Over the years we have published a number of articles on the topic of the beginning time of Fajr and ʿIshā’ during the summer periods for northern cities of Europe affected by a phenomena called Persistent Twilight when the physical signs for Fajr and ʿIshā no longer appear for a period of a few days to weeks. This article is a brief summary with some further clarifications to what has seemingly become quite a complicated topic for masājid and their congregations.
The importance of the Prayer is something the Jurists of Islām in all ages have never taken lightly, for it is indeed the first thing that we will be held to account for on the Day of Reckoning.
The Messenger of Allāh (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said,
“The first deed that the servant will be held to account for on the Day of Judgement is the prayer. If it is good, he will be successful and safe, but if it is not good, he will be of the unfortunate and wretched”.
It is in this light that we need to carefully consider the time for our prayers and the start of our fasting closely.
The Hizbul ʿUlamā’ timetable is one that has been adopted by a number of mosques around the UK including the recent ‘Unified prayer timetable for London’ adopted by East London Mosque, Regents Park Mosque and many other large mosques. The fact that these organisations have sought to unite the Muslim community is an extremely praiseworthy matter, indeed unity is one of the most important factors that leads to the strengthening of the Muslim community and I commend them for their sincerity. However, it must be noted that this timetable has adopted times which are in opposition to virtually all the Major fiqh councils from across the Muslim world from North America, through the Middle East and the Indian Subcontinent. Due to the adoption of this timetable by many mosques and the reality that the much earlier time for Fajr makes it seemingly more difficult, there is a general feeling that this timetable is the norm and what has been agreed upon by the majority of jurists is actually abnormal and cannot be true.
With the fast being a very much private worship between the worshipper and His Lord, the individual obligation of a person to ensure they are fasting at the correct times is even more important.
Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) says: “The fast (Sawm) is for Me and I will reward it.”
So, simply relying on the decision of the Imām in this matter does not remove the burden on the individual. To believe that this issue can be left with the masjid to decide is an incorrect approach to have and we Muslims should exercise some more care and concern relating to our personal worship, even if we consider ourselves laymen. As Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) addresses the lay people with this Quranic guideline:
“O you who have believed, obey Allāh and obey the Messenger and those in authority among you. And if you disagree over anything, refer it to Allāh and the Messenger, if you should believe in Allāh and the Last Day. That is the best [way] and best in result”.
Although most scholars agree on both the shar’ῑ signs given in the divine text concerning the start of Fajr, they disagree on how to interpret the shar’ῑ signs as actual astronomical phenomena. The conceptualising of this astronomical phenomena can be difficult for many of us and even much more in areas where the phenomena seems to breakdown due to the northerly position of many cities in North Europe. But with this in mind, it is important for individuals and their masājid to consider the following before deciding on what they believe is the correct timetable and in protecting their fasts in particular.
Need your own personal Ramaḍān Timetable?
Please consider the following points:
1. The 18 degree opinion is the opinion held by the vast majority of Major Fiqh councils from North America all the way across to the Indian Subcontinent. This position which can mean very early Fajr start times in Northern Europe during the Summer has been a position not only held in recent times but over centuries. In recent times the lower angle of 15 degrees held famously by the Islamic Society of North America Fiqh Council was changed to 17.5 degrees in September 2011; this means the determination for Fajr is virtually uniform across the globe.
* ISNA traditionally held the latest Fajr time due to an adopted angle of 15 degrees. But in September 2011 they revised their position to 17.5 degrees which is more or less in line with the rest of the World. 
** It has been widely attributed to them to hold the position of 19 degrees which is even earlier Fajr or a position of 90 mins after Maghrib for ‘Isha. Although in using calculation of 18 degrees the times for Fajr are virtually the same in Makkah which indicates that the 90 minute position is in effect the same as 18 degrees and due to its equatorial position this does not change much at all throughout the year.
2. Some of those who have misrepresented the 18 degrees position have claimed that it is an angle arrived upon by astronomers using an incorrect definition of what is Fajr. They mention that 18 degrees is representative of Astronomical twilight which is effectively total darkness and this is not Fajr. The reality is that the angle was not decided upon by reading definitions made by astronomers but was done by carrying out observations (Mushāhada) whose times were then translated into an angle which would allow people in any location to determine their prayer times easily. In the same way even the Hizbul Ulama timetables/Unified prayer timetables have not got observations for every single location but rather they did a few observations and then calculated the rest through extrapolation.
It should be further noted that the Hizbul Ulama/Unified Prayer timetable when engineered backwards produce times which are more closely reflective to an angle of 12 degrees or even less. Not only is this a major departure from all other Major Fiqh councils. When looking at the astronomical phenomena related to 12 degrees as described by astronomers, this is an even more unlikely description to suit the shar’ī description for Fajr. This strange position results in people starting their fast sometimes 2.5 hours after the standard position.
The matter for beginning our fast/Fajr times was not based on an astronomical description as is commonly misunderstood. Rather observations have been done across the globe and even across centuries whose times were then related to the angle of the Sun below the horizon. The vast majority corresponding to 18 degrees. This then set the platform for astronomers to then produce methods of calculating the time for Fajr wherever a person or mosque was based in the World. So the 18 degree method is clearly based on observations and by scholars who certainly knew the distinction between the false Fajr (al-Fajr al-Mustatīl) and the true Fajr (al-Subh al-Sādiq).
