Shortening the prayers (At-Taqseer)

Prayer is one of the most important pillars of our faith. Salah is the reason Allah SWT brought the Prophet ﷺ up to the heavens in the night journey. This shows us how important and central salah is in our faith. As Muslims, we need to put an effort to learn about the fiqh of salah, so we get a complete understanding of the various ruling pertaining to salah. In this paper, we will discuss the rulings and conditions of shortening the prayer according to the different madhaahib. In Islamic law, one of the main principles is “Difficulty begets ease” and we will see how Allah SWT made it easy for us to fulfill this important pillar when there is some difficulty (as experienced in travel).

Evidence for shortening the prayers

Allah SWT says in the Qur’an in chapter 4, verse 101, “And if you travel in the land, there is no sin on you that you shorten your prayers (taqsuru min al-salat) if you fear that the unbelievers may harm you.” It is possible that one might conclude after reading this verse that ‘fear’ is a condition for shortening the prayer but that is not the case. This is where knowledge of hadith comes in to play. Ya’la bin Umayyah said: I said to Umar ibn Al-Khattab “Verily Allah has said ‘If you shorten your prayers, for fear that the unbelievers may attack you’ and now the people feel secure.” ‘Umar said, “[Indeed] I wondered the same thing you are wondering, so I mentioned it to the Prophet (ﷺ) and he said ‘[It is] a charity that Allah has bestowed upon you so accept His charity.” Al-Tirmidhi, hadith 2960. This shows us that Allah SWT out of his mercy has made it easier for us Muslims to fulfill the commandment of prayer while we are travelling and there is no ‘fear’.

In this section, we will look at some narrations where the Prophet SAW did indeed shorten his prayers when he was in a state of travel. We will discuss later the length of the journey that makes it permissible to offer a shortened prayer.

Narrated Anas (r.a): We stayed (in Mecca) for ten days along with the Prophet and used to offer shortened prayers (i.e. journey prayers). Sahih al-Bukhari 4297

Narrated Ibn ‘Abbas r.a: The Prophet (ﷺ) once stayed for nineteen days and prayed shortened prayers. So, when we travelled (and stayed) for nineteen days, we used to shorten the prayer but if we traveled (and stayed) for a longer period we used to offer the full prayer. Sahih al-Bukhari 1080

It was narrated that Ibn ‘Abbas r.a said: “We used to travel with the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) between Makkah and Al-Madinah, fearing nothing but Allah, the Mighty and Sublime, and praying two rak’ahs.” Sunan an-Nasa’I 1436

Based on this evidence we see that shortening the prayers when travelling is a confirmed sunnah and this is the opinion of the consensus of the imams. Imam ash-Shaafa’i in one of his two opinions concluded that offering the full prayer is preferable. The correct view in his madhab is that shortening the prayers is preferable [1]. Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyya (may Allah have mercy on him) said: “It is makrooh to offer the prayers in full when travelling. Ahmad said, I do not like it. It was narrated from Ahmad that he would not comment on whether offering four rak’ahs would be valid. There is no sound report to indicate that any of the sahaabah (may Allah be pleased with them) used to pray with four rak’ahs when travelling at the time of the Prophet (ﷺ).” al-Ikhtiyaarat, p. 32.

Length of journey (that makes shortened prayers permissible)

This is an area where the scholars have differed. We will discuss some popular opinions in this section.

Three-day journey

Narrated Ibn ‘Umar r.a: The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “A woman should not travel for more than three days except with a Dhi-Mahram (i.e. a male with whom she cannot marry at all, e.g. her brother, father, grandfather, etc.) or her own husband.)” Sahih al-Bukhari 1086

One thing to note is that this is the distance a traveler would cover in three days on a camel as that was the most common mode of transport at the time and place of Prophet ﷺ.

Two-day journey

Narrated Abu Sa’id Al-Khudri: I heard four things from the Prophet (ﷺ), and they won my admiration. He said; 1. “No lady should travel on a journey of two days except with her husband or a Dhi-Mahram;…..” Sahih al-Bukhari 1995

This is the popular opinion of Hanbalis, Shaf’is and Malikis who also have other opinions in their respective madhaahib (i.e. one-day journey).

