Assalaamu alaykum wa rahmatullaahi wa barakaatuhu. In some masjids, they switch on a red light a few minutes before the Iqaamah (second call to the prayer) in order to inform the people that it is no longer allowed to start praying then. What is the ruling on this?
All perfect praise be to Allah, the Lord of the worlds. I testify that there is none worthy of worship except Allah and that Muhammad, sallallahu ʻalayhi wa sallam, is His slave and Messenger.
We do not believe that it is legitimate to use this light or any other means to alert people that the time of Iqaamah is near so that they would not start the Sunnah prayer. As long as the Iqaamah has not been announced, it is allowed to start the Sunnah prayer. It is only forbidden to start the Sunnah prayer if the Iqaamah has been announced. The Prophet, sallallahu ʻalayhi wa sallam, said, “When the Iqaamah is announced, there is no prayer except the obligatory prayer.” [Muslim]
Forbidding the Sunnah prayer before the Iqaamah might become widespread among people in the future, to the extent that they consider it a Sunnah that they have to follow. They would thus consider it as part of the religion and start denouncing the person who starts praying a Sunnah prayer before the Iqaamah is announced. This is how many Bid‘ahs (religious innovations) are introduced; they start as actions performed as a precaution and gradually become considered part of religion to them, and then people start to denounce those who go against it.
Such forbiddance to perform Sunnah prayers before the Iqaamah is similar to forbidding eating the Suhoor (pre-dawn meal) a while before the azan is called under the pretext of precaution. Some people also made turning off the lamps a sign that it is forbidden to eat and drink anymore. Al-Haafith Ibn Hajar described this practice and judged that it is a Bid‘ah in his book Fat-h Al-Baari. He said:
"One of the reprehensible Bid‘ahs that have been introduced in our time is raising the second azan a while before the Fajr in Ramadan – known as the time of Imsaak or Imsaakiyyah – and turning off the lamps as a sign that it is impermissible to eat and drink for those who want to fast. Those who introduced this practice claim that it is a precaution in an act of worship... This also made some people delay the azan of the Maghrib for a while after sunset, also as a precaution. Their claimed precaution made them delay Iftaar (breaking their fast at sunset) and advance Suhoor, which is the exact opposite of the Sunnah of the Prophet . It is for this reason that good became scarce in them and evil became widespread...”
Scholars clarified that this practice (Imsaak) is groundless and that the person who intends to fast can eat and drink until the break of dawn. Ibn Baaz was asked, “Setting a specific time for Imsaak about fifteen minutes before the azan for the Fajr is called; is there any basis for this in the Sunnah?” He replied, “I do not know of any basis for this. Rather, the texts of the Quran and Sunnah indicate that Imsaak should be when dawn breaks...”
Ibn ʻUthaymeen said, “There is no doubt that what some people do, setting timetables which give the time of Imsaak as a while before the break of dawn is wrong, it is not correct...”
Likewise, refraining from starting voluntary prayers should be done at the time of the Iqaamah, not before it.
Allah knows best.
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