In the collection of Sahih Al Bukhari a saying of the Prophet Muhammed PBUH in the Book of Knowledge is related by Anas bin Malik RA, where he PBUH says:
Verily, it is from the conditions of the Hour; the lifting of knowledge, the establishment of ignorance, the drinking of intoxicants, and the manifestation of extramarital relations
إن من أشراط الساعة أن برفع العلم ويثبت الجهل ويشرب الخمر ويظهر الزنا
The age we live in now is most definitely an age of ignorance, and it has become so established, that knowledge now became a very strange thing. Sadly, this is the case now even amongst those who seek knowledge as they fall into the danger of the pit of compounded ignorance. Unfortunately, there is a lack of order in how knowledge is sought and everything is backwards. I was asked by a friend of mine why I stopped memorizing the Quran. My answer was because I realized that I was trying to seek after a recommended action while neglecting to fulfill the obligatory actions. It’s no use to have memorized the Quran if I don’t know the rules of the prayer, in which I can recite the Quran. It seemed as if he was taken back a little bit being told that as far as the Quran is concerned, the only chapter one has to memorize is the first one, Al Fatiha, and a short chapter like 112, Al Ikhlas, just so the prayer is sound. Anything else is going after extra points. What use is it to pray extra prayers (nawafil) if you still have to make up your obligatory ones (fara’idh) that you missed? So, needless to say, I switched my focus to study and memorize the texts pertaining to the rulings dealing with individual religious obligations. Once the obligatory is done, I’ll resume with the recommended.
The collection of Sahih Al Bukhari has a noteworthy chapter in the Book of Knowledge titled The Chapter of Knowledge before Speech and Action. Before saying or doing anything, you absolutely have to know what it is you’re about to say or do. In fact, from an Islamic tradition point of view, a knowledgeable person who doesn’t get involved in many extra acts of worship outside the obligatory ones is regarded higher than an ignoramus that prays all the time. You’ll see what I mean in a second, so bear with me.
Many verses in the Quran speak about knowledge and how it elevates the one who possesses it. For example:
What about someone who worships devoutly during the night, bowing down, standing in prayer, ever mindful of the life to come, hoping for his Lord’s mercy? Say, ‘How can those who know be equal to those who do not know?’ Only those who have understanding will take heed – Az’Zumar (39:9)
أَمَّنۡ هُوَ قَـٰنِتٌ ءَانَآءَ ٱلَّيۡلِ سَاجِدً۬ا وَقَآٮِٕمً۬ا يَحۡذَرُ ٱلۡأَخِرَةَ وَيَرۡجُواْ رَحۡمَةَ رَبِّهِۦۗ قُلۡ هَلۡ يَسۡتَوِى ٱلَّذِينَ يَعۡلَمُونَ وَٱلَّذِينَ لَا يَعۡلَمُونَۗ إِنَّمَا يَتَذَكَّرُ أُوْلُواْ ٱلۡأَلۡبَـٰبِ – الزمر 9
God will raise up, by many degrees, those of you who believe and those who have been given knowledge – Al Mujadila (58:11)
يَرۡفَعِ ٱللَّهُ ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُواْ مِنكُمۡ وَٱلَّذِينَ أُوتُواْ ٱلۡعِلۡمَ دَرَجَـٰتٍ۬ۚ – المجادلة 11
It is those of His servants who have knowledge who stand in true awe of God – Fatir (35:28)
إِنَّمَا يَخۡشَى ٱللَّهَ مِنۡ عِبَادِهِ ٱلۡعُلَمَـٰٓؤُاْۗ – فاطر 28
The collections of the tradition of the Prophet PBUH are also full of saying of his PBUH, where sound religious knowledge is more highly regarded than otherwise. For example, In Sunan Al Tirmidhi, in the Book of Knowledge, Chapter of What Has Come about the Preference of Knowledge (fiqh) Over Worship, a saying of the Prophet Muhammed PBUH is related by Ibn Abbas RA, where he PBUH says:
