Updated on August 18, 1998
Question 1: I have questions about Zuhr and Maghrib times. (a)Does Zuhr time begin at noon? (b)Is Maghrib time defined by the astronomical calculation of sunset, which is when the sun's disk just goes below horizon. I see that there is enough light on the horizon at calculated sunset time? (Sep 21,1997)
Answer 1: (a)According to Shari'ah, Zuhr time does not begin at noon. Noon is Zawaal time. Zawaal is when the sun is at its highest altitude during its journey from sunrise to sunset. At this time, any prayer should not be performed. 5 to 10 minutes after Zawaal should be allowed for the beginning of Zuhr.
(b) Maghrib time according to Shari'ah is when the sun goes below horizon
such that no portion of the sun is visible. This means that when the
sun's disk completely goes below horizon (as visible to an observer)
Maghrib time starts. Shari'ah does not require any
magnitudes of darkness. In this respect, the astronomical calculations of
sunset is exactly same as Shari'ah requirement, that the top of sun's disk
completely vanishes below horizon. At that point, there is enough light
on the horizon, but that light should not be the concern for Muslims.
Now, I agree with some peoples observation of the sun still barely visible at calculated time of sunset, and I am not talking about enough light on the horizon. There are 3 reasons for this barely visible sun at Maghrib time. One is the sloping downward ground in west direction, while the calculations are made assuming level ground, the other is the calculations are made at one point given by longitude and latitude, and the observer in most cases is not at that point, and the third is the refraction of light through atmosphere whose density keeps on changing and that changes angle of refraction. These effects are taken into consideration, if 3 minutes are added to sunset time for beginning of Maghrib time.
Answer 2: According to Hanafi Fiqh, Fajr ending time is 5 to 10 minutes before sunrise. Zuhr time begins approximately 5 minutes after Zawaal. Zuhr ends at Asr time. Asr ends 5 to 10 minutes before Maghrib. Maghrib ends at Isha. Isha ends at Midnight.
Answer 3: I appreciate your thirst for knowledge. Asr times according to Imam Abu-Hanifa starts at twice the shadow, and Zuhr time continues till that time. According to Shah Waliullah Dehlvi (a famous scholar born in India in the 18th century) who made research (in Hadith & Fiqh) and came to conclusion that "Between the shadow of one time length and two times length, i.e. between Asr(Shafei) and Asr(Hanafi) is the time permissible for both Zuhr and Asr, and in that time Zuhr would not be considered Qaza, and Asr would be considered acceptable also. But you indicated that you are Hanafi, and as Hanafi, you should not make a practice to pray Zuhr in Shafei time of Asr. May Allah bless you, and keep the spirit of Eeman in your heart alive and ever-increasing.
According to Imam Abu-Hanifa, Maghrib time continues till the beginning of Isha time. However, it is very much stressed that Maghrib should not be delayed after sunset, and should be prayed as soon as possible preferably within 15 to 20 minutes of sunset. It is considered Makrooh to delay Maghrib prayer without any legitimate justification. If due to unavoidable circumstances, you are delayed for Maghrib, it will not be Qaza until the beginning of Isha time.
Answer 4: We, in North America (USA & Canada), use the angle of depression as 15 degrees, both for Isha' and Fajr. This has been verified by actual observations in various places (See next question). It has also been endorsed by Islamic Society of North America (ISNA).
Answer 5: Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) endorses 15 degrees angle of depression, both for Fajr & Isha. This is based on actual observation collected in England, Pakistan, USA, Caribbean Islands, and Australia. After collecting the actual observation for Subh-e-Sadiq (for Fajr), and disappearance of Shafaq (for Isha), I have made calculations to find the corresponding angle of depression for each observation of the phenomenon, and found that the angle comes out to be closer to 13.5 degrees. Keeping a little factor of safety, it makes sense to keep on using 15 degrees not only in North America, but I also anywhere in the world. On requests, I have been providing Prayer Schedule all around the world, with the same 15 degrees.
Answer 6: If you read Question 5 above, you will find a detailed answer to this question. In short, 15 degrees is the best approximation for both Fajr and Isha for all latitudes up to 45 degrees. Latitudes higher than that need special considerations, like the sun does not go below 15 degrees, so something else has to be done. For this, I have been using 1/7th of the night rule as suggested by Islamic scholars in the first three centuries after the Messenger (Sallallahu Alaihi wa sallam).
Answer 7: For latitudes close to Equator, like where Saudi Arabia is, 1-1/2 hours is a very good approximation and also practical, and the variation of twilight time (due to sun's angle of depression) is small in different seasons.
Answer 8: The sunset for Islamic purposes is the same as astronomical definition of sunset, and that is when an observer is looking at the horizon, the sun just vanishes below horizon, or in other words, the sun's disk just went completely below horizon. From the time, the bottom of the sun's disk's starts touching the horizon, to the time, when it completely vanishes below horizon, it takes about 2.5 to 3 minutes. Further explanation about the Maghrib time is given on my Prayers web page.
Answer 9: The fact is just the reverse, that people have been blindly following 18 degrees without any basis. The basis is Quran and Sunnah, and nowhere it says 18 degrees. What Sunnah refers to is Subh-e-Sadiq, which is a phenomenon that can be observed as described in Sunnah, and has been observed by several independent groups of Muslims in different locations of the world at different times, in order to establish where was the sun at their observed time of Subh-e-Sadiq. It was observed to be about 13.5 to 14 degrees. So I, as well as ISNA have a scientific basis depending upon actual observation, that is closest to Sunnah, and have adopted 15 degrees considering a little bit factor of safety. People who claim to have seen the use of 18 degrees, have actually seen the time table that uses the rule of 1 hour & 30 minutes before sunrise for Fajr, and 1 hour & 30 minutes after sunset for Isha. This does not agree with the observed phenomenon of Subh-e-Sadiq or disappearance of Shafaq.
Most places in the world do not follow 18 degrees. What they follow is 1 hr and 30 minute rule, both for Fajr & Isha. This 1 hour & 30 minute when checked out for sun's position, it comes out about 18 degrees only at latitudes near equator. At high latitudes it varies quite a bit from 12 to 18 degrees.
Answer 10: We in the 20th century may feel so much difficulty in knowing the shadow at Zawaal, but the Muslims in early centuries of Islam did not have any such difficulty. That's why, no one ever posed this question in early centuries objecting the Fiqh positions. Those early Muslims knew the time telling by sun's shadows, star's positions and moon phases. However, in the 20th century, we do not have time to observe skies during day or night as much as our ancestors did, but we have the technology to get much of that type of information from our computers, astronomical knowledge, and mathematics. Let us use the tools available in the times we are living in, and not object Fiqh positions.
Answer 11: The term "Noon" is loosely used for 12:00Noon, but the "Noon" in geography and astronomy means the time when the sun from sunrise to sunset has completed it's half journey, which can also be expressed as the sun's highest point in its journey. This time is different every day. Zawaal is a phase Islamically defined when the sun has past its highest point, which if defined astronomically, comes out to be 5 minutes after "Noon" time (it has a little factor of safety built-in, because at Zawwal, any prayer is Haraam).