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Ibn Taymiyyah on the Durations of Isha and Fajr Prayers in Summer and Winter and the Variation Therein
Posted by Abu.Iyaad, Editor in Jurisprudence

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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:

أَمَّا وَقْتُ الْعِشَاءِ فَهُوَ مَغِيبُ الشَّفَقِ الْأَحْمَرِ لَكِنْ فِي الْبِنَاءِ يُحْتَاطُ حَتَّى يَغِيبَ الْأَبْيَضُ فَإِنَّهُ قَدْ تَسْتَتِرُ الْحُمْرَةُ بِالْجُدْرَانِ فَإِذَا غَابَ الْبَيَاضُ تَيَقَّنَ مَغِيبَ الْأَحْمَرِ . هَذَا مَذْهَبُ الْجُمْهُورِ كَمَالِكِ وَالشَّافِعِيِّ وَأَحْمَد . وَأَمَّا أَبُو حَنِيفَةَ : فَالشَّفَقُ عِنْدَهُ هُوَ الْبَيَاضُ وَأَهْلُ الْحِسَابِ يَقُولُونَ : إنَّ وَقْتَهَا مَنْزِلَتَانِ لَكِنَّ هَذَا لَا يَنْضَبِطُ فَإِنَّ الْمَنَازِلَ إنَّمَا تُعْرَفُ بِالْكَوَاكِبِ بَعْضُهَا قَرِيبٌ مِنْ الْمَنْزِلَةِ الْحَقِيقِيَّةِ وَبَعْضُهَا بَعِيدٌ مِنْ ذَلِكَ . وَأَيْضًا فَوَقْتُ الْعِشَاءِ فِي الطُّولِ وَالْقِصَرِ يَتْبَعُ النَّهَارَ فَيَكُونُ فِي الصَّيْفِ أَطْوَلَ كَمَا أَنَّ وَقْتَ الْفَجْرِ يَتْبَعُ اللَّيْلَ فَيَكُونُ فِي الشِّتَاءِ أَطْوَلَ . وَمَنْ زَعَمَ أَنَّ حِصَّةَ الْعِشَاءِ بِقَدْرِ حِصَّةِ الْفَجْرِ فِي الشِّتَاءِ وَفِي الصَّيْفِ : فَقَدْ غَلِطَ غَلَطًا حِسِّيًّا بِاتِّفَاقِ النَّاسِ . وَسَبَبُ غَلَطِهِ أَنَّ الْأَنْوَارَ تَتْبَعُ الْأَبْخِرَةَ فَفِي الشِّتَاءِ يَكْثُرُ الْبُخَارُ بِاللَّيْلِ فَيَظْهَرُ النُّورُ فِيهِ أَوَّلًا وَفِي الصَّيْفِ تَقِلُّ الْأَبْخِرَةُ بِاللَّيْلِ وَفِي الصَّيْفِ يَتَكَدَّرُ الْجَوُّ بِالنَّهَارِ بِالْأَبْخِرَةِ وَيَصْفُو فِي الشِّتَاءِ ؛ لِأَنَّ الشَّمْسَ مَزَّقَتْ الْبُخَارَ وَالْمَطَرَ لَبَّدَ الْغُبَارَ . وَأَيْضًا : فَإِنَّ النورين تَابِعَانِ لِلشَّمْسِ هَذَا يَتَقَدَّمُهَا وَهَذَا يَتَأَخَّرُ عَنْهَا فَيَجِبُ أَنْ يَكُونَا تَابِعَيْنِ لِلشَّمْسِ فَإِذَا كَانَ فِي الشِّتَاءِ طَالَ زَمَنُ مَغِيبِهَا فَيَطُولُ زَمَانُ الضَّوْءِ التَّابِعِ لَهَا . وَأَمَّا جَعْلُ هَذِهِ الْحِصَّةِ بِقَدْرِ هَذِهِ الْحِصَّةِ وَأَنَّ الْفَجْرَ فِي الصَّيْفِ أَطْوَلُ وَالْعِشَاءَ فِي الشِّتَاءِ أَطْوَلُ وَجُعِلَ الْفَجْرُ تَابِعًا لِلنَّهَارِ : يَطُولُ فِي الصَّيْفِ وَيَقْصُرُ فِي الشِّتَاءِ وَجُعِلَ الشَّفَقُ تَابِعًا لِلَّيْلِ يَقْصُرُ فِي الصَّيْفِ وَيَطُولُ فِي الشِّتَاءِ فَهَذَا قَلْبُ الْحِسِّ وَالْعَقْلِ وَالشَّرْعِ . وَلَا يَتَأَخَّرُ ظُهُورُ السَّوَادِ عَنْ مَغِيبِ الشَّمْسِ وَاَللَّهُ أَعْلَمُ .

