Q. Based on the calculations of Muslim astronomers, the times for isha on the North American prayer calendars are listed as approximately 1.25 to 2.5 hours after maghrib, depending on one's location and the time of year. In the summer, this can be quite late, after midnight as you get further north into Canada. Does one have to wait until the appointed times, or can the isha prayer be performed anytime after maghrib?

A. The Qur'an states: "Observe the prayer from duluk al shams ila ghasaq al lail." This last part means when the night has set in, that is, that the redness of maghrib has completely disappeared and that darkness, obviously in an area where there is no light, has set in. Because of light pollution, it is difficult to visibly determine this time. However, given the latitude / longitude of the location that we live in, and the astronomical calculations that you mentioned, it is possible that complete darkness sets in very late, even after midnight in the summer in some areas.

In the summer, the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.a.w) used to observe the zuhr and asr prayers together, or given the most stringent interpretation of the hadith, in the latest part of the zuhr and the earliest part of the asr. If you feel that the hot and sweaty atmosphere will take away from your prayer, and that when you do one prayer, you want to do the other at the same time because of your job, or so that the entire family may partake, these are all more than valid reasons.

Based on my research on the Salah, the Prophet did combine his prayers sometimes, and the English translation of hadith 1516 and 1517 of Muslim shows that such combination can be anytime, anywhere, and for any reason. Fazlur Rahman also points out in his book "Islam" that although the prayers are five, the Prophet would sometimes combine them without there being any reason. It was only after the proliferation of the hadith literature that the prayers became fixed with no alternative at five separate times.

So the answer to your question is yes, combining the prayers is allowed. However, the isha cannot simply be done anytime after maghrib, the stipulations are that the night must completely set in, and this, in relation to the hadith, etc. about the combination of prayers, means that you have one of the following two options:

a) Combine at the time of either of the two prayers, or

b) Pray them separately at the listed times.

If one insists on praying the five at the appointed times, the timing is of the essence, and every area will have its own climatic conditions that govern the descent of nocturnal darkness. As mentioned earlier, the Prophet combined the zuhr and the asr because of the heat. Therefore, should we not, following the tradition of the Prophet, have a right to combine the maghrib and isha in accordance with the conditions of the continent, and make it easy for everyone?

Does Allah not say in the Qur'an: "Indeed Allah wants that which is easy for you, and not that which is difficult."(Q2:185) Given the situation in North America, one has a right to return to the practice of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.a.w) and combine the prayers, i.e. the zuhr and asr or the maghrib and isha. In this instance where the nights are very short in the summer, it makes combining the prayers all the more compelling.

Posted January 7, 1999