ISLAMIC PRAYER TIMES
By Suheil Laher
“Surely, salah is prescribed upon the believers at fixed times.” [Qur’an, 4:103 ]
The timings of the five daily, obligatory ritual prayers in Islam are determined with reference to natural phenomena easily accessible to everyone; this knowledge is not confined to an elite or exclusive group of people. This connection to the wondrous signs of nature can also help keep the Muslim in tune with the natural world and its changing cycles.
What follows is a summary of the empirical bases for the prayer times, along with some evidence from the sunnah. Hadiths are cited illustratively, not exhaustively. Some prominent scholarly disagreements are also mentioned, without categorically preferring one view over another, but rather to foster awareness and tolerance of such disagreements. I conclude with brief comments on the use of astronomical calculations to find out the prayer times.
There is agreement that fajr begins when the true dawn appears (the true dawn is that which rises laterally and broad, whereas the false one appears vertically and then disappears), and ends when the sun rises.
“The time for fajr salah is [lasts] long as the first horn of the sun has not risen.” [Muslim]
However, the Hanafis maintain that it is recommended (mustahabb) to pray it when it has started to get light (i.e. about 30mins or so before sunrise, for practical purposes), based on the hadith,
“Brighten fajr for [that] is greater in reward.” [Tirmidhi (hasan sahih), Ibn Hibban, Bazzar, Nasa’i, Abu Dawud, Darimi, Ahmad]
The majority gave precedence to another hadith:
`A’ishah said, “The Muslim women would attend fajr with the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him), wrapped in their outer garments, and then they would return to their houses unrecognized due to the darkness in which the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) performed the salah.” [Muslim]
Aside from which view one follows, clearly, one should not sacrifice the jama`ah (which is an obligation according to Hanafis and Hanbalis) to gain what is, at most, a recommended virtue.
There is consensus that it begins when the sun has started to decline. Under normal circumstances, it lasts until `asr begins. It is recommended to delay it slightly in the heat.
“When the heat is intense then make the salah cool [by delaying it], for indeed the intensity of the heat is from the exhalation/expansivenessof Hell.” [Bukhari, Muslim, Nasa’i, Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah]
“The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) would make the salah cool when [the weather] was hot, but when it was cold, he would hasten it.” [Nasa’i]
There is disagreement on its starting time. The majority hold that it is when the shadow of an object is the length of the object plus the shadow at midday.
“The time of zuhr is when the sun declines, and a man’s shadow is [equal in length to] his height, [which is] as long as `asr does not enter, and the time of `asr [persists] as long as the sun does not become yellow…” [Muslim]
Imam Abu Hanifah, however, was of the view that it begins when the shadow is twice the length of the object, plus the shadow at midday.
“Umm Salama, the wife of the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, asked Abu Hurayra about the time of the prayer. Abu Hurayra said, “Let me tell you. Pray dhuhr when the length of your shadow matches your height, asr when your shadow is twice your height, maghrib when the sun has set, isha in the first third of the night, and subh in the very first light of dawn,” i.e. when the dawn has definitely come.” [Malik]
A number of fuqaha’ of the Hanafi school (including Abu Yusuf, Muhammad ibn al-Hasan and Tahawi) have preferred the majority’s view, so I do not advise to miss the jama`ah for `asr merely on the pretext that one is Hanafi and should pray later. At the same time, it would be precautionary for the organizers to delay the `asr jama`ah until the later time.
“Umm Salamah said, “The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) was earlier in [performing] zuhr than you, and you are more hasty to perform `asr than he.” [Ahmad, Tirmidhi]
“`Ali ibn Shayban said, “We came to the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings
be upon him) in Madinah, and he would delay `asr as long as the sun remained white and clear.” [Abu Dawud]
It is not allowed to delay `asr until close to sunset (when the sun has turned yellow).
“That is the hypocrite’s salah : he sits, observing the sun, until when it is between the two horns of Satan, he stands up and pecks four rak`ah, in which he remembers Allah only a little.” [Muslim]
However, if for any reason one has not yet performed it by this time, he should perform it without delay, for the sin of praying at this time is not as great as missing it altogether (which is at minimum a major sin).
“Whoever catches a rak`ah of `asr before the sun sets has caught it.” [Bukhari, Muslim]
Legitimate excuses for such delay may be sleep, or genuine forgetfulness, and perhaps traveling (if one really was not able to pray earlier due to difficult travel conditions)..
“There is no negligence in sleep. Negligence is only [held] against one who has not performed a salah until the time of the other salah comes.” [Muslim, Nasa’i, Abu Dawud]
Begins when the sun sets, and it is recommended to pray it at its earliest time (i.e. once one is sure the sun has set, such that one should add an error margin if one is using a schedule)
“My ummah will continue to be upon fitrah (natural state of goodness) as long as they do not delay maghrib until the stars have formed a mesh.” [Abu Dawud, Ibn Majah, Ahmad, al-Hakim(M)]
It is disliked (severely so according to the Hanafis – makruh tahrimi) to delay it unnecessarily; however, it is not considered missed (qada’) until the time for `isha’ begins.
The time normally begins when the dusk (shafaq) disappears, but there has been some disagreement over whether the dusk is the redness (majority view) or the whiteness (one of Imam Abu Hanifah’s views).
“Then, he made adhan for `isha when the whiteness of the day – which is the dusk – had disappeared, and then the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) ordered him to make iqamah and he performed the salah…” [Tabarani – al-Awsat (hasan)]
Ibn `Umar said, “The dusk is the redness.” [Daraqutni]
Abu Hurayrah and Anas said it is the whiteness.
It is recommended to delay `isha’ until one third of the night has passed, if possible.
“Were it not that I would be imposing a burden on my ummah, I would have ordered them to delay `isha’ until a third of the night or half of it [has passed].” [Tirmidhi (hasan sahih)]
`Isha’ should be performed by the middle of the night (not necessarily 12:00, but rather halfway between maghrib and fajr).
“…The time of maghrib salah is as long as the dusk has not disappeared, and the time of `isha salah is until the middle of the night…” [Muslim]
However, according to most scholars, it is not considered missed (qada’) until fajr, and hence could be performed until fajr under exeptional circumstances.
`Umar wrote to Abu Musa, “Perform `isha salah in whatever part of the night you wish, but do not neglect it.” [Tahawi]
Astronomical Calculation of Prayer Times
“[Allah is] the cleaver of daybreak and has made the night for rest and the sun and moon for calculation. That is the determination of the Exalted in Might, the Knowing.” [Qur’an, 6:96]
“The sun and the moon [move] by precise calculation,”[Qur’an, 55:5].
There is no objection to using astronomy in the calculation of prayer timings. However, we should realize that calculations are approximate, and contain a small error margin, due to factors such as variations in elevation, atmospheric pressure, humidity and latitude.
[See, for example, the following astronomical websites: http://www.srrb.noaa.gov/highlights/sunrise/calcdetails.html, http://www.sunrisesunset.com/faqs.html, last accessed 10/06/2011, 2:47pm]
In addition, remember that the watch or clock you are using might be off by a few minutes. Hence, if relying on calculations, you should not rush to pray and /or break one’s fast immediately when the time reaches what is on the schedule.
NOTE: However, if one is relying on direct observation, one can break one’s fast, and similarly pray Maghrib, immediately upon seeing the sun disappear and there is no need to add any minutes.
Adding at least a couple of minutes to the time on a calculated schedule is prudent (and similarly finishing a prayer at least a couple of minutes before the end of its calculated time). I suggest adding 3 minutes for maghrib, and at least 5-10 minutes after zawal (the highest point of the sun) for Zuhr.
And Allah knows best.