Prayer times, not mere recommendations…

With the start of each prayer time, we are given an opportunity--and command--to preserve and strengthen our faith. By praying in the beginning we can make it the best of our deeds.

Don’t limit your Islam to just belief, cultural and political issues, perpetuating the idea that Islam is an ideology and not a religion based on worship of the Creator. Reconsider how you allow Islam to impact your mind, body and soul, and what you owe your Creator, and what you will ultimately be returned to after death, and how you’ll be judged.

You may be familiar with the Prophet ﷺ calling to Islamic monotheism for 13 years in Mecca before migrating and the rest of Islamic injunctions being revealed in Medinah. But what we rarely hear is that he and his companions were praying that entire time in Mecca. While on the Night of Ascension the prayers became fixed at five times daily forever, yet even in the first days of Islam, some recall seeing him, Abu Bakr, the young Ali and a slave Zaid praying in the valleys of Mecca. In the books of Seerah, we are also reminded that when Umar and Hamzah accepted Islam, the Muslims felt freer to pray in the open and in the Sacred Masjid without harassment. And hardly had the first verses of al-`Alaq come to the Prophet ﷺ before he was also commanded to observe night prayer. So Islam was always about tawḥīd and ṣalāt.

While the formal prayer may be burdensome at first, it is an extremely rewarding badge of courage, honor and integrity with Allah. Making the formal prayer habitual is the best thing you can do for yourself as a Muslim in your lifetime. But this article is not about the importance of prayer or its benefits, since that has been covered time and again. Rather, this is about the reality that your prayer is an indication of your faith, and what to do when you have limited time and energy to pray.

I hope to cover several important issues surrounding prayer and its timing, as follows:

  1. Do we have to pray “on time”?
  2. What happens if we let the prayer time pass without intending to pray before the next prayer begins? Is this a sin, or is it much greater than that?
  3. Should you make up a “missed prayer”?
  4. What should you do when prayer time is fleeting and you are unable to pray as you would like?

Is praying “on time” a preference or a condition?

The basic rule of thumb with prayer is that it may only be accepted by Allah when performed within its defined boundary of time, which may only be a 1 to 3 hour window of time. The only exception for this is when one intends to combine two related prayers, e.g. the two afternoon prayers or the two evening prayers. Otherwise, scholars have agreed, that praying thuhr, for example, 20 minutes before it officially starts, is not acceptable, because that prayer has not become obligatory or even legislated for that person yet. It would be like flying to Mecca and performing the acts of Hajj a few weeks before Hajj actually begins—knowing that Hajj is only performed during a few specific days each year.

Thus, Allah says:

{فَإِذَا قَضَيْتُمُ الصَّلَاةَ فَاذْكُرُوا اللَّـهَ قِيَامًا وَقُعُودًا وَعَلَىٰ جُنُوبِكُمْ ۚ فَإِذَا اطْمَأْنَنتُمْ فَأَقِيمُوا الصَّلَاةَ ۚ إِنَّ الصَّلَاةَ كَانَتْ عَلَى الْمُؤْمِنِينَ كِتَابًا مَّوْقُوتًا} ﴿١٠٣﴾ سورة النساء

When you have finished the prayer, remember Allah standing, sitting, and lying on your sides, but when you are free from danger, establish the prayer. Verily, the prayer is enjoined on the believers at fixed hours.” [4:103]

The key in this ayah is the final phrase, which could also literally be translated as “truly, the prayer has been for the believers, a timed obligation”, suggesting very strongly that the obligation to pray, is not simply an obligation to pray, period, but rather, an obligation to pray at a certain time.

Now consider the whole ayah, and the āyāt before it which address the prayer of travelers and those groups of Muslims who were involved in traditional formations of war—before gunpowder. Allah gave them specific instruction on how to observe the prayer during uncommon situations. Never does Allah tell the believers to delay and count their delayed prayers until they feel at ease to pray perfectly. Instead, Allah gives specific instruction on how to pray in strenuous times. The current time is the only time, and nothing can change that. Allah then reminds the Muslims to remember Him, even after the formal ritual prayer has ended, no matter our position. Remember Allah in your actions, interactions, thoughts, work and speech. And then, whenever in safety, good health and accustomed land, establish the prayer as best as we can, unrushed, with due concentration, in congregation, on time, and with nawafil. But in all circumstances, whether traveling, or in extremely stressful situations like combat, or anything else in between, the prayer must be performed at its specific time.

Thus, Allah directs the believers to pray even when you can’t sit or stand still for prayer(!)

{حَافِظُوا عَلَى الصَّلَوَاتِ وَالصَّلَاةِ الْوُسْطَىٰ وَقُومُوا لِلَّـهِ قَانِتِينَ ﴿٢٣٨﴾ فَإِنْ خِفْتُمْ فَرِجَالًا أَوْ رُكْبَانًا ۖ فَإِذَا أَمِنتُمْ فَاذْكُرُوا اللَّـهَ كَمَا عَلَّمَكُم مَّا لَمْ تَكُونُوا تَعْلَمُونَ ﴿٢٣٩﴾} سورة البقرة

Guard strictly the prayers and the middle best prayer. And stand before Allah with obedience. And if you are afraid, then on foot or riding. And when you are in safety, then remember Allah in the manner He has taught you, which you knew not before.” [2:238-239]

So this meaning is reaffirmed throughout the Quran as Allah commands the believers to establish the prayer and remember Him at specific limited times of the day and night.

