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How Do We Calculate Prayers Times


Most Prayer Schedules available on-line lack some important fiqh considerations and result in wrong timings. Moonsighting.com took the initiative to educate the masses about the corrections needed, and provides the "Correct Prayer Schedule" for each prayer as explained below:

Prayer Times Definition We Use:

Fajr: Subh Sadiq (Fajr-al-Mustatir) when morning light in the sky starts spreadings horizontally. At high latitudes, where it becomes hardship to pray Fajr too early, (Tabayyan) when morning light in the sky has spread is used.

Sunrise: When the top of the sun's disk just appears above the horizon.

Zuhr: When the sun begins to decline after reaching its highest point (Zenith) in the sky. 5 minutes after Zenith.

Asr: When the length of any object's shadow reaches a factor of the length of the object plus the length of that object's shadow at Noon. The factor is 4/7 for Shi'aa; 1 for Shafi'i, Maaliki, Hanbali, and 2 for Hanafi.

Sunset: Theoretical time as given in news papers when the top of the sun's disk just disappears below the horizon.

Maghrib: Actual sunset considering 3 things (variation in refraction, area around the actual latitude and longitude considered, and any downward sloping ground towards sunset direction). For Sunni's, it is 3 minutes after theoretical sunset; for Shi'aas it is 17 minutes after theoretical sunset.
Isha: Disappearance of Shafaq; Redness for Shafi'i, Maaliki, and Hanbali, and Shi'aa; whiteness for Hanafi. At high latitudes a combination of red and white shafaq criteria is used.

Detailed Discussion:

Fajr & Isha are calculated by others using different criteria, all over the world. Some use 17°, 19°, 20°, or even 21°. Others use 90 minutes, 75 minutes or 60 minutes criteria. These criteria fail to calculate Fajr & Isha at high latitudes.

Above 48.5° (e.g., Vancouver, Canada), the sun does not go 18° below horizon on the longest day of the year.

Above 51.5° (e.g., Cambridge, UK), the sun does not go 15° below horizon on the longest day of the year. On other days, Isha calculated at 15° will give Isha time 2.5 hours after Maghrib. This becomes hardship.

Above 54.5° (e.g., Copenhagen, Denmark), the sun does not go 12° below horizon on the longest day of the year. On other days, Isha calculated at 12° will give Isha time 3 hours after Maghrib. This is even more hardship, so it is impractical.

Shari'ah Compliant Calculations for Fajr & Isha:

  • Observations of Subh-Sadiq and disappearance of Shafaq at various locations on earth have confirmed that it is not right to calculate Fajr & Isha, assuming any fixed degree (whether 18° or 15°) or any fixed minutes (like 90 minutes or 75 minutes). Although, 18° is correct at equator, it is not correct to use that for every latitude, specially for higher latitudes. Research and observations by Moonsighting.com members have confirmed that 18° should be used for every day at equator, but not for all latitudes.

  • Muslims have consensus to follow the natural phenomena of Subh Sadiq and the end of Shafaq for determining the time for Fajr & Isha. In the 19th and 20th century, Muslims calculated Fajr & Isha prayer times using astronomical twilight (sun being 18° below horizon) from Tables prepared by Greenwich or U.S. Naval Observatories. With the advent of computers, Muslims were able to calculate Fajr & Isha at 15°, 17°, 18° etc. The confusion still exists, though several international seminars tried to solve the issue of Fajr & Isha. For instance, in the last few years Ulamaa' in England have switched from 18° to 15° or 12° or even 9°.

  • The Qur'an and the Sunnah did not fix any degrees of the sun's depression for these prayers. For Fajr, Qur'an 2:187 says, "Eat and drink until the white thread of dawn appear to you distinct from its black thread; then complete your fast till the night appears." The Sunnah guideline for Fajr is in (Bukhari, Abu-Daud, Ibn-Majah, Tirmizi): The Messenger (SAW) prayed Fajr on one day when the dawn appeared in the sky ... and the next day delayed it until the ground was very bright. This shows that there is a great leeway for praying Fajr. For Isha, Qur'an 11:114 "Establish prayer in the two ends of the day, and at approaches of night." The Sunnah guideline for Isha is disappearance of Shafaq. There was a disagreement among earliest Fuqaha' about definition of Shafaq (Shafaq Ahmer or Shafaq Abyad -- redness or whiteness).

