All praise is due to Allah and may peace and blessing be upon our Prophet Muhammad,
There are those who advocate combining together the Zuhr and `Asr prayers and likewise the Maghrib and `Ishâ’ prayers on a regular basis without any valid excuse. They argue that in the Qur’ân prayer is only mentioned three times in the day and night. They also cite the hadîth related by Ibn `Abbâs that the Prophet (peace be upon him) combined between Zuhr and `Asr and also between Maghrib and `Ishâ’ while in Madinah without there being a reason like fear, rain, or traveling.
Let us first look at the verse in question. Allah says: “Establish regular prayers at the Sun’s decline until the darkness of the night and the recital of the Qur’ân in the morning, for the recital of dawn is witnessed.” [Sûrah al-Isrâ’: 78].
Allah’s saying: “…at the Sun’s decline…” means its descent to the West from the meridian right after midday. Allah’s saying: “…until the darkness of the nigh…” together with the previous part of the verse: “at the sun’s decline” would cover the times of the four obligatory prayers: Zuhr, `Asr, Maghrib, and `Ishâ’.
Allah’s saying: “…the recital of the Qur’ân in the morning…” is a reference to the Morning (Fajr) Prayer. The Fajr Prayer is called the recital because it is preferable to read in it many verses of the Qur’ân. Therefore, this verse covers the five daily prayers. In the Sunnah, the exact times for these five prayers are given in detail.
Ibn Kathîr, after mentioning this verse in his commentary on the Qur’ân, says: “The Sunnah of the Prophet (peace be upon him), through his sayings and his actions, provides us with the exact times of these prayers as known and applied by Muslims today. This has been passed down from one generation to the next, century after century.”
The Prophet (peace be upon him) used to pray each of the five prayers on time. In certain extenuating circumstances in which Allah grants a concession, he would combine prayers. It is a well-known principle in Islam that the Sunnah explains the Qur’ân. Allah says to His Prophet: “We have revealed to you the Reminder that you may make clear to men what has been revealed to them, and that haply they may reflect” [Sûrah al-Nahl: 44]
The advocates of combining prayers habitually also furnish as proof the hadîth of Ibn `Abbas related in Sahîh Muslim that the Messenger of Allah prayed Zuhr and Asr together, and also Maghrib and `Ishâ’, although he was neither in a state of fear nor on a journey. In another narration, the absence of rain is mentioned instead of a journey. A similar hadîth is narrated in Sunan al-Tirmidhî.
Before discussing this hadîth, we should bear in mind that the majority of scholars believe that combining between these prayers is unlawful except for one of the valid reasons that are explicitly stated in the sacred texts. They argue that there is clear textual evidence that the times for prayers are fixed. Therefore, no exceptions should be made without specific evidence detailing those exceptions. To support this, they cite the overwhelming evidence that the Prophet (peace be upon him) prayed his prayers at their proper times. However, there were a few scholars such as Ibn Sîrîn, Ibn Shubrumah, the Mâlikî jurist Ashhab, and the Shâfi`î jurist Ibn al-Mundhir, who said that combining these prayers together is permissible as long as there is some need to do so, but a person should not make a habit out of it.
Moreover, the scholars have disagreed on the meaning of this hadîth. Al-Nawawî said the following in his commentary on this hadîth:
These are the authentic narrations in Sahîh Muslim, as you can see. The scholars have different ways of interpreting them and understanding them. Al-Tirmidhî said at the end of his book: “There is no hadîth that the whole Islamic nation agreed to reject like the one related by Ibn `Abbâs in connection with combining prayers in Madînah without the excuse of fear or rain and the hadîth of killing the one who drinks liquor the fourth time he is charged with it.” What al-Tirmidhî says about drinking liquor is right. There is consensus that the hadîth that mentions killing the imbiber has been abrogated. However, in the case of the hadîth of Ibn `Abbâs, there is no consensus to abandon it. Instead, there are different opinions about what it means.
Some scholars understood the hadîth to refer to cases when it was raining, but their opinion is weak due to the narration of the hadîth that mentions it was not raining.
