradiction to each other.

And a sign to them is the night: We draw forth from it the day, then lo! they are in the dark; (Qur’an 36:37)

Strip the day (light) from the night and you are in Mazlim, which is darkness, or the absence of light.  Night and day are perfectly defined here.

Summary: –

It is always night and day that are mentioned, and not some other category along with them, therefore, sunrise and sunset must be a part of one of them.

Night and day are as different as life and death. 3:27

The night conceals the sun and its brightness/light. 91:1-4

The period of sunset and sunrise are described as periods close to the night. 11:114

Remove the day (nahar) and you are left with the darkness that is night. 36:37

Night is ‘wrapped/coiled’ around the globe of the planet, so night can have reached you and not yet reached your furthest horizon. 39:5

At the onset of night (for you), stars and potentially planet(s) are clearly visible (subject to clouds) to the naked eye, and are associated with darkness in your vicinity (considering lamps, lights and moonlight etc).

While it is still night for you, you can still make out the onset of day in the horizon. 11:81, 39:5

The sign of night Ullayla is darkness and that of day is being able to see. 10:67

The isha prayer is from the setting of the sun until the darkness of the night Ghasakay Ullaylay .  The time of sunset is made distinct from night and its (complete/intense) darkness. 17:78

Finally, the verse we are specifically discussing: –

It is made lawful to you to go into your wives on the night of the fast; they are an apparel for you and you are an apparel for them; Allah knew that you acted unfaithfully to yourselves, so He has turned to you (mercifully) and removed from you (this burden); so now be in contact with them and seek what Allah has ordained for you, 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, and have not contact with them while you keep to the mosques; these are the limits of Allah, so do not go near them. Thus does Allah make clear His communications for men that they may guard (against evil). (Qur’an 2:187)

Fast while you have light from the sun at your location; eat and drink while your location is dark.