Once again in the UK as well as many other regions such as Canada, Norway – and in fact any country located above 48.5 degrees latitude, the ‘whiteness’ of the sky at night never actually disappears at this time of the year. For any place above 54.5 degrees latitude, the ‘redness’ in the sky, which precedes the whiteness, also does not disappear. This happens from around May 18th until July 25th (depending on where you are located). This has significant consequences for both stargazers and Muslims – since it affects the timings and applicability of their prayers.
What this means is that you have constant light – i.e it does not get darker than astronomical twilight and never becomes true night, from the end time of Maghrib (the evening prayer after sunset) until the end of fajr (the before dawn prayer).
The relied upon and authoritative position of the Hanafi school is that the fajr prayer begins when light shifts from the West to East – where there previously was no light. But this does not happen at our latitudes.
There is a weak or minority opinion within the Hanafi School of Shams al-Aimmah al-Hilwani al-Bukhari, that the prayer time occurs when the light increases but this also does not happen, even though we have discussed the ruling of following minority opinions within a particular School. It is also Qowl bil fasl (against a type of ijma – consensus) to mix both of these opinions, and to make a new opinion by stating that one takes the ‘shifting’ opinion, and when this is not available then they take the ‘increasing’ opinion. So for example, if one scholar holds the position that bleeding does not break ablution, and the second person states that bleeding does break ablution. Then later a third person comes along and uses both opinions to form a new opinion that is Qowl bil fasl.
Therefore based on the classical Hanafi position, we have a situation where we don’t have the end time of Maghrib, the start of Isha, the end of Isha, the start of Fajr and nor do we have the start time of beginning ones fast. What this means is that people can perform their Maghrib, Isha and Fajr prayer at any time between Sunset and Sunrise (but you have to keep them in the correct order). You can also pray them all together and since the time of Isha is not present, you have the option to pray it while this condition of no true night occurring persists, so that prayer can be prayed or omitted without guilt either way. You can also pray Maghrib and then Fajr right after, even if you pray it at 2130!
There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth by ‘Hanafis’ and others about this over the past few years but I would remind readers that for the past few months, when the true nightfall has been very late, for example, close to 0100 and thus Isha prayer has been likewise very late – around 0100 as well, many if not most mosques purporting to follow the ‘Hanafi’ school have adopted a ‘Pick n’ Mix’ approach and simply prayed Isha at 2200 or so, a full two hours or more earlier than the actual Hanafi time. Now that there is a genuine concession from the Hanafi School, they are conversely being puritanical and insisting that people pray Isha when there is no time for it.
Please recall readers that Islam is not about being paranoid or taking the ‘hardest’ path, but rather following the best evidence and most coherent practice. ‘Difficult’ does not mean ‘true’. Also, most of those puritans telling you to take the ‘hard way’ were resting easy in their beds a full two to three hours before the time of Isha occurred over the past few months, having assured you that they (and you) have prayed it. Manipulating the time of Isha like this is no better in the Hanafi School than waking up and praying Fajr two hours after sunrise and saying ‘it was on time’.
I recommend that people do follow their local mosque for the beginning of their sehri, but it is entirely permissible and the authentic position for people to begin their fast (i.e keep eating) until sunrise.
Here are the previous articles and videos that explain the issue in more detail with full references:
Fasting Times and Puritanism
Prayer and Fasting When the Time for Isha Does Not Occur
3 Prayers at One Time
Debate between Shaykh Atabek and Asrar Rashid