Need to pray when time is limited?

Not every prayer can be offered completely and perfectly, but hopefully when it isn't, it is because we are fulfilling other duties Allah assumes from us, like learning, providing, maintaining, etc.

This is not an issue that receives much attention. Unfortunately. If you ask some imams, “what’s the least I have to do…” they might give you a lesson about how you should elongate your prayers, and be willing to sacrifice anything of your livelihood for the sake of worshiping Allah, inconsiderate of your circumstances. That is true when ALL of your worship is at stake, but not necessarily true when single acts of worship are at stake.

Imam al-Bukhari recorded an enlightening story,

عَنِ الأَزْرَقِ بْنِ قَيْسٍ، قَالَ كُنَّا عَلَى شَاطِئِ نَهْرٍ بِالأَهْوَازِ قَدْ نَضَبَ عَنْهُ الْمَاءُ، فَجَاءَ أَبُو بَرْزَةَ الأَسْلَمِيُّ عَلَى فَرَسٍ، فَصَلَّى وَخَلَّى فَرَسَهُ، فَانْطَلَقَتِ الْفَرَسُ، فَتَرَكَ صَلاَتَهُ وَتَبِعَهَا حَتَّى أَدْرَكَهَا، فَأَخَذَهَا ثُمَّ جَاءَ فَقَضَى صَلاَتَهُ، وَفِينَا رَجُلٌ لَهُ رَأْىٌ، فَأَقْبَلَ يَقُولُ انْظُرُوا إِلَى هَذَا الشَّيْخِ تَرَكَ صَلاَتَهُ مِنْ أَجْلِ فَرَسٍ‏.‏ فَأَقْبَلَ فَقَالَ مَا عَنَّفَنِي أَحَدٌ مُنْذُ فَارَقْتُ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم وَقَالَ إِنَّ مَنْزِلِي مُتَرَاخٍ فَلَوْ صَلَّيْتُ وَتَرَكْتُ لَمْ آتِ أَهْلِي إِلَى اللَّيْلِ‏.‏ وَذَكَرَ أَنَّهُ صَحِبَ النَّبِيَّ صلى الله عليه وسلم فَرَأَى مِنْ تَيْسِيرِهِ‏.

Al-Azraq bin Qais said: We were in the city of Al-Ahwaz on the bank of a river which had dried up. Then Abu Barza Al- Aslami came riding a horse and he started praying and let his horse loose. The horse ran away, so Abu Barza interrupted his prayer and went after the horse till he caught it and brought it, and then he offered his prayer. There was a man amongst us that with some “opinions”. He came saying, “Look at this old man! He left his prayer because of a horse!” With that, Abu Barza came to us and said, “No one has been harsh to me since the time I left Allah’s Messenger ﷺ. My house is very far from here and if I had carried on praying and given up my horse, I could not have reached my home till late at night.” Then Abu Barza mentioned that he had been in the company of the Prophet, and what he had seen of his leniency.

There are many reasons why even the most inwardly devoted individuals may have to cut back on their outward worship at moments. I recall once losing a job which I suspect was because my lunch breaks were a couple minutes longer than everyone else’s, due to praying. It helps to be prepared before you find yourself in one of those situations. For example, we all get sick and sometimes we require one of the many medications that cause dry mouth and dehydration. So the less you open your mouth to speak, the better you feel. While you know you have to pray, you don’t want it to be a cause of annoyance and dread. Other times, you may just be pressed for time, one meeting ran late and your colleagues are waiting for you at another meeting and you only have 10 minutes to use the restroom, make wudhu, find a quiet place (if possible) and pray. That’s tough. Not all of us are so fortunate to have the day at our disposal to pray every prayer and every sunnah on time beautifully with every recommended word and act performed flawlessly with due contemplation. That’s why it’s important to do that perfect prayer and be grateful to Allah when we have that ability, but not look down on others who may be making up for it in other areas of their life we do not see.

And personally, I find that if I pray a “short prayer” saying as few words as possible throughout, I focus more on the meaning of those words, but when I pray a little longer, like normal, then maybe my focus is more towards simply “getting out” all those remembrances with less thought on comprehending them to better my relationship with Allah and increase my iman.

