By: Muhammad Mahmoud As-Sawwaf
A Muslim must not perform the obligatory Prayer until its proper time comes into perfect as stated in the Shari`ah (Islamic Law). Allah says:
Prayer is enjoined on believers at stated times. (An-Nisaa’ 4:103)
This means that there is a pre-established obligatory religious duty for which the Qur’an has set fixed times. The beginning of the time for Prayer is a fundamental condition for performing it. The times are:
a- The Dawn Prayer (Fajr)
This Prayer begins at true dawn, which occurs in the east when the light first appears from the darkness of night and extends until the sun rises. He who has completed one rak`ah (units of prayer) of the Dawn Prayer before sunrise has performed the Prayer on time. He who oversleeps and awakens after the time for Prayer should perform it immediately upon waking and not delay his duty. Furthermore, he must not oversleep intentionally or be lazy in getting out of his bed for whoever does this suffers manifest loss.
b- The Noon Prayer (Zhuhr)
The time for the Noon Prayer begins after the sun’s zenith of that day. It will normally be at twelve o’clock, but the time varies in different countries. The time for the Noon Prayer lasts until the time for the Afternoon Prayer.
c- The Afternoon Prayer (`Asr)
It is enjoined when the shadow of an object is equal to its own length plus the length of its noontime shadow. The time for this Prayer extends until sunset. He who has completed one rak`ah of the Afternoon Prayer before sunset has performed the Prayer on time, but one is not permitted to delay the Prayer until the sun turns yellow.
Should the time for this Prayer be over, his efforts will be rendered valueless, as is stated in the noble hadith. The Afternoon Prayer is the “Middle Prayer” which is mentioned in the following Qur’anic verse:
Preserve (constantly) the Prayers, and the Middle Prayer, and rise up devoutly to Allah. (Al-Baqarah 2:238)
d- The Sunset Prayer (Maghrib)
It is performed from sunset until the end of red twilight. Twilight is the redness which appears on the horizon after the sunset and lasts until the onset of darkness. The interval allowed for the Sunset Prayer is the shortest of all and it is advisable to lose no time in performing Prayer.
e- The Night Prayer (`Isha’)
It begins when twilight disappears, although the time for this Prayer extends until daybreak. He who has completed one rak`ah before daybreak has performed the Prayer on time. The Prophet (peace be upon him) disliked sleeping before this Prayer or conversing after it. Conversation after dark was permitted only for the sake of acquiring knowledge and honoring a guest, and it is preferable to delay the Night Prayer until a third of the night passes. However, if it is feared that the time for Prayer will be missed should it be delayed, it must be performed at once.
The time for the five Prayers has been laid down by Islam. They never change nor do they vary with the seasons of the year.
Note: If the time for the Night Prayer arrives, but the evening meal is ready, eat it and perform the Prayer afterwards with a peaceful and tranquil mind. Note also that the Prophet commanded you not to go to Prayer while needing to relieve yourself.
These are the times of prayers at which they must be performed.
Source: Quoted with slight modifications from the author’s “The Muslim Prayer Book: Rules, Concepts & Merits.”