{أَقِمِ الصَّلَاةَ لِدُلُوكِ الشَّمْسِ إِلَىٰ غَسَقِ اللَّيْلِ وَقُرْآنَ الْفَجْرِ ۖ إِنَّ قُرْآنَ الْفَجْرِ كَانَ مَشْهُودًا} ﴿٧٨﴾ سورة الإسراء

Perform the prayers for mid-day till the darkness of the night (i.e. the Ẓuhr, ‘Asr, Maghrib, and ‘Ishâ’ prayers), and recite the Qur’ān in the early dawn (i.e. the morning – Fajr prayer). Verily, the recitation of the Qur’ān in the early dawn is ever witnessed [by groups of angels replacing each others’ shifts].” [17:78]

Thus, the command to pray is a command to perform it at a certain time, for that time, because it’s there. It is like saying, “go to the sidewalk when the bus enters the neighborhood” or “for the bus to pick you up.” If the bus leaves, then there’s no purpose going out for it. The chance is gone. The goal is not to go to the sidewalk, but to catch the bus.

{وَأَقِمِ الصَّلَاةَ طَرَفَيِ النَّهَارِ وَزُلَفًا مِّنَ اللَّيْلِ ۚ إِنَّ الْحَسَنَاتِ يُذْهِبْنَ السَّيِّئَاتِ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ ذِكْرَىٰ لِلذَّاكِرِينَ} ﴿١١٤﴾ سورة هود

And perform the prayers at the two ends of the day and in some hours of the night. Verily, the good deeds remove the evil deeds. That is a reminder for the mindful.” [11:114]

And,

{فَسُبْحَانَ اللَّـهِ حِينَ تُمْسُونَ وَحِينَ تُصْبِحُونَ ﴿١٧﴾ وَلَهُ الْحَمْدُ فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ وَعَشِيًّا وَحِينَ تُظْهِرُونَ ﴿١٨﴾} سورة الروم

So glorify Allah, when you come up to the evening [offer the sunset and night prayers], and when you enter the morning [offer the dawn prayer]. And His are all praise and thanks in the heavens and the earth; and [glorify Him through prayer] in the afternoon and when you reach the time when the day begins to decline [noon].” [30:17-18]

And from the Sunnah, we may recall that Jibreel once came to the Prophet ﷺ to demonstrate the timings of each prayer, showing him the beginning of each window of prayer on one day, and then the end of their valid timings on the next day. Afterwards he said, “what is between this and that is the time for each,” meaning that every prayer has its borders.

And there is no doubt that these commands and timings are with the highest wisdom. For example, as our willpower of the day begins to wane, we pray more and more, to revive and preserve ourselves and strengthen our nafs. At work, wherever that may be, we pray thuhr on time to de-stress, collect ourselves, and resume productive and ethical practices. When the sun goes down, the shayāṭīn disburse and we may be most inclined to obey our lusts, we still have two more prayers to be mindful of and establish, gathering with the believers, and letting our iman lift each other up collectively, essentially protecting ourselves till we lay down for sleep.

Ibn Hazm said, “the Ummah has agreed, all of them in consensus, that if the prayer is delayed till after its time, then it has been missed [فاتت].”

And as for “missing” a prayer, Imam al-Bukhari recorded at the end of a golden chain:

حَدَّثَنَا عَبْدُ اللَّهِ بْنُ يُوسُفَ، قَالَ: أَخْبَرَنَا مَالِكٌ، عَنْ نَافِعٍ، عَنْ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ بْنِ عُمَرَ، أَنَّ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ ﷺ، قَالَ: “الَّذِي تَفُوتُهُ صَلَاةُ الْعَصْرِ كَأَنَّمَا وُتِرَ أَهْلَهُ وَمَالَهُ.”

“The one who misses the afternoon prayer, it is as if they forfeited or were deprived of their family and wealth.”

And what is a person “worth” if they are alone and destitute with nothing?

Ibn Hazm further recorded [al-Muhalla 2/14] ibn Seereen saying, “the prayer has but one time, so the one who prays before its time is like the one who prays after its time.” In other words, they’re wasting their time, chasing something they allowed to escape. So the time limits for the prayers are from Allah’s limits in general,

{وَمَنْ يَتَعَدَّ حُدُودَ اللَّهِ فَقَدْ ظَلَمَ نَفْسَهُ}

And whoever transgresses Allah’s limits has truly hurt themselves.” [62:1]

Yet as many of us know, it is common practice for Muslims who may be a little lazy and do not know better, to assume that the prayer can be accepted any time of day or night once it has begun. It is as if the specific time block is merely the preferred timing, while they have a “customary” timing of “just get it in before the day closes”. So they do not set their alarms for fajr, but may pray at 8 or 9 in the morning before they leave for work—assuming they pray. And as for the prayers that would have passed while at work, they save those for when they return home.

On one hand, I congratulate those Muslims for making the effort based on the little knowledge they have and their sincerity to make sure they fulfill this important pillar of faith, even if it is not done properly. They are leagues ahead of those who identify as Muslims, but do not demonstrate their faith except during Jumu`ah or Ramadan or Eid. Yet at the same time, this is a huge mistake, and has no precedent or support from the Quran, the Prophet’s teachings, guidance of his companions or the imams after them. I want your prayer to be valid and accepted by Allah so you can be a better Muslim and we can be a stronger Ummah!

From this point, two important issues stem. What is the ruling of intentionally letting the time for prayer pass by without any will to pray [within its time block], even though the prayer is obligatory upon them? Second, are they ever able to make-up qaḍā’ (قضاء) that purposely missed prayer?

Those two issues will, insha’Allah, be the focus of the next two articles in this 4-part series on praying on time.

I ask Allah to guide us all to what pleases Him, and surely among that is what the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) described as the “best of deeds“, praying on time.

وبالله التوفيق

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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