Understanding the fewest words and actions required is also great for teaching new Muslims. To many of them,  even leaning to say “al-Salaamu Alaykum” properly may require a good 10 minutes of training, even more if they have any speech impediments or learning disabilities. So when you think of the whole prayer, the surahs, tashahhud, etc., you realize how vital it is to keep it short and simple as much as possible. Anything greater may set them up for burnout or despair.

Also, if you want to make up more than a week’s worth of prayers in a short time frame, then you would realize that perfecting each of those prayers will make the task closer to being impossible, especially if you want to make up months or even years of missed prayer.

Scholars in the past recognized the need to know how to perform a prayer quickly. Hence, this issue is often expressed in the old books of fiqh—yes even legacy jurists discussed the least you can “get by with” for a valid prayer—under the heading of:

أقلّ ما يجزئ في الصلاة

Some of those scholars even mentioned times they considered it obligatory to suffice with this amount of prayer, for example, if one was in prison, naked, and in need of showering without access to water or covering.1)Although that is a disputed issue, as other scholars suggest praying as normal, and that seems most agreeable, since you are probably in a position where you need to make a longer more desperate prayer to preserve your iman and keep it strong.

But for the moment we will assume you are in a normal setting, merely pressed for time and nothing else. We’ll come to abnormal circumstances later insha’Allah.

Here it helps to know the arkān of the prayer, or the pillars, which, if any are missing, then it is not called prayer. This is why, when one companion tried to pray, the Prophet ﷺ told him, “go back and pray because you have not prayed.”

ارجع فصلِّ فإنك لم تصلِّ

Eventually the Prophet ﷺ gave the man a description of what constitutes a prayer, saying:

إذا قمت إلى الصلاة فكبر، ثم اقرأ ما تيسر معك من القرآن. ثم اركع حتى تطمئن راكعا، ثم ارفع حتى تعتدل قائما، ثم اسجد حتى تطمئن ساجدا، ثم ارفع حتى تطمئن جالسا، ثم اسجد حتى تطمئن ساجدا، ثم افعل ذلك في صلاتك كلها

“If you stand for prayer, say Allahu Akbar, then recite what is easy for you from the Quran. Then bow until you are at stillness in that position. Then, raise yourself back up until you are standing still. Then prostrate until lying still in prostration, then raise yourself until sitting still, then prostrate until prostrating still. Do this in all of your praying.”

Since this famous narration, referred as the “story of the one who prayed poorly” [حديث المسيء صلاته] neglects mentioning what specifically the man was doing wrong, we can assume that any or many of those components were missing, out of order, executed improperly, or perhaps he wasn’t doing anything even remotely like the Islamic prayer.2)I once met a convert in the masjid who started praying and facing away from the Qiblah. I talked to him and asked about his praying. He affirmed praying five times daily (alhamdulillah) until I asked him to describe what exactly he does at home. Wow. He does yoga, and then plays old church hymns on the organ(!!!), recite some invocations (who knows from where or what), and more yoga, and then calls that “salaah”. So I explained this hadeeth to him and alhamdulillah he was very happy to learn. Another colleague of mine in Medinah told me that in Minneapolis, he met a brother who had converted to Islam decades ago and had another “method” of prayer similar to this—in other words, having nothing to do with Islam. That brother just assumed that the salah we do in the masjid is merely a recommended form, but otherwise, whatever makes you feel good, works. Don’t take new Muslims for granted, assuming they’ll pick up everything on their own!

Thus, it is from that hadeeth and its variations that we know what the pillars of prayer are. Thus, standing while reciting what comes easy of the Quran, bowing, standing again, prostrating, sitting, and prostrating again, each with an appropriate pause or rest, all comprise the basic skeletal frame of prayer.

And while there are no guidelines for how quickly or slowly you move from one step to the next, the ṭuma’nīnah that the Prophet ﷺ mentioned dictates that you at least remain at each step, relatively motionless, for a couple good seconds long enough to say the minimum remembrance of that station. So the prayer should look like you go from position to position… pausing at each, but not so fast that it starts resembling burpees!

What then are the fewest remembrances you need to recite to make this prayer valid?

