A Detailed Exposition of the Chosen and Necessary Prayer Times
Times of the Prayer
How many times are there for each prayer?
Each obligatory prayer has two times:
Its Ikhtiyari time: This is the time in which everyone must perform the prayer (unless he has a valid excuse for delaying his prayer beyond this time). A person is permitted to pray whenever he wishes within this time - he is free to pray at the beginning of the ihktiyari time or to delay his prayer to the end of the ikhtiyari time, and incurs no sin in doing so.
Its Daruri time: It is not permitted for a person to delay his prayer to this time unless he has a valid excuse. If he has no excuse, then he incurs a sin by delaying his prayer to this time. Unlike the ikhtiyari time, a person cannot choose which part of the daruri time he prays in - he must perform his prayer as soon the excuse preventing him from praying has gone (If, for example, his excuse was sleep, he must pray as soon as he wakes up and purifies himself).
What is the ikhtiyari time for each prayer?
Dhuhr: The ikhtiyari time of Dhuhr starts at the moment that the sun begins to decline from its zenith (in other words, as soon as the shadows begin to lengthen after midday), and finishes when the length of a person's shadow has increased (from the length that it had at midday) by a length equal to his height. A person's height is generally reckoned to be seven of his foot-lengths or four of his cubits (the length of his upper arm, from his elbow to the tips of his fingers). So, for example, if the length of a person's shadow was three of his foot-lengths at midday, then the end of the ikhtiyari time of Dhuhr would be when the length of his shadow reached ten foot-lengths (three at midday plus seven for his height).
[NOTE: The length of shadow at midday varies according to the time of year and the distance a person is from the Equator. In the northern hemisphere, it tends to be longer in the winter months (such as December) and in the southern hemisphere, it tends to be longer in the summer months (such as June). Additionally, the further one gets from the Equator, the longer the shadows tend to be.]
'Asr: The ikhtiyari time of 'Asr is from the time that a person's shadow is the same length as his height (plus the midday shadow) until the yellowing of the sun (this is the time when the rays of the sun paint the walls and ground of the Earth in a yellowy colour. This normally occurs between 40 minutes to an hour before sunset).
[NOTE: The ikhtiyari times of Dhuhr and ÔAsr coincide for the length of time it takes to pray four rak'ats. However, there is a difference of opinion as to whether their times coincide at the end of the time of Dhuhr (immediately before the adhan of 'Asr), or at the beginning of the time of 'Asr (immediately after the adhan of 'Asr). Therefore, according to the first position, if a person were to pray his 'Asr prayer at the end of the time of Dhuhr, his prayer would be valid, and according to the second position, it would not be valid as he prayed it before its time.]
Maghrib: The ikhtiyari time of Maghrib begins when the entire orb of the sun disappears from the sky and goes below the horizon (i.e. sunset) and extends for the length of time that it takes for a person to satisfy the preconditions of the prayer (such as cleaning oneself from filth, purifying oneself from ritual impurity and covering one's 'awra*). According to the mashhur position, there is no extension for the ikhtiyaritime of Maghrib. However, it is permitted for the person who has already satisfied the preconditions of the prayer (i.e. he has already cleaned any filth off his body and clothes, obtained a state of ritual purity and covered his 'awra) to delay Maghrib for the amount of time that it would normally take him to satisfy its preconditions (such as a delay of fifteen to twenty minutes or so, because it is the time it takes to perform a ghusl that is taken into account).
[*'Awra normally refers to the part of the body that must be covered in the prayer, but, in this instance, includes those parts of the body that it is only recommended to cover for the prayer.]
'Isha': The ikhtiyari time of 'Isha' begins from the moment that the red twilight disappears from the sky and extends until the end of the first third of the night.
