Prayer times

November 24, 2009 at 8:51 pm (Islam, Ramadan, religious practices, science)

The calculation of prayer and fasting times based on the movement of the sun does not work universally. Even where I am in the UK, based on using an angle of depression of 15 degrees, Fajr and Isha disappear in the middle of summer. I don’t know how they calculate the times in those periods. It’s a mystery. I have tried to discover how it’s done and I have failed.

Right now, the prayer times are so close together that it’s quite difficult to get them all done on time, especially if you have appointments in the afternoon.

The prayer times are not made explicit in the Quran but they are alluded to in terms of the sun’s position. And of course it’s expressed in those terms. It could not have said “pray at 6 o’clock in the morning” because there was no such thing. There weren’t clocks! There was the sun.

That method works in that region. In extending the practice to other regions, there are two intuitive ways to go. You can keep the method the same, or you can keep the clock times calculated using the method the same (with a simple translation based on longitude). The former doesn’t work universally. I think the latter is a better way to go. It results in using the same prayer times, fasting durations etc. that the prophet and his followers used. Tried, tested and approved.

But who am I, right? I mean, I could choose to use Saudi Arabia’s times for prayer and fasting all year round, but I’d be considered a heretic. And Muslim unity would certainly be compromised if everyone just followed what they thought was best. It’s a shame though. Fasting doesn’t even feel like fasting at this time of year. And I go weak at the knees at the thought of Ramadan falling in the summer.

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26 Comments

  1. LK said,

    Ramadan in the summer scares me O_O But I can’t fast anyway (hypoglecemic), still scary though. Like, winter Ramadan totally could do but not summer.

    Prayer time confuses me too. One of the classes I am taking is on prayer. Would you like me to ask my teacher? I’m sure he can answer this question for you.

  2. Candice said,

    I am not praying regularly, in part because I feel unsure that I must do it the way people tell me I should do it (this is causing me laziness since I feel it might not be required). I don’t feel like the 5 times are really “right” the way we are doing it now. As you said, all the 5 prayers are so bunched together right now… It seems like it should be more spread out. And even then, I don’t know if I believe that 5 prayers is “right” either… I think it’s a good way to go to remember God often and stay connected but I’m not sure Islam is really that strict about prayers.

    I don’t think that the way prayers are done by most Muslims is correct because of mentionning Muhammad so much, so I don’t say that part and I use the overall structure but I also don’t think that this structure (the rakahs, the exact phrases used) is the only way a person can pray and have his prayer accepted. I think it’s more open than that, but that for the sake of unity, it is the best way to pray (minus mentionning Muhammad so much, which I believe is going flatly against Islam).

    I am so confused about what I believe in this area… I have figured out what I believe is the best way to pray but I don’t know what to think about the times and the number of prayers. I know I believe at least 2 prayers are needed per day so I have no excuse to not be doing at least that much.

    Anyway, I think that following the “spirit” of the 5 daily prayers (remembering God at all moments of a day) makes using time a better option than the much varying sunlight in our regions.

    • Sarah said,

      I’m honestly confused here.

      What is it that you don’t like about how muslims pray? =0

      I’m not comfortable at all with changing religious duties… The prayer is the singel most important pillar of Islam, and the first thing we’ll be asked about in the Day of Judgment.

      And think about it, isn’t God the only one who has the right to tell us how to worship Him?

      Don’t you think It should be up to Him to make the rules, not us?

      (remembering God at all moments of a day)

      That’s called “Dikir”. And while being very important, it can’t really replace the daily prayers.

      (I don’t think that the way prayers are done by most Muslims is correct because of mentionning Muhammad so much)

      But.. we only mention him twice (once while saying the shahada), right? and we also mention Prophet Abrahim too.

      So what do you find problamatic with that??

      (I’m really not trying to attack you at all, I’m just curios).

      • aynur said,

        Maybe she’s talking about the fact that the Qur’an says that our prayers should be directed at Allah alone, and in mentioning any prophet it’s going against those commands. It’s rather shirk-like.

        20:14 “Verily, I – I alone – am God; there is no deity save Me. Hence, worship Me alone, and be constant in prayer, so as to remember Me!”

