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Suhoor generally pertains to a Muslim meal that is eaten before dawn, or before the first light of day appears. It is a traditional part of the Ramadan, a period wherein Muslims usually fast as an act of purifying themselves. The pre-dawn meal is said to not be mandatory, but it is very important, as the meal helps sustain and nourish a Muslim within the fasting period of the day. In other languages, suhoor is also known as sahari, sehur, or sehri.
The literal meaning of the Arabic word “suhoor” is “of the dawn,” most probably in reference to the time of day when the meal should be eaten. In the past, the Muslims considered the daily fasting period to be more than 20 hours, but later analysis and examination of the Qur’an, Islam’s holy book, revealed a story involving the prophet Muhammad and two companions, Bilal and Ibn Umm Maktoon. The story recounts how both companions prayed before dawn, with Bilal being the first one, but Ibn Umm Maktoom’s prayer nearer the time of dawn. Muhammad then designated the latter’s prayer as the signal for the fasting to begin.
There are certain rules Muslims usually follow in having the suhoor, one of which is finishing the “breakfast” before the “fajr” or the “dawn” prayer. If a person is still eating, even just one minute after the prayer has started, the act of fasting becomes disqualified. Technically, the sehur can be eaten once midnight is over, but many Muslim authorities advise eating the meal just before the fajr prayer. Muslims are also encouraged to recite a suhoor prayer: “I intend to keep the fast for tomorrow in the month of Ramadan.”
The practice of eating the sehur also implies that a Muslim should also be able to wake up especially early during the month of Ramadan to partake of the pre-dawn meal, as eating and drinking anything is not allowed after dawn. Muslims also believe that a person abstaining from sehur may lose many blessings, as Muhammad was reported to have instructed, “Eat suhoor, for there are blessings in it.” Suhoor is typically served as large, heavy meals, given that it is the only meal Muslims are allowed to eat before sunset. It is advised, however, that the meals be kept simple, as Ramadan is a month-long reminder that Muslims ought to be purified, charitable, and humble. Many Muslims enjoy the suhoor as a family affair, inviting relatives and friends together to make for a large gathering.