It Is Mustahab To Have The Iftar Early (Part 1)

Sharnblali (rahmatullahi ta'ala 'aleyh), wrote in the book Nur-ul-idhah. "it is mustahab [1] to have the iftar early on cloudless nights." While explaining the book, he wrote, "On cloudy nights one must be careful in order to protect one's fast from being broken, [that is, one must delay the iftar a little]. One who eats the iftar before the stars are seen has done it early enough." Tahtawi says in his explanation of the book, "It is mustahab to break fast before performing the evening prayer. As written in the book Bahr [and also in Ibni Abidin], to make haste for the iftar means to have the iftar before the stars are seen." Also it is mustahab to perform the evening prayer at that time, that is, to perform it early. When it is well understood that the sun has set, first the iftar is eaten with dates, water, olives or salt. That is, the fast is broken. Then the evening prayer is performed in jama'at (congregation) in a mosque or at home. Then the supper is had. Because it will take a long time to eat the food at the table, especially during Ramadan, the iftar must be made with a little food and the supper must be had after the evening prayer so that the evening prayer will be performed early and the meal will be eaten with ease and without haste. Thus, the fast will be broken early and the prayer will be performed early.

Where the terrain is level, such as seas and plains, or at any point where there is no barrier such as hills and buildings on the visible horizon, the sunset occurs when the sun's upper edge disappears below the visible horizon [not true horizon]. At that time the sun will still illuminate the hills on the eastern side. For someone who is not able to see the sunset on the visible horizon line, the sunset time is shar'i sunset, which is the sun's disappearance below the shar'i horizon, at which time the sun no longer illuminates the mountains and clouds on the east side. Its light decreases and the east side gets darker. On hilly or mountainous terrain, it is not sufficient for the sun to disappear behind the hills and buildings, but it is also necessary for the light to go dim everywhere, and for a darkening of the sky on the east side to occur. On calendars where the times of shar'i sunset are written, it is necessary for those who cannot see the visible horizon to perform iftar inaccordance with the calendar. Ibni Abidin, while discussing the mustahabs of fasting, says that, "People living in low areas should have iftar when they see the sunset. Those who live in higher elevations cannot have the iftar at the same time with them unless they see the sunset themselves." He informs us that the hadith-i-sharif [2] "Iftar is started when the night starts from there," which he quotes during the course of his expatiation on fast, means to have the iftar when it starts to get dark on the east side. [The beginning of the dark means the disappearing of light even in the highest areas.]

[1] mustahab: (act, thing) deserving thawab if done but no sin if omitted, nor disbelief if disliked.
[2] hadith (sharif): i) a saying of the Prophet ('alaihi 's-salam).; al-Hadith ash-sharif: all the hadiths as a whole; ii) 'ilm al-hadith; iii) Books of the hadith ash-sharif. iv) Al-hadith al-qudsi, as-sahih, al-hasan: kinds of hadiths (for which, see Endless Bliss, II).