A single religiously knowledgeable person (faqih) is more overwhelming onto Satan than a thousand worshipers
فقيه أشد على الشيطان من ألف عابد
Also, Ashawkani in his Al Fawa’id Al Majmo’a (الفوائد المجموعة) relates another saying of the Prophet PBUH, where he PBUH says:
God is not worshiped by anything better than knowledge in the religion, and a single religiously knowledgeable person (faqih) is more overwhelming onto Satan than a thousand worshipers, and for everything there is a pillar, and the pillar of this religion is knowledge (fiqh)
ما عبد الله بشيء أفضل من الفقه في الدين، وفقيه واحد أشد على الشيطان من ألف عابد، ولكل شيء عماد وعماد هذا الدين الفقه
To complete the driving of this issue regarding the importance of having sound religious knowledge home, two of the greatest scholars summarized it in two sayings. Imam Malik RA said:
Whoever takes up outward knowledge and neglects inward knowledge, they’ve become a libertine
Whoever takes up inward knowledge and neglects outward knowledge, they’ve become a miscreant
Whoever combines the two has achieved true reality
من تفقه ولم يتصوف فقد تزندق
ومن تصوف ولم يتفقه فقد تفسق
ومن جمع بينهما فقد تحقق
And Imam Shafi’i RA said:
A jurisprudent and Sufi be not solely one of them
For surely by God I’m giving you a council
For this one is harsh, his heart hasn’t tasted God-awareness
And the other is an ignoramus, and how can he be fixed the possessor of ignorance?
فقيها وصوفيا فكن ليس واحدا
فإني وحق الله إياك أنصح
فهذا قاس لم يذق قلبه تقى
وهذا جهول فكيف يصلح ذو الجهل
After this preamble about knowledge and its importance when it comes to practice, I can delve into what triggered me to write this piece. Of the first things one learns when studying the subject of fiqh, which deals with how a Muslim goes about fulfilling their religious obligations, are the rulings pertaining to ritual purification and prayer. Most importantly, the one I’m going to address here is about prayer timings. In doing so, I’m trying to follow in the footsteps of Imam Malik RA, who in his book Al Muwatta’ starts it off with The Chapter of Prayer Times. Almost every other book in the Islamic tradition dealing with the genre Imam Malik RA was dealing with here starts with The Chapter of Ritual Purification. However, as per the understanding of Imam Malik RA, one is not obligated to perform their ritual purification unless they’re about to pray, and (when it comes to the obligatory prayers) one is not going to perform them unless their prescribed time has entered. It follows from that that one will first have to establish whether the prayer time has entered. Hence, this is why Al Muwatta’ starts with that chapter. Furthermore, God says in the Quran:
After performing the ritual prayer, continue to remember God – standing, sitting, and lying on your sides – and once you are safe, keep up regular prayer, for prayer is obligatory for the believers at prescribed times – An’nisa’ (4:103)
فَإِذَا قَضَيۡتُمُ ٱلصَّلَوٰةَ فَٱذۡڪُرُواْ ٱللَّهَ قِيَـٰمً۬ا وَقُعُودً۬ا وَعَلَىٰ جُنُوبِڪُمۡۚ فَإِذَا ٱطۡمَأۡنَنتُمۡ فَأَقِيمُواْ ٱلصَّلَوٰةَۚ إِنَّ ٱلصَّلَوٰةَ كَانَتۡ عَلَى ٱلۡمُؤۡمِنِينَ كِتَـٰبً۬ا مَّوۡقُوتً۬ا – النساء 103