[NOTE: The night begins with Maghrib and ends with Subh. So, for example, if Maghrib was at 8.00 PM and Subh was at 5.00 AM, then the night would be nine hours long and a third of that would be three hours. Therefore, in this instance, the end of the ikhtiyari time of 'Isha would be at 11.00 PM]. Unlike the position taken by the Hanafis, it is not necessary to wait until the white twilight has disappeared in order to pray 'Isha'. ]
Subh: The ikhtiyari time of Subh begins at the moment when true dawn* breaks and extends until the time of isfar, which is the time in which a person can no longer see the stars and in which there is enough light for him to distinguish the faces of other people nearby (when is standing outside or in a place without a roof). It is also said that the ikhtiyari time of Subh extends right up until sunrise. Those who take this position consider Subh to have no daruri time.
[* As opposed to the false dawn, which occurs before the true dawn, especially in the winter months. The difference is that the false dawn is when a strip of light appears in the middle of the sky surrounded on all sides by darkness, remains for a few minutes and then disappears again. As for the true dawn, that is when light appears at the edge of the horizon and gradually spreads out until it encompasses the whole sky.]
What is the daruri time for each prayer?
Dhuhr: The daruri time of Dhuhr extends from the time that a person's shadow is the same length as his height (plus the midday shadow) until sunset.
'Asr: The daruri time of 'Asr extends from the time that the sun first starts to cast a yellow light on the walls and ground until sunset.*
[* NOTE: Dhuhr and 'Asr share a daruri time - the time from when the sun first starts to cast a yellow light over the ground until sunset.]
Maghrib: The daruri time of Maghrib starts as soon as its ikhtiyari time finishes and lasts until the true dawn (i.e. the time of Subh). In other words, the daruri time of Maghrib begins as soon as the time required for a person to fulfil the preconditions of the prayer (and pray it) has passed.
'Isha': The daruri time of 'Isha' lasts from the beginning of the second third of the night until the true dawn.*
[* NOTE: Maghrib and 'Isha' share a daruri time - the time from the start of the second third of the night until the true dawn (i.e. the start of the time of Subh).]
Subh: The daruri time of Subh is from the time of isfar until sunrise (according to the view that Subh has a daruri time).
What does a person do when circumstances prevent him from being able to accurately determine the time of the prayer?
If circumstances make it impossible for a person to accurately determine the time of the prayer using the signs mentioned above Ð such as when the sun is obscured by clouds, or when it is dark and overcast, or when there are mountains between him and the setting sun Ð then he must try to use other methods in order to establish the time. It is not enough for him to merely guess at the time Ð he must be fairly confident that the time of the prayer has arrived before embarking on the prayer. A possible method for determining the time could be, for example, the descent of darkness, in the case of the person whose view of the setting sun is obscured by mountains; or the finishing of his wird in the case of the person whose norm it is to always finish his wird (consisting of dhikr, Quran or voluntary prayers) at the moment that Fajr comes in.
Is it enough for a person merely to think it highly likely that the time of the prayer has come in? What is the ruling if it turns out that his estimation of the time was wrong?
If a person thinks it highly probable that the time for a prayer has come in and prays based on that estimation, then his prayer is valid in two out of three cases. The two instances in which his prayer is valid are the instance in which he discovers that his estimation was correct, and the instance in which the rightness or wrongness of his estimation remains unknown. As for the instance in which it turns out that his estimation was wrong, his prayer is not valid and he must make it up.
If there remains an element of doubt in the person's mind as to whether the time of the prayer has entered, then he is not permitted to pray and has to make up any prayer he prays in that state, even if it turns out that his estimation of the time of the prayer was correct.
These rulings are for when conditions make it very difficult for a person to accurately determine the time of the prayer - such as when it is dark and overcast. If the sky is clear and conditions permit a person to see whether the time has come in or not, then he is not permitted to pray based upon an estimation of the time, even if he thinks it highly likely that his estimation is correct - he must be one hundred percent certain that the time has come in.
When is the best time in which to pray each prayer?.
As a general rule, the best time to pray is at the beginning of the ikhtiyari time. This is regardless of whether the person is praying on his own or in a group, and regardless of whether it is Dhuhr that is being prayed or any other prayer. There are, however, two sets of circumstances under which it is recommended to delay Dhuhr from the start of its ikhtiyari time to a slighter later time:
1. In the case of the one who expects a group of people will arrive if he delays the prayer Ð or expects to be able to pray in a larger group Ð it is recommended for him to delay his Dhuhr prayer until his shadow is a quarter the length of his height (plus the midday shadow).
