Friday 25 October 2019

Prayer Timings as Stated in the Quran

Prayers are common to all Divine religions. While Jews and Christians usually offer weekly combined prayers in synagogues (Saturday) and Churches (on Sundays), Muslims offer five obligatory prayers, called salah or slat everyday besides offering the Friday midday prayer, that is Dhuhr prayer, in the masjids in the form of congregation.

The daily five obligatory prayers are spread over the entire day, commencing from a pre dawn prayer (Fajr), a midday day prayer (Dhuhr), the afternoon prayer (Asr), the post sunset prayer (Maghrib) and the late night prayer (Isha). Each prayer has varying cycles as have been explained in one of our earlier posts: How to Offer Salah (Prayers): Obligatory and Voluntary Rakats / Cycles / Units

In this post the focus is on the exact timings of offering these five daily prayers. Although, the timings have been mentioned in various verses of the Qur'an, the verses 78-80 of Surah Al isra explain in detail these timings. The exegesis of these verses is given herein under:

اَقِمِ الصَّلٰوةَ لِدُلُوۡكِ الشَّمۡسِ اِلٰى غَسَقِ الَّيۡلِ وَقُرۡاٰنَ الۡـفَجۡرِ​ؕ اِنَّ قُرۡاٰنَ الۡـفَجۡرِ كَانَ مَشۡهُوۡدًا‏  
( 78 )   Establish prayer at the decline of the sun [from its meridian] until the darkness of the night and [also] the Qur'an of dawn. Indeed, the recitation of dawn is ever witnessed.
This verse needs to be read carefully as it explains the timings of salat / prayers. The Muslims have been commanded to establish Salat immediately after the mention of obstacles and adversities. This implies that the perseverance required to face adverse circumstances is obtained by the establishment of Salat.

We have translated the words of the Arabic text into “the declining of the sun.” Though some of the companions and their followers are of the opinion that it means “the sunset”, the majority of them are of the opinion that it means “the declining of the sun from its zenith.” Umar, Ibn Umar, Anas bin Malik, Abu Barza-tal-Aslami, Hasan Basri, Shaabi, Ata, Mujahid and, according to a tradition, Ibn Abbas (May Allah be pleased with them all) are of this opinion and Imam Muhammad Baqir and Imam Jaafar Sadiq also are of the same opinion. Besides this, there are some traditions from the Prophet (peace be upon him) to the same effect, though they are not so authentic.

As for the timings of night prayer "Isha" according to some, the original words of the Arabic text mean “darkness of the night”, while others take it to mean “midnight”. If the first opinion is accepted, it will imply “the beginning of the time of the salatul-isha, the isha prayer” and according to the other it will mean “the last limit of the time of salatul-isha.”

The literal meaning of the word fajr is dawn, that is, “the beginning of the morning after the darkness of night.”

Here the “recital of the Quran in the morning” stands for the salatul-fajr, the morning prayer. At some places the Quran has used the word salat for prayer and at other places a particular part of salat for prayer as a whole, e.g. tasbih, hamd, zikr, qayam, ruku, sajud etc. Likewise, here “recital of the Quran at dawn” does not mean the mere recital of the Quran but its recital during the salatul-fajr. Thus, the Quran has also incidentally referred to the different parts of which salat is composed and these guided the Prophet (peace be upon him) to prescribe the definite form of salat in which it is performed by the Muslims.

The recital of the Quran at dawn is witnessed by the angels of Allah to testify it as has been explained in the traditions. Though the angels witness each prayer and each good deed, the special mention of their being witnesses at the time of the recital of the Quran during the salatul-fajr gives it a particular importance. That is why the Prophet (peace be upon him) used to recite long passages from the Quran during the salatul-fajr. His example was followed by the companions, and the succeeding Muslim scholars held it to be a desirable thing.