As for the standing, you have to say the initial takbir that opens the prayer, just as the Prophet ﷺ said above, and then recite some Quran. This must be al-Fatihah, at the very minimum, preceded by seeking Allah’s protection from al-Shayṭān, and mentioning bismillahir-Rahmanir-Raheem. No other surahs or ayat are required after that except that you recite al-Fatiha in every unit. And while I always like to take my time reciting any Quran, there is a precedent for reciting it quickly, as even Aaishah witnessed her husband the Messenger of Allah ﷺ pray so quickly that she wondered if he completed al-Fatihah or not.

Nearly all scholars view saying “Allahu Akbar” between each station as required for a valid prayer, along with the tasmi` [saying: sami`a-LLahu liman hamidah] and tahmid [saying: Rabbana wa lakal-Hamd] for rising from ruku`. As for the appropriate tasbīḥ for bowing [subhana rabbiyal-azim] and prostration [subhana rabbiyal-a`laa], they are required, but only once for each movement, at the very minimum. Three times or more is recommended, but one time is just as valid. Reason being, when we are commanded to do a thing, the general principle is that once you have done it once, you have fulfilled the command.

وعن عقبة بن عامر قال: لما نزلت {فسبح باسم ربك العظيم} قال النبي ﷺ: اجعلوها في ركوعكم. فلما نزلت {سبح اسم ربك الأعلى} قال: اجعلوها في سجودكم.

`Uqbah b. `Aamir said: when “So, glorify the Name of your Lord, the Most Great,” [69:52] was revealed, the Prophet ﷺ said, “put it in your bowing”. When “So, glorify the Name of your Lord, the Most High,” [87:19] was revealed, he said: make it during your prostrations. Recorded by Abu Dawud and al-Hakim.

By making those remembrances, even just one time in each bowing and prostration, you have answered Allah’s command in the ayah.

Apart from reciting Quran while standing, all the remembrances I just mentioned, along with the tashahhud you say in the extra and final sittings constitute the “vital organs” required for a healthy functional prayer, or what jurists referred to as wajibat [الواجبات] or sunan mu’akkadah [سنن مؤكدة]. After the normal tashahhud, the last a person needs to say is “Allahumma Salli alaa Muhammadin wa Aalihi.” In normal circumstances, they would add a lot more to what is referred to as the “Abrahamic prayer” [الصلاة الإبراهيمية] but to keep the prayer valid while focusing on the very least one needs to do, the rest is not needed. After that, they need to perform the taslīm, as-salaamu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullah on both sides.


For any knowledgeable laity or students of knowledge, especially fellow Hanbali followers reading this, one thing perhaps worthy of defending here:

I agree with the majority, that there is no required invocation during the sitting between the two prostrations. The Hanbali school—my preference in most matters—obligates asking for forgiveness, preferably with “rabbighfir-li” [My Lord forgive me] at that time. However, this is only based on a hadeeth from Hudhaifah describing how the Prophet ﷺ prayed once and what he would say. There is no specific command to ask for forgiveness at this station, unlike everything else the majority have chosen which I follow here. That hadeeth also mentions other remembrances that are not obligated by the Hanabilah, so singling out this one between the two prostrations goes beyond me. But do I say it? Absolutely.

Questions? Comment below… and may Allah accept from us all and guide us to what pleases Him.

References   [ + ]

1. Although that is a disputed issue, as other scholars suggest praying as normal, and that seems most agreeable, since you are probably in a position where you need to make a longer more desperate prayer to preserve your iman and keep it strong.
2. I once met a convert in the masjid who started praying and facing away from the Qiblah. I talked to him and asked about his praying. He affirmed praying five times daily (alhamdulillah) until I asked him to describe what exactly he does at home. Wow. He does yoga, and then plays old church hymns on the organ(!!!), recite some invocations (who knows from where or what), and more yoga, and then calls that “salaah”. So I explained this hadeeth to him and alhamdulillah he was very happy to learn. Another colleague of mine in Medinah told me that in Minneapolis, he met a brother who had converted to Islam decades ago and had another “method” of prayer similar to this—in other words, having nothing to do with Islam. That brother just assumed that the salah we do in the masjid is merely a recommended form, but otherwise, whatever makes you feel good, works. Don’t take new Muslims for granted, assuming they’ll pick up everything on their own!
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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