Generally speaking, shortening the Prayer while traveling is a legal concession that portrays Islam’s tolerance and simplicity in matters of worship. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) used to shorten his Prayer whenever he was on a journey. He (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “Allah likes His servants to undertake the legal concessions given to them in the same way as He likes them to observe their obligations.” It is permissible for a person who is traveling to shorten the prayers of four rak`as to be two rak`as.

While tackling the issue of shortening the prayer for a traveler, the late Azharite scholar Sheikh Sayyed Sabiq (may Allah bless his soul) states the following:

Shortening the prayers that consist of four rak`as

Allah says in the Qur’an: “And when you go forth in the land there is no sin upon you, if you shorten your prayer when you fear the disbelievers may attack you.” This concession is not limited to situations of danger.

Ya’la ibn Umaiyyah said: “I said to ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab: ‘Explain to me why the people shorten the salah when Allah says, ‘And when you go forth…[the preceding verse] and those days are gone now!’ ‘Umar said: ‘I wondered about that too and I mentioned that to the Prophet and he said: “This is a charity that Allah, the Exalted, has bestowed upon you, so accept His charity.'” This is related by the group.

At-Tabari records that Abu Munib al-Jarshi mentioned this verse to Ibn ‘Umar and said: “We are safe now and are not in fear, should we, then, shorten the salah’?” He answered him: “You have indeed in the Messenger of Allah a beautiful pattern (of conduct).”

The issue was also referred to ‘Aishah and she said: “The salah was made fard in Makkah in sets of two rak’at. When the Prophet came to Medinah, two rak’as were added to each salah except the maghrib salah because it is the witr of the daytime, and the dawn prayer due to its lengthy Qur’anic recital. But if one travels, he performs the original prayer [i.e., only two rak’at].”

Ibn al-Qayyim says: “The Prophet would pray only two rak’as for those prayers which consisted of four, whenever he traveled until he returned to Medinah. And it is not confirmed that he ever prayed four rak’as [while traveling], and none of the imams differ on this point, although they do differ about the ruling of shortening the salah.”

‘Umar, ‘Ali, Ibn Mas’ud, ibn ‘Abbas, ibn ‘Umar, Jabir and the Hanafi scholars say that it is fard. The Maliki school holds that it is sunnah mu’akadah (the stressed one); it is even more emphasized than the congregational salah. If the traveler cannot find another traveler to lead him in the salah, he may pray by himself as it is disliked that he should follow one who is a resident [i.e., and pray four rak’as] according to the Maliki school. The Hanbali school holds that it is preferred for the person to shorten the prayer rather than to pray the complete salah. The Shaf’i school has a similar opinion, if the person has traveled a sufficient distance.

The distance one must travel before shortening one’s prayer

The conclusion from the Qur’anic verse is that any traveling, be it long or short, which falls within the linguistic definition of the word “travel” would suffice to shorten one’s salah, to combine them and to break the fast. There is nothing in the sunnah which confines this general term to any particular meaning. Ibn al-Munzhir and others have mentioned more than twenty reports on this point. Here we shall mention some of the more important reports.

Ahmad, Muslim, Abu Dawud, and al-Baihaqi record that Yahya ibn Yazid said: “I asked Anas ibn Malik about shortening the prayer, and he said: ‘The Messenger of Allah would pray two rak’at if he had traveled a distance of three miles or farsakh.”‘ Ibn Hajar writes in Fath al-Bari: “This is the most authentic hadith which states and clarifies [that question].” The conflict between mile and farsakh is made clear in Abu Sa’id al-Khudri’s statement: “If the Prophet traveled a distance of one farsakh, he would shorten his prayer.” This was related by Sa’id ibn Mansur in his Sunan and by al-Hafiz ibn Hajar in at-Talkhis, and he implicitly accepted
it by not making any further comments about it. It is well-known that a farsakh equals three miles and, therefore, Abu Sa’id’s hadith removes the confusion which arises from Anas’ hadith when he says that the shortest distance, due to which the Prophet shortened his prayer, was three miles. One farsakh is equivalent to5,541 meters while one mile equals 1,748 meters. The shortest distance which has been mentioned with respect to the shortening of salah is one mile. This was recorded by Ibn abi Shaibah, with a sahih chain, on the authority of Ibn ‘Umar. Ibn Hazm follows this report, and argues that if the distance is less than one mile, one is not to shorten the salah, the Messenger of Allah went to the graveyard of al-Baqi’ to bury the dead and (similarly) he went off to answer the call of nature and did not shorten his salah.