  • Moonsighting.com collected observations for Subh Sadiq and disappearance of Shafaq from many places in the world [e.g., Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), Karachi and Tando Adam (Pakistan), Durban (South Africa), Auckland (New Zealand), Sydney NSW (Australia), Miami FL (USA), Washington DC (USA), Toronto (Canada), High Wycombe (UK), Dewsbury (UK), and Blackburn (UK)]. These observations show that no fixed degrees can be used for Fajr & Isha. A decade long research by Moonsighting.com found that the Subh-Sadiq and Shafaq are functions of latitude and seasons (day number of the solar year). All collected observations from different latitudes were plotted against day number of the year. With curve-fit technique, moonsighting.com came up with a function of latitude and seasons for Fajr & Isha. Therefore we use these functions. For Fajr, Subh Sadiq, that is considered as (Fajr-al-Mustatir of Ahadith) when morning light in the sky spreads horizontally, is used. For Isha, Imam Shafi'i, Imam Maalik, Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal, and two prominent pupils of Imam Abu-Hanifa (Imam Abu-Yusuf and Imam Muhammad) all preferred Shafaq Ahmer. Since only Imam Abu-Hanifa preferred Shafaq Abyad, Moonsighting.com uses Shafaq Ahmer in summer when nights are short and Shafaq Abyad in winter, when days are short. This is chosen to avoid hardship at higher latitudes, when Shafaq Abyad becomes too late in summer. Transition from Abyad to Ahmer is used in Spring and Fall seasons. These formulas are good up to the 55° latitude.

The conclusions of the research by Moonsighting.com can be stated as follows:

From equator to 55°, the 18° depression angle calculations are compared with the values given by the functions of latitude and seasons and most favorable values are used, which means; For Fajr, the later of the two and for Isha the earlier of the two.

At latitudes between 55° and 60°, the rule of Sab'u Lail (1/7th of the night) is used, because other methods give times that become hardship for those areas. This has been permitted by
Hakim ul Ummat Ashraf Ali Thanwi (Imadadul Fatawa, vol 2, p98, 12/12/1322 Hijri) and also by Allamah Shami in Durre Mukhtar. Mufti Shafi Usmani said: "This statement is presented via assumption, that in those countries where Subah Sadiq cannot be clearly distinguished (e.g., Northern Europe in the summer months) it is permissible to act upon this advice". Therefore, two things are calculated for Fajr; one is Tabayyan (when morning light in the sky has spread) and the other is last 1/7th of the night. Fajr time is later of the two. Similarly, two things are calculated for Isha; disappearance of Shafaq and first 1/7th of the night. Isha time is earlier of the two.

At latitudes more than 60°, hardship prevails and at latitudes more than 65°, the sun does not set/rise for a number of days every year. All Muslim scholars agree that whenever there is perpetual day or perpetual night for 24 hours or more, the prayer times during the affected days should be approximated. This is because the Messenger (SAW) said: "There will come a time when there will be a day like a year, a day like a month, and a day like a week…" The people asked him (SAW) if during the day like a year, should they offer each prayer only once. He (SAW) replied: "You should approximate the times" [Sahih Muslim]. Therefore, for such situations, a suggestion by Fuqaha' is to calculate on the basis of "Aqrabul-Ayyam" or "Aqrabul-Bilad". Some Fuqaha' suggest to use Makkah times for all five prayers. Another jurisprudence (Fatwa) by Dar al-Ifta, stipulated by Sheikh Mohammed Rashid Ridha, citing Sheikh Mohammed Abdou, the former Grand Mufti of Egypt dated 08/08/2010 is as follows:

Any location where the duration of fasting exceeds 18 hours or is less than 6 hours should refer itself to the times valid for the closest "balanced" location in order to determine the moment of breaking the fast. It is certainly not logical, nor sensible nor reasonable to "jump" from 18 hours to 14 hours and 54 minutes - the longest day in Makkah.

An example of such a location is Hammerfest, Norway, a town of 7000 inhabitants, claiming to be the northernmost town in the world. The Muslim population of Norway is about 300,000 and that of Hammerfest is around 250. Hammerfest is situated at 70.65° N and 23.68° E. In this locality, the sun does not set or does not rise in the height of summer and in the midst of winter. The accepted rule of Aqrabul-Bilad, using the closest latitude where the signs and times of salah are easily distinguishable, still gives fasting times of more than 23 hours in summer and less than 3 hours in winter. Thus it becomes necessary to use the jurisprudence established by Dar al-Ifta as explained above.