2. When it is extremely hot. It is recommended to delay Dhuhr to a time in which the heat has abated somewhat (when there is a greater amount of shade). This is generally taken to be when a person's shadow has lengthened to half the length of his height (plus the midday shadow), although some say that it is recommended to delay the prayer to even later.
Is it permitted for someone praying alone to delay the prayer?
It is permitted, and indeed recommended, for a person who would otherwise pray alone, to delay his prayer in order to pray in a group and so obtain the extra reward*, if he expects or has high hopes that more people will come if he waits. It is also said that he should pray the prayer at the beginning of its time, even if he is on his own, and then repeat the prayer in a group in order to gain the extra reward. This is when the prayer is one that is permitted be repeated. As for Maghrib, he must pray it immediately because its time is very short, and he is not permitted to repeat it.
*A person receives 27 times more reward for praying in a group than he does for praying individually.
How much of the prayer must a person perform in order to catch that prayer within its time?
If a person prays a complete rak'at of a prayer with both of its prostrations* within that prayer's time, then he has caught that prayer in its time, even if the other rak'ats of that prayer fall outside the time. This ruling applies to both the ikhtiyari time and the daruri time. So, for example, if a person were to complete a single rak'at of Dhuhr, with its two prostrations, before the adhan of 'Asr and the rest of the prayer after the adhan, then he would have caught the prayer in its ikhtiyari time, even though the majority of the prayer was performed outside it (based on the position that the shared ikhtiyari time between Dhuhr and 'Asr is at the end of the time of Dhuhr, not the beginning of the time of 'Asr). Similarly, if a person were to complete a single rak'at of 'Asr, with its two prostrations, before the adhan of Maghrib, and then complete the rest of the prayer after the adhan, he would have caught the prayer in its daruri time.
A person incurs no sin, even if he has no excuse, for delaying his prayer until there is only enough time for him to pray a single rak'at of that prayer in the ikhtiyari time. If he delays his prayer until there is only enough time left for him to pray a single rakÔat of that prayer in the daruri time, then he DOES incur a sin. However, he is still considered to be performing that prayer and not making it up, even though a large part of the prayer is performed outside the time.
[*NOTE: It is obligatory, when the remaining time is very short, that the person performing the prayer only recites the Fatiha in the first rak'at and does not recite the sura in order to give himself a better chance of completing that rak'at within the time. He must not rush so much that he does not achieve stillness in each position. It is also obligatory on him to omit the iqama.]
What are the excuses with which a person may delay his prayer to the daruri time without sinning?
There are ten excuses for delaying the prayer until the daruri time:
1. Unbelief. When an unbeliever becomes a Muslim during the daruri time, he incurs no sin by performing his prayer within that time.
2. Childhood. When a child reaches puberty during the daruri time, he incurs no sin by performing his prayer within that time.
[NOTE: Even if the child had already prayed the prayer during the ikhtiyari time before reaching puberty, it would be obligatory for him to pray it again if he reached puberty before that prayer's (daruri) time had ended. This is due to the fact that the prayer is not obligatory on a child, so his performance of an obligatory prayer is like his praying a voluntary prayer and this does not meet the obligation.]
3. Insanity. When a person recovers from a bout of insanity during the daruri time, he incurs no sin by performing his prayer within that time.
4. Unconsciousness. When a person regains consciousness or wakes up from a coma during the daruri time, he incurs no sin by performing his prayer within that time.
5. Intoxication by something lawful. When a person regains his senses during the daruri time after a bout of drunkenness brought about by drinking (or eating) something permitted to him - such as milk which had become alcoholised without his knowing - then he incurs no sin by performing his prayer within that time. If he had become intoxicated by drinking (or eating) something forbidden to him - such as wine - then he DOES incur a sin by delaying his prayer to the daruri time.
