Allah in the Qur’an, “Observe and guard the prayers and the mid-most prayer, and
stand with total submission to Allah. Authentic hadith have made it clear that
the afternoon prayer is the “midmost” prayer.
‘Ali reported that the Prophet, upon whom be peace, said on the day of al-Ahzab (the battle of the clans), “May Allah fill their graves and houses with fire, as they kept us preoccupied from the “midmost” prayer until the sun had set.” (Related by al-Bukhari and Muslim. Muslim, Abu Dawud and Ahmad have “the afternoon prayer” inserted after “the mid-most” prayer.”)
Explaining the context of this hadith, Ibn Mas’ud said, “The idol-worshippers kept the Prophet from the afternoon prayer until the sun had become reddish and yellowish. The Messenger of Allah said, “They kept us preoccupied from the “mid-most” prayer, the afternoon prayer--may Allah fill their bellies and graves with fire.”’ (Related by Ahmad, Muslim, and Ibn Majah.)
The Time for the Sunset Prayer (Maghrib)
The time for the sunset prayer begins with the disappearance of the sun and lasts until the red twilight ends. ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Amr reported that the Prophet, upon whom be peace, said, “The time for the sunset prayer is when the sun has disappeared and the twilight has not gone.” (Related by Muslim.) Abu Musa related that a man asked the Prophet about the prayer times, and he mentioned the hadith which states that he ordered the sunset prayer when the sun had set and, on the next day, he prayed it when the red twilight was ending and he said, “The time (for the sunset prayer) is between these two times.”
An-Nawawi says in his commentary on Sahih Muslim, “It is the opinion of the research scholars of our companions (the Shaf’iyyah) that ... it is allowed to delay it as long as it is twilight. It is allowed to begin the prayer at any time during that period. There is no sin in delaying it from its earliest time.” Concerning the earlier quoted hadith in which Gabriel led the prayers and prayed the sunset prayer at the same time on both days, it only shows that it is greatly preferred to perform the sunset prayer as early as possible. This point is made clear by some other hadith:
As-Sa’ib ibn Yazid related that the Messenger of Allah, upon whom be peace, said, “My nation will always be along the natural path as long as they pray the sunset prayer before the stars appear.” (Related by Ahmad and at-Tabarani).
In Ahmad’s Musnad it is related from Abu Ayyub al-Ansari that the Prophet said, “Pray the sunset prayer when the fasting person breaks his fast and when the stars are about to appear.”
In Sahih Muslim it is related from Rafa’ ibn Khadeej that “We prayed the sunset prayer with the Messenger of Allah, and one of us would leave (afterwards) and would still be able to see where he shot his arrow, (because there was still so much light left in the sky).”
In Sahih Muslim it is recorded from Salamah ibn al-Aku’ that the Messenger of Allah, upon whom be peace, would pray the sunset prayer when the sun had set and disappeared (behind the horizon).
The Time of the Night Prayer (‘Isha)
This prayer begins when the red twilight disappears and continues up to half of the night. Reported ‘Aishah, “They used to pray the night prayer between the disappearance of the twilight and the final third of the night’s beginning.” (Related by al-Bukhari.) Abu Hurairah reported that the Messenger of Allah, upon whom be peace, said, “If it were not to be a hardship upon my nation, I would order them to delay the night prayer until a third or a half of the night had passed.” (Related by Ahmad, Ibn Majah and at-Tirmizhi, who said it is sahih.) Reported Abu Sa’eed, “Once, we waited for the Messenger of Allah to lead the night prayer until half the night had passed, at which time he came and prayed with us. He said, ‘Stay in your places of sitting while the people have gone to their places of lying down (for sleep), for you are in prayer as long as you are waiting for the prayer.
If it were not for the weakness of the weak, the illness of the ill and the need of those who have needs, I would have delayed the time of this prayer to a half of the night.”
As to the authenticity of this report, it is recorded by Ahmad, Abu Dawud, Ibn Majah, an-Nasa’i and Ibn Khuzaimah. Its chain is Sahih). The hadith describes the best time to pray. As for the allowable time and the time due to need, it lasts until dawn. Abu Qatadah reported that the Messenger of Allah, upon whom be peace, said, “There is no negligence in sleeping, but the negligence lies in not praying a prayer until the time of the next prayer has come.” (Related by Muslim.) This hadith shows that the time of every prayer continues until the beginning of the time for the next prayer, except for the Morning Prayer, as all scholars agree that its time lasts only until sunrise.
Delay is Preferred in the Isha Prayer
It is most virtuous to delay the night prayer until the end of the preferred time for it, which is half the night. Reported ‘Aishah, “One night the Prophet, upon whom be peace, prayed the night prayer after most of the night had gone and most of the people in the mosque had fallen asleep.
Then he came out, prayed, and said, “This would be the proper time if it were not a hardship on my nation.”’ (Related by Muslim and an-Nasa’i.) The Prophet, upon whom be peace, did not do this on a regular basis, as he heard that it would be a hardship on his nation.
He would take into consideration the situation of those in the mosque. Sometimes he would hasten in performing the prayer and at other times he would delay it. Said Jabir, “The Messenger of Allah would pray the noon prayer during the hottest time of noon, the afternoon prayer when the sun was clear, the sunset prayer when the sun had gone down, and the night prayer he would sometimes delay and sometimes hasten if he found people gathered (in the mosque).
If he noticed that they were lingering, he would delay it. He would pray the morning prayer while it was still dark.” (Related by al-Bukhari and Muslim.)
To be Continued