Answered by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Is the pre-dawn meal obligatory? Is my fast valid without it? What is the wisdom behind it?
Walaikum assalam wa rahmatullah,
Ones fast is valid if one refrains from food, drink, and fulfillment of sexual desire from the moment Fajr time enters to the moment Maghrib time enters, with the intention of fasting. [Shurunbulali, Maraqi al-Falah]
It is not a condition for a valid fast that one partake of the pre-dawn meal (sahur). Rather, it is recommended. [ibid; Haskafi, al-Durr al-Mukhtar] Imam Badr al-Din al-`Ayni related scholarly consensus (ijma`) that it is recommended and not obligatory. [`Ayni, Umdat al-Qari Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari, 10.300]
Prophetic Guidance on the Pre-Dawn Meal and the Wisdom Behind the Pre-Dawn Meal Being Blessing
The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) said,
Eat the pre-dawn meal (sahur), for it is blessed. [Bukhari (1823); Muslim (1095) from Anas (Allah be pleased with him)]
Imam `Ayni (Allah have mercy on him) explained that there are various reasons why the pre-dawn meal is blessed (baraka):
1. That even eating a little food at this time is blessed by Allah and assists one to fast without hardship. This is pointed to by the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) telling us, Even if only with a sip of water or a date, and similar hadiths.
2. That this food will not be taken to account, as certain hadiths point to.
3. That what is meant by blessed (baraka) in this hadith is the strength that one gains to fast and fulfill ones other daily activities.
4. That what is meant by blessed is dispensation (rukhsa) and that this food is akin to being a charity or gift from Allah.
He then explained that the root meaning of baraka is increase and flourishing, and that Qadi `Iyad stated that this blessing could be from what the worshipsuch as prayer or seeking forgivenessthat the person who gets up before Fajr does, which might not otherwise have been performed. It also enables one to renew ones intention.
Ibn Daqiq al-`Id mentioned that this blessedness could also be understood to return to:
(1) next-worldly benefits, which return to the reality that by following the example of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) ones actions are blessed by Allah Most High; and
(2) the obvious worldly benefits, such as the physical strength gained and the consequent ease in fulfilling ones worldly activities.
Another reason why this pre-dawn meal is blessed is because it is one of the ways in which the Muslims fast is distinguished from the fasts of those of other religious traditions. [Summarized from: `Ayni, `Umdat al-Qari Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari, 10.300-302]
And Allah alone gives success.