Ramadan is a blessed time for the Muslim community. Celebrated during the ninth month of the lunar calendar, it is a special religious observance through which we can get blessings, increase our worship, seek forgiveness, and strengthen our family and community ties. This is all done with the objective of increasing our righteousness as Muslims.
During Ramadan, Muslims must refrain from certain specified behaviors during the daytime (like eating or drinking), while trying to increase other acts (like praying at night, giving charity, and sharing meals). As with all acts of worship in Islam, we must observe Ramadan according to the guidelines prescribed in the Qur'an and the Sunnah, and we must approach the month (and all of its components) with the proper intention.
Before we begin fasting each day, we are encouraged to eat a pre-fasting meal called suhoor. Ideally, eating suhoor lessens our hunger during the day, allowing us to have the focus and stamina needed to complete the fast successfully, inshaAllah, God willing.
Because it is so significant, it is important to give thought to how we approach suhoor. Before Ramadan arrives (or as soon as possible), we should review the rules for observing suhoor. If you are new to fasting, it may also be helpful to speak with other Muslims to get practical advice. To assist us all in observing suhoor, here are some reminders that may be of benefit.
The Do's and a Few Don'ts
Do eat suhoor. Don’t think that it is a sign of piety or personal strength to skip it.
The best man from among mankind, Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, encouraged the Muslims to eat suhoor. It was his practice and the practice of the early Muslims, so it is never advisable to skip it. If we do so intentionally, we skip the opportunity to receive blessings and experience a more-focused fast. That idea was confirmed by Anas ibn Maalik, may Allah be pleased with him, who said that the Prophet said:
“Eat suhoor, for in suhoor, there is a blessing.”
(Bukhari #1923; Muslim #1095)
Another companion named Jabir, may Allah be pleased with him, reported that the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
“Whoever wants to fast, let him eat something for suhoor.”
(Sunan of Ahmad #14533)
Do begin your suhoor with the name of Allah.
We begin eating by saying “Bismillah” (in the name of Allah). The Messenger of Allah instructed us to say it at every meal, and this includes suhoor. He said:
“When any one of you eats, let him mention the name of Allah. If he forgets to mention the name of Allaah at the beginning, let him say “Bismillaahi, fi awwalihi wa aakhirihi (in the name of Allaah at its beginning and its end).”
(Tirmidhi #1859; Abu Dawood #3767)
Do be different from other religious groups and eat suhoor.
Our Prophet said:
“The difference between our fast and the fast of the People of the Book (i.e., Jews and Christians) is the partaking of suhoor.”
Do strive for consistency, but don't consider your fast invalid if you miss suhoor for some reason.
Most scholars of Islam classify suhoor as mustahabb or highly encouraged. We can earn rewards for partaking in it, but there is no penalty on us if we miss it. The suhoor meal helps us in many ways, but it should not be elevated to the status of a mandatory religious obligation. There were even times when the early Muslims had very little food and were not able to eat suhoor, therefore, it is not a requirement for fasting.
Do delay the time for suhoor until it gets close to the time for Fajr. Don't stop eating or drinking if you are still hungry or thirsty, and the time for Fajr prayer has not yet arrived.
In the Quran, Allah commands the Muslims to:
“... eat and drink until the white thread (the light) of dawn appears to you distinct from the black thread (the darkness of night). Then complete your Sawm (fast) until nightfall.”
(Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:187)
Allah wants ease for His worshippers. If the time for Fajr has not arrived, we can still eat or drink.
Zayd bin Thabit, may Allah be pleased with him, said:
"We had suhoor with Allah's Messenger and then went on to pray. Anas asked, ‘How much time was there between the adhan (call to prayer) and the suhoor?'’ He said, ‘The time that fifty verses take (to recite)’'' (Bukhari, #1921).
We should delay eating suhoor until it is close to Fajr time. Make sure that we allow ourselves enough time to eat. Imam Ahmad recorded Abu Dharr saying that Allah's Messenger said:
“My ummah will always retain goodness as long as they hasten in breaking the fast and in delaying the suhoor” (Musnad of Ahmad, #20805).
For many years, however, the publishers of some of the prayer calendars would declare a time for Muslims to stop eating during Ramadan (called imsak in Arabic), explaining that they were merely encouraging people to be extra cautious. This practice, however, is contradictory to what is stated in the Sunnah. Bukhari (#1919) and Muslim (#1092) narrated from Ibn ‘Umar and ‘Aisha that Bilal ibn Rabah used to call the adhan at night. Ibn Umm Maktum, may Allah be pleased with all of them, would call it for Fajr prayer. The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
“Eat and drink until Ibn Umm Maktum gives the adhan, for he does not give the adhan until [the true] dawn comes.”
Ibn Hajar comments on this point in Fath al-Bari (4:199) stating the following:
“One of the reprehensible innovations that have appeared in our times is giving the second adhan approximately twenty minutes before Fajr in Ramadan, and extinguishing the lamps (which indicate that it is haraam to eat and drink) for those who want to fast. Those who introduced this innovation claim that they are erring on the side of caution with regard to an act of worship.”
Traditionally, there are two adhans for the Fajr prayer. The first one is just before dawn appeared. It is intended to awaken the worshippers who are sleeping and to remind the worshippers who are awake performing the night prayers to either rest before Fajr or to eat suhoor if they have the intention to fast the next day. The second call is made at the actual time of Fajr to call people to the prayer.
