In the name of Allāh, may the peace and blessings of Allāh be upon His final messenger, Muhammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam).
Over the last few years, Ramadān in the northern hemisphere has been gradually moving into (and out of) the summer months, and there has been some misunderstanding and confusion about when to start fasting. Many brothers and sisters have been asking about what to do during this Ramadān as it will be slightly different from the last years, for a few reasons explained below.
Before discussing the prayer times and methods, it is important to remind ourselves that our houses should be turned into places of prayer and dhikr of Allāh. If your local masjid is open as usual then of course it is best for all healthy men to attend them for the obligatory prayers. However, if your local masjid cannot accommodate you yet for a valid reason, try your best to raise the ādhān, and pray the congregational prayer with members of your household.
Even if there are no men in the house, inshāAllāh it is good if sisters can appoint one of themselves to lead in congregation. This is the opinion of many scholars including Imāms al-Shāfiʿi and Ahmad b. Hanbal. This is due to a number of reports that our mothers, ʿĀ’isha and Umm Salamah led other women in Fardh prayer whilst standing in the middle of the same line as them. Furthermore, it is better if one of them also calls the ādhān for prayer, which is the opinion of many scholars. When the sahābi ʿAbd Allāh b. ʿUmar was asked about that he replied in an angry tone: “Do you want me stop them from dhikr of Allāh?”
Try to dedicate a part of your house for this purpose, adorning it with suitable features such as prayer mats or shelves containing copies of the Qur’ān, for example. Reserving a place as the ‘masjid of your house’ is sunnah wherever possible, as the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) had one.
When does the fast start?
We have detailed the answer to this question in several articles in accord with the unanimous consensus of scholars of all schools of law. All of this is based on the Quranic verse:
“And eat and drink until the white thread (light) of dawn appears to you distinct from the black thread (darkness of night), then complete your Saum (fast) till the nightfall.”
The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) instructed the Companions:
“The ādhān (call to prayer) of Bilāl should not prevent you from eating sahūr (predawn meal) because he gives ādhān at night, therefore keep eating and drinking until you hear the ādhān of ʿAbd Allāh b. Umm Maktūm. He (the latter) gives ādhān when the Fajr comes out.”
In a nutshell, the fast begins when the Fajr prayer comes in. For the vast majority of the Ummah, historically and today, this corresponds to an angle of the sun being ~18° below the horizon.
However, this becomes controversial only in countries of high northerly latitude in the summer months. This is because for a certain period the sun does not set more than 18° below the horizon, before it begins to rise from the east—an observable phenomenon known as “persistent twilight”, where the horizon does not become totally dark. This results in Fajr times which are very early (around 1am) and ʿIshā times which are very late. For more information on this phenomenon and the various scholarly opinions as to what to do during these times you can read here.
How will fasting times be different this year?
For Ramadān this year, however, in latitudes including London (51.5° N), and many other European countries such as Germany, Belgium and Netherlands, we will not enter persistent twilight until after Ramadān—in Shawwāl 1443. Persistent twilight at this latitude begins around 21st/22nd May, starting earlier the further north you go. This means that for many Muslims in Europe, we will not be in persistent twilight for most of Ramadān and the signs of ʿIshā and Fajr will be clearly separated.
There will be, however, a significant change in the Fajr (and therefore sehri or sahūr) times from day to day, as the days become longer and the nights become shorter. In some areas the difference in Fajr times may be up to two hours between the beginning of Ramadān and the end! Therefore it is imperative on all of us to pay close attention to the specific daily Fajr times, which can be found using the Prayer Times Calculator here, or by signing up to the Telegram bot here, to give you an accurate time based on your exact location. The website https://www.muwaqqit.com also has a detailed programme to pin-point prayer times.
This is particularly important not just to ensure that our fasts are valid, but to ensure that we do not delay praying the Witr prayer until it is too late, that we conclude our night prayers in time, and make use of the best time for duʿā and prayer (the last third of the night).
What about ʿIshā?
We have previously explained that ʿIshā time is slightly more flexible than Fajr time, due to the connection between the time of Maghrib and time of ʿIshā. This is why combining between Maghrib and ʿIshā prayers is permissible in certain circumstances. ʿAbd Allāh b. ʿAbbās narrated:
“The Messenger of Allāh combined Dhuhr and ʿAsr, and Maghrib and ʿIshā in Madīna without [fear of] danger or rain.”