Now take Oslo (latitude = about 60°) and using the rule of Sab'u Lail, we calculate the longest day to be 19 hours 38 minutes and the shortest day to be 7 hours and 43 minutes. Of course, we are beyond the 18 hour limit fixed by the Fatwa, but since the inhabitants of Oslo seem to admit to these timings without difficulty, we will retain 60° as the latitude based on "Aqrabul-Bilad" concept.

Therefore, at latitudes more than 60°, first we calculate the interval from sunrise to sunset and being a little conservative assume it to be the day length (which is an interval from Fajr to Maghrib). If day length is more than 18 hours or less than 6 hours, then we slide down to 60° and calculate Fajr & Isha using the rule of Sab'u Lail. But then we keep whatever values are obtained at this new latitude, even if they are more than 18 hours. This will thus respect both the jurisprudence and the practices of Muslims in cities around 60 degrees latitude.

Moonsighting.com has received many Emails from its users regarding the objections for fixed degrees versus latitude and seasons based formulae.
Here is an E-mail from Abdelkader Tayebi of Windsor, Canada, confirming the time of observation for Shafaq Ahmer, that matched with Moonsighting.com calculations:

On Tuesday May 19, 2009, I was in St Joseph MI for business. I observed that Maghrib was at 9:05 and Isha with complete disappearance of shafaq ahmar was around 10:15. The disappearance process is not accurate to the minute and takes time to fully take place, it may be subject to the interpretation of the observer, a near disappearence started around 10:04 (shades of red on top of darkness), then around 10:11 there were only traces of dark red and by 10:15 it was more pronounced and the only left was the white shafaq, the same was noticed yesterday. So your calculations using a function of latitude and seasons are mashaAllah quite accurate. I will continue observing whenever I have chance inshAllah. From Abdelkader.

Zuhr in most Prayer Schedules is shown at Noon (which is before Zawaal). Noon time, when the sun is at its highest point, is Mamnoo' (Prohibited) time for any Prayer. Theoretically, the sun does not go into Zawaal phase until its edges are out of the zenith line (line between the observer to the center of the sun when it is at Noon-phase). It takes about 1.5 minutes for the sun's disk come out of zenith. Additional 1 minute must be added for a 30 miles radius consideration mentioned for Maghrib time. Thus, a minimum of 2.5 minutes must be considered as the minimum limit past Noon time for the beginning of Zuhr. Considering, that this precise theoretical definition is not given by any scholar, a little factor of safety (additional 2.5 minutes) is considered as a minimum for the beginning of Zuhr. Thus, 5 minutes should be added in Noon time for Zuhr.

Asr time calculations require different interpretations by different jurists such as Hanafi, Shafi'i, Maaliki, Hambali, or Ja'friyah (Shi'aa). For Shafi'i, Maaliki, and Hambali, Asr is calculated when the shadow of any object becomes equal to its length. For Hanafi, Asr is calculated when the shadow of any object becomes twice its length. For Ja'friyah, Asr is calculated when the shadow of any object becomes equal 4/7 of its length (as given to me by a follower of Ayatullah Sistani).

Maghrib should be calculated at least as 3 minutes after theoretical sunset (reporetd in newspapers) for the following considerations:
1. The effects of actual humidity, temperature, and pressure in the atmosphere may cause a different refraction of sun light than assumed in calculations of theoretical sunset.
2. In some areas there could be a downward sloping ground towards western horizon that causes a delayed sunset for an observer compared to a perfectly level ground as assumed in calculations of theoretical sunset.
3. For major metropolitan cities, the sunset in a 30 mile radius from the point assumed in calculation will vary. Since the people may live all around the city, this may delay sunset for some areas. These are the considerations for the 4 major Sunni school of thoughts. For Ja'friyah school of thought, 17 minutes after sunset is considered as Maghrib time which is considered enough for the bronze glow on the horizon to disappear.

Qibla direction: Every day, there comes a time when any vertical object's shadow from the sun is in the Qibla direction. If that does not happen then there is a time when facing the sun gives you Qibla direction. Either of this time is provided for everyday in Qibla column after Isha. This method for Qibla is more accurate than the compass, which involves errors due to the presence of magnetic fields or metallic objects, and magnetic declination which causes compass needle to magnetic North which could be up to 100° off from True North; how many degrees off depends upon the location.

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