In this verse, it has been briefly stated how to establish salat which was made obligatory at the prescribed timings on the occasion of Miraj.
It has been ordained that the first prayer is to be offered before the sunrise and the remaining four after the declining of the sun till the darkness of the night.
Afterwards Angel Jibril was sent to the Prophet (peace be upon him) to define the limits of the timings of each prayer.
According to a tradition of Abu Daud and Tirmizi related by Ibn Abbas, the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: Jibril led me in the five prayers twice near the Kaabah. On the first day, he offered the Duhr prayer just after the declining of the sun, when the shadow of everything was the shortest. Then he offered the Asr prayer when the shadow of each thing was equal to its own length, then the Maghrib prayer at the time when one breaks his fast, and the Isha prayer was offered just at the time when twilight had disappeared, and Fajr prayer at the time when it becomes unlawful to eat and drink anything for the one who intends to observe a fast.
The next day he offered the Dhuhr prayer at the time when the shadow of each thing became equal to its own length and the Asr prayer when the shadow had doubled. The Maghrib prayer was offered as on the previous day and the Isha prayer when one third of the night had passed away, and the Fajr prayer when light had spread all over. After this Jibril turned towards me and said: O Muhammad, these are the timings of salat of the Prophets and the right tunings are between these two extreme limits.
The Quran has also pointed to these five times of Salat on different occasions:
Take great care of your Prayers, especially of the middle Prayer and stand before Allah like devoted servants. (implies Asr) (Surah 2 Al Baqarah Ayat 238)
And listen; establish salat at the two ends of the day and in the early parts of the night (Surah 9. At-Tauba, Ayat 114)
Offer the prayer in two parts of the daytime and in the hours of the night that are closer to daytime. Surely, good works drive away evil works. This is the correct information for those who use their knowledge. (Surah 11 Hood: 114) 
And glorify your Lord with His praise before the sunrise (Fajr) and before sunset (Asr) and then glorify Him during the night (Isha) and then at the ends of the day (Fajr, Dhuhr and Maghrib). (Surah 20. Ta ha, Ayat 130).
So glorify Allah when it is evening for you (Maghrib), and when it is morning (Fajr). Praise is only for Him in the heavens and the earth and glorify him in the later part of the afternoon (Asr) and in the afternoon (Dhuhr). (Surah 30. Ar-Room, Ayats 17-18).
Therefore, O Prophet (saws), bear with patience whatever they say, and keep up glorifying your Lord with his praise, before sunrise and before sunset. And glorify Him again in the night and also when are free from prostrations. (implies fajr, dhuhr, asr, isha and tahajjud) (Surah Chapter 50 Al Qaf ayat 39)
There is great wisdom in this system of the timings of salat. One of these is to avoid the timings of the worship of the sun worshipers. This is because the sun has always been in every age one of the greatest deities of the mushriks, who worshiped it especially at the time of sunrise and sunset. Therefore, these two times have totally been forbidden for salat. Besides this, they worshiped the sun at the time of its zenith. That is why Islam has ordained that the Muslims should offer their two prayers during the day time after the sun has declined and the Fajr prayer before the sunrise.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) himself has stated this wisdom of the timings of prayer in several traditions. For instance, in the tradition related by Amar bin Abasah, the Prophet (peace be upon him) is reported to have replied to a question to this effect: Offer your morning prayer, but refrain from it when the sun is about to rise until it has risen high. For the sun rises between the horns of Satan and the unbelievers fall prostrate before it at that time.

Then after mentioning the Asr prayer, he said: After Asr prayer, refrain from any prayer until the sunset, for during that time the sun sets between the horns of Satan and the unbelievers fall prostrate before it.

The rising and the setting of the sun between the horns of Satan is a symbolic expression that has been used in this tradition. This implies that both these times are used by Satan as temptations for the people. This is, as if to say: that Satan is so pleased with the worship of the unbelievers at the time of sunrise and sunset that he appears to carry the sun on his head as a mark of approval. This interpretation of the tradition is based on this remark of the Prophet (peace be upon him): The unbelievers fall prostrate before it.

Yousaf Ali Explanation:
The Commentators understand here the command for the five daily canonical prayers, viz.: the four from the declination of the sun from the zenith to the fullest darkness of the night, and the early morning prayer, Fajr, which is usually accompanied by a reading of the holy Qur'an. The four afternoon prayers are: Zuhr / Dhuhr, immediately after the sun begins to decline in the afternoon; 'Asr, in the late afternoon; Maghrib, immediately after sunset; and Isha, after the glow of sunset has disappeared and the full darkness of the night has set in. There is difference of opinion as to the meaning of particular words and phrases, but none as to the general effect of the passage.

The morning prayer is specially singled out for separate mention, because the morning is a "peaceful hour" and special influences act on the soul awaking from the night's rest. Special testimony is borne to the prayers of this hour by the angelic host.

وَمِنَ الَّيۡلِ فَتَهَجَّدۡ بِهٖ نَافِلَةً لَّكَ ​ۖ عَسٰۤى اَنۡ يَّبۡعَـثَكَ رَبُّكَ مَقَامًا مَّحۡمُوۡدًا‏ 
( 79 )   And from [part of] the night, pray with it as additional [worship] for you; it is expected that your Lord will resurrect you to a praised station.
The literal meaning of tahajjud is to rise up by breaking sleep. Therefore, it means: Rise up from sleep after the passing of a part of night and then offer your prayer.

Nafl literally means: Something done in addition to an obligatory duty. This shows that the tahajjud prayer is in addition to the five prescribed prayers.

“Will raise you to an honored position”. You may attain such a high position in this world and in the next world that people from everywhere may be full of praise for you, and you may become a praiseworthy personality. This is, as if to say: Now your opponents are engaged in calling you names and are trying to defame you throughout the country, and have raised a storm of false accusations against you but that time is not far when the world will ring with the echoes of your praise and in the Hereafter you will become worthy of praise by all creatures. The exaltation of the Prophet (peace be upon him) to the high position of intercession on the Day of Resurrection is also a part of that honored position.

Yousaf Ali Explanation:
This is held to be addressed specially to the holy Prophet who usually prayed more than the five canonical prayers. The Tahajjud was a prayer after midnight, in the small watches of the morning.