As a result of this flexibility we previously stated that people should pray their ʿIshā prayers with their local masjids, even if they are praying technically before the astronomical, shar’i signs for ʿIshā appear during summer months.
However, if your local masjids are still unfortunately unable to hold normal congregations, and we will be establishing the congregational prayer separately in our homes, this no longer applies. Thus, I advise the Muslims to pray ʿIshā as late as they can, bearing in mind two factors:
- That they do not go past the shar’i ‘middle of the night’, which corresponds to the half-way point between Maghrib and Fajr (which should be calculated as stated above). Most of the scholars and schools of law prefer that ʿIshā is to be performed before the middle of the night due to many prophetic statements as well as his practice (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam).
- That they leave enough time for their tarāwīh and any other night prayers before the time of Fajr.
The relatively short nights of Ramadān in high northerly latitudes are a great opportunity for us to pray a large portion of the night, if not all of it, relatively easily compared to other parts of the world.
What about Tarāwīh?
Tarāwīh is the main act of Qiyām al-Layl (Night Prayer) during Ramadān and is one of the symbols of Ramadān. The Houses of Allāh across the globe are filled every year with people glorifying Allāh and listening to His Words. The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said:
“Whosoever performs qiyām (optional night prayer) during Ramadān out of faith and being hopeful of Allāh’s reward, will have his past sins forgiven.”
Indeed some Muslims who have grown far away from Allāh are often brought back to Allāh during the month of Ramadān in the form of attending the masjids during tarāwīh.
It is easy to become sad at the fact that this will likely not occur on the same scale this year. However, we must remember that this could never decrease the Power and Glory of Allāh in the slightest, and that the Muslim should not become depressed at the fact that we cannot perform this congregational prayer as we used to before the pandemic. If you sincerely had a habit of performing a particular good deed and were prevented from doing it by something outside of your control (such as this pandemic), then—inshā’Allāh—Allāh will still reward you as though you did it. This is the generosity of your Lord.
This does not mean that we should sit back and relax in the nights of Ramadān. If we cannot do it in the masjids as we used to, we should work hard to try our best and establish tarāwīh prayers in our homes, either in congregation or as individuals. In fact, it seems that people used to pray tarāwīh in their homes in Madīna during the time of the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam), the era of Abū Bakr and part of the era of ʿUmar b. al-Khattāb (radiy Allāhu ʿanhum). Furthermore, most of the scholars believe that if you can pray tarāwīh by yourself with a good quantity and quality then it is better that you do it by yourself and at home.
If the masjid is open can I still pray Tarāwīh at home?
If the only way for someone to pray tarāwīh is in the masjid, then they should definitely go to the masjid. If, however, they can pray it at home without getting distracted, or becoming lazy, then tarāwīh at home is definitely better. Another exception is if you have another reason to be in the masjid, such as if you are one of the Imams or those who are appointed to correct the Imam if he makes a mistake. This is in line with the agreement of the scholars of Islam.
Be careful however not to miss ʿIshā in the masjid, because that is unimaginably better for a Muslim male. If you are praying tarāwīh at home, then try your best to still pray ʿIshā in your masjid, and then pray tarāwīh later on at home. As Umar (radiy Allāhu ʿanhu) famously said when he revived the tarāwīh in congregation:
“(The night prayer) that is performed at the last of the night (i.e. by yourselves) is better and more virtuous.”
Do we have to read the whole Qur’ān during tarāwīh prayers?
Recitation of the Qur’ān is one of the best acts to perform in Ramadān, as we all know Ramadān is called the Month of the Qur’ān. The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) used to revise the Qur’ān with Jibrīl (ʿalayhi al-Salam) every Ramadān, and twice in his final Ramadān. The scholars took from this that it is highly recommended for us all to recite the whole Qur’ān at least once in Ramadān. And I say to those who are able to read it fluently: you must recite it at least three times in the month.
Many scholars said that this may be done in tarāwīh prayers, and it is better because you are combining recitation with another act of worship—prayer. However, none of them stipulated that completion of the Qur’ān was a condition for tarāwīh.
In fact, the Night Prayer (of which tarāwīh is one type) can even be prayed by repeating short Sūrahs that most if not all Muslims have memorised already. The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) received the command to pray more than half of the night in Sūrat al-Muzzammil:
O you who wraps himself [in clothing],
Arise [to pray] the night, except for a little –
Half of it – or subtract from it a little
Or add to it, and recite the Qur’ān with measured recitation.