One-day journey

The evidence used for this is from Sahih al-Bukhari and Muslim: “It is impermissible for a woman who believes in Allah and the last day that she travels the distance of one day and one night except with a Mahram accompanying her.”

Journey is what is customary

There is an opinion among scholars that a journey is not determined by the distance one has traveled but by what one does and when he gets into a mode of ‘travel’ (i.e. the frame of mind). They suggest that ‘travel’ distance is defined by what is customarily considered as travel in one’s culture. Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyya also held this opinion. “Their evidence is the lack of any scriptural evidence that defines ‘travel’, and hence the necessity of resorting to what is culturally understood to be ‘travel’.

Scholars have said that a Muslim can begin shortening the prayer as soon as he leaves his town as Allah permits the shortening of prayer for those who travel through the land. The Prophet ﷺ used to shorten the prayer as soon as he left his hometown. Once a person leaves the city limits, he may begin shortening the prayers and stop when he/she is back within the limits of the city.

Narrated Anas (r.a): The Prophet offered four rak’ah of the dhuhr prayer in medina and two rak’ah of the ‘asr prayer in dhul-hulaifa* and I hear them (the companions of the Prophet) reciting the talbiya together loudly to the extent of shouting. Sahih al-Bukhari

*this place is outside of the city limits of Madinah.

Distance calculation

50 miles is the minimum required distance for a person to be consider as a traveler. This is according to most scholars in Hanafi, Shaf’ae, Maliki and Hanbali madhab. 16 farsakh is the distance mentioned in one of the hadiths which is equal to approximately 50 miles.

The messenger of Allah used to designate a day and a night journey as travel and Ibn ‘Abbas r.a and Ibn ‘Umar r.a used to shorten the prayer and open their fast at a journey of 4 burd and it was 16 farsakh. Sahih al-Bukhari.

The great hanbali Imam, Ibn Qudama al-maqdisi rahimaullah also argued that even lesser distance may constitute travel on the basis of Anas r.a’s narration that the Prophet ﷺ would shorten his prayer if he went our for a distance of 5 or 10 miles. This hadith is narrated by Ahmad, Muslim and Abu Dawud.

Hanafi position on distance

According to the Hanafi school, the traveler is the Muslim who goes out of his place towards a destination that is 88 kms or more. The evidence for this in this school of thought is derived from the narrations (we quoted in earlier section) where the Prophet ﷺ linked ‘travel’ to something that was undertaken for three days and nights. The distance that would be covered in this period (on camelback) was calculated to be around 88kms.

Hanbali, Shaf’ee and Hanbali position on distance

Most scholars in these schools of thought have taken the position that the minimum required distance for a person to avail the concession to shorten the prayers is four burud (sixteen farsakhs,

one farsakh = 5,541) meters which is calculated to be around 88 kms (i.e. around 50 miles). Some respected scholars among this school have taken the position that everything that is customarily considered as travel which necessitates taking of provisions and planning will also make a person eligible to avail the concession of shortening the prayers. According to the hanbali madhab, if the distance of traveling is sixteen farsakhs, which would be the distance covered in two days at moderate speed, and if the travel was for legitimate reasons, then a person can shorten the four rak’ah prayers [6]. This is recommended to shorten the four rak’ah prayers except under the following scenarios.

1. He prays behinds a resident; or

2. if he didn’t intend to shorten [the prayer]

3. if he forgot a prayer that became due on him while a resident and remembered it while traveling

4. [Forgot] a prayer that became due on him while traveling and he remembered it while a resident

As we see, there is a difference of opinion among scholars when it comes to what constitutes travel. Is it one-day journey, two-day journey, three-day journey or based on what is considered as travel customarily in one’s culture and time? Shaykh Yasir Qadhi, in his article provides good points around the opinion he considers to be the strongest. I will list out the points he highlighted briefly below.

  1. Ibn Taymiyya’s made a point that the Prophet ﷺ did not specify any distance and did not call for any measurements to get an idea of distance.
  2. The hadiths we discussed report a different number of days – one, two and three. All the hadith are in the sahih books, so the question is raised as to which one we choose? And it is possible that since no distance is mentioned Prophet ﷺ mentioned length of journey as it related to a woman traveling without her mahram. This could be for the safety and protection of the Muslim women’s honor and reputation.
  3. Another question is whether we will use the distance covered in one day, two days, or three days using the mode of transport in the time of the Prophet ﷺ or the mode of transport one is using today like a car, plane etc.