        13:14 “Unto Him [alone] is due all prayer aiming at the Ultimate Truth, since those [other beings or powers] whom men invoke instead of God cannot respond to them in any way – [so that he who invokes them is] but like one who stretches his open hands towards water, [hoping] that it will reach his mouth, the while it never reaches him. Hence, the prayer of those who deny the truth amounts to no more than losing oneself in grievous error.”

        46:5 “And who could be more astray than one who invokes, instead of God, such as will not respond to him either now or on the Day of Resurrection, and are not even conscious of being invoked?”

        The question I have been wondering about for some times is did Prophet Muhammad (saw) pray the same way – send blessings to himself?

        I think it’s strange that some Sunnis will not pray with Shia Muslims. (such as my husband, he says WE CAN’T PRAY WITH THEM). Not sure why, besides the fact they pray a bit differently than Sunnis.
        Also I guess some don’t want to pray with Sunni malikis too, because of they way they pray?

        • Sarah said,

          (Maybe she’s talking about the fact that the Qur’an says that our prayers should be directed at Allah alone, and in mentioning any prophet it’s going against those commands).

          I think there’s a BIG confusion here.

          Praying to anyone besides God is Shirk, without any doubt.

          *{Verily, God does not forgive the ascribing of divinity to aught beside Him, although He forgives any lesser sin unto whomever He wills: for he who ascribes divinity to aught beside God has indeed contrived an awesome sin.}* (An-Nisaa’ 4:48).

          *{Lo! God pardons not that partners should be ascribed unto Him. He pardons all save that to whom He will. Whoso ascribes partners unto God has wandered far astray. }* (An-Nisaa’ 4:116).

          In Salah, however, we are not praying TO Prophet Muhammad… we are praying FOR him!

          We are praying for him and asking God to honour his Ummah (all muslims through out the ages) the same way He honoured the Ummah of Prophet Abrahim.

          That’s all.

          Prophet Muhammad really disliked it when people exaggerate in praising him. In a famous Hadith he said: “Do not celebrate me and lift me to a high status as the Christians did with Jesus the son of Mary! I am but a humbel slave and messenger of God”.

          Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) has also taught us many supplications: Is there any one among them directed to any one other than God?

          (Did Prophet Muhammad (saw) pray the same way – send blessings to himself?)

          I’m not sure about that, unfourtantly.

          I think it will be better to ask a knowledgeable scholar about it.

          (I think it’s strange that some Sunnis will not pray with Shia Muslims).

          WHAT?!

          That’s.. stupid, really.

          Shai’s are also muslims, for God’s sake!

          • Sarah said,

            Sarah, I totally agree that praying FOR someone is not shirk! However the one thing I can’t get my head around is saying “salaam alaika ya nabi” – peace be upon YOU, O prophet. As if he is right there in front of us.
            Perhaps I should ask someone about this, I never got to the bottom of it.

            • Sarah said,

              (peace be upon YOU, O prophet. As if he is right there in front of us).

              We also say: peace be upon upon us and all God’s righteous servents (For when one says that, it includes every righteous slave in the heaven and the earth).

              So we specifically mention the prophet alone at first, and this is due to his honor and his esteemed position. After this we directly mention the entire Muslim nation. So when I invoke God to send peace upon the Muslim nation including myself, I am sending this peace directly to every single Muslim, including myself. =)

  3. Stacy said,

    There are also people in extreme northern latitudes that have 24hr daylight in summer and 24hr darkness in winter. I know that Cecelia in sweden was posting on the darkness there now. They have to use prayer times from a city that has discernible days and nights.

  4. Noor said,

    If you’re able to pick up a copy of Al-Maqasid, translated by Sh. Nuh Ha Mim Keller, he has a whole explanation. Otherwise, email me and I’ll copy it over. It all has to do with the closest time zone that has a differentiation in times. The times are calculated by degrees. It’s kind of complicated, but gets easier with time.

    (The times were calculated by the location of the sun in the sky and the length of shadows. Basic second-level fiqh classes should cover that. Al-Maqasid does.)

  5. Ayan said,

    “Right now, the prayer times are so close together that it’s quite difficult to get them all done on time, especially if you have appointments in the afternoon.”