Other scholars thought it took place on a cloudy day. According to them, the Prophet (peace be upon him) prayed Zuhr and when clouds vanished, it turned out that it was the time of `Asr, so he prayed `Asr. This is nonsense, because even if it was a remote possibility in this for combining Zuhr and `Asr, it could not explain combining between Maghrib and `Ishâ’.
Others opined that the hadîth referred to postponing the first prayer until near the end of its prescribed period. When he finished praying it, the time for the next prayer had come in, and he prayed it as well, so it appeared as if he was combining the prayers. This does not match with the explicit understanding of the hadîth and the fact that Ibn `Abbâs used it as justification for combining his prayers.
Others gave sickness or some other excuse as the reason. This was mentioned by Ahmad and al-Qâdî Husayn and was preferred by al-Khattâbî and al-Rûiyânî. This is the preferred saying in explaining this hadîth as well as for what Ibn `Abbâs did and the approval that Abû Hurayrah gave Ibn `Abbâs when he did so. This makes sense, because the hardship in sickness is more than the hardship that comes from rain.
A group of scholars believed that combining prayers is permissible in residence as long as it is not taken as a habit. As we said before this is the opinion of Ashhab and Ibn Sirîn. This is the preferred saying of Ibn al-Mundhir. It is in line with the explicit meaning of Ibn `Abbâs’ statement: “He did not want to put hardship on his people.” Ibn `Abbâs did not mention any specific reason like sickness or something else.
– Quoted from al-Nawawî’s commentary of Sahîh Muslim ( 3/2149)
I hold the opinion that this last saying is the best. It is permissible to combine prayers in case of need, but this should not be taken as a habit. This is also the opinion of Ibn Taymiyah, who said:
Ibn `Abbâs was not traveling nor was there any rain, but he mentioned this narration as justification for combining his prayers. He knew that there was no rain, but Ibn `Abbâs was involved in something important for the Muslims as he was teaching the people what they needed to know about their religion and he believed that if he stopped at that time and came down from the pulpit, the opportunity would be lost. He deemed that the activity he was engaged in permitted him to combine prayers as the Prophet (peace be upon him) combined prayers in Madinah without there being fear or rain but for some other necessity… All the hadîth indicate that he combined prayers to make things easy for his people. Therefore, combining prayers is permissible if otherwise there would be some hardship that Allah had lifted from His nation. Combining prayers due to debilitating illness is all the more permissible. The same applies to the one who cannot maintain his purity for two prayers, like the woman whose bleeding continues past her menstrual cycle and the like. At the same time, we have a saying from `Umar b. al-Khattâb that combining of two prayers without an excuse is one the grievous sins.” [Ibn Taymiyah, Majmû` al-Fatâwâ]
The saying of Ibn Taymiyyah on this issue is correct in my opinion. It is permissible to combine between prayers for a valid reason, but this should not be taken as a habit. Whoever combines prayers without a valid reason and continues to do on the basis of Ibn `Abbâs’ hadîth has violated the Sunnah of our Prophet (peace be upon him) and gone against his guidance.
Sheikh Ibn Bâz, in his marginal notes on Fath al-Bârî, writes: “The best way to view the hadîth is to understand that the Prophet (peace be upon him) combined between the said prayers particularly that day for some hardship, whether it was sickness, extreme cold, mud or something else. Ibn `Abbas, when he was asked about the reason for combining prayers, said it was to remove hardship from the people, which is a proper and correct answer.” [Fath al-Barî, (2/24)].
This should be enough evidence to demonstrate the mistake of those who combine their prayers habitually or without any valid reason.
Ibn Hajar al-`Asqalânî, Fath al-Barî, 2/23
Al-Nawawî, Commentary on Sahih Muslim, volume 3, pp. 2148-2150.
Al-Shawkânî, Nail al-Awtâr, 3, 227-230.
Ibn Taymiyah, Majmû` Fatâwa Ibn Taymiyyah, 24, 72-84.