Posted by: mjaga | August 29, 2011

Fast until Night

In the name of Allah, the Gracious, the Merciful

Fast until Night

My purpose in writing this article is to narrate how, in an instance, the Qur’aan explained itself.

The instance arose when someone in the cyber world alerted me about the title phrase occurring in Verse 2:1871. He informed me that most Muslims act in contravention of the divine command in the phrase. They break their fasts in Ramadan at sunset – and not at night as directed.

The question then arose whether sunset was not night. Almost all Muslims assumed that night started at sunset. Were they all wrong then?

It was a question fit to be referred back to the Qur’aan – the divinely given Criterion for the believers to distinguish between right and wrong.

And the question got debated in various Islamic forums.

The first hint at clarification came from 2:1871 itself. The Verse does not ordain the start of fast at sunrise. It ordains the start before sunrise when the light of dawn becomes distinctly visible. There is a clear hint here that the believers should continue to fast until the daylight lasts. That is why the word night was used – and not sunset – to mark the end of the fast. In divine terms, therefore, night is different from sunset when daylight still remains clearly visible.

Moreover, Verse 11:1142 ordains salat ‘at the two ends of the day and proximities to the night.’ The Verse obviously refers here to ‘dawn & dusk.’ Dawn & dusk are thus defined as ‘the two ends of the day and proximities to the night.’ Ends of anything are parts of that thing. Dusk – as also dawn – is therefore part of the day, and not of the night. It is only in proximity to the night. Just as a chair, placed in proximity to a table, cannot be a part of the table, dusk, placed in proximity to night, cannot form part of the night.

Despite this clear Qur’aanic evidence to the contrary, some cyber brothers insisted that night starts at sunset! They cited 91:1 to 91:43 in their support. 91:43 describes night as concealing ‘it’. The third person singular pronoun ‘it’ refers to what is mentioned in 91:13. And in 91:1, the sun is mentioned together with its light. The cyber brothers opine that ‘it’ in 91:43 refers only to the sun and not to its light. But in 91:1, Allah does not swear by the sun as something distinct from its light. The sun & its light are taken together as one entity for the divine swearing. And that joint entity is referred to as ‘it’ in 91:43. Moreover, during daytime, the sun could get concealed by a dense cloud. But then it does not become night on that account! The dense cloud cannot hide the sunlight. This example makes it crystal clear that there can be no night unless the sun is concealed together with its light. So there can be no night at sunset. And there can be no night while the light from the sun lasts during dusk.

Someone then brought up 36:374, saying that this Verse speaks of the day being stripped from the night. That act of stripping, he said, takes place in a gradual manner during dusk. And so, he argued, dusk is part of night as per this Verse. This argument is obviously flawed since the Verse is defining night as the darkness left behind when day is stripped from it. What is stripped in fact is dusk. That means dusk is considered as part of day in the Verse. It is as if its skin of daylight is gradually stripped from the night during dusk.

That someone also said that dulukish shams occurring in 17:785 is not sunset, but it is the declining of the sun from the meridian at noon. For sunset, he said, the Qur’aan uses ghurub, a derivative of Arabic tri-letter word gharaba. He cited 18:176 and 18:867 in support.

The context of 18.176 makes it crystal clear that the word tala’at is used therein to refer to the rising of the sun in the eastern sky after sunrise, and not to sunrise. And the word gharabat is used therein as an antonym to tala’at, to refer to the declining of the sun in the western sky before sunset, and not to sunset. On the same analogy, maghriba & taghrubu used in 18.867 refer not to sunset as such, but to the going down of the sun towards setting into the lake.

Duluk is a derivative of dalaka which means ‘rub’. In the context of 17:785, it refers to the sun seemingly rubbing earth’s horizon at sunset. Sunset is therefore the obvious meaning of dulukish shams.8 And, ghasaqin layl in that Verse plainly means ‘darkness of night’. The time range for salat ordained in that Verse simply and exactly corresponds to the dusk.

But my friend from the cyber world thinks that in that sense ‘darkness’ in ‘darkness of night’ would be redundant because night is any way dark. He therefore opines that ghasaqin layl refers to sunset and that night starts at sunset. He forgets that darkness is absence of light. And since light from the sun still pervades the atmosphere at sunset, there is no darkness then. Night comes only when daylight completely vanishes from the atmosphere.

Looking at it from any Qur’aanic angle, therefore, ‘fast until night’ does not mean ‘fast until sunset’. It means ‘fast until dusk ends’.

Muhammad Shafi

1. Relevant portion of 2:187:


and eat and drink, until the white thread of dawn appears to you distinct from its black thread; then complete your fast till the night appears;



And establish prayer at the two ends of the day and proximities of the night. Good deeds do indeed eradicate the evil. This is a reminder to those who remember Allah much.



91:1 By the Sun and its light


91:2 By the Moon as follows it


91:3 By the Day as shows it up


91:4 By the Night as conceals it



36:37 And a Sign for them is the Night: We withdraw therefrom the Day, and behold they are plunged in darkness



78. Establish ritual prayer during the interval from the time the sun sets till the darkness of the night spreads completely. And recite the Qur’aan at dawn. The recitation at dawn is indeed to be in the presence of a congregation.



17. And you would see the sun bypass their cave, as it rose on the right; and as it set on the left, it would pass them by while they lay in the spacious space in the cave. This is one of the signs of Allah. The one whom Allah guides, is the one rightly guided, and the one whom He misleads, you shall not find for that one any wali to direct him to the right path.



86. And when he reached a place at sunset, he found it set on a oligotrophic spring.18 And he found a people living near it. We said, “O Zulqarnain! Cause them to suffer or treat them well.”


It was alleged that when the sun ‘rubs’ the earth at its horizon, it is not yet sunset because it is still partially above the horizon. But the fact is that the sun is down the horizon then, and the phenomenon of refraction of light makes it appear just above the horizon.











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