    I agree with you. Here in Canada duhr, asr, maghrib, and ‘isha are about 2 hours apart from each other. It hard to pray them all on time, while juggling more than one 3 hour classes and working on finals.

    “That method works in that region. In extending the practice to other regions, there are two intuitive ways to go. You can keep the method the same, or you can keep the clock times calculated using the method the same (with a simple translation based on longitude). The former doesn’t work universally. I think the latter is a better way to go. It results in using the same prayer times, fasting durations etc. that the prophet and his followers used. Tried, tested and approved.”

    I always wonder how and why they choose to establish prayer times. I will try to bring this up in the fiqh of salah class I will be taking in January 2010, inshAllah.

  6. Sam said,

    We all get lazy about prayer but look at your priorities. Are you late for job interview? Are you constantly late for work? Will wake up early for a 7 am meeting but refuse to get up for fajr. Allah told us to pray 5 times a day and that is the first thing one is judged on the day of judgement not your job, car, meeting, tv shows, etc. It takes time to be vigilant about praying on time, but being vigilant about the prayers makes you constantly aware of Allah and our obligation to him. Overtime it just becomes part of your routine just like your job where you arrive on time and leave at 5.

    The prayer is the prayer. We cannot modify it at our whim. Different schools have some variance in the wudu or whether we should say bismillah al rahman al raheem in the beginning out loud or silent or the Malikis keep their hands by their sides but the rakahs and everything is well known according to the hadiths.

    • Ayan said,

      I agree with you, it’s all about priority.

      I’m just glad I make the effort to pray them all on time. But there is no denying that my current school schedule do not make it easy to pray on time. But, I try not to make this an excuse. But, instead I try my best to leave class while it is still in session (for a few minutes) to go pray.

  7. Sarah said,

    LK – that’s funny, I have hypoglycemia too, but it’s reactive, i.e. in response to eating, so I can actually fast – I don’t get hypo when I’m not eating! I even asked a doctor about it and she said I’d be OK to do it. With the other type of hypoglycemia though, fasting would be awful.
    Sure, ask your teacher if it’s something that interests you too. And let me know. 😉

    Candice – I know what you mean. I have some doubt over the timing method when used in this part of the world, and so I don’t really agonise over it if I can’t make them on time. As you say it’s about remembering God at all times of the day so I concentrate on that. I used my Quran index to look up all the instructions about prayer in the Quran, and it would seem to be impossible to construct any rules from that – only the spirit of it is really clear. And I think definitely the traditional 5-times ritual does fulfil the spirit of it, at least in some locations. I also agree with you that for the sake of unity a common ritual is valuable. And for me personally, having a set ritual rather than a blank canvas is immensely valuable. So I am basically happy with it. But like you, I don’t think it’s the only acceptable way to fulfil the requirement for prayer/worship. Actually you were one of the first people that got me thinking about this with that post you wrote ages ago!
    I don’t pray for Muhammad either because I am not even officially Muslim and I don’t feel compelled to do it. I may change my mind about that at some point if I get to understand it.

    Stacy – of course, polar regions are even more extreme, but I was surprised to realise that the common method of 15 degrees depression below the horizon to calculate Fajr and Isha doesn’t even work here in the middle of summer. There obviously must be some adjustment but I don’t know how.

    Noor – thanks, I will look into that. I understand how the times are calculated “normally”, but when the sun doesn’t set to 15 degrees below the horizon, this doesn’t work and I’d be interested to know how they adjust it.

    Ayan – yes, the timings here are about the same, a couple of hours between them all in the afternoon. Let me know any answers you receive in class! I’ll keep an eye on your blog…

  8. LK said,

    Sarah – I’ll ask him because now I am curious. Our school seems to do prayer by the clock (aka afternoon prayer is always at 2pm).

    Yeah I have the other kind. I made it about 6 hours before I thought I was going to pass out or be ill :(. Luckily, there are other things you can do if you can’t fast.

  9. Sarah said,

    Sarah, and Sam,
    You clearly are totally convinced that the traditional prayer ritual is EXACTLY what God requires of you.
    Including migrating the calculation method to extreme latitudes, resulting in huge gaps between some of the prayers and tiny gaps between others.
    Some of us are in a little bit of doubt about the traditional understanding of God’s requirements on this.
    Please go easy on us. 😉
    The question of motivation is a separate issue, and I think I will post on that separately.