We currently have a crisis when it comes to the prayer times. With the exception of some of my teachers – may God preseve them – just about every Muslim I know is obsessed with the prayer timetables. This obsession is more readily noticed during the month of Ramadan at the time for the sunset prayer; because this is the time everyone that’s fasting will break their fast. The sheer overzealous attention many observe the seconds pass until the number 60 is passed to the magic time of 8:21 PM – being that it was 8:23 PM yesterday that they broke their fast – so they can stuff their faces with dates and chug down that glass of milk, all to feel that euphoric experience of satiation after such a difficult day of fasting. Here is a question: who made up those prayer timetables circulating around Muslim homes? Who designed those prayer times’ programs so many Muslims download on their computers? More importantly, how did they arrive at those times? There is an interesting saying that Abdullah bin Al Mubarak RA said:
If it wasn’t for a credible chain of transmission, then whoever could’ve said whatever they wanted
لولا الإسناد لقال من شاء ما شاء
When it comes to the establishment of prayer times, the Quran and the tradition of the Prophet Muhammed PBUH have outlined the means of how to do it in what I believe to be no uncertain terms. God says in the Quran:
So perform the regular prayers in the period from the time the sun is past its zenith till the darkness of the night, and [recite] the Qur’an at dawn – a dawn recitation is always witnessed – Al Isra’ (17:78)
أَقِمِ ٱلصَّلَوٰةَ لِدُلُوكِ ٱلشَّمۡسِ إِلَىٰ غَسَقِ ٱلَّيۡلِ وَقُرۡءَانَ ٱلۡفَجۡرِۖ إِنَّ قُرۡءَانَ ٱلۡفَجۡرِ كَانَ مَشۡہُودً۬ا – الإسراء 78
Keep up the prayer at both ends of the day, and during parts of the night, for good things drive bad away – this is a reminder for those who are aware – Hud (11:114)
وَأَقِمِ ٱلصَّلَوٰةَ طَرَفَىِ ٱلنَّہَارِ وَزُلَفً۬ا مِّنَ ٱلَّيۡلِۚ إِنَّ ٱلۡحَسَنَـٰتِ يُذۡهِبۡنَ ٱلسَّيِّـَٔاتِۚ ذَٲلِكَ ذِكۡرَىٰ لِلذَّٲكِرِينَ – هود 114
These verses are clarified further when one looks at some of the sayings of the Prophet Muhammed PBUH. Being that there are many, which deal with each individual prayer, and this is not the purpose of this piece, I’ll only give one such example. The second prayer of the day after the dawn prayer (Dhu’hr) has a certain time that was stated in the following saying by the Prophet Muhammed PBUH as narrated in Sahih Muslim, Musnad Imam Ahmed, and Sunan Abu Da’woud, in which he PBUH said:
The time for Dhu’hr is the time between when the sun moves past its zenith and the shadow of a person is the same length as their height
وقت الظهر إذا زالت الشمس وكان ظل الرجل كطول قامته
There are many more sayings that outline the prescribed times for each prayer. What’s interesting about all of them is the use of the sun and the shadow movement to determine the time entrance for each prayer. God says in the Qur’an:
Do you not see how your Lord lengthens the shade? If He had willed, He could have made it stand still – We made the sun its indicator – but We gradually draw it towards Us, little by little – Al Furqan (25:45-46)
أَلَمۡ تَرَ إِلَىٰ رَبِّكَ كَيۡفَ مَدَّ ٱلظِّلَّ وَلَوۡ شَآءَ لَجَعَلَهُ ۥ سَاكِنً۬ا ثُمَّ جَعَلۡنَا ٱلشَّمۡسَ عَلَيۡهِ دَلِيلاً۬ * ثُمَّ قَبَضۡنَـٰهُ إِلَيۡنَا قَبۡضً۬ا يَسِيرً۬ا – الفرقان – 45-46
Imam Fakhr Ad’Deen Ar’Razi in his Qur’an commentary Mafateeh Al Ghaib (The Keys to the Unseen) mentions about this verse:
Shade is one of the signs pointing towards the maker of those signs. Shade is a middle point between complete light and complete darkness. It’s a mixture of the two that allows one to the ability to see, which is not the case in pure light or pure darkness for both of these ends of the spectrum would render one to be blind to their surrounding environment. Moreover, shade is one of the blessings being granted in the Garden as God mentions in Al Waqi’ah (with spreading shade) for the people of the Right Hand.