What is amazing about this command is that this was one of the earliest revelations to the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam), and he did not at this point have many āyāt of the Qur’ān revealed to him. Some scholars took from this that he would spend half of the night repeating and reflecting over a very short number of verses. Therefore for Night Prayers it seems that the quality and impact of your recitation takes precedence over the quantity.
Can we hold a copy of the Qur’ān during tarāwīh?
In addition to this, I also recommend that people may consider to hold a mushaf (or an electronic device that contains a Qur’ān app, such as a smartphone or a tablet) in tarāwīh in order to recite those parts of the Qur’ān they have not yet memorised. This is permissible in only the non-obligatory prayers, according to the majority of scholars, even if you are leading your family in congregation. This is the view the Māliki, Shāfiʿi and Hanbali schools of law.
Imām Mālik narrated that Dhakwān, the Mawlā of our Mother ʿĀ’isha (radiy Allāhu ʿanhā), used to lead her in the Night Prayer in Ramadān whilst he was reciting from a mushaf. The Shāfiʿi school likewise agreed to this provided that one does not move so much so that the prayer is invalidated. Imām al-Zuhri was also asked about a man who recited from the mushaf (in prayer) in Ramadān, and he replied “The best of us used to recite from the mushaf.”
Those who do this should take this as a wake-up call to discover the reality of their relationship with the Qur’ān. It is never too late to set up a programme for yourself to memorise the Qur’ān, so that you can take it with you wherever you go, and inshā’Allāh into your grave.
Memorisation of the Qur’ān is one of the greatest acts we can busy ourselves and our children with. Ibn al-Qayyim said that the levels of paradise are equal to the number of verses in the Qur’ān, and that people will enter the level commensurate with the number of verses they memorised in this life.
Can I sit down during Tarāwīh if I want to prolong the recitation?
It is not a problem at all to sit down during the recitation portion of the tarāwīh prayer, as it was reported the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) himself did that. ʿAbd Allāh b. ʿAmr narrated:
I came to him and found him praying sitting down. I put my hand on his head and he said: “What is the matter, O ʿAbd Allāh b. ʿAmr?” I said: O Messenger of Allāh, I was told that you said: “A man’s prayer sitting is half a prayer,” but you are praying sitting down? He said: “Yes, but I am not like one of you.” 
If he prays sitting down because of an excuse, he will have the reward of one who prays standing. Al-Nawawi (may Allāh have mercy on him) said in Sharh Sahīh Muslim:
“What is meant is: the prayer of one who sits down whilst praying is half the reward of the one who prays standing. This implies that it is valid but its reward is reduced. This hadīth is to be understood as referring to offering nafil prayers when one is able to stand; he will have half the reward of one who prays standing. But if a person offers a nafil prayer sitting down because he is unable to stand, his reward will not be reduced; rather he will have the same reward as one who prays standing.”
Can I pray behind an Imām remotely?
As for praying behind an Imām remotely over the internet or radio, this is very likely to invalidate your prayer according to the vast majority of scholars, and we strongly advise people not to do that. Explaining the flaws of this opinion is beyond the scope of this article. It is enough to know that almost all fiqh committees in the world did not allow this. Those individual scholars who allowed it, did so for individuals who have no option as a matter of absolute worst-case scenario. They never allowed Imāms to organise a virtual congregation and call people to it. There is a huge difference between allowing it as an isolated case for some individuals who have no other option at all, and organising it in a way that looks like a replacement for the congregational prayer that takes a particular form with so many conditions and regulations.
Where there is a will there is a way, and there is nothing to stop a person from worshipping Allāh at any time. Allāh always opens different avenues for those who want to come close to him at any time and in particular during precious times such as Ramadān.
وَالَّذِينَ جَاهَدُوا فِينَا لَنَهْدِيَنَّهُمْ سُبُلَنَا ۚ وَإِنَّ اللَّهَ لَمَعَ الْمُحْسِنِينَ
And those who strive for Us, We will surely guide them to Our ways. And indeed, Allāh is with the doers of good.
As I always say, successful people look for excuses to do something, whilst others look for excuses not to. Which one will you be this Ramadān?
 Al-Qur’ān 2:187
 Al-Bukhārī and Muslim
 Al-Bukhāri and Muslim
 Al-Qur’ān 73:1-4
 Al-Qur’ān 29:69
Originally published in 1442, edited and updated for 1443.