Question # 262: Why there is a difference in timing for ASAR prayer for Hanafi and Shafi?

Bismi-llahi r-raḥmani r-raḥīm,

Assalamu ‘laikum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh,

All praise and thanks are due to Allah (سبحانه و تعالى), and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger (صلى الله عليه و سلم).

Dear questioner,

First of all, we implore Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) to help us serve His cause and render our work for His sake.

Shorter Answer: The start and end times of the prayers were mentioned by the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم); however, to obviate the hardship of determining the prayer timings based on the methods mentioned in the hadith, timetables based on astronomical measures have become a means for people to know the times of prayer by hours and minutes. To calculate these times mathematically for any location, the coordinates of the location are used with the following two astronomical measures: ‘Equation of Time’ and the ‘Declination of the Sun’.

The Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said: “The time for Dhuhr is from when the sun has passed its zenith and a man’s shadow is equal in length to his height (this is the end time), until the time for ‘Asr comes.” However, with respect to calculating Asr time, there are two main opinions: The majority of schools (including Shafi’i, Maliki and Hanbali) say it is at the time when the length of any object’s shadow equals the length of the object itself plus the length of that object’s shadow at noon. The dominant opinion in the Hanafi school says that Asr begins when the length of any object’s shadow is twice the length of the object plus the length of that object’s shadow at noon. Therefore, the astronomical formulae under the first three schools of thought is Asr = Dhuhr + A(1), and in Hanafi school, it is Asr = Dhuhr + A(2).

According to scholars, Athan time for Asr is a debatable issue since long time ago, and the approach of the majority is more sound [than that of] Abu Hanifa’s approach. For the lay Muslims, one needs to follow the official times published by his/her country and followed by the majority of people.

To know further details on calculation of other prayer times and difference in Fajr and Isha timings, please refer the ‘Long Answer’.

Long Answer: Before discussing the timing difference between various madhahib, let us first understand the timings of all five prayers as taught to us by Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم).

The following passage is from the Introduction to Risaalat Ahkaam Mawaaqeet al-Salaah (Essay on the Rulings on the Times of the Prayers) by Shaykh Muhammad ibn ‘Uthaymeen (May Allah have mercy on him):

Sunnah Way of deriving Prayer Times

The times of the prayers were mentioned by the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) in the hadith: “The time for Dhuhr 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 yellow. The time for Maghrib lasts 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-dawn 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 Shaytaan.” (Narrated by Muslim)

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 Dhuhr

The Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said: “The time for Dhuhr is from when the sun has passed its zenith and a man’s shadow is equal in length to his height (this is the end time), until the time for ‘Asr comes.” So, the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) defined the start and the end of the time for Dhuhr: The start of the time for Dhuhr is when the sun has passed its zenith i.e., has passed the highest part of the sky and started to descend towards the west.

Practical way of knowing when the zenith has been passed (and the time for Dhuhr has begun):

Put 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 Dhuhr has begun.

Knowing the time of the zenith by the clock: 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. (See al-Sharh al-Mumti’)

The end of the time for Dhuhr is when the shadow of everything is equal in length to the object itself, plus the length of the shadow of the object at the time of the zenith.

Practical way of knowing when the time for Dhuhr has ended: 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 at this point), then it started to increase, at which point the time for Dhuhr 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’ al-zawaal (the shadow of the zenith). At this point the time for Dhuhr ends and the time for ‘Asr begins straight away.

  1. The time of ‘Asr

The Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said: “The time for ‘Asr lasts until the sun turns yellow.” We know that the time for ‘Asr begins when the time for Dhuhr ends, i.e., when the length of an object’s shadow becomes equal to the length of the object itself. There are two times for the end of ‘Asr:

  • The preferred time: this lasts from the beginning of the time for ‘Asr until the sun begins to turn yellow, because the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said: “The time for ‘Asr lasts until the sun turns yellow.” Defining this time by the clock varies according to the season.
  • The time of necessity. This lasts from the time the sun turns yellow until sunset, because the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said: “Whoever catches up with one rak’ah of ‘Asr before the sun sets has caught up with ‘Asr.” (Narrated by al-Bukhari and Muslim)

Here necessity here refers to when a person is distracted from praying ‘Asr by some essential and unavoidable work, such as dressing wounds, and he is able to pray before the sun turns yellow but it is difficult, then he prays just before sunset. In this case he has prayed on time and has not sinned, because this is the time of necessity. If a person is forced to delay the prayer, there is no sin so long as he prays before the sun sets.

