Question # 33: What is the minimum distance that needs to be traveled before shortening prayer is allowed?
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).
First of all, we implore Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) to help us serve His cause and render our work for His sake.
Shorter Answer: There is no definition in the Qur’an and Sunnah of the distance that constitutes ‘traveling’ and the scholars differed greatly over it. However, the scholars of Ahl al-Sunnah wa’l-Jama’ah have taken the opinion that all that is customarily regarded as travel in practice and in language, and requires preparation of provisions as well as rest and similar things, constitute ‘traveling’. Unless for a particular case, there is confusion as to whether it is commonly regarded as travel or not, in which case, one falls back on the opinion of the majority of scholars (al-jumhoor) regarding the minimum required distance, which is four burud (an antiquated unit of distance) equivalent to 88.7 km (approximately 55 miles). Also Refer Question # 445: Shortening Prayers When Traveling For Work.
Long Answer: Scholars, including the Companions of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم), have differed concerning the distance of shortening prayer, to the extent that there are more than twenty views in this regard, as mentioned by Ibn-ul-Mundhir and others. Some say that the journey must be long enough so that the shortening of prayer on it can be valid; therefore, if a Muslim goes out of his town to a place which is ten or twenty kilometers far away from it, it is not valid that he shortens prayer. The late faqihs estimated the distance of such a journey to be eighty-four kilometers, which was then the distance of a three-day journey on camels and donkeys including the times of rest. This estimation may be backed by the narration stating that Ibn ‘Abbas (رضي الله عنه), used to shorten prayer in journeys with distances like that which is between Makkah and At-Ta’if and that which is between Makkah and ‘Asafan. (Narrated by Malik) The distance between Makkah and At-Ta’if is about ninety kilometers. Accordingly, it is not permissible for anyone who is undergoing a short journey to shorten prayer.
To settle this difference, some scholars have stated that it is permissible for a person to shorten prayer if the distance of his journey is considered to be a distance of travel according to the language of the Arabs in which the Islamic Shari’ah has been revealed. This view may be backed by the general meaning of the verse dealing with shortening of prayer: “…And when you (Muslims) travel in the land, there is no sin on you if you shorten your prayer…” (Soorah An-Nisa’a, 4: 101) The wording of this verse indicates in general that it is permissible to shorten prayer during any “travel in the land” that is considered as such according to the Arabic language in which the verse was revealed. (‘Al-Fiqhul-Muyassaru minal-Qur’ani was-Sunnah’ by Muhammad M. ‘Abdul-Fattah)
According to Sheikh Muhammed Salih Al-Munajjid, the majority of scholars (al-jumhoor) comprising the Maliki’s and the Shafi’i’s and the Hanbali’s have taken the opinion that the recognized distance for one who has undertaken its travel in shortening the prayer is four burud (an antiquated unit of distance), which is two average day’s travel by heavily-loaded camels (equivalent to 88.7 km in distance). Among what they have quoted as evidence is what was authentically (sahih) narrated by Ibn Omar and Ibn Abbas (رضي الله عنه) that they used to shorten the prayers and break fasting at a distance of four burud. This quoted distance is approximate and not exactly limited as per the majority of scholars, and thus what is slightly less is exempted as well.
[He further states that, however,] there is no definition in the Sunnah of the distance that constitutes ‘traveling’ and the scholars differed greatly concerning the definition thereof. The correct view is that reference should be made to the customs of each land; whatever the people customarily regard as ‘traveling’ in which one may break the fast and shorten the prayer. This is the view favored by a number of scholars, including Ibn Qudaamah, al-Maqdisi and Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah.
Some scholars including ibn Qadama and Sheikh ul-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah and his pupil Ibn ul-Qayyim have taken the opinion that all that is referred to as travel in practice and in language, and requires preparation of provisions as well as rest and similar things, falls under the licenses of shari’ah such as the shortening of the prayer and breaking the fast of Ramadan. Their pretext and justification is the generalization in the wording referring to the shortening of the prayer as it appears in the Qur’an and Sunnah, as in the example of Soorah an-Nisa’a, verses 4:101-102… The ayah expresses the permission for shortening the prayer for one who travels without specifically restricting the distance. Thus the Qur’an and Sunnah mention “travel” and do not differentiate a particular travel from another, and as such if one travels via air for one hour without any burden or hardship it would be permissible for him or her to shorten the prayer and break the mandatory fast. In fact, this is the most viable opinion, unless for a particularly case there is confusion as to whether it is commonly regarded as travel or not, in which case one falls back to the opinion of the majority of scholars (al-jumhoor) (regarding the minimum required distance). (Islamqa.info)
[Interestingly, the hadith of] Ibn ‘Abbas (رضي الله عنه), [where he] narrated “The Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said “Do not shorten the prayer (while traveling) for a distance less than four Buruds (each Burd equals 16 Farsakh), from Makkah to ‘Usafan”, which is related by Ad-Daraqutni… – its chain of narrators has Abdul Wahib bin Mujahid who was accused of lying in Hadith, by Imam Ath-Thawry. (‘Bulugh Al-Maram Min Adillat Al-Ahkam’ by Imam Ibn Hajr)
[Acccording to Ibn Hazm,] the strongest view is that, “There is no limit set in principle, except for what may be described as ‘traveling’ in the language of the Arabs addressed by the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم). If there were a specific limit for travelling other than the point that we just mentioned, why would the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) completely neglect to mention it and why did [the Sahabah] neglect to ask him about it and why would they agree upon not passing on that limitation to us?” (al-Muhalla) (‘The Concise Presentation of the Fiqh of the Sunnah and the Noble Book’ by Dr. Abdul-Azeem Badawi)
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.