According to the Sunna of the Prophet – on him peace and salvation – it is desirable to break the fast with some dates or with water. Tirmidhi has reported according to Anas ibn Malik that: “The Prophet – on him peace and salvation – used to break his fast before praying Maghrib with some fresh dates; if he did not have any, then with any kind of dates; if he still did not have any, then with a few gulps of water.” Another hadith that goes in the same direction is reported by Tirmidhi and Abu Dawood according to Salman ibn Amer: “The prophet – on him peace and salvation – has said: If someone amongst you breaks his fast let him do it with dates. If he does not find any, let him break his fast with water, since water is pure.”
It has been prescribed in the Sunna of the Prophet – on him peace and salvation – that one must hasten to break his fast just after the time of the prayer of Maghrib. Malik reports according to Sahl ibn Assad that the Messenger of God – on him peace and salvation – has said: “People will always do well as long as they hasten to break the fast.” Tirmidhi has reported according to Abu Hurayra that the Messenger of God – on him peace and salvation – has said: “God the Almighty says: ‘My servant whom I love most is the one who hastens for Iftar?’” One must know that, legally, the exact hour of Maghrib is the instant when the solar disk has complete disappeared beneath the horizon. This indicates the end of the day and the beginning of the night. As proof, we have the verse in which Allah tells us: “Continue the fast until night falls.” (Surah 2/187).
The sign of the arrival of the night is the disappearance of the sun from the field of vision of the observers. Bukhari has reported according to Assem ibn Omer ibn al-Khattab, according to his father, that the Messenger of Allah – on him peace and salvation – has said: “If the night comes from there, if the light of the day disappears and the sun has set there it is the moment for the one who fasts to break his fast.” One can conclude from this that the time of Maghrib, and thus that of the legal time for breaking the fast, is incontestably immediately after sunset. It is of little importance that that sunset be attested first-hand by a trustworthy Muslim or by the Adhan/Azan – under the condition however that the Muezzin is known for his scrupulous respect of the legal prayer times. In this case, it is not necessary to wait for the end of the Adhan/Azan for breaking the fast.
The light that remains at the horizon after sunset is of no consequence. Bukhari reports according to Abdulla ibn Abi Afwa who says: “We walked with the Messenger of Allah – on him peace and salvation – whilst he fasted. When the sun had set he said: — O Bilal, come down and prepare some Saweeq for us (a meal made from wheat flour, barley and water). Bilal replied: — O Messenger of Allah, and if you waited until later in the evening?’ The Prophet answered back: — Come down and prepare Saweek! Bilal then said: — O messenger of Allah, it is still day. The Prophet said: — Come down and prepare Saweek. Bilal complied! The Prophet then said: — If you see night coming from this side, then it is time to break the fast. And he pointed out with his finger towards the east.”
In addition, ibn Khuzaymah, al-Hakim and ibn Hibban have reported according to Sahl ibn Saad that the Messenger of God – on him peace and salvation – has said: “My community will remain faithful to my Sunna as long as it does not wait for the appearance of stars for Iftar.”
This is what the Sunna of the Prophet stipulates – on him peace and salvation. Ahmad, Abu Dawood and Al-Hakim report that Anas has said: “The Messenger of God – on him peace and salvation – broke the fast with fresh dates before praying.” In another version: “I have never seen the Messenger of God – on him peace and salvation – say the prayer of Maghrib before breaking the fast, if only with a gulp of water.” In the same manner according to ibn Khuzaymah, ibn Habban and abu Ya’la: “The Messenger of God – on him peace and salvation – if he was fasting never said the prayer until we had brought him some dates and water.” According to Abu Dawood, Anas has said: “The prophet – on him peace and salvation – always broke the fast before saying the prayer of Maghrib.”
All these hadiths clearly indicate that it is recommended to break the fast before praying Maghrib. But this does not mean that one should start and continue the meal beyond the end of the legal interval assigned for saying the prayer of Maghrib. Ahmad, Abu Dawood, ibn Majah, Al Hakim, and ibn Khuzaymah all report the following hadith: “My community will remain healthy as long as it does not delay the prayer of Maghrib until the appearance of the stars.” In addition, as underlined by the Prophet – on him peace and salvation: “Carrying out a prayer at the beginning of the time imparted for saying this prayer is considered as the best of pious deeds.”
In order to link even more Iftar with the precise hour of Maghrib and carrying out the prayer at the beginning of the legal interval, it is suitable to break the fast with a light intake of food, for example some dates and water, as the Prophet – on him peace and salvation – himself did, then pray Maghrib and then have a proper meal. Muslim has reported according to Abu Attiya who said: “I entered with Masruk in the house of Aisha. We said: — O Mother of the Believers, amongst the companions of Mohammad – on him peace and salvation – there are two men. One of them rushes to break the fast and say his prayer as soon as the sun sets whilst the other delays Iftar and the prayer. She asked: — Who is the one that rushes to do Iftar and say the prayer? We said: — It is Abdullah, that is to say, ibn Massoud. She said: — Thus did the Messenger of Allah – on him peace and salvation. She declared that this was the Sunna, but she did not blame the person who delayed Iftar and the prayer.
According to the Sunna of the Prophet – on him peace and salvation – it is desirable to invoke Allah at the moment of breaking the fast. Tirmidhi reports that the Prophet – on him peace and salvation – has said: “Three people will not see their invocation rejected: the person fasting at the moment of breaking his fast, the just leader (Imam) and the person victim of an injustice.” Ibn Majah reports according to Abdulla ibn Amar ibn Al-Aas that the Prophet – on him peace and salvation – has said: “The invocation of one who fasts at the moment of breaking his fast is never refused.” And amongst the phrases that the Prophet – on him peace and salvation – often used when he broke the fast, after Abu Dawood and Nassai, according to Ibn Umar one can cite: “The thirst is quenched, the blood vessels are irrigated and the recompense confirmed, Insha Allah.” Abu Dawood reports Muadh ibn Zohra that the Prophet – on him peace and salvation – used to say whilst breaking the fast: “O Allah! For You I have fasted and thanks to Your food I am breaking the fast.”