The time for breaking fasts, Iftar
I understand that the Quran requires us to break our fast as soon as night approaches. Being a sunni, I would like to seek a clarification: why do we break our fasts at the time when there is clearly light in the sky, which cannot be referred to as ‘night’. Ahadith clarify this concern, but can we justify our iftar times using the Quran alone?
It is a well known difference of opinion amongst the Shi’a and Sunni schools of thought whether iftar should start immediately after the sun sets or a little while afterwards. We know that the Shi’a Muslims open their fast around ten or more mintues later.
The reason for this dispute lies in the interpretation of the following verse:
“Then keep your fast until night.” (2:187).
Everyone agrees that night begins at the time that the sun sets. The predominance of darkness is the consequence of the setting of the sun. According to the sunni interpretation, the beginning of the night, when the sun has just set, is the time when we should break our fast. They bring forth the hadith to further support their understanding that says that when the time of breaking fast reaches, don’t delay in breaking it. The Shi’a interpretation is that the intent of the verse is that one should break fast at the time when when we have gone into the night, and therefore, we should wait for a while after sunset to let it happen.
An example would help to understand the reason why there is a difference in understanding. If a message of a boss to his subordinate says that the latter should open an envelope after he reaches Karachi. Let us assume that the city of Karachi begins at the Landhi’s railway station. The sunni line of thinking in this matter would require the subordinate to open the envelope immediately on arriving at the railway station of Landhi. The shi’a view would be to let the train move ahead and travel some distance inside Karachi beyond Landhi’s station to satisfy the intent of the statement.
Both views have merit in what they are suggesting. One should break fast on the basis of what one thinks is the more convincing point of view irrespective of whether one is a Shi’a or a Sunni. There was a time when I was confused whether one view is correct or the other. I used to then follow the Sunni view because of my principle that if one is confused, one should follow one’s traditional view. Now, aside from that, I am slightly more inclined to believe that the Sunni view is better. However, the other view cannot be rejected as totally unacceptable. And Allah knows the best.