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There are people who advocate combining together the Zuhr and `Asr prayers and likewise the Maghrib and `Ishâ' prayers on a regular basis, without needing any particular excuse like rain or sickness. They argue that in the Qur'an, prayer is only mentioned three times in the day and night.

They also cite the hadīth related by Ibn `Abbās that the Prophet (peace be upon him) combined between the Zuhr and `Asr prayers and likewise between the Maghrib and `Ishā' prayers while he was in Madinah without there being a specific reason for doing so like fear, rain, or traveling.

Please explain your answer in light of these arguments.

Answered by

Sheikh Salman al-Oadah

To begin with, the verse in question does not specify three prayers. It merely gives the broad time-frames for the observance of prayer throughout the day without specifying the actual number of prayers to be observed.

Let us look at the verse carefully. Allah says: "Establish regular prayers at the Sun's decline until the darkness of the night and the recital of the Qur'an in the morning, for the recital of dawn is witnessed." [Sūrah al-Isrā': 78].

When Allah says: "…at the Sun's decline…" it refers to the Suns descent to the West from the meridian right after midday. Allah then says: "…until the darkness of the night…". Together with the previous part of the verse: "at the sun's decline" this covesr the timeframe of four of the obligatory prayers: Zuhr, `Asr, Maghrib, and `Ishā'.

Then Allah says: "…the recital of the Qur'an in the morning…", which is a reference to the Morning (Fajr) pPrayer. The Fajr Prayer is called the recital because it is preferable to read in it many verses of the Qur'an. Therefore, this verse covers the five daily prayers.

In the Sunnah, the exact times for these five prayers are given to us in detail.

Ibn Kathīr, after mentioning this verse in his commentary on the Qur'an, says:
The Sunnah of the Prophet (peace be upon him), through his sayings and his actions, provides us with the exact times of these prayers as known and applied by Muslims today. This has been passed down from one generation to the next, century after century."
It is a well-known principle in Islam that the Sunnah explains the Qur'an. Allah says to His Prophet: "We have revealed to you the Reminder that you may make clear to people what has been revealed to them, and that haply they may reflect." [Sūrah al-Nahl: 44]

The Prophet (peace be upon him) used to pray each of the five prayers on time. In certain extenuating circumstances, he would combine prayers, but it was not his regular habit to do so.

There is a hadîth related from Ibn `Abbas related in Sahīh Muslim that the Messenger of Allah prayed the Zuhr and Asr prayers together, and also the Maghrib and `Ishā' prayers, although he was neither in a state of fear nor on a journey. In another narration, the absence of rain is mentioned instead of a journey.

The majority of scholars believe that combining between these prayers is unlawful except for one of the valid reasons that are explicitly stated in the sacred texts. They argue that there is clear textual evidence that the times for prayers are fixed. Therefore, no exceptions should be made without specific evidence detailing those exceptions. To support this, they cite the overwhelming evidence that the Prophet (peace be upon him) prayed his prayers at their proper times. The hadith of Ibn `Abbās does not give every possible legitimate reason for combining prayer. For instance, sickness is a valid reason for combining prayers that is not mentioned in the hadīth.

Nevertheless, there were a few scholars such as Ibn Sīrīn, Ibn Shubrumah, the Mālikī jurist Ashhab, and the Shāfi`ī jurist Ibn al-Mundhir, who said that combining these prayers together is permissible as long as there is some valid need to do so, and that it is not restricted to a set number of things, but that a person should not make a habit out of combining prayers.

I agree with this opinion. It is permissible to combine the Zuhr and `Asr prayers together in case of any valid need, and likewise the Maghrib and `Ishā’ prayers, but this should not be taken as a habit.

This is the opinion of Ibn Taymiyah, who said:
Ibn `Abbās was not traveling nor was there any rain, but he mentioned this narration as a justification for combining his prayers. He knew that there was no rain, but Ibn `Abbās was involved in something important for the Muslims as he was teaching the people what they needed to know about their religion and he believed that if he stopped at that time and came down from the pulpit, the opportunity would be lost. He deemed that the activity he was engaged in permitted him to combine prayers as the Prophet (peace be upon him) combined prayers in Madinah without there being fear or rain but for some other necessity…

All the hadīth about combining prayer indicate that the Prophet combined prayers to make things easy for his people. Therefore, combining prayers is permissible if there would otherwise be some hardship that Allah had sought to spare the believers. Combining prayers due to debilitating illness is all the more permissible. The same applies to those who cannot maintain a state of ritual purity for two prayers, like the woman whose bleeding continues past her menstrual cycle. At the same time, we have a saying from `Umar b. al-Khattāb that combining of two prayers without an excuse is one the grievous sins." [Ibn Taymiyah, Majmū` al-Fatāwā]
In conclusion, it is permissible to combine between prayers for any valid reason where there would otherwise be considerable hardship for the worshipper. However, the practice of combining between prayers should not be taken as a habit. Whoever makes it their regular practice to combine their prayers without a valid reason has violated the Sunnah of our Prophet (peace be upon him) and gone against his guidance.

And Allah knows best.