If you were to reflect for a moment on what the above passage implies, you would realize that this whole world is in fact a massive shade. For if it was all darkness or all light, none of us would be able to see anything. It’s this intricate and variable mixture of light and darkness all around us the allows us all to see all that we do, making shade one of the greatest signs and miracles of God being manifested in the world. Imam Al Qushairi in his Qur’an commentary Lata’if Al Isharat (The Subtle Pointers) mentions about this verse:
It’s related that the Prophet PBUH descended in one of his travels during his afternoon nap under the shade of a tree, and there were many companions with him PBUH, so God extended the shade of that tree until it encompassed all of them, and this verse was revealed. This incident is one of the miracles of his PBUH.
It behooves me to mention here something about prayer. The Arabic word used for the ritual act is salah, which comes from the root word meaning “to connect”. It is the one act that literally means to connect one to God while they engage in it. Also, it is supposed to connect the one performing it with the Creation of God since its establishment is invariably linked with the Creation. The movement of the sun, its rising and setting over the horizon, and how it influences the movement and extension of the shadow are all important signs of God that He wanted us to pay attention to by using them to establish prayer times. Since Muslims do not have an anthropomorphic understanding of God in the slightest sense, knowledge of God comes from reflection upon His attributes. These attributes are manifested in the Creation and only through pondering the Creation will one truly get to know the Creator.
The question now becomes, how can one get to know their Creator if they cut themselves off from His Creation? With the increasing reliance on all of these programs and timetables, I find it difficult to comprehend how one can appreciate the Creation of God as they’re immersing themselves in the false creation of man. Worse yet, how can one establish a proper connection with God through salah, when they’re relying upon a tool that often mistakes the proper condition for establishing that connection with God?
Last year during the Deen Intensive Rihla in Spain, Shaykh Abdullah bin Bayyah – may God preserve him – entered the mosque as we were about to perform the Dawn prayer. He stopped us and asked what we were doing. We told him the prayer timetable indicated that it was time to pray. His response was: the sun hasn’t shown its first light yet. After further looking into it, it turned out we were making the prayer call and praying a good 20 minutes before the time actually entered. But hey, the schedule said it did enter and we were smart enough to trust it. Last week my teacher had me go out and perform an exercise in observing the shadows to determine when Dhu’hr time enters. I sat out there from 12:32 PM until 2:12 PM and measured the shadow of a short light pole outside my apartment building every 5 minutes. From 12:32 PM to 1:02 PM the shadow kept decreasing and then from 1:02 PM until 1:47 PM it was almost a standstill. That was as a result of the sun being at the zenith point. The shadow didn’t start to increase properly again at a rate similar to its decrease until 1:52 PM. According to the religious ruling, that’s when Dhu’hr officially enters. I checked my iPhone to see what it says, and according to it Dhu’hr entered at 1:19 PM. I know that the imam at our local mosque prays Dhu’hr at 1:30 PM. After having confirmed that I wasn’t mistaken in my conclusion from observing the shadow, I can now say with certainty that my iPhone, the prayer timetable the local community has being passed around, Islamic Finder, and the local mosque all pray Dhu’hr before it actually enters. I checked Asr later that day, and there was only a 5 minute difference. So the overall conclusion from this exercise was to definitely delay all the prayers from what these timetables claim by a little bit, and by a lot more when it comes to Dhu’hr; at least during our summer months.
Prayer is the only act of worship that wasn’t prescribed by having Jibreel PBUH descend down to the Prophet PBUH and give it to him. The Prophet PBUH had to go up above seven heavens and be in the presence of his Lord and receive it as a direct order to his community PBUH. It is the greatest of all acts of worship to Muslims and it must be preserved. The current façade of technology making one think that we’re at a level where these times can be accurately calculated for praying and for establishing Ramadan (that’s a whole other issue altogether), needs to be exposed for what it truly is. Many think it’s a new progress in our civilization, not realizing that calculating the sun and planetary movements, as well as calculating the new moon births are most definitely not new advancements. Astronomy is the oldest science there is because the ancients had only the heavens to occupy themselves with, having none of the postmodern distractions. The first generations of Muslims, the ones that modern Muslims lament about losing their legacy, had the ability to calculate all these heavenly body movements. It begs the question why they didn’t utilize that to calculate prayer times and moon births. To that is a beautiful response by one of modern day scholars:
Our predecessors, when they ruled the world, they were following in the religion and innovating in worldly matters. Nowadays, we innovate in the religion and follow in worldly matters.
