Salat-ul-Qasr or The Traveller’s Prayer-Part II

In our previous blog we dealt with the definition of travel for the purpose of praying Salat-ul-Qasr. In this blog we intent to shed some light on what a day’s journey mean in modern units of measurement. The Prophetic traditions use the term ‘day’s travel’ in the books of ahadith. The standard units of measurement for travel during early Islam were the farsakh and the barīd.                                                                    

Barīd was a distance that a messenger could travel before he needed to stop to allow his animal to rest.

Farsakh appears to be a Persian unit of measurement that the Arabs adopted. A barid is made up of four Farasakh.

The question arises as to how much distance could be travelled in one day so that the number of days could be changed into distance. Without going into the minute details of this issue, the Hanbalis, Shafies and the Malikis believe this distance (to be eligible for shortening the prayer) to be 16 Farasakh and the Hanafis believe it to be 15 Farasakh. There are differences of opinion about the conversion into modern units. Hanafis take this distance approximately equal to 78 kms or 48 miles while as Imam Nawawi converts this into about 139 kms. There is no precise and agreed upon conversion factor for translating a day’s journey into a tangible and precise measure of distance. The modes of transport back in those days (i.e. 1400 years) and now are completely different. Given the different modes of transport that we use in contemproray times, it is extremely difficult to actually measure and fix an exact numerical figure to this.

However, the opinion of Imam Ibn Taymiyyah is different from all the four schools of thought. He says, The Prophet PBUH did not specify any distance and it does not make sense that the Shariah would place a numerical value when such unit-definitions were not known or followed by the majority of that generation. The purpose of this ruling regarding shortening the prayer is to ease the burden upon the traveller by allowing him to shorten the prayer.  So Ibn Taymiyya’s opinion that a traveller’ is one who is customarily considered one.

The second issue is for how long does one remain a traveller? 

The Hanafi School considers a traveller to be someone who intends to reside at a place for fifteen days or less (inclusive of the day that he intends to travel). The Malikis, Shāfiʿīs, and Hanbalis claimed that the time that makes a traveller into a resident is four days. They base their argument on the command of the Prophet PBUH that the Emigrants (Muhajirun) who were performing Hajj with him should not stay in Makkah for more than three days [Reported by Muslim].

Ibn Taymiyyah holds the opinion, like his opinion about the distance of the travel, that there exists no explicit and specific time frame which converts a traveller (musafir) into a resident (muqeem).  Therefore, he felt that a traveller would remain a traveller even if he stayed at a specific location for a longer period of time, as long as his lifestyle was that of a ‘traveller’. Ibn Taymiyya also pointed out that there are authentic narrations that indicate the Prophet PBUH would pray qaṣr for more than fifteen days. There is the Hadith of Jabir that the Prophet PBUH camped at Tabuk praying qaṣr for twenty days (Reported by Abu Dawud). Another is the hadith of Ibn ʿAbbās in which he reported that the Prophet PBUH stayed in Makkah nineteen days, praying qaṣr (Reported by al-Bukhārī).

All the four schools interpret these evidences by claiming, that the Prophet PBUH did not know how long he would camp at Tabuk during that expedition, However  Ibn Taymiyyah holds the view that the Prophet PBUH suggested no specific number of days. At times He PBUH prayed Qasr for more than four or fifteen days.

But perhaps understanding that this open ended permission had potential problems and probably was more prone to misuse, Ibn Taymiyya did feel that the opinion of four days was safer to follow. Ibn Taymiyya himself did not unequivocally allow such a person to pray qaṣr for a limitless number of days. Even though he said that it is permitted and that one should not rebuke those who do this, he also said that it was better to pray full.  (Ibn Taymiyya, Majmūʾ al-Fatāwā 24/17, 18).

In such matters, one could follow any of the four schools or the opinion of Ibn Taymiyyah and one should not look down upon other for following a particular practice.

Regarding the legal status of Qasr, the Hanafis deem it to be obligatory for the traveler and state that if the traveler prays the regular prayer, he will in fact be sinful. The other schools say that shortening the prayer is preferred, but not obligatory.

The Hanafi School does not allow combining the prayers (jama bain asalat) except during Hajj. A vast majority of other scholars allowed Zuhr and Aṣr to be joined, and Maghrib and Ishā to be joined. They say that this should preferably be done only during the actual travel.