6. Menstruation. When a woman's menstrual period finishes during the daruri time, she incurs no sin by performing her prayer within that time.
7. Lochia. When a woman's period of post-natal bleeding finishes during the daruri time, she incurs no sin by performing her prayer within that time.
8. A lack of that with which one may ritually purify oneself (i.e. pure water or pure earth). If a person does not find a sufficient quantity of pure water with which to perform wudu' or the pure earth necessary for the performance of tayammum until after the daruri time has come in, then he incurs no sin by performing his prayer within that time.
9. Sleep. If a person wakes up in the daruri time, having slept through the ikhtiyari time, he incurs no sin by performing his prayer within that time. It is permitted for a person to go to sleep before the time of the prayer has come in, even if he knows that it is very unlikely that he will wake up during that prayer's time. After the prayer's time has come in, however, it is forbidden for him to go to sleep before praying that prayer, if he thinks that it is a possibility that he will not wake up until the end of the daruritime.
10. Forgetfulness. If a person forgets to pray and then remembers during the daruri time, then he incurs no sin by performing his prayer within that time.
146. What is the ruling when the excuse preventing a person from praying departs and there is only enough time left to perform a single complete rak'at?
If the excuse preventing a person from praying departs before SUNRISE and there is still enough time left for that person to complete a rak'atof that prayer with its two prostrations after satisfying the preconditions of the prayer [by performing ghusl, in the case of the woman whose period of menstrual or post-natal bleeding had come to an end, or by performing wudu in the case of the person recovering from a bout of madness or from unconsciousness. As for the unbeliever who enters Islam at the end of the daruri time, the length of time needed for satisfying the preconditions of the prayer is not taken into account in his case, because he is in control of his state (in that he can become Muslim at any time) while the others are not], then the Subh prayer remains obligatory on him.*
[*NOTE: For the majority of the excuses mentioned in the previous section, if the excuse remains until after the daruri time has passed, then the obligation of that prayer has passed, and the person does not have to make that prayer up. The same is true for all prayers that he missed while in that state. So, for example, if a person were unconscious for two whole days, he would not be obliged to make up those ten prayers as the prayer was not a obligation on him while he was in that state. The exceptions to this are sleep and forgetfulness (excuses 9 and 10) and becoming intoxicated by drinking something forbidden. In these three instances, the obligation of the prayer is not lifted and they must make up that prayer, even if that person slept for a whole week. It is also said that the person who has no purifying agents (excuse 8) should make up his prayer (this is discussed in greater detail in section 116 in the chapter on tayammum)]
In the same way, if the excuse preventing a person from praying departs before SUNSET and there is only enough time left for that person to complete a single rak'at (or two or three or four rak'ats, no more), then only 'Asr is obligatory on him, as the time of Dhuhr has passed.
Similarly, if the excuse preventing a person from praying departs before Fajr (true dawn) and there is only enough time left for that person to complete a single rak'at (or two or three rak'ats, no more), then only 'Isha' is obligatory on him, as the time of Maghrib has passed.*
[*The rule that the Maliki scholars act upon is that "If the time is so short that there is not enough time to pray both prayers, then the later of the two prayers that share the same time (i.e. Maghrib and 'Isha, and Dhuhr and 'Asr) takes precedence." So a person prays 'Asr or 'Isha and leaves Dhuhr or Maghrib.]
What is the ruling when there is enough time left for a person to perform five rak'ats?
If the excuse preventing a person from praying departs before SUNSET and there is still enough time left for him to perform five rak'ats (after satisfying the preconditions of the prayer), then both Dhuhr and ÔAsr remain obligatory on him. This is because there is enough time remaining for him to pray the four rak'ats of Dhuhr and still catch a single rak'at of 'Asr.
Similarly, if the excuse preventing a person from praying departs before Fajr and there is still enough time left for him to perform four rakÔats, then both Maghrib and 'Isha' remain obligatory in him. This is because there is enough time remaining for him to pray the three rak'ats of Maghrib and still catch a single rak'at of 'Isha'.