To the Prophet was to be assigned in the Hereafter the highest Post of Honour and Glory "Maqam Mahmud", implying his excellence above all other Prophets. The immediate reference may be to the hope that the Makkan persecution will soon be over and the glorious work in Madinah will begin.
( 80 )   And say, "My Lord, cause me to enter a sound entrance and to exit a sound exit and grant me from Yourself a supporting authority."
This prayer clearly shows that the time of Hijrah (Migration) had come near. That is why Allah has instructed the Prophet (peace be upon him) to this effect: You should follow the truth wherever and in whatever condition you be. If you migrate from a place, you should migrate for the sake of the truth, and wherever you go, you should go for the sake of the truth.

It is being prayed that either grant me power and authority or make some government my helper so that I may use its power to reform the corrupt world. This is because power is required to check indecency and sin and to enforce the law of justice.

Hasan Basri and Qatadah have made the same interpretation of this verse, and the great commentators like Ibn Jarir and Ibn Kathir have adopted the same. This is supported by a tradition of the Prophet (peace be upon him): Allah eradicates by the power of government those evils, which are not eradicated by the teachings of the Quran. This is a clear proof that according to Islam, political power is also required to introduce reform, for admonition alone is not enough for this. Besides this, when Allah Himself has taught this prayer to His Prophet (peace be upon him) for the establishment of His way and enforcement of His law, it is not only lawful but desirable to acquire power and those, who consider this to be a worldly thing, are obviously in the wrong. What is really worldliness is that one should desire and acquire power for his own interest. On the contrary, the desire of power for the sake of Allah’s way is not the worship of the world but the worship of God.

Yousaf Ali Explanation:
The entry and exit here referred to may be interpreted in four senses: (1) entry into death and exit at the resurrection: for the righteous, who have purified their souls by prayer (last verse) and spiritual teaching from the Qur'an (next verse), there is on each occasion a fuller and fuller localisation and enjoyment of truth and honour: for those who are estranged from Allah, the effect is the opposite: the truth becomes bitter and there is ignominy and exposure instead of honour: (2) entry for the holy Prophet into the new life at Madinah, which was still in the womb of futurity, and exit from the life of persecution and the milieu of falsehood, which surrounded him in his native city of Makkah still given up to idolatry: (3) referring to the impending Hijrah again, the prayer may mean, "Let it be from pure motives of truth and spiritual honour, and not from motives of anger against the city of Makkah or its persecutors, or of ambition or worldly power from the city of Madinah, which was ready to lay everything at the Prophet's feet": (4) generally, entry and exit at every stage of life.

Here is yet another verse from Surah Hood that explains the timings of the prayers:

وَأَقِمِ الصَّلَاةَ طَرَفَيِ النَّهَارِ وَزُلَفًا مِنَ اللَّيْلِ إِنَّ الْحَسَنَاتِ يُذْهِبْنَ السَّيِّئَاتِ ذَلِكَ ذِكْرَى لِلذَّاكِرِينَ

“Offer the prayer in two parts of the daytime and in the hours of the night that are closer to daytime. Surely, good works drive away evil works. This is the correct information for those who use their knowledge.” (Surah 11 Hood: 114)

In the verse above, Taraf (طرف), means each of the parts of a thing (2). “Two parts of the day” means its two parts.  As it could be seen in the following verse, the first part for praying is the noon time when the sun moves to the west.  The second is the time for afternoon (‘asr) prayer.  These two times do exist in all cultures.

The text of the verse contains the word zulaf (زلف), the plural form of zulfa (زلفة), which has the meaning of “closeness”.  In Arabic, a plural expression states for at least three. The expression “close parts of the night” “زُلَفًا مِّنَ اللَّيْل” in the verse designates at least three times of the night that are close to the daytime. These are the sunset (maghreb), nightfall (ishaa’) and dawn (fajr) prayers, which bear the signs of the daytime.

The night comprises of three parts;  the first is the time for the sunset and nightfall prayers. These start with the sunset, lasting till the falling of darkness (ghasaq al-layl). The second part is the time for midnight prayer (tahajjud), covering the period from the ghasaq al-layl to the break of dawn. This is called half of the night (nisf al-layl) (نصف الليل) or the middle of the night (wasat al-layl) (وسط الليل). The third part is the time for the dawn (fajr) prayer, which starts with the onset of break of dawn.  The prohibitions begin for the fasting person from this moment onwards.  The dawn prayer could be performed until the sunrise.

The sunset (maghrib) prayer could be performed from the sunset until the redness on the west horizon disappears.   From then on is the time for nightfall (ishaa’) prayer. It continues until the whiteness on the west horizon disappears and the sky becomes pitch-dark.  When the sky is pitch-dark, the first part of the night that is close to the daytime ends.

Abdullah Bin Omar said:  One night we sat down to wait the Prophet (p.b.u.h)  of Allah for nightfall (ishaa’) pray.  He came as the third of the night was passing by, or afterwards.  I did not know whether he was busy.  He said: “Are you waiting for this prayer?” I would have lead my community pray at this hour if it had not been difficult for them.” Then he ordered the caller for prayer (muezzin)  to call for prayer (3).

All prayer must be for Allah's aid and authority. However much we may plan, our success must depend on His aid. However nobler our motives, we have no right to imperil any lives unless there is authority in the Word of Allah. The Prophet only acts on Allah's commission and inspiration.

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