As far as the times of the five daily prayers are concerned, Sheikh M. S. Al-Munajjid, a prominent Saudi Muslim lecturer and author, points out: “Allah has enjoined upon His servants five prayers throughout the day and night at specific times decreed by the wisdom of Allah so that the servant may be in contact with Him in these prayers throughout all of these times. Part of the wisdom behind doing the prayers at these times is so that people will not get bored or find it difficult, which would happen if they all had to be done at once.
The times of the prayers were mentioned by the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) in the hadith that reads: “The time for Zuhr is from when the sun has passed its zenith and a man’s shadow is equal in length to his height, until the time for ‘Asr comes. The time for ‘Asr lasts until the sun turns orange. The time for Maghrib lasts [from sunset] until the twilight has faded. The time for ‘Isha’ lasts until midnight. The time for Subh (Fajr) prayer lasts from the beginning of the pre-sunrise twilight so long as the sun has not yet started to rise. When the sun starts to rise then stop praying, for it rises between the two horns of the Shaytan (Satan).” (Reported by Muslim, 612)
This hadith explains the timings of the five daily prayers. As for defining them by the clock, that varies from one city or country to another. We will define each in more detail as follows:
1. The time of Zuhr
According to the above-mentioned hadith, the time of Zuhr starts when sun passes its zenith, i.e., passes the highest part of the sky, and starts to descend towards the west.
Practically, one can know when the zenith has been passed (and the time for Zuhr has begun) by putting a stick or pole in an open place. When the sun rises in the east, the shadow of this stick will fall towards the west. The higher the sun rises, the shorter the shadow will become. So long as it keeps growing shorter, the sun has not yet reached its zenith. The shadow will keep on growing shorter until it reaches a certain point, then it will start to increase, falling towards the east. When it increases by even a small amount, then the sun has passed its zenith. At that point the time for Zuhr has begun.
Also, to know the time of the zenith by the clock, you have to divide the time between sunrise and sunset in half, and that is the time of the zenith. If we assume that the sun rises at 6 a.m. and sets at 6 p.m., then the zenith is at 12 noon. If it rises at 7 a.m. and sets at 7 p.m., then the zenith is at 1 p.m., and so on.
The end of the time for Zuhr is when the shadow of everything is equal in length to the object itself plus the length of the shad
ow of the object at the time of the zenith.
As a practical way of knowing when the time for Zuhr has ended, you can go back to the stick or pole which we described above. Let us assume that its length is one meter. We will notice that before the sun reached its zenith, the shadow decreased gradually until it reached a certain point (make a mark on the ground at this point), then it started to increase, at which point the time for Zuhr began. The shadow will continue to increase, falling towards the east until the length of the shadow is equal to the length of the object itself, i.e., it will be one meter long, starting from the point marked at the zenith. As for the shadow before the mark, that is not counted, and it is called fay’ az-zawal (the shadow of the zenith). At this point the time for Zuhr ends and the time for ‘Asr begins straight away.
2. The time of ‘Asr
In the light of the above-mentioned hadith, we conclude that the time for ‘Asr begins when the time for Zuhr ends, i.e., when the length of an object’s shadow becomes equal to the length of the object itself plus the length of its shadow at the zenith. There are two times for the end of ‘Asr as follows:
a) The preferred time: This lasts from the beginning of the time for ‘Asr until the sun begins to turn orange, because the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “The time for ‘Asr lasts until the sun turns orange.”
b) The time of necessity: This lasts from the time the sun turns orange until sunset, because the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “Whoever catches up with one rak`ah of ‘Asr before the sun sets has caught up with ‘Asr.” (Reported by Al-Bukhari and Muslim)
3. The time of Maghrib
The time for Maghrib starts immediately after the time for ‘Asr ends, which is when the sun sets, until the twilight or red afterglow has faded. When the red afterglow has disappeared from the sky, the time for Maghrib ends and the time for ‘Isha’ begins.
4. The time of ‘Isha’
The time for ‘Isha’ begins immediately after the time for Maghrib ends (i.e., when the red afterglow disappears from the sky) until midnight. If you want to calculate when midnight is, then calculate the time between sunset and sunrise then divide it in half; that halfway point is the end of the time for praying ‘Isha’ (and that is midnight). So, if the sun sets at 5 p.m., and Fajr begins at 5 a.m., then midnight is 11 p.m. If the sun sets at 5 p.m. and Fajr begins at 6 p.m., then midnight is 11:30 p.m., and so on.
5. The time of Fajr
The time for Fajr begins with the onset of the “second dawn” (al-fajr al-thani) and ends when the sun starts to rise. The “second dawn” is the brightness that appears along the horizon in the east and extends north to south. The “first dawn” (al-fajr al-awwal) occurs approximately one hour before this, and there are differences between the two as follows:
a) In the “first dawn” the brightness extends from east to west, and in the “second dawn” it extends from north to south.
b) The “first dawn” is followed by darkness, i.e., the brightness lasts for a short period then it becomes dark. The “second dawn” is not followed by darkness, rather the light increases.
c) The “second dawn” is connected to the horizon, with no darkness between it and the horizon, whereas the “first dawn” is separated from the horizon with darkness between it and the horizon.”