This verse makes it clear that the time of the fast begins at dawn.
The timeframe for a day of fasting is the same all year round. It is the same whether the fast being observed is an obligatory fast or a voluntary one. That time is the time of true dawn – exactly the same as the time of the Fajr prayer – no earlier and no later.
Allah says: “And eat and drink until the white thread becomes distinct to you from the black thread of the dawn.”
It was the practice of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and His Companions to eat and drink right up to the time they heard the adhân for the Fajr prayer.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Bilâl is calling at night so eat and drink until Ibn Umm Maqtûm calls”. The narrator of this hadîth added: “Ibn Umm Maqtûm was a blind man who would not call for Adhân until he is told that morning has started. [Sahîh al-Bukhârî and Sahîh Muslim]
Therefore, as long as the person who calls the adhân is known to be reliable and punctual, always calling the prayer at the exact time of dawn, then the people can rely on him. They should stop eating and drinking upon hearing the start of the adhân for the Fajr prayer.
If the people live in a locality where they do not have a reliable call to prayer they can depend upon, then they need to determine the time of Fajr by some other means and stop eating at that time.
The Time of “Imsâk”
We see on some of the prayer timetables that are printed and distributed in Ramadan a column called “imsâk”. The Arabic word imsâk simply means “to desist” or “to refrain”. What these timetables are suggesting is that people should stop eating before the time of Fajr.
The time given for this “imsâk” is usually ten or fifteen minutes before the time of the Fajr prayer. However, there is no basis for this practice in Islamic Law. It was not the practice of the Prophet (peace be upon him) nor that of his followers.
Taking such an exaggerated precaution is not in accordance with the spirit of Islamic Law in such matters. In the Qur’ân, Allah command the Prophet (peace be upon him) to: “Say: ‘I do not ask you for any reward for it; nor am I of those who affect exaggerated airs’.” [Sûrah Sâd: 86]
The Prophet (peace be upon him) warned us: “Those who behave in a stubborn matter will find ruin.” [Sahîh Muslim (2670)]
We are not supposed to play it safe and add a few minutes before starting our fasts in the morning and when breaking our fasts after Sunset.
Quite the contrary, the Prophet (peace be upon him) commanded us to make haste in breaking our fasts. He said: “The people will continue to be upon what is good as long as they hasten to break the fast.” [Sahîh al-Bukhârî (1821) and Sahîh Muslim (1838)]
He did not command us to give in to our doubts and delay breaking our fasts for a few minutes in order to be sure. By applying the Sunnah, we shrug aside those doubts and prevent ourselves from exaggeration and false piety in our religious practices.
No one is obligated to refrain from eating or drinking before the time of Fajr actually arrives.