Salah Times according to the Four Schools

Muslims are required to pray Salah at designated times every day. Although there are many hadith which demarcate the beginning of each of the five prayers, there are differences amongst the four schools. Scholarly opinions differ even further when determining the times in high latitude countries.

The beginning of each prayer is determined by the observation of the position of the sun. Traditionally either the state or mosque would designate people to observe the skies to determine whether the prayer has come in or not. Once it came in, the Adhan was called.

Over the last couple hundred years, prayer timetables have been put together as a matter of convenience. They also provide clarity on when to pray Fajr or Isha and when to fast/break the fast in high latitude countries

There is no individual obligation to determine prayer times. Lay Muslims should go by times determined by their local mosque or committee. However, where there is no timetable available or there is an apparent contradiction, then one can pray using their own observation.

The altitudes listed in this article have been taken in retrospect after observing the prayer times. Scholars vary in their methodologies and location of observation, so you may find some scholars disagree with the exact altitudes.

Fajr

Fajr begins with the break of true dawn (known as Fajr as-Saadiq). True dawn is the twilight that appears in the eastern sky which continues to expand both horizontally and vertically. True dawn is sometimes preceded by the false dawn (known as Fajr al-Kaadhib). False dawn is a column of light that extends along the ecliptic, flanked on either side by darkness. It resembles the tail of a black wolf, and corresponds to the phenomenon known as the zodiacal light. The false dawn only occurs in some horizons and at certain times of the year.

Between day and night, there is a period called twilight, this is the transition from day to night. Twilight is the soft glowing light from the sky when the sun is below the horizon caused by the reflection of the sun’s rays from the atmosphere. Astronomers’ separate twilight into three stages depending on the altitude of the sun below the horizon: Civil Twilight (-6° altitude), Nautical Twilight (-12° altitude) and Astronomical Twilight (-18° altitude).

An example of what this might look like.

Many scholars say, true dawn occurs when the sun reaches -18° altitude. However, in the UK and other populated areas, because of artificial light and pollution in the skies, it becomes difficult to determine if whether true dawn has started or it is artificial light. Some scholars, therefore, say true dawn can only be seen, when the sun is around -15°/16° altitude.

When it comes to Ramadhan, as the fast begins at true dawn, some scholars take precaution by beginning the fast at -18° but delaying the Fajr salah to -15°, when True Dawn can actually be seen.

The Ḥanafīs prefer to delay Fajr salah to nautical dawn i.e., when the sky is light.

Fajr ends the moment the sun rises according to the Ḥanafīs, Ḥanbalīs and Shāfiʿīs. The Mālikīs say that Fajr ends well before sunrise, describing it as ending when ‘the brightness of the sky is such that people’s faces are clearly distinguishable by someone with average sight in a place not covered by a roof, and when the stars cease to be visible; and that its extended time (for those with a legal excuse) lasts until sunrise.’

In the Maliki school it is not permissible to delay an obligatory prayer beyond its preferred (ikhtiyārī) time to the necessary (darūrī) time without a valid excuse. This is called the extended time. Valid excuses will be:

  1. Disbelief for one entering Islam or returning to Islam.
  2. Pubescence for a child who experiences the physical changes from childhood to maturity (such as ejaculation or menstruation).
  3. Unconsciousness or Insanity.
  4. One unable to find water or clean earth for purification.
  5. Menstruation or post-natal bleeding.
  6. Sleeping or forgetfulness.
  7. Other reasons could include illness, incontinence, or travel.

Sunrise known as shurūq is the moment the leading edge of the Sun appears on the horizon.

The problem of Summer time

In high latitude areas, there is persistent twilight in the summer. In other words, we technically do not experience night, the sun does not surpass -18° below the horizon. This happens from mid-May to mid-August.