    • Sarah said,

      Lol, sorry!

      I was afraid my tone sounded a bit “judgmental”, but honestly it wasn’t my intention at all >_>

      • Sarah said,

        No, don’t worry!
        I just wanted to stress that as converts (or potential converts) we come at it questioning everything! I hope I don’t offend anyone with this either.

        • Sarah said,

          Ha ha, no it’s totally cool.

          I really think it’s a really good thing that converts and potential converts start questioning and trying to figure things out, instead of accepting everything at face value.

  10. Sarah said,

    This page shows (if you scroll down a little bit) 2 graphs of the prayer times for London: the first one uses 15 degrees, the second one uses 18 degrees. For 15 degrees, Fajr and Isha coincide in the middle of summer. For 18 degrees, they disappear off the graph for some time. I’m quite a bit further north than London, so you can easily see that for using 15 degrees, Fajr and Isha will disappear where I am.

    And yet on the prayer timetables from the mosque, there will be times for these prayers. So obviously there is some adjustment being made. But if we all used the times from Saudi Arabia there would be no adjustment to be made.

  11. Sam said,

    The prayer times change with seasons. Just like you have long summer days, your prayer times will be later in the day so there is that obligation (prayer) later in the day that is unfulfilled but in the winter the days are shorter so it is usually easier to finish your prayers earlier, just like it is easier to fast in the winter compared to the summer. The prayer time is also a cycle just like fasting and the earth’s seasons.

    Different schools use some variation in their calculations, so I would simply use the timetable of the mosque that you associate with the most and adhere to that.

    With regard to doubts and motivation we all wax and wane. Some days we have great motivation and imaan and other days it is somewhat less and I even read a hadith about that so I would not worry much about that. But let your doubts be a way that over time you increase your knowledge and imaan and you find that you will become more humbler, patient, and you start to see and understand this world through Islam not the material world.
    It takes sometimes 1-2 years to become comfortable with prayers, at least for me it did. But many times I am distracted still and in a hurry to finish.
    Sorry I did not mean to be dogmatic in my comments.

    • Sarah said,

      Sam,
      Yes, I just use the local mosque times.
      “let your doubts be a way that over time you increase your knowledge and imaan”
      Exactly – if we don’t question, we can’t learn! I think it is all positive in the end.
      “Sorry I did not mean to be dogmatic in my comments.”
      No worries! 😉

  12. LK said,

    Ok so this is what I learned….how people seem to basically do prayer where I am.

    Prayer is focused on the sun but not as technical as it maybe should be. Most would not be able to keep up with the whole degrees of the sun thing so a rough time is chosen. Ex mid afternoon prayer is done right now around 2pm. That is the time you should try to do it. However, you have till 4:30 to complete your mid afternoon prayer. 4:30 is when the evening prayer starts (Sorry Im really bad with the Arabic names of the prayers). Fajr is the one that gets me. Right now its around 6am, but some days its at like 3:30 am in the summer O_O. Also, the Shi’a school allows you to combine certain prayers, especially during the winter when they are so close together. However, it is recommended that you try to do them separately. Most seem to combine the evening and night prayer (Asr and Maghrib yes?)

    That’s what I got, I think he was in a hurry to explain lol. But I asked My Love and he said the same thing and was taught by the same teacher.

    Hope that helps a little?

  13. caraboska said,

    I too live in a part of the world where fajr and ishaa can disappear in the summertime. I gather that just like every region has its convention for calculating prayer times at ‘normal’ times of year, every region that has this issue also has its way of dealing with the issue when it comes up. I admit to just taking times from www. islamicfinder.org. I also use the Pakistani calculation method, because fajr and ishaa (at ‘normal’ times of year) correspond to the actual disappearance and reappearance of astronomical night – i.e. 18 degrees.

    • Sarah said,

      Welcome back Caraboska, I hope you had a nice Thanksgiving.

  14. Achelois said,

    Quranists pray only three times a day. Shias join Asr and Maghrib. I still don’t know what is the right number.

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