I. Preliminary remark
Many sites publish prayer times for the use of the faithful. However, a lack of good knowledge about canonical laws (Fiqh) leads to a diffusion of prayer times that are not exact. Syed Khalid Shaukat, author of the site www.moonsighting.com has conducted a detailed study of the norms that lead to a rigorous programme of the times for each prayer of the day. But for a few exceptions, we rely on his definitions for presenting the prayer times on our site. The user who is interested can consult the topic “Prayer Times” and “How we calculate” on the site mentioned above.
II. Short definition of the five daily prayers
Fajr: This is the first prayer of the day at dawn. Islamic tradition distinguishes two different times for dawn: when the first light appears at the horizon, rather vertical (like the “tail of a wolf” as tradition says), and then, after this first light disappears, when the light of the early day spreads horizontally across the horizon. The first dawn is called “Subh Kadhib” or “Fajr-al-Mustateel” and the second “Subh Sadiq” or “Fajr-al-Mustatir”. Fajr is to be prayed at the second dawn, Subh Sadiq. However, as we explain below, adjustments have to be made for higher latitudes where the glow of the day never disappears in summer and never appears in winter.
Zuhr or Duhur: The midday prayer just as the sun declines after having reached its highest position in the sky (zenith). Zuhr is prayed five minutes after zenith.
Asr: The mid-afternoon prayer. The time of this prayer is determined according to the length of the shadow of a stick planted in the ground. According to the major schools of jurisprudence in Islam: Maliki, Shafi’i, Hanbali, Hanafi and Ja’afriyah (Shia), the length of the shadow with respect to that of the stick is calculated differently (factors varying from one to two). We give below the details of these various options. All these traditions are legitimate and worthy of respect. We leave the choice of the school to the user.
Maghrib: The prayer at sunset. However, physical factors such as refraction and also material factors like the height of a building in a city or the spread of this city lead us to fix the time of this prayer 3 minutes after the theoretical time of sunset as it appears in newspapers. The Shia tradition sets the Maghrib prayer 17 minutes after the theoretical setting of the sun. In our tables, we have retained only the first option: 3 minutes after sunset.
Isha: The night prayer at dusk. Just as for Fajr, Islamic tradition distinguishes two times of dusk, both called “Shafaq”. After sunset, the sky is first ablaze with a red colour. This is “Shafaq al Ahmar”. Later, the red colour disappears, leaving room for a whiteness of the sky. This is “Shafaq al Abyad”. The duration of these phases increases with altitude. The major schools of Islam fix the Isha prayer either at the disappearance of Shafaq al Ahmar or at the disappearance of Shafaq al Abyad. Both traditions are legitimate and, like for Asr, we leave the choice to the user. However, as for Fajr, adjustments are necessary for Isha at higher latitudes when Shafaq al Abyad almost never disappears in summer. In such cases we can either use a combination of Shafaq al Ahmar and Shafaq al Abyad called “Shafaq General” or use other methods that have the consensus of the Islamic community. We will explain these methods in the following.
Let us note one last point: whereas the prayer times for Zuhr, Asr and Maghrib are rather well defined in the Holy Koran and in the Hadiths, and thus allow an exact mathematical formulation, such is not the case with Fajr and Isha. The description of both in the Koran and in the Hadiths leaves a margin of interpretation, and hence for different formulations. For this reason, we take good care in what follows to explain the method that we have adopted in order to calculate these two moments of prayer specially.
III. Detailed discussion for latitudes up to 55° North or South
Much of the discussion about Fajr and Isha is identical. However, for the clarity of our explanation, we have presented Fajr and Isha in two distinct paragraphs.
It has to be noted however that the calculation for the prayer times cannot be the same for the higher latitudes, superior to 55° North or South. At these latitudes, either the days become too long in summer and too short in winter or – for extreme latitudes – the sun does not set in summer and does not rise in winter. In such cases, we have looked for a reliable legislation, in conformity with Sharia, that would guide us for fixing the prayer times and for determining – during the month of Ramadan – “reasonable” durations for the fasting time. We will deal with the case of the higher latitudes in paragraph IV.
III.1 Fajr or Sobh
The Holy Koran (S 2, v 187) says: “And eat and drink, until the white thread of dawn appear to you distinct from its black thread. Then complete your fast till the night appears.”
Adi ibn Hatim, one of the companions of the Prophet (SWS) says: “When this verse of the Holy Koran was revealed, I put two threads (one black and the other white) under my pillow and I continued to observe them during the whole night. I was not capable of establishing a clear distinction between the two. Next day, I went to the Prophet (SWS) and I related my experiment to him. He told me that the black and white threads were related to the blackness of the night and the beginning of the day (Subh Sadiq).” (Sahih Bukhari # 2191)
The Prophet (SWS) has also said: “There are two kinds of Fajr, one during which eating is not permitted to the person who is fasting (Subh Sadiq or Fajr-al-Mustatir) and the other during which the person who is fasting can eat (Subh Kadhib or Fajr-al-Mustateel).” (Ibn Khuzaimah/Mustadark Hakim)
It is rather clearly established that Subh Kadhib pertains to the phase when a vertical light appears at the horizon whereas Subh Sadiq corresponds to a later phase when this light spreads horizontally across the horizon.
The beginning of Salat ul Fajr as well as that of fasting thus appear clearly linked to Subh Sadiq in the Holy Koran, in the Hadiths and in the formulations of the scholars of the Ummah.
The corpus of texts however leaves a certain margin in the execution of the Fajr prayer. Bukhari, Abu Dawood, Ibn Majah and Tirmizi report: “The Messenger (SWS) prayed Fajr one day when dawn appeared in the sky … and, the next day, he delayed it until the ground was quite bright.”
We can draw two conclusions from the preceding discussion: On the one hand, we should endeavour to calculate as exactly as possible the time of Subh Sadiq in order to determine that of the Fajr prayer.But, on the other hand, it is legitimate to adapt the time of Fajr in order to take into account the geographical factors of latitude when it is not possible to distinguish Subh Sadiq clearly.