There are a number of ways scholars approach marking the beginning of Fajr in the summer. One common method is to mark true dawn by calculating the midpoint between sunset and sunrise. So let’s say after sunset, the sun sets to -16° altitude, and then makes way to rise (anti-transit), it’s at this point we say true dawn has begun. Contrary to popular belief, the signs of true dawn can be seen in the summer. The only difference being, it appears well after -18°. The other opinions are as follows:

  • Nearest Latitude – This is finding the nearest latitude where the legal definitions of salah can be met then using that time for the beginning of Ishā  and Fajr.
  • Nearest Day – This is using the beginning times for Fajr and Ishā , for when it was last possible to meet the legal definitions.
  • One Seventh of Night – This is dividing the time between sunrise and sunset in to seven parts. Ishā is offered after the first part and Fajr is offered after the sixth part.
  • Combine – Some combine Ishā and Fajr.
  • Others will set Fajr time artificially, some taking precaution and others delaying it.
  • The Shāfiʿīs take the fractions of the night in the nearest country and apply them to their own locality.

Al-Dahwa al-Sughra

Al-Dahwa al-Sughra, also called Duhaa, begins when the sun is elevated one spear length above the horizon. A spear (rumḥ) is typically 12 spans so this translates to approximately 4.5° altitude above the horizon (some say it’s closer to 9).

Al-Dahwa al-Sughra lasts until Istiwaa.

Al-Dahwa al-Sughra is also the period of the Eid prayer for the Ḥanafīs, Ḥanbalīs and Maalikis whereas the Shāfiʿīs says Eid prayer is valid from Sunrise to Istiwā.

Al-Dahwa al-Kubra

Al-Dahwa al-Kubra is the legal midday point, also known as Nisf al‑Nahar al‑Shari’. This is calculated by taking the midpoint between Fajr Sadiq and the Sunset.

This time is useful to know because it is when the Ḥanafīs say, it is the time until which one may form intention to fast for Ramadan, vowed fasts, or voluntary fasts.

Istiwā

Istiwā is the time when the Sun is at its zenith (highest altitude) and prayer is forbidden. It is a momentary period in which the sun transits the celestial meridian. The sun reaches the observer’s zenith when it is 90° above the horizon, but it can also be calculated by taking the midpoint between Sunrise and Sunset times.

Generally, five minutes is added either way of Istiwā to prevent people praying in the forbidden time.

Zuhr

Zuhr begins immediately after Istiwā, once the sun moves from the Zenith (called Zawāl).

Zuhr ends when the shadow of an object is twice the length of the object according to the Imam Abu Hanifa and is the dominant position of the school. But according to the Shāfiʿīs, Mālikīs, Ḥanbalīs and Sāhibayn (Imam Yusuf and Imam Muhammad), Zuhr ends when the shadow of an object is the length of the object. If you planted a stick in to the ground, either the shadow will be the same length as the stick or twice its length. The Mālikīs say the ending of Zuhr is extended in to Asr, for the time required to complete four rakʿah of prayer.

Jumu’ah

The Ḥanafīs and Shāfiʿīs say that the time for the Jumu’ah prayer is the same as Zuhr. The Mālikīs say its time extends until the sun is about to set. The Ḥanbalīs say that its time begins when the sun has risen one spear length (al-Ḍaḥwa al‑Ṣughrā) and lasts until the ending time of Ẓuhr.

Asr

According to Shāfiʿīs, Mālikīs, Ḥanbalīs and Sāhibayn, Asr begins when the shadow of an object is the length of the object. This position of Asr is called Asr al-Mithl al‑Awwal. As mentioned under Zuhr, there is some cross-over for the Mālikīs for Zuhr and Asr.

According to Imam Abu Hanifa, Asr begins when the shadow of an object is twice the length of the object. In other words when Zuhr ends. This position of Asr is also called Asr al-Mithl al‑Thaani.

