Adil Salahi, Arab NewsWe know that when we travel we shorten every 4-raka’ah prayer to two rak’ahs, and we may join two obligatory prayers together so as to pray all five prayers at three different times. However, the rules concerning shortening and combining prayers differ according to schools of thought. It is important, therefore, to learn how the Prophet (peace be upon him) offered his prayers when he traveled. On such a daily act of worship we are not short of Hadiths and reports that provide complete guidance.
Anas ibn Malik reports: “The Prophet SAW prayed Dzuhur in four rak’ahs in Madinah, and then prayed Asr at Dhul-Hulayfah in two raka’ahs. I think he stayed there until next morning.” (Al-Bukhari, Muslim and Al-Tirmidzi.)
This Hadith clearly refers to the Prophet’s travel for pilgrimage. Dhul-Hulayfah is the point of meeqat where pilgrims and travelers to Makkah for Umrah have to enter into the state of consecration, or ihraam. It is better known today as Abyar Ali, and it is only 10 kms from Madinah. What the Hadith tells us is that if we pray in our hometown before travel, then we must offer our prayers in their complete form, but once we have started our travel, we shorten our prayers. This is what is easily deducible from the fact that the Prophet prayed in the short form at a short distance from Madinah.
Abdullah ibn Umar reports: “I prayed with the Prophet SAW in Mina two raka’ahs (for each 4-raka’ah prayer), and I did the same with Abu Bakar and Umar, as well as with Uthman in the early part of his reign. He then used to offer his prayer in full.” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim.).
Again this Hadith relates to the pilgrimage, but it applies to all travel, as the pilgrimage constitutes travel for all pilgrims. We understand from the Hadith that shortening prayers to two rak’ahs for each 4-rak’aah prayer is the standard rule that applies to all people.
This is what was done by the Prophet SAW and all three rightly-guided caliphs. However, Uthman changed his practice in the latter part of his rule. When asked about this, Uthman answered that he had married a woman from Makkah and had a home there. As Mina is only a short distance from Makkah, he felt that these facts make him a nontraveler when he is in Makkah or its vicinity. However, it is the view of almost all scholars that even pilgrims from Makkah should shorten their prayers in Mina.
They rely on the fact that when the Prophet SAW did his pilgrimage, a large number of the people of Makkah went with him. They prayed like he did. When he shortened his prayers, he did not tell them to pray in the complete form. They followed in his suit.
Abdullah ibn Abbas reports: “The Prophet SAW traveled and continued to shorten his prayers to two rak’ahs each for 19 days. Therefore, we pray in the shorter version during travel for up to 19 days. When we stay longer, we pray in full.” (Al-Bukhari, Ahmad, Abu Dawood, Al-Nassaie and Al-Tirmidzi.)
This Hadith speaks of the duration of travel which allows shortening prayers. It mentions here the figure of 19 days, which refers to a 19-day stay in one place during travel, without including the time when the traveler is on the road. As people traveled on foot or on a mount, such as a camel or a horse, it took them several days to cover a short distance. Therefore, the stay the Hadith refers to is that which a traveler may have in one place. In the Prophet’s case, it was in Makkah when it fell to Islam.
Scholars have widely different views on the length of the time during which prayer may be shortened because of travel. Their difference is based on the traveler’s intention when he stays in a particular place. Some say that once the traveler intends to stay four days, or longer, in a particular place, he should offer his prayers complete in that place, while others mention that his intention to stay should be for 15 days or more.
This Hadith tells us that the Prophet SAW continued to shorten his prayers for a longer period. This is due to the fact that he did not intend to stay for a definite period in that place. When the intention is to move on, we are in the process of travel. Nevertheless, Ibn Abbas declares that once a stay in one place exceeds 19 days then prayer should be offered in full.
This is an example of how closely the Prophet’s companions wanted to follow him. In fact, prayer may be shortened for a longer period during travel if the traveler is unsure of how long he is staying in a particular place. Nowadays, if you are traveling on a restricted air ticket, and you have set your departure date, knowing that you cannot change it, you are fully aware of the length of your stay. Therefore, you complete your prayers after four days in the same place. But if you go on a short trip during that period, you are starting travel again. Suppose, for example, you arrived in Riyadh intending to stay for five weeks and you have set your departure date, you complete your prayers after four days. However, if during your stay, you travel to Makkah for a few days, and after returning to Riyadh you go to Dammam for a couple of days, then each trip are a resumption of travel.
It constitutes a break in your stay in Riyadh. Each time you start afresh, and when you return to Riyadh after each short trip, you look at the situation as a new travel and a new stay. If when you come back to Riyadh, you have, say, nine days before your return, you shorten your prayers until you go back. If at no time your stay in Riyadh will be more than 19 days, you shorten your prayer throughout.
Abdullah ibn Umar reports: “The Prophet SAW used to pray on his mount during travel, facing whatever direction he was moving in. He would gesture slightly for his normal movements. He did this in night prayer, but not for obligatory prayers. He also prayed the Witr prayer while on his mount.” (Al-Bukhari and Al-Nassai.)
This Hadith makes clear that voluntary prayers may be offered during travel when one is on a mount and it is moving. He does not need to face any particular direction, but faces the direction he is moving in. This applies to recommended or voluntary prayers only, at whatever time one is traveling. The Prophet SAW used to stop for obligatory prayers and offer them on the ground, facing the correct direction toward the Sacred Mosque in Makkah.
Nowadays, when we travel by plane or train, we may not be able to pray on time if we were to leave an obligatory prayer until we have arrived. Therefore, we pray such obligatory prayers in our seat on the plane or train, shortening our 4-rak’ah prayers to two raka’ahs each.