So according to this, travel is not merely determined by the distance but also the frame of mind. If one is planning to go on a picnic for example by driving 60-80 miles and plans to come back in the evening, then this will not constitute travel. Another example could be going to meet someone who lives at the outskirts of the city and we plan to come back after spending some time there, this will also not constitute travel. A person might travel a farther distance and come back the same day and this would not be considered as ‘travel’ as he would not take provisions such as clothing,

food etc. This is possible in these days where we usually travel on weekends to different places doing our errands and shopping and may travel distances (~100-150 miles) which are greater than what some scholars considered as the baseline. Yet we are not in the frame of mind of an actual ‘traveler’. On the other hand, a person might travel a comparatively shorter distance and be considered a ‘traveler’. For example, a person who travels to a nearby city in search of a job and must stay there for a couple of days and he would be considered a traveler as he would take the provisions to survive in the new place for the time period needed and this would also take more planning and preparation. Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyya said: “A ‘travel’ is therefore defined by the actions that are required for that journey to be called ‘traveling’…and this is a matter that people recognize by their own customs.

Duration one remains a traveler

In this section, we will discuss opinions on the time period after which one transitions from being a ‘traveler’ to a ‘resident’ (after reaching their travel destination). This is also a matter of difference of opinion among the various madhaahib

Hanafi position on ‘traveler’ status

A person will remain a traveler unless he/she decides to stay in a place for full fifteen days or more. This means that a person transitions to be a resident if they have been staying at one place for fifteen days.

“They based this on qiyas, or analogy, with the longest possible days of a woman’s period. At first glance, this analogy does seem rather than bizarre. However, they reasoned that both a traveler and a woman in her menses must ‘return’ to a more permanent state of worship (the menstruating woman returns to her prayers after desisting from them, and the traveler returns to the full prayer after ceasing to be a ‘traveler’), hence there is a commonality between these two scenarios that would allow us (or so the hanafis felt) to extrapolate the same ruling to these two scenarios.” [2]

A second piece of evidence used in this regard is the hadith below.

It was narrated from Ibn ‘Abbas that: The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) stayed in Makkah (for fifteen days), praying each prayer with two rak’ahs. Sunan an-Nasa’I 1453 (Hasan)

According to [2], most scholars of hadith considered this hadith to be inauthentic for several reasons, one of which is that more authentic versions of this hadith mentioned even higher numbers. A hadith from sahih al-bukhari is quoted below as a reference.

Narrated Ibn ‘Abbas r.a: The Prophet (ﷺ) once stayed for nineteen days and prayed shortened prayers. So, when we travelled (and stayed) for nineteen days, we used to shorten the prayer but if we traveled (and stayed) for a longer period we used to offer the full prayer. Sahih al-Bukhari 1080

Shaf’ee, Maliki and Hanbali position on ‘traveler’ status

A person will no longer be considered a traveler if he/she is planning on staying at the destination for a duration of four days or more. However, one is considered a ‘traveler’ for the duration of journey between one’s point to origin and his/her destination point. There are some minor differences in the three madhaahib when it comes to when the time frame starts and ends and if the days of arrival counts but there is consensus that on the time frame of four days [2].

Evidence for this is the command of Prophet ﷺ that the emigrants who were performing Hajj with him should not stay in Makkah for more than three days [Reported by Muslim][2]

Another piece of evidence is that ‘Umar ibn Al-Khattab placed on non-Muslim traders a restriction that they can only stay in Makkah or Madina (to conduct business) for only a maximum of three days. Ibn Qudama Al Maqdisi, al-Mughni, 3/148 [2]

Shaykh Yasir Qadhi suggested that Shaykh al-Islam ibn Taymiyya’s points are strongest in this regard. As we have seen in numerous ahaadith (we quoted in this paper) where the Prophet ﷺ stayed at a location for more than four days and he continued to shorten the prayers. Further since there is no clear cut evidence in Quran or hadith literature that particularly limits the period of time, Ibn Taymiyya (may Allah have mercy on him) suggested that a person can remain a traveler if he is in a ‘state of travel’ even though he/she may stay for a period more than four days.