Asr ends when the sun sets according to the Ḥanafīs and Shāfiʿīs. The sun’s disc is said to change visibly when it reaches the height of a spear (rumḥ) above the horizon, or according to some when looking at the sun’s disc no longer causes discomfort to the eyes. This is around 4.5° altitude. This is generally 20-30 minutes before the sun sets. The Ḥanbalīs say Asr ends when the shadow of an object becomes twice the length of the object. The Mālikīs say Asr ends until sunlight reflected off the ground and walls take on a yellowish hue. If one looked at the sun, he is able to, whereas the Ḥanafīs say it is Makhruh to pray beyond this time. Both the Ḥanbalīs and Mālikīs also maintain Asr extends in to when the sun is about to set.

Maghrib

Maghrib begins when the trailing limb of the sun disappears entirely under the horizon i.e., sunset.

There is however some consideration when using a calculated sunset time. Although technically there is only one sunset, in the UK we have a theoretical sunset and an observer’s sunset. When we see the sun set, it has in fact already set before hand, about five minutes ago. Due to humidity, temperature, and pressure in the atmosphere, light is refracted causing the sun to appear above the horizon.

Organisations like HMNAO and TimeandDate.com take refraction in to account but based on a set number of variables. These variables may not take in to account all horizons in the UK. Therefore scholars recommend adding about 5 minutes to the sunset time found on HMNAO and TimeandDate.com. This will take in to account all landscapes and horizons in the UK.

Maghrib ends with the disappearance of the red twilight glow according to Shāfiʿīs, Sāhibayn, Mālikīs and Ḥanbalīs. Whereas the Imam Abu Hanifa says Maghrib ends with the disappearance of the white twilight glow. The difference between the disappearance of the red and white twilight glow is approximately 3°, and likely to vary with atmospheric conditions. The Ḥanafīs consider it reprehensible to the delay the Maghrib prayer and fast to Ishtibāk al‑Nujūm. This is when there are so many stars in the sky that they appear to blend into each other. This is usually when the sun is -10° altitude.

As for the Mālikīs, they say Maghrib lasts only as long as is required to perform Maghrib prayer and fulfil the requisite conditions for its validity as well as the Adhaan and Iqaamah. And that its extended time lasts until Fajr.

Ishā

Ishā begins when Maghrib ends. This is with the disappearance of the red twilight according to the Shāfiʿīs, Sāhibayn, Mālikīs and Ḥanbalīs (-15°) and the disappearance of the white twilight glow according to the Ḥanafīs, in other words when it is night (-18°). According to the Ḥanafīs, it is makhruh to delay Ishā a after middle of the Shari’ night.

Ishā ends when Fajr begins according to the Shāfiʿīs and Ḥanafīs whereas the Ḥanbalīs and Mālikīs say Ishā a lasts until the first third of the shari’ night, and that only its extended time lasts until Fajr. The 1/3 shari’ night is worked out by taking a third of the hours between sunset and Fajr Sadiq.

The problem of summer time

As discussed under Fajr, in the summer, we experience persistent twilight in the UK. The sun does not descend below -18° degrees below the horizon and sometimes not even -12° degrees. As the legal definitions cannot be met, scholars estimate the time. There are a number of methods:

  • Nearest Latitude – This is finding the nearest latitude where the legal definitions of salah can be met then using that time for the beginning of Ishā  and Fajr.
  • Nearest Day – This is using the beginning times for Fajr and Ishā, for when it was last possible to meet the legal definitions.
  • One Seventh of Night – This is dividing the time between sunrise and sunset in to seven parts. Ishā  is offered after the first part and Fajr is offered after the sixth part.
  • Combine – Some combine Ishā  and Fajr.
  • Others will set Fajr time artificially, some taking precaution and others delaying it.
  • The Shāfiʿīs take the fractions of the night in the nearest country and apply them to their own locality.

Mosques in the UK vary in their chosen method.

Witr

The time of Witr is after the ʿIshāʾ prayer up to the beginning time of Fajr. However, the Mālikīs say that its extended time lasts until the performance of the Fajr prayer.

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