How to do 3 prayers in 4 hours

INsights 027, Friday 4th November 2022

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Assalamu-alaikum. Peace be upon you.

Prayer is obligatory for the believers at prescribed times.

Chapter 4, Women, Verse 103

Times are changing…

Last weekend, clocks moved back by an hour across Europe and this weekend they’ll do so across North America. 

Across the Northern Hemisphere, days will continue to get shorter and shorter in the coming weeks.

In London, where I live, the Dhuhr prayer currently begins at 11:49am and sunset is at 4:33pm. 

By 21st December, the shortest day of the year, it will be 12:04pm and 3:57pm respectively. 

I’ve already started to receive several questions about how best to manage Dhuhr, ‘Asr and Maghrib in the coming weeks and months. It’s certainly a cause of stress and concern for many people. We want to do the right thing, to pray on time, but how can we do it when we’re so busy and timings are so tight?

Whether you’re studying at school or university, parenting and managing the household, working from home or in the office, here are a combination of seven principles and practicalities that I hope will help you navigate this important issue:

1. Put things in proper perspective

First things first… remember why you exist. You’re here on earth to worship and serve The Lord, The Creator, The King. You’re here to appreciate His blessings and celebrate Him through praise and glorification. Your prayer is the very foundation of your connection and relationship with Him, the action that allows you to remember Him, turn to Him and show Him how much He means to you. 

So whilst living in a certain part of the world might present the challenge of offering a number of prayers in a short space of time at certain times of the year, it doesn’t change the essential purpose of our existence.

Our other commitments may well be important, but we mustn't allow them to define or bind us completely. We shouldn’t forget that it is ultimately our job to mould ourselves and our schedules around God's commands, not for His instructions to conform to our convenience.

2. Be determined

Don’t give up before you’ve even started. A little like praying Fajr on time in the summer, it’s easy to conclude, unreasonably, that it’s just not possible. If you think you can, you probably will. If you think you can’t, you probably won't!

Your outcomes will be largely based on the strength of your intentions. This is about winning the inner game, having the right mindset and being determined. When there’s a will, there’s a way. You can do this! 

Here are two ways you can ramp up your overall determination and your motivation on any particular day:

Firstly, think about this…

Do you regret any previous time when you prayed on time? I’m sure you don’t.

But do you feel sorry for the times when you didn’t? I’m sure you do. 

The point is… apply a regret minimisation framework to your decisions in life. This means thinking ahead to the Day of Judgement and doing now what you know is best for your accountability then

You can do so in full confidence that the One for whom you’re making a sacrifice and setting aside time will bless you in the rest of your time and in all your affairs in this world. 

Secondly, if you ever feel frustrated or discouraged to offer a prayer so soon after a previous one, start to count the blessings that you’ve experienced since the last prayer. There are so many, even in such a short space of time. Realising this should act as a powerful motivation to present yourself for another few minutes to express your gratitude.

Consider in particular how sad it would be to allow some of our blessings – for example our jobs, education, shopping trips – to be the very reasons for not offering our prayers in a timely way. We must be wary of blatantly disregarding the One who gives so much to us all the time. 

3. Make a plan

Try to schedule your prayer times in your calendar or diary up to a week in advance and then check it each evening for the next day to see if you need to make any adjustments.

It’s so much better to know when exactly you’re planning to do a certain prayer beforehand than for you to decide in the moment each time. The latter approach can easily become a cause of regular delays and perhaps even misses altogether.

4. Start early, end flexibly

In your plan it’s best to try and offer your Dhuhr prayer as early as possible after the start time. Getting off to an early start in this way will make you feel more confident and calm about achieving consistency in your remaining prayers.

Remember also that you do have some flexibility in the timing of your Maghrib prayer. Yes, it is best to offer it as soon as possible after sunset. But the time for Maghrib doesn’t end until ‘Isha begins, which is normally around 90 minutes after Maghrib. So it’s not a case of doing it in the first 15 minutes after sunset or missing it altogether. Being aware of this may help you pace yourself and give you more encouragement that you can indeed manage to offer all your prayers on time.

5. Communicate

Depending on your setting, it can be helpful to communicate openly to relevant people about the fact that you need to take a little extra time out for your prayers. Sometimes we stress about the daytime prayers because they clash with busy work schedules and responsibilities or commitments that involve others. 

Being open about the situation and discussing ways in which both your worship and your work can happen in the best possible way can only be beneficial. It's certainly better than being silent and then feeling uneasy when disappearing without explanation... or just losing confidence because you don’t want to look bad and then not praying at all.

6. Focus on the obligatory

When you’re rushed and you have tight timeframes, it’s especially important to give extra attention to quality. There’s no point making all the effort to pray on time but then to pray in such a hurried or mindless way that your prayer becomes unacceptable. It’s not about turning up just to tick a box. It’s about turning up and doing your very best.

So focus on offering your obligatory prayer as well as possible. If you feel you have time for offering extra prayers with a minimum standard of attention and calmness then of course go ahead. 

But given the overall circumstances at this particular time of year, it would be far better to offer only the obligatory units with full focus and concentration than to cram in more units at the expense of quality, or possibly at the expense of the next obligatory prayer altogether.

7. Combine if necessary

One approach that can be used to make things a little easier is to offer Dhuhr at the end of its time and then to start your ‘Asr prayer as soon as its time comes in. In this way you’re doing both on time and it means you can do so within a single break that you might be taking from your work or other commitments. Whilst there is an element of convenience to this approach, beware the possibility that your Dhuhr can very easily be missed altogether if you’re not careful! 

At other times, despite your best efforts and your sincere intentions, you might decide that it really will be extremely difficult to offer the Dhuhr and ‘Asr prayers in their respective times. In this case, it may be allowed for you to combine both prayers in either the Dhuhr or the ‘Asr windows. 

This is a contentious issue and I would suggest this kind of combination only in exceptional circumstances, but it is a well-established allowance when circumstances are pressing. Now isn’t the time to lay out all the details, but a simple internet search will show you the juristic evidences of those who are in support of this position.

One thing is without doubt… it’s better to combine both prayers at some point between noon and sunset than to miss one or both of them and leave them to be made up after sunset.

God knows best of course.

May He give us the motivation and confidence to offer all our prayers on time and be mindful of Him to the best of our ability.

I hope you’ve found these seven points beneficial. If you have any questions or suggestions for additional pieces of advice that you’ve found helpful on this issue, please do reply to let me know.

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Have a blessed fortnight. I'll see you in two Fridays, God willing.

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