3. The reasoning that we should only rely on physical observation (Mushāhadah) and that calculation is not from the sunnah has been heavily discussed and to avoid repeating this discussion, we will just mention two points. The first being that in many places, due to adverse weather conditions, weakness of eyesight and even lack of persons who know how to interpret the actual shar’ī sign, it may not be possible for there to be a physical observation for each day. So the sunnah allows for one to estimate through extrapolating the time from a previous day through calculation. As Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) says about prayer times:
“Perform As-Salāt (Iqāmat-as-Salāt) from mid-day till the darkness of the night (i.e. Dhuhr, ʿAsr, Maghrib, and ʿIshā’ prayers), and recite the Qur’ān in the early dawn (i.e. the Morning Prayer). Verily, the recitation of the Qur’ān in the early dawn is witnessed.” 
This verse establishes that prayer times are linked to actual astronomical phenomena rather than seeing it with the naked eye, in contrast to the ḥadῑth concerning the start of Ramadān which is linked to the notion of physically sighting the moon and not depending on astronomical actualities. The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said,
“Fast when you see the moon and cease your fast when you see the moon.”
It is the consensus of classical Muslim scholars that astronomical calculations cannot be used as a replacement for actually sighting the moon (for Ramadān) with the naked eye. This is the difference between sighting the moon, which is needed to confirm the start of the month of Ramadān or Hajj, and the sighting of the twilight which is used to decide prayer times.
In summary, we hope everyone understands that the Hizbul Ulama / Unified Prayer timetable are actually a departure from the norm. As it goes against the vast majority, we need to consider first personally and then communally which timetable to follow as in these Summer months there is over 2.5 hours in difference between the start of Fajr and hence the time we start fasting. This is not the case of taking the easiest position and what some people term as ‘fatwa shopping’ but remembering that our prayer is the first thing we will be accounted for and that the fast is a very personal private worship between our Lord and ourselves and we would wish not to jeopardise this in especially the most auspicious of months, Ramadān.
As a final point to be mentioned as per clarification on how Fajr times are calculated, during the days of persistent twilight, on Islam21c.com and on Muwaqqit. com both of whom have websites which provide timetables and smartphone-based apps.
We are all aware in the Summer, the further north we travel the longer the day becomes and the shorter the night becomes. The time and distance the Sun travels below the horizon become shorter and shorter the further north we travel. If we understand that the shar’ī’ sign indicating the appearance of Fajr occurs when the Sun is approximately 18 degrees below the horizon. Then there comes a point in the Northern hemisphere which includes the UK and other northern European countries that the Sun for a short period of time in the Summer eventually doesn’t actually go below 18 degrees and stays above this point. So what does that mean?
This gives rise to the phenomena known as Persistent Twilight, where the sky never goes totally dark and there is a redness in the sky throughout the night. So the sign we would traditionally look for to indicate the beginning of Fajr never appears. This phenomena occurs for around 2 months during the Summer in parts of the British Isles and gets longer the further north you travel.
In light of this phenomena, we have determined that during this period where we cannot visibly see the shar’ī sign of Fajr, that we determine Fajr by using what is known as Solar Midnight. Solar midnight is the lowest point the Sun reaches below the horizon. The logic behind this being that from this point forward, ie this moment in time. The Sun begins to rise and the light in the sky starts to brighten for the first time in the night. It is this time that we have determined to be the beginning of Fajr and the time we start fasting.
A number of early jurists who were renowned astronomers explicitly calculated the latitude of lands which would experience persistent twilight and explained that dawn there would occur at solar midnight.
Quṭb al-Dīn al-Shīrazī (raḥimahu Allāhu), a ninth century Shāfiʿī jurist, expert astronomer and polymath says,
“Where the latitude is 48.5°… shafaq (the twilight of Maghrib) will be connected to dawn … It is classified as morning as long as the sun is in the east and it will be classified as shafaq as long as the sun is in the west.” 
ʿAbd al-ʿAlī al-Barjandī (raḥimahu Allāhu), a tenth century Ḥanafī jurist and expert astronomer says,
“When the latitude exceeds 48.5°, dawn and shafaq intertwine as is mentioned in the books but it is clear that when the sun is in the west it is classified as shafaq and when it is in the east it is classified as dawn.” 
For further information and more detailed discussions, including the methodology employed by us to calculate the prayer times especially in Summer when the signs of Fajr disappear, please refer to these previously published articles:
1. The correct time to start your Fast
2. Summer ‘Ishā & Fajr Prayer times*
3. Imāms & Masjid Committees should inform their congregations of the 18 degree standard
4. UK and Europe Prayer & Fasting Explanation
First published in 2015 Sunan al-Tirmidhī  Related in Bukhāri & Muslim  Al-Qur’ān 4:59  http://www.icoproject.org/ISNA-Adopts-New-Angles-for-Fajer-and-Isha_ad-id!81.ks  Al-Qur’ān 17:78  Bukhāri & Muslim