This verse, however, was not revealed at the time when the duty of fasting was imposed in the second year after the Prophet's settlement in Madinah. What Muslims were required to do before the revelation of this verse was that they were allowed to eat, drink and have sex with their wives at night, until they have prayed Isha and slept. When they have slept, no matter how early at night they did so, they were not allowed to have anything to eat or drink until sunset of the following day. Al-Bukhari relates on the authority of Al Baraa: “If a man from among the companions of Muhammad (Pbuh) was fasting and it was time to end the fast, but he slept before he broke his fast, he was not allowed to eat for the rest of that night, or during the following day until the evening. Qais ibn Sirmah, a man from the Ansar, was fasting. When it was time to end his fast, he came home and said to his wife: 'Do you have any food?' She said: 'No, but I can go and seek some food for you.' He had spent all that day working. As he sat, sleep overtook him, when his wife came back and saw him she said, “deprived you are”. 'When it was midday the following day, he fell unconscious.” This was reported to the Prophet. Shortly afterwards, the verse was revealed which starts with: It is made permissible for you to have sex with your wives in the night of fasting. They were exceedingly pleased with its revelation. Also revealed (in the same verse) were Allah's words: You may eat and drink until you distinguish the whiteness of the day against the blackness of the night.
Prophet taught his companions to exercise it to the full, making sure to have a meal shortly before the beginning of the day of fasting. At the time of the Prophet, two of his companions made the call to prayer at dawn, Bilal and Ibn Umm Maktoom. Bilal was a former Abyssinian slave who had a very melodious voice. Ibn Umm Maktoom was a blind man. Each one of them made the call to prayer at dawn, with Bilal making it first, then Ibn Umm Maktoom. In order not to leave any room for confusion, the Prophet mentioned to his companions that they should consider the call made by Ibn Umm Maktoom as the signal for starting fasting. Aisha, the Prophet's wife, mentions that Bilal made his call to prayer when it was still night time. She further quotes the Prophet as saying: “Eat and drink until Ibn Umm Maktoom makes his call to prayer. He does not make it until the break of dawn.” This Hadith is related by Al-Bukhari and more than one version of it are related by Muslim. Al Bukhari further quotes a statement added by one of the reporters of this Hadith which states: “The gap between the two calls to prayer made by them was no more than what it took the one to come down and the other to go up.”
There used to be a time gap of reciting around 50 verses of Quran between the time Prophet finished eating suhoor and doing Fajr Prayers.
We note that the gap between the two calls to prayer was not more than a few minutes. Yet the Prophet was keen to tell his companions, and the Muslims in every generation, that they need not start fasting before they are absolutely certain that it is due. Some people in later generations began to advise people to leave a gap of time between finishing their meal and the time for Fajr prayer. They did this as a precaution against error. This Hadith and similar ones are clear in that no such time gap is required for any reason. Indeed, the Prophet has taught us to leave our meal of Suhoor, i.e. the meal we eat before we begin fasting, as late as possible. Anas quotes the Prophet as saying: “Make sure to have your suhoor meal, for suhoor is blessed.: Another Hadith related by Muslim on the authority of Amr ibn Al-Aas quotes the Prophet as saying: “The difference between our fasting and that of the people of earlier revelations is the suhoor meals.” These two Hadiths stress the importance of making good preparations for a day of fasting by having a meal immediately before it is time to begin the fast. This meal is given a distinctive name, suhoor, which is derived from the word sahar which denotes the night time immediately before dawn. The Prophet explains to us that it is this meal which distinguishes our fasting from that of people of earlier religions. It is, therefore, a concession given to us by Allah so that we are better able to undertake the task of fasting throughout the day. When the Prophet indicated that something has become a distinctive mark to the Muslim nation, that indication enhances its significance and makes it highly important for everyone to act upon it. When the Prophet adds in the first of the last two Hadiths that this meal in the early hours of the morning is blessed, he leaves us with no doubt that we should always make sure to have it.
Some people find it difficult to wake up at that early time in order to have a meal. They say that they prefer to go without it rather than interrupt their sleep. Be that as it may, they lose a great deal of blessings by sleeping through that time. They will have to wake up shortly afterwards anyway in order to offer their Fajr prayers. If they wake up for suhoor, they make sure of praying Fajr at the beginning of its time which is far more preferable. Moreover, if they allow themselves half an hour extra they can have a short stint of night worship which is always one of the best rewarded acts of worship. It is far more so in Ramadan, when every good action is rewarded much more amply by Allah. The best schedule any Muslim can have in the nights of Ramadan is to wake up say, an hour before dawn, and have half an hour or 40 minutes of night worship before having his suhoor meal, then going on to pray Fajr and, perhaps, recite some passages of the Quran before going back to sleep, if he wishes to do so. That makes his day and night very blessed indeed.
The Prophet himself used to have suhoor. At times, some of his companions joined him for his suhoor meal. Zaid ibn Thabit, a young companion of the Prophet, reports: “We had suhoor with the Prophet before he stood up to pray.” Anas who transmitted this report asked Zaid: “How much time was there between the call to prayer and your suhoor?” He answered: “About 50 verses of the Quran.” This means that the Prophet started his suhoor something like 15 or 20 minutes before it was time for Fajr. The recitation of 50 medium verses of the Quran in a mode which is neither fast nor slow, does not take more than that.
Suhoor was introduced to clear the wrong notion that once they (Muslims) go to sleep, they cannot eat till the azan was called for the Maghrib next day.
We note here that Zaid who was to become one of the most renowned reciters of the Quran, and the person to be entrusted with compiling its complete and standard version at the time of Abu Bakr estimated the time of suhoor by reciting 50 verses. The Arabs at that time used to estimate time by certain familiar actions. They used to say that a certain action is done over “the time it takes to milk a sheep, or to slaughter a camel, etc.” Zaid, however chose a different sort of action, which is the recitation of the Quran. This serves as an indication that particular time should be devoted to worship. Moreover, the Quran was the most important thing in the life of that Muslim community. Its recitation was the most familiar of actions to them. To give an accurate estimation of time, Zaid suggested that their suhoor took place earlier than Fajr by the short time which it takes to recite 50 verses.
That was a suhoor taken with the Prophet. We note here that the Prophet chose the course which he knew was easiest for his companions. He realized that if he had his meal long before Fajr, his companions would have done likewise. Since that is not required by our faith, he left his meal to the latest time possible. His companions realized that and followed his guidance. Sahl ibn Saad, a companion of the Prophet, reports: “I used to have suhoor with my family before goingto join Fajr prayer. My speed would be such that I managed to catch up with Allah's messenger when he was in his prostration (sujood)”. This Hadith again indicates that the companions of the Prophet (Pbuh) had their suhoor very late. Sahl needed to go very fast to the mosque after finishing his suhoor, because if he did not walk fast he might have missed Fajr prayer with the Prophet. What the Prophet's companions did serves as a good example for us to follow. They understood the Prophet's guidance better than anyone else, because they understood what the Prophet required of them and they followed his guidance. By following their example, we also will be following the Prophet's guidance.