Concerning what some jurists say, namely, that the journey must be at least two days long or as some say three days, Imam Abu al-Qasim alKharqi’s refutation of their opinion is sufficient for us. In al-Mughni he says: ‘I do not find any proof for what those scholars say. The statements of the (sahabah) companions are contradictory, and they are not a (conclusive) proof if they differ. Something has been related from Ibn ‘Umar and Ibn ‘Abbas which differs from what these scholars use as proof. Even if that were not the case, their statements do not constitute a proof when a statement or action of the Prophet himself exists. Even if their statements were accepted, we would not be able to follow the distance they mentioned due to the following two reasons. One, they differ from the sunnah that has been re
lated from the Prophet and from the clear meaning of the Qur’an, as the clear meaning of the verse allows one to shorten one’s salah if one makes any journey upon the earth. Allah says: “If you journey on the earth, there is no blame upon you if you shorten your prayer.” The condition of there being fear has been deleted as can be seen in the hadith we recorded from Ya’la ibn Umayyah, and what remains is the clear meaning of the verse which covers every type of journey. Two, the question of the distance to be traveled is one that may only be answered by some sort of revelation from Allah, the Exalted [the Qur’an or Sunnah]; it is not the type of issue which one may address on the basis of personal reasoning, nor is there any way to derive an analogy. The proofs which exist support the opinion that shortening the salah is permissible for every traveler, unless there is some consensus to the contrary.”

Similar to that is the traveling by planes, trains, and so forth, or a trip that is in obedience to Allah, the Exalted, or otherwise. If there is someone whose occupation requires him to always be traveling, for instance, a pilot, a ship captain, truck driver, and so on, then he is permitted to shorten his salah or break his fast as he is truly traveling.

When the traveler is to pray the complete salah

A traveller may shorten his salah as long as he is on a journey. Likewise if he stays in some place for business or some other affair, then he may shorten his salah as long as he is there, even for years. If the person intends to stay in a place for a certain amount of time then, according to Ibn al-Qayyim, he remains a traveler, regardless of whether he plans to stay there for a long or short time, as long as he does not plan to stay [i.e., reside and not return] in the place that he has traveled to. The scholars differ on this point. Summing up and giving his own opinion, Ibn al-Qayyim says: “The Messenger of Allah stayed in Tabuk for twenty days and during that time he shortened his salah and he did not say that one may not shorten his salah if he stays longer than that, although there is agreement that he did stay there for that period of time.”

In Sahih al-Bukhari, it is recorded that Ibn ‘Abbas said: “The Prophet stayed, during some of his journeys, for nineteen day and he prayed only two rak’at. If we stayed in a place for nineteen days, we would not pray the complete salah. However, if we stayed longer than that, we would perform the whole salah.” Ahmad states that ibn ‘Abbas was referring to the Prophet’s stay in Makkah at the time of its conquest when he said: “The Messenger of Allah stayed in Makkah for eighteen days during the time of the conquest as he had to go to Hunain and was not planning to stay there.” This is his interpretation of Ibn ‘Abbas’ statement. Others say that Ibn ‘Abbas was referring to the Prophet’s stay in Tabuk as Jabir ibn ‘Abdullah said: “The Messenger of Allah stayed in Tabuk for twenty days and performed qasr salah.” Imam Ahmad related this in his Musnad. Al-Miswar ibn Makhramah reports: “We stayed with Sa’d in some of the cities of ash-Sham [Syria] for forty days, and Sa’d would perform qasr while we would offer the whole salah.” Naf’i relates: “Ibn ‘Umar was in Azerbaijan for six months, as there was snow blocking the pass, and he would pray two rak’at.” Hafs ibn ‘Ubaidullah says: “Anas ibn Malik stayed in ash-Sham for two years and he prayed the salah of a traveler.” Anas relates: “The companions of the Prophet stayed in Ram Hurmuz for seven months and they shortened their salah.” Al-Hassan reports: “I stayed with ‘Abdurrahman ibn Samurah for two years in Kabul, and he shortened his salah but he did not combine the salah.” Ibrahim says: “We resided in Rai for a year or more and in Sijistan for two years . . . [and we prayed qasr]. This is the guidance of the Prophet and his companions, and this is the correct position.

