Combining prayers out of pressing circumstances

Scholars of Islam have agreed without any difference that each of the five prayers has a distinct time. Combining between two times has been allowed in narrow circumstances.

You already know you will encounter a challenging situation, where prayer will be extremely difficult to perform properly. You feel certain that during one prayer time, maybe thuhr time, you will be at relative peace, but the entire `asr prayer block will be a scheduling nightmare. Maybe you will enter a surgery, or have to transport something time sensitive, or need to take a long exam, or the prayer times are temporarily short and you can’t take a work break corresponding to one of them, or you fear leaving sight of the stove while cooking for several hours.1)Sorry, not missing a scene in the 3pm showing of the new superhero movie is NOT an acceptable excuse. There may be plenty more reasons when you live with a non-Muslim family that is not as accommodating for prayer as practicing Muslims might be.

The scenarios are endless.

But you’re healthy and safe in your home town and there’s not a cloud in the sky. Yet if you prayed each prayer singly and on time, you may be putting yourself or others at some kind of unwanted risk or hardship. Most scholars did not see this as an excuse to combine prayers. Rather, they would obligate praying on time no matter the situation you find yourself in. After all, the earth is a masjid and source of purification, you don’t need any special candlelight setting or robes scented with frankincense to stand, bow and prostrate in prayer. A minority of jurists however did allow combining for scenarios like these, as long as the worshiper does not make it habitual, out of laziness or without good excuse. Their evidence is what Muslim and al-Nasa’i recorded,

عَنْ سَعِيدِ بْنِ جُبَيْرٍ، عَنِ  ابْنِ عَبَّاسٍ، قَالَ:  “جَمَعَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ ﷺ بَيْنَ الظُّهْرِ وَالْعَصْرِ، وَالْمَغْرِبِ وَالْعِشَاءِ فِي الْمَدِينَةِ، مِنْ غَيْرِ خَوْفٍ وَلَا مَطَرٍ”. قُلْتُ لِابْنِ عَبَّاسٍ: لِمَ فَعَلَ ذَلِكَ؟ قَالَ: كَيْ لَا يُحْرِجَ أُمَّتَهُ [وفي بعض الروايات: التوسع على أمته].

Sa`id ibn Jubair said that his teacher Abdullah ibn Abbaas said, “The Messenger of Allah ﷺ combined between thuhr and asr; and maghrib and isha, while in Medina, without any fear or rain.” I asked why and he said, “To be easy upon his Ummah.”

Ibn Abbaas made this statement after demonstrating it to an audience. While there may exist room to make up excuses that rationalize this with what is otherwise agreed upon regarding the restricted reasons for combining prayers, al-Nawawi (d. 671) confesses that those interpretations are weak. The text here is clear. For example, claiming that this combining was in reality, delaying one prayer until the end of its time, and then praying the next prayer at the beginning of its time. Even waiting for that time and making sure one has ṭahārah for it and is ready is not the kind of leniency that the hadeeth claims. That perceived combining [الجمع الصوري] would not escape the narrator’s attention had it happened, nor is it apparent from the text. Al-Nawawi’s personal opinion was that this practice was abrogated by consensus, even though he cited some Maliki and Shafi`I scholars who supported it, including ibn al-Mundhir. However, claiming abrogation is just as weak, since ibn Abbaas demonstrated it long after the Prophet’s death and other companions accepted it from him without censure.2)Al-Nawawi, may Allah have mercy upon him, is well known for disregarding the Salaf when it comes to reporting consensus, which makes many of his claims in this regard, merely limited to the time period he witnessed, and not the beginning of the Ummah, nor the Ẓāhirī school. Although al-Tirmidhi also agreed that this hadeeth was not acted upon in his time. However, times have changed and he had not encompassed all known opinions preceding him.

Even after ibn Abbaas of the companions, Ibn Abi Shaibah (d. 235) recorded that a rancher came to Sa`eed ibn al-Musayyib, leader of the second generation of scholars, saying that he milks his camels until it is dark outside, and then prays maghrib, and sometimes falls asleep too tired to stay awake until isha. Sa`eed said: Don’t sleep until you pray isha, but if you’re afraid you’ll fall asleep, combine the two. (v. 3 pp 459-460).