Do eat nourishing and permissible foods for suhoor, but do not frown upon any permissible food that is available simply because it is of meager quality or because we dislike it.
Various cultures have certain foods that they prefer for suhoor, but the choice is up to the individual. The important things to remember are that our food choices must be nourishing for us and halal. Suhoor can be observed with as little as a sip of water, although consuming more than that (enough to hydrate properly) is preferable. Abu Sa’eed al-Khudri reported that the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
“Suhoor is a blessed meal so do not omit it, even if one of you only takes a sip of water, for Allah and His angels send blessings on those who eat suhoor."
(Sunan of Ahmad #11003)
Dates are a traditional food closely associated with Ramadan. Many Muslims incorporate dates into their meals, particularly at suhoor and the breaking of the fast (iftar). The Messenger of Allah said:
“The best suhoor for the believer is dates.”
(Sunan of Abu Dawood #2345)
During Ramadan, fasting worshippers may be tired from the long hours of worship at night and the fasting during the day. Dates contain several sugars that provide energy, and they are rich in minerals like manganese, copper, potassium, and calcium. They are easy to digest and are a good source of fiber, making them ideal for eating before and after fasting.
And if you need a tasty and nutritious dish for suhoor, check out Powerhouse Oatmeal. It is a favorite in our home!
Do think about your health restrictions before fasting or choosing suhoor meals. Don’t put your health at risk.
As mentioned previously, dates are recommended for suhoor, but this is for the worshipper in good health who can fast. Make sure that you consider your personal health requirements when planning your meals or even when deciding whether you can fast, particularly if you have a serious chronic illness like diabetes, cancer, or chronic kidney disease. Get clarity from your religious leader, but also speak with your doctor and/or dietitian.
Do make hydration a priority.
Drink water during suhoor. Our bodies, which are composed of 65-70% water, need it to function properly. Dr. Alaa Abdallah Ashour of the Ministry of Public Health in Qatar recommends drinking between eight to twelve cups of water between iftar and suhoor. Remember that certain foods are naturally hydrating, such as cucumbers, peaches, oranges, and watermelon. Include them in your meals as they will count toward your water intake. Conversely, avoid body-dehydrating foods, such as foods that are very salty or sugary, asparagus, cured meats, excess coffee (caffeine), dry foods, and overly spicy foods. They may increase your loss of fluid through urination and perspiration.
Do involve the entire family in suhoor.
Our Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, would wake up his household. They would often eat together using one dish.
Do prepare meals in advance.
Although we should delay eating suhoor, you can prepare the food for suhoor in advance. Meal prep is very popular now, and there are many videos offering suggestions for preparing food quickly and in advance. Try to involve the family in both meal prep and menu planning.
Do have some quick suhoor options available.
There will probably be at least one day when the alarm clock does not sound or when you hit the snooze button by accident. To prepare for those occurrences, try to have something handy that you can quickly eat without cooking. Water and dates are, of course, the best options, but you can also have any fruits, pre-made oatmeal, and healthy sandwiches ready to eat when running late.
Do eat what you like that is permissible, but don't overeat.
Some Muslims mistakenly think that if they eat a lot at suhoor, they will not feel hungry during the day. Do not over-indulge in food at suhoor or iftar time. Doing so tends to have the opposite effect, making one feel sick and sluggish during the day.
In addition, Muslims should be a people of moderation. Over-eating not only has obvious detrimental effects on our bodies, but it also affects our spiritual health. By over-indulging in our food and drink, we do something Allah dislikes. Allah says in the Quran,
“...eat and drink and do not commit excesses; indeed, He does not love those who are excessive.”
(Surah Al-Araf, 7:31)
The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
“The son of Adam cannot fill a vessel worse than his stomach, as it is enough for him to take a few bites to straighten his back. If he cannot do it, then he may fill it with a third of his food, a third of his drink, and a third of his breath.”
(Sunan al-Tirmidhi #2380)
Finally, do remember to end your suhoor with prayers and gratitude.
The Islamic tradition is to praise Allah for our food and drink at the end of our meals. Abu Umama, may Allah be pleased with him, said that when his meal was over, the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, would say:
“Laa muwadda ‘wa laa mustaghni’ anhu Rabbanaa (Allah be praised [with abundant, beautiful and blessed praise]; He is the Sufficient One, and He is our Lord.”
Ramadan and all of the traditions associated with it represent a tremendous opportunity for Muslims to increase in piety. We should observe suhoor with the intention of sincerely pleasing Allah and gaining blessings from the meal. We should thank Him for whatever food we have and for being blessed to see another Ramadan. And we should remember to thank whoever prepares our suhoor and other meals.
May Allah make us grateful servants. Ameen.
Candice “Sister Islaah” Abd’al-Rahim reverted to Islam in 1976, and considers herself a student of knowledge. She has deep education credentials which include an M.A. in Teaching, a Certificate of Advanced Studies (Post-Masters) in Administration and Supervision, a B.S. in English, and experiences as a principal (in fact the first hijab public school principal in Maryland!), curriculum and staff developer, mentor, and classroom teacher of grades pre-K through 12. She is a former adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University’s Graduate School of Education and is a doctoral candidate in Islamic Sciences at the International Online University. Islaah’s contributions to the field have earned her honors in the Who’s Who of Distinguished JHU Alumni. She is a wife, daughter, mother, and grandmother and is an active member of several Muslim communities in the Baltimore area.