Concerning other opinions which people follow Imam Ahmad say: “If a person intends to stay for four days, he has to offer the whole salah and he may offer qasr if his intention is for less than that. This is based on an interpretation of the reports from the Prophet and his companions [i.e., they never intended to stay for longer than that and would always say: ‘We will leave tomorrow,’ and so on]. This interpretation is obviously suspect. The Prophet conquered Makkah and stayed there to establish Islam, eradicate polytheism, and to guide the Arabs. It definitely goes, without saying, that such an objective does take more than a day or two to complete. Similarly, his stay in Tabuk was in preparation for the impending war and he knew that this might take longer than just four days. In the same way, Ibn ‘Umar’s stay in Azerbaijan for six months, and his praying qasr during the entire time was with the knowledge that it takes more than two or three days for such snow to melt and the pass to become traversable. The same is the case with Anas’ stay of two years in ash-Sham and his praying qasr and the companions’ stay in Ram Hurmuz for seven months while shortening their prayers. It is well known that activities like theirs, such as jihad and guarding, took more than four days.” The followers of Ahmad maintain: “If one is staying in a place for the purpose of jihad or due to imprisonment or sickness, then one may shorten one’s salah regardless of whether the person thinks that such a situation may last for a short time or a long time.” This is correct but there is no proof that such conditions have been stipulated in the Qur’an, Sunnah, ijma’ (consensus), or practice of the Prophet’s companions. They argued that such conditions are based on what is needed for the person to fulfill his need while remaining a traveler, and that is what is less than four days. His response to them was: ‘From where do you derive those conditions, while the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) stayed for more than four days, shortening his salah, in Makkah and Tabuk, and he did not mention to anyone anything about it and he never told them that he never intended to stay for more than four days, even though he knew that the people would [strictly] follow his actions concerning the salah. They surely followed him in his shortening of the salah, and he did not object to their praying qasr if they were to stay for more than four nights. This should be made clear as it is very important. Similarly, the companions (as-sahabah) followed him in that and he did not say anything [in objection] to those who prayed with him.”

Malik and ash-Shaf’i say: “If one intends to stay for more than four days, he should perform the whole salah, and if he intends to stay for less than that, he is to offer qasr.”

Abu Hanifah holds: “If one intends to stay for fifteen days, he should do the qasr. If he intends to stay for less than that, he should not shorten the salah.” This is also the opinion of al-Laith ibn Sa’d, and it has also been related from three companions: ‘Umar, ibn ‘Umar, and Ibn ‘Abbas.

Sa’id ibn al-Musayyab is of the opinion that: “If you stay for four days, you pray four rak’at.” A statement similar to that of Abu Hanifah’s has also been related from him. ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib says that if one stays for ten days, he is to perform the whole salah, and the same has been related from Ibn ‘ Abbas .

Al-Hassan says: “One who does not get to his destination or (city of residence) may shorten salah.”

‘Aishah says: “One who does not put down his provision is to shorten the salah.”

The four imams agree that if one has some need to take care of and always has the intention of leaving the next day, then he may shorten his salah for as long as he is in that state. However, according to one statement of ash-Shaf’i, he may do so only for seventeen or eighteen days and he is not to shorten his salah after that time. Ibn al-Munzhir states in his Ishraf: “The people of knowledge are in agreement that a traveler may perform qasr as long as he does not intend to stay in a place, even though he stays there for years.””