المسلمون كانوا متبعون في الدين مبتدعون في أمور الدنيا، والآن أصبح المسلمون مبتدعون في الدين متبعون في أمور الدنيا
What good is it to pray Dhu’hr if it’s not accepted because it was prayed before its prescribed time?
What good is it to fast 17 hours a day if you’re going to break your fast before the sun is actually fully set and invalidate it just because the all mighty infallible prayer timetable said it was time to break your fast even though it was not?
Let there be no doubt about this matter. Prayer time most certainly does not depend on the time the iPhone app or prayer timetable hanging on the fridge say it does, and it definitely doesn’t enter based on when the program installed on the PC or Mac starts calling the adhan recorded by Mishary Al Afasi. It is dependent on the sun movement in the sky and how that affects the shadows as has been described in many narrations from our Beloved PBUH. These technological tools should be subject to the religion, not the other way around. Interestingly enough, one of the signs of the end of time as mentioned in the tradition, is that one will be observing and measuring the shadows to determine when prayer time enters, and people will pass by and ask in wonderment what that person is doing.
Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not asking that every Muslim go out and measure shadows for every prayer all the time. Just do it a few times to gain that connection with the Creation, and snap out of the blind faith in these prayer timetables, which have become a new idol. Go experience the majesty of God as He manifests it in His signs. The sun has a whole chapter in the Qur’an named after it aside from all the other times it’s mentioned in the rest of this Holy Book along with the shade. Once you get a true sense of when prayer actually enters, then use the timetable as a roundabout idea and delay your prayer depending on your location until you can be sure its time has actually entered. And delaying breaking your fast another 5 minutes after what the timetable says is not going to kill you – use the prayer time listed as a starting time for you to raise your hands up and supplicate for 5 minutes to your Lord because the time before breaking your fast has a special blessed quality and the supplication of a fasting person at the time is accepted, so take advantage of it.
Many of the young Muslims seeking to know their religion tend to focus most of their time on studying Imam Al Ghazali’s texts and Imam Muhasibi’s works, but when it comes to studying the rules of prayer and purification and fasting, it’s not with the same zeal, yet these very scholars begin most of their texts dealing with correcting the obligatory ritual acts of worship before getting into the spiritual realms. No one is telling you to become a scholar of jurisprudence. Just firmly establish your knowledge of what is required of you to perform your acts in a correct manner. If you find yourself skipping fiqh just so you can read Dear Beloved Son (يا أيها الولد), while you still can’t properly tell when prayer time enters and what reasons would necessitate your performing a ritual purification, then you’re falling into Satan’s trap, and that’s what is called Talbeesu Iblees (The Entrapment of Satan).
There is a story in the tradition about a pious man of old times who didn’t have much knowledge but devoted his life to secluding himself and praying the whole time. He went out in the wilderness one day and saw a dead man’s body and he turned away in disgust from the stench. Satan appeared to him in the form of a man and told him that his turning away from the stench of the dead man’s body is a sign of arrogance and all his years of worship will be erased. The only repentance for him is to hang a dead rat around his neck and worship God with it on him as a form of humbling himself due to his arrogance. Sure enough, because he was an ignorant worshiper, he prayed with a dead rat around his neck for 80 years, and none of his prayers were accepted because they were all performed with an impurity on his body. Indeed, it is as the Beloved PBUH said:
A single religiously knowledgeable person (faqih) is more overwhelming onto Satan than a thousand worshipers
فقيه أشد على الشيطان من ألف عابد
This and God knows best
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