Ibn Taymiyyah gave this opinion a strong new life. Among what he said, “Ibn Abbas was busy [in Basra] with an important affair from the matters of the Muslims, speaking to them regarding what they were in need of understanding, and he saw that if he stopped his speech for a while and came down, the whole benefit would be lost [maybe people would disburse before he could conclude, or he would have to repeat much, etc.–CC]. So that was from the pressing needs that he saw allowed him to combine.”

Ibn Taymiyyah further elaborated regarding the Prophet’s well known combining of prayers during two different spots of Hajj, citing that the Prophet ﷺ did not combine while on the way to Mecca, so this wasn’t out of travel, nor were they in any fear or experiencing rain, nor was it because of hajj itself because he was inconsistent in this. Thus, the only justification for the Prophet’s combining of prayers in Muzdalifah and at times in Mina is for need [حاجة] and benefit [مصلحة] that he saw. Elsewhere, ibn Taymiyyah mentioned that Ahmad ibn Hanbal allowed combining in general cases of hardship or where strong benefit called for it. One example he cited from Imam Ahmad was if a breastfeeding woman had difficulty washing her shirt for each and every prayer, it was okay for her to combine–assuming breastmilk stains impede one’s ability to pray with ṭahārah of self, garment and place.

And from the contemporary scholars, Abu Ubaidah Mashoor Hasan of Jordan wrote a book al-Jam` Bayna-l-Ṣalātain fī-l-Ḥaḍr in which he strongly defended this concession. Other muftis also gave concession to combine to, for example, a pregnant woman in Paris for whom waiting for isha at midnight was difficult; and others similarly allowed for individuals weakened by age or condition when staying up for isha is difficult. I personally don’t see a problem with this either in many of those northern countries, especially if taking naps during the day is uncustomary and the social rhythm impedes it. Insufficient sleep is a silent and steady killer. Like stress, inactivity and dehydration, it is extremely dangerous for young and old alike, and a strong predicting factor for risk of every disease under the sun.

It is for these reasons, the Prophetic narration, plus the tradition being kept alive by a small minority in every generation, until today when the opinion has become more popular due to an increase in pressing circumstances calling for this beneficial opinion that agrees with the greater objectives and goals of this faith—especially in non-Muslim societies that do not structure themselves around the prayer. Prayer, much like fasting, has many lofty goals. But like the latter, prayer not be rigid or else those goals will be lost, and worship will turn into mere hollow and painful dreaded ritual.

Yet like with any bending of the Sharia, I strongly encourage anyone who feels compelled to take these concessions, to increase in more good elsewhere in their prayers, worship and charity, to cover their bases, out of gratitude for the ability to take this concession, and out of precaution in case Allah would have preferred you not to.

{يُرِيدُ اللَّـهُ بِكُمُ الْيُسْرَ وَلَا يُرِيدُ بِكُمُ الْعُسْرَ وَلِتُكْمِلُوا الْعِدَّةَ وَلِتُكَبِّرُوا اللَّـهَ عَلَىٰ مَا هَدَاكُمْ وَلَعَلَّكُمْ تَشْكُرُونَ} ﴿١٨٥﴾ سورة البقرة

Allah wants for you ease and does not want difficult to befall you, and so that you complete the number, and declare Allah’s Greatness for His Guidance upon you and that you may give thanks.” [2:185]

References   [ + ]

1. Sorry, not missing a scene in the 3pm showing of the new superhero movie is NOT an acceptable excuse.
2. Al-Nawawi, may Allah have mercy upon him, is well known for disregarding the Salaf when it comes to reporting consensus, which makes many of his claims in this regard, merely limited to the time period he witnessed, and not the beginning of the Ummah, nor the Ẓāhirī school. Although al-Tirmidhi also agreed that this hadeeth was not acted upon in his time. However, times have changed and he had not encompassed all known opinions preceding him.
About Chris
Chris, aka AbdulHaqq, is from central Illinois and accepted Islam in 2001 at age 17. He studied Arabic and Islamic theology in Saudi Arabia from 2007-13 and most recently earned a master's in Islamic Law from Malaysia. He is married with children.

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