Sheikh Sulaymân al-Mâjid, judge at the Riyadh Supreme Court
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Abû Dharr relates that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: "When the heat of day becomes intense, wait to pray when it gets cooler, for indeed the severe heat is a gust from Hell."
This is an authentic hadîth related in Sahîh al-Bukhârî and Sahîh Muslim. Similar hadîth are related in the same sources from Abû Hurayrah ad Abû Sa`îd al-Khudrî.

The meaning of the hadîth:

This hadîth refers to postponing the Noon prayer during the Summer. In the narration of Abû Sa`îd – Sahîh al-Bukhârî (505) – it reads "Wait to pray the Noon prayer when it gets cooler..."

As for the time period we should wait until it is "cooler", there is a narration of the hadîth from Abû Dharr related in Sahîh al-Bukhârî (506) where he says: "He waited after noon until we saw he shadows of the hills. Then he had the second call for prayer and he offered the prayer."

The timeframe between the beginning of the Sun's decline from its zenith in the sky until the shadows of the hills appears is a short period of time. It is fifteen minutes at most.

Its legal implications:

Scholars have differed as to the underlying reason why we are supposed to postpone the Noon prayer in the Summer time. Is it due to the difficulty imposed by the heat or merely as an act of ritual worship?

The question has practical relevance. If the delay is prescribed to alleviate difficulty, then the purpose is a practical one, and the delay should be commensurate to the need. By contrast, if the purpose of the delay pertains to the ritual manner of offering the prayer, then the delay should preferably be only as long as prescribed by the texts.

Scholars have expressed three different views on the matter:
1. The difficulty the heat imposes upon the worshippers who have to leave their homes and go to the mosque.

2. The difficulty that the heat imposes upon the worshippers during their prayers.

3. The consideration is purely ritual. It concerns pinpointing the ideal time to offer the Noon prayer within its total timeframe. The purpose is to refrain from offering prayers in such heat as reminds us of being in the Hellfire.
It seems to me that the third suggestion is most likely the correct one. This is because the time period Abû Dharr describes for the delay is so brief. Usually, the heat of the midday Sun does not abate to any appreciable degree in so short a time.

There is considerable evidence in the Sunnah to support the idea that the reason for the delay is not to allieviate any inconvenience caused to the worshippers of account of the heat, but is rather for the sake of the prayer. Consider the following:

1. A narration of the above hadîth in Sahîh al-Bukhârî and Sahîh Muslim indicates that the people involved were on a journey. Therefore, the full force of the midday Sun was already upon them.

2. Further support can be found in a separate hadîth regarding the Noon prayer narrated by Khabbâb, who says: "We complained to the Prophet (peace be upon him) of having to offer prayers on the hot, sun-baked ground, but he did not make any concession for us." [Sahîh Muslim (982)]

3. Then we have where Jâbir b. `Abd Allah says: "The Prophet (peace be upon him) used to offer the noon prayer in the midday heat." [Sahîh al-Bukhârî (527) and Sahîh Muslim (1023)]

4. We are not supposed to offer prayers at the precise toime the Sun reaches its zenith. Consider the reason given in the following hadîth: Amr b. `Abasah relates that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: "When the day reaches its precise midpoint, then leave off prayer, since this is the hour that Hell heats up." [Sahîh Muslim (1374)]

Therefore we conclude:

1. Waiting for the maximum intensity of the heat to subside is for the sake of the prayer, due to the connection described between this heat and the fire of Hell. This is not a consideration of comfort.

2. From the short period of time that we wait, we know that what matters is that the heat decreases a small amount from its maximum intensity on whatever particular day we are in.

3. The time of delay is extremely brief. The fifteen minutes people typically wait after the call for the Noon prayer is sufficient to put this Sunnah into practice.

4. This Sunnah concerning the time of the Noon prayer is to be observed even by people staying in closed buildings who are altogether unaffected by changes in the outside temperature. The Sunnah of postponing the Noon prayer is likewise equally applicable in summertime in cold climates, like northern Europe.

5. Also during hot days, this delay applies to the Jumu`ah prayer on Friday as well as the Noon prayer during the rest of the week. This means that, on a hot day, if the preacher takes the option of starting the Friday sermon before noon and offering the Jumu`ah prayer right after the Sun begins to decline from its zenith, he is neglecting this particular Sunnah of waiting until it gets cooler. He should preferably make sure to wait at least 15 minutes after the Sun begins its decline before offering the Jumu`ah prayer in order to uphold this Sunnah

6. The Summertime in the locality is what matters. For instance, in January it is winter in Europe and Arabia but Summer in Australia and South Africa. Therefore, the Sunnah of waiting will apply in Australia and South Africa in the month of January, but not in Europe or Arabia.

7. This Sunnah only applies in the season of Summer, when the region experiences its hottest noontime temperatures. The Prophet (peace be upon him) would offer the Noon prayer closer to its earliest time in the winter and postpone it a bit in the Summer. Anas relates: "When it became very cold, he used to perform prayer earlier, and when it became extremely hot, he used to delay the prayer until it became cooler." [Sahîh al-Bukhârî (855)]

And Allah knows best.