Combining the prayers

This issue is one where scholars from the various schools have differed. Before we delve into the details know that Ahl us sunah wal jama’ must pray every prayer on its fixed time unless they are traveling (or when considered a traveler) or due to a necessity such as heavy rains or hurricanes. It is not permissible to combine the prayers without a legitimate reason on a regular basis. [10]

Allah ﷻ says in the Quran, chapter 4, verse 103: “……Indeed, prayer has been decreed upon the believers at fixed times.”

The prayers that can be combined under certain conditions are Zuhr and ‘Asr, Maghrib and ‘Isha. None of the madhaahib allowed combining any other two combination of prayers.

Hanafi stance on combining prayers

The position of this school is that one may not combine Zuhr with ‘Asr not Maghrib with ‘Isha except in a state of Ihram at ‘Arafat and Muzdalifa on the 9th and 10th day of Dhul-Hijja. Furthermore, other types of combinations are based on the method of “apparent combining” (jam’ al-suri) and not “real combining” (jam’ al-haqiqi) [3]. The apparent combining is when one delays offering the first prayer to just before the end time of this prayer. Then, after praying the first prayer, he performs the second prayers right at its beginning time. This is allowed but what is not allowed is offering any prayer outside of its usual time (with the exceptions state above).

Maliki, Shaf’ee and Hanbali stance on combining prayers

Most of the scholars hold the opinions that it is permissible to combine two prayers during the time of either one of them while traveling, regardless of whether the person is actually on the road or has stopped at a place for some time. [11]

Imam Ash-Shaf’ee said in his musnad, that the Prophet ﷺ delayed the zuhr and combined it with the ‘asr salah during the time of the latter salah.[11]

Imam Malik said in al-Muwatta’ from Mu’adh that the Prophet ﷺ delayed his salah one day during the battle of tabuk and then went and prayed the zuhr and ‘asr prayers together. Then he returned and went back again and said the maghrib and ‘isha prayers together. [11]

Imam Ibn Qudamah al-maqdisi, the famous hanbali jurist mentioned this above hadith in his vast book of comparative fiqh al-Mughni: “Ibn ‘Abdul-Barr said: ‘That hadith is sahih and its chain is confirmed. This hadith is evidence that proves that it is allowed to combine prayers even when not moving. [11]

Ibn Taimiyyah holds: “That is the position of the majority of the scholars. When the Prophet combined the salah with his companions or shortened the salah with them, he never ordered any of them to make the intention for combining or shortening the salah. In fact, when he left Medinah for Makkah, he prayed two rak’at without combining the salah, and then he prayed the zuhr prayer at ‘Arafa without telling the people that he intended to pray the ‘asr right afterward, next he prayed the ‘asr with them and they did not have the intention to combine their prayers, and in that combination he prayed the latter salah early. When he went from Medinah, he led the people in the ‘asr salah at Zhul-Halifah and he did not order them to make the intention to shorten the salah.”: Concerning offering the two combined prayers right after each other, Ibn Taimiyyah writes: “The correct opinion is that it is not a necessary condition to do so under any circumstances, neither during the time of the first salah nor during the time of the latter salah. There is no such limit in the shari’ah and doing so would defeat the purpose of the concession [i.e., permission to combine the two salah].” Ash-Shaf’i says: “It is quite permissible for a person to pray the maghrib in his house with the intention of combining the prayers and then go to the mosque to pray the ‘isha.” A similar statement has been related from Ahmad.[11]

Conclusion

Al-jamhoor (vast majority of the Muslim jurists) are of the view that if you are travelling the distance of approximately 88 kms, then once one leaves his/her home town is permitted to shorten his/her prayers. It is not wajib but a confirm sunnah so it would be preferable. There is also an opinion that any travel that is considered as ‘safar’ (ex: if we leave our town and go to another town, leaving the buildings) even if it is less than this distance is also considered travel and one may shorter his/her prayers. The vast majority of scholars (except Hanafi scholars) have said the

it is also permissible to combine the prayers when traveling and this is also the position of later respecter scholars such as Ibn Taymiyya and Ibn ‘Uthaymeen.

Allah knows best.

References

  • Commentary of ‘Umdat al-Fiqh (Ibn Qudamah al-Maqdisi) – commentary and translation by Dr. Hatem al-Haj