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We were sent the following fatwa of Ibn Taymiyyah for translation. It is regarding the variation in the durations of the Fajr and Isha prayers between the summer and winter seasons and the reasons for that. Ibn Taymiyyah (rahimahullaah) was asked (Majmu al-Fatawa 22/93-94):
هَلْ يُشْتَرَطُ اللَّيْلُ إلَى مَطْلَعِ الشَّمْسِ ؟ وَكَمْ أَقَلُّ مَا بَيْنَ وَقْتِ الْمَغْرِبِ وَدُخُولِ الْعِشَاءِ مِنْ مَنَازِلِ الْقَمَرِ ؟ .
Is it a condition for the [end of the] night to be [defined] at sunrise? And what is the least amount of time between Maghrib and the entrance [time] of Isha in terms of the positions of the moon?
And he replied:
As for the the time of Isha, it is the disappearance of the red twilight. However in built up areas, caution should be taken by [waiting] until the white twilight (disappears) because the red twilight can sometimes be hidden by buildings. So when the white twilight disappears, the disappearance of the red twilight becomes certain. This is the madhhab of the majority such as Malik, al-Shafi'i and Ahmad. As for Abu Hanifah, he holds the twilight (period) to be the (disappearance of the) white [twilight]. The astronomers say it that its duration is between two of the positional stages of the moon, but this is not precise because the positional stages are themselves known by the stars, and some of them are close to the true positional stage of the moon and others are far away from it.
Notes and Comments
The above can be better understood by looking at this diagram whilst reading through it.
In this fatwa Ibn Taymiyyah is pointing out factors which contribute to:
And these factors are the length of the day and night, which in turn are affected by season [in terms of change in axis] and also the seasonal effect of water vapour and particles in the atmosphere affecting the speed at which light travels (is reflected) through the atmosphere, which will vary between summer and winter. What this establishes can be illustrated by the following: The duration between Mahgrib and Isha may be 1 hour 25 minutes in the peak of summer [where Maghrib and Isha are later in the 24 hour day] but only 1 hour and 10 minutes in the winter [where Maghrib and Isha are earlier in the 24 hour day]. Conversely, the duration between Fajr and sunrise might be 1 hour and 10 minutes in Summer but 1 hour and 25 minutes in the peak of winter. If we are operating upon the solar calendar (where seasons do not shift in terms of the calendar, unlike the lunar calendar), then it means that there is a graduated change in these durations between the peak of summer (21st June) and the peak of winter (21st December).
If you take note of what Ibn Taymiyyah says at the very end of the statement:
The appearance of darkness is not delayed from the disappearance of the sun.
This is a statement of fact regarding the cosmic order and the converse applies, the appearance of light is not delayed from the approach of the sun. What this means, when we look at the speech of Ibn Taymiyyah as a whole, is that as a matter of fact and reality, the actual time of appearance and disappearance of light (and therefore the durations between Maghrib and Isha and Fajr and sunrise) takes place in a graduated fashion as we move through the calendar [due to variation in the axis].So as a matter of fact and reality, there will be small gradual incremental increases or decreases in the times of the prayers as we move through the calendar, and in the subject of discussion, in the durations between Maghrib and Isha and Fajr and sunrise.
Shaykh Ibn Uthaymin in Sharh al-Mumti'
Shaykh Ibn Uthaymin rahimahullaah cites the above fatwa of Ibn Taymiyyah in his discussion of the matter of the time of Isha and Fajr. He said (Sharh al-Mumti' 2/117-118):
The author did not mention the commencement of the time of Fajr because he considers the time of Isha to extend right until break of dawn (fajr), and for this reason he said, "And the time of [entrance] of Fajr follows it..." and so it (time of Fajr) becomes from the appearance of the second dawn until sunrise.
So this is further clarification that a contributing factor to the longer duration of Fajr (to sunrise) in winter is the higher elevation of water vapour in the atmosphere which in turn means that light (from the approaching sun) is reflected better and appears earlier and is visible earlier. To understand this better, imagine you have a huge mirror in the atmosphere. Depending on how high or low it is will determine at what time you first begin to see the light due to the approach of the sun. If it is higher, you will see it quicker and if it is much lower, you will see it later. So water vapour in the atmosphere has this effect. And seasons affect this water vapour and where it is in the atmosphere. But this has no connection to local, regionalized, daily fluctuations in weather affecting the times of these prayers.
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Imam al-Dhahabi's Biography for Ibn Taymiyyah in the unpublished volume of Siyar A'laam al-Nubulaa