  1. The time of Maghrib

The Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said: “The time for Maghrib lasts until the twilight has faded.” i.e., 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. Defining this time by the clock varies according to the season. When you see that the red afterglow has disappeared from the horizon, this is a sign that the time for Maghrib has ended.

  1. The time of ‘Isha

The Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said: “The time for ‘Isha’ lasts until midnight.”  So, the time for ‘Isha’ begins immediately after the time for Maghrib ends (i.e., when the red afterglow disappears from the sky) until midnight.

To calculate when midnight begins, then calculate the time between sunset and the break of true dawn (when Fajr begins) 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 a.m., then midnight is 11.30 p.m., and so on.

  1. The time of Fajr

The Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said: “The time for Subh (Fajr) prayer lasts from the beginning of the pre-dawn 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 Shaytaan.”

The time for Fajr begins with the onset of the “second dawn” (al-Fajr al-thaani) 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:

  • In the “first dawn” the brightness extends from east to west, and in the “second dawn” it extends from north to south.
  • 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.
  • 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. (See al-Sharh al-Mumti’)

(Shaykh Muhammad Saalih al-Munajjid)

To obviate the hardship of determining the prayer timings based on the above-mentioned methods, timetables based on astronomical measures have become a means for people to know the times of prayer by hours and minutes.

Astronomical Calculation of Prayer Times

To determine the exact time period for each prayer, the following nine points of time must be determined everyday:

Time Definition
Fajr When the sky begins to lighten (dawn).
Sunrise The time at which the first part of the Sun appears above the horizon.
Dhuhr When the Sun begins to decline after reaching its highest point in the sky.
Asr The time when the length of any object’s shadow reaches a factor (usually 1 or 2) of the length of the object itself plus the length of that object’s shadow at noon.
Sunset The time at which the Sun disappears below the horizon.
Maghrib Soon after sunset.
Isha The time at which darkness falls and there is no scattered light in the sky.
Midnight The mean time from sunset to sunrise (or from Maghrib to Fajr, in some schools of thought).

Next, to calculate the above times mathematically for any location if the coordinates of the location are known, there are two astronomical measures. These two measures are the equation of time and the declination of the Sun.

To calculate the prayer times for a given location, the latitude (L) and the longitude (Lng) of the location, along with the local Time Zone for that location should be known. The equation of time (EqT) and the declination of the Sun (D) for a given date using the algorithm from U.S. Naval Observatory, which computes the Sun’s angular coordinates to an accuracy of about 1 arcminute within two centuries of 2000. 

The calculation of Fajr/Isha and Asr prayer deserve specific mention because of the difference of opinion between the Madhahib. 

Fajr and Isha

There are differing opinions on what angle to be used for calculating Fajr and Isha. The following table shows several conventions currently in use in various countries:

Convention Fajr Angle Isha Angle
Muslim World League 18° 17°
Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) 15° 15°
Egyptian General Authority of Survey 19.5° 17.5°
Umm al-Qura University, Makkah 18.5° 90 min after Maghrib

120 min during Ramadan

University of Islamic Sciences, Karachi 18° 18°

Asr

There are two main opinions on how to calculate Asr time. The majority of schools (including Shafi’i, Maliki and Hanbali) say it is at the time when the length of any object’s shadow equals the length of the object itself plus the length of that object’s shadow at noon. The dominant opinion in the Hanafi school says that Asr begins when the length of any object’s shadow is twice the length of the object plus the length of that object’s shadow at noon.

The following formula computes the time difference between the mid-day and the time at which the object’s shadow equals t times the length of the object itself plus the length of that object’s shadow at noon:

Thus, in the first three schools of thought, Asr = Dhuhr + A(1), and in Hanafi school, Asr = Dhuhr + A(2).

Dr. Main Khalid Al-Qudah, Member of the Fatwa Committee of Assembly of Muslim Jurists in America says: “…Athan time for Asr is a debatable issue since long time ago, and the approach of the majority is more sound [than that of] Abu Hanifa’s approach…”

For further information on the detailed astronomical calculation, please refer: //praytimes.org/wiki/Prayer_Times_Calculation

Dr. Hatem al-Haj, Member of the Fatwa Committee of Assembly of Muslim Jurists in America says: “…For the lay Muslims, one needs to follow the official times published by his/her country and followed by the majority of people…”

Allahu A’lam (Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) knows best) and all Perfections belong to Allah, and all mistakes belong to me alone. May Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) forgive me, Ameen.

Wassalaam