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.

Also, the length and shortness of the duration of Isha follows on from the [length and shortness of the] day. Hence, in the summer, it is longer, just as the duration of Fajr follows the [length and shortness] of the night, and thus in winter it is longer.

Whoever claimed that the duration of Isha is the same as the duration of Fajr in winter and in summer has made an error in perception by agreement of all the people. And the reason for his error is that the light(s) follow on from the water vapour in the air. In the winter, the water vapour increases (rises) at night, and thus the light (signifying dawn) appears earlier [being reflected off the water vapour which has risen in the atmosphere]. And in summer the water vapour becomes lower [descends] at night and in the summer the air becomes turbid by the water vapour in the daytime, and it clears in the winter, because the sun penetrates the vapour and the rain removes the atmospheric dust (bringing it to the ground).

And also [because] the two lights simply follow the sun. One of them [at the approach of sunrise] precedes the sun and the other one [after sunset] follows after the sun, hence it is obligatory that they are both following the (movement) of the sun. Thus, when the time for its disappearance is increased in the summer [due to variation in axis], the length of time of the light that follows it is also lengthened. But as for making this duration (in summer) the same as that duration (in winter), and [making the duration of] Fajr in summer to be longer, and [the duration of] Isha in the winter to be longer and making [the length of duration] to [relatively] follow the [length] of daytime, it increasing in the summer and decreasing in the winter, and making the twilight to relatively follow the [length] of the night, it decreasing in summer and increasing in winter, then this is overturning sensory perception, reason and legislation. The appearance of darkness is not delayed from the disappearance of the sun.

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:

  • The variation in the duration of Maghrib to Isha between summer and winter
  • The varation in the duration of Fajr to sunrise between summer and winter
  • The variation between the duration of Maghrib to Isha and Fajr to sunrise in summer
  • The variation between the duration of Maghrib to Isha and Fajr to sunrise in winter

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.

And its duration of being an hour varies, it could be an hour and a half and it could be an hour and a quarter like Maghrib. Shaykh al-Islam (rahimahullaah) says: "Whoever claimed that the duration of Fajr is the same as the duration of Maghrib has erred and is mistaken..." Meaning that some people make an hour and a half between Fajr and sunrise and likewise an hour and a half between sunset and the disappearance of twighlight in both the winter and the summer. Shaykh al-Islaam says, "This is an error, and is not correct because the duration between break of dawn and sunrise in the winter is longer due to water vapour rising higher, and thus the reflection of the light of the sun appears earlier, and hence the duration of Fajr becomes longer (due to this effect), and the opposite is the case in summer. And when the duration of Fajr increases the duration of Maghrib decreases, and vice versa." These manifestations in the horizon can be observed more so than what Shaykh al-Islaam (rahimahullaah) has said. As for what is observed, then if you are on the land and there are no lights and dust around you which prevent vision, then when you see the whiteness extend from the north to the south, then dawn (fajr) has broken, and the time for prayer has entered. But fajr has not been reached before this has taken place.

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


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