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.
Sheikh M. S. Al-Munajjid, a prominent Saudi Muslim lecturer and author, states: The reason for shortening the Prayers is travel itself regardless of whether or not one encounters any difficulty.
Allah and His Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) connected the ruling on this matter (shortening of Prayers) to travel. Allah says:“And when you (Muslims) travel in the land, there is no sin on you if you shorten the Prayer if you fear that the disbelievers may put you in trial (attack you), verily, the disbelievers are ever unto you open enemies” (An-Nisaa’: 101).
And the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “The Prayer when traveling is two rak`ahs” (Reported by An-Nasa’i). The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “Allah has waived half the Prayer for the traveler” (Reported by An-Nasa’i).
This is also indicated by the fact that it is not permissible for the non-traveler to shorten his Prayers, even if offering the Prayer in full is difficult for him, which indicates that this ruling applies only to travel, not to difficulty.
The Standing Committee for Islamic Research and Ifta’ was asked: If a person travels a long distance by plane, but it only takes two hours or less, can this traveller shorten his Prayers and break his fast in Ramadan or not? Similarly, if a person travels by car for two hundred miles or more in two and a half hours, for example, and comes back home in the evening, is it permissible for him to shorten his Prayers, or only if he faces difficulty and exhaustion when traveling?
The Committee replied:
Shortening the Prayer when traveling the distances mentioned is sunnah, and breaking the fast in such cases is a concession that is granted to the traveler, whether it takes him a long time or a short time to cross that distance, and whether that causes him hardship or not, because what is assumed is that traveling involves hardship, even if that does not actually happen. This is the bounty and mercy of Allah towards His servants.”