Islamic Daily Prayers in Abnormal Time Zones

by Dr. Muhammad Hamidullah

From Ch. 15 Introduction to Islam

581. As has been explained in the chapter "Daily Life", normally a Muslim has to celebrate five services of worship of God every day:

1. Dawn service, any time between the appearance of the true dawn, about 1½ hours before sunrise, and the sunrise.

2. Midday service (zuhr) from noon to late afternoon ('asr). Noon means half the time between sunrise and sunset. For instance, if the sun rises on 22nd December at 7.36, and sets at 16.22 the day is of 8 hours and 46 minutes. Half of this is 4.23. Add this to the time of sunrise (7.36 + 4.23 = 11.59). After the precautionary quarter of an hour, one may pray for midday service at 12 hours 14 minutes, till the time of 'asr prayer.

3. For late-afternoon service ('asr), the time begins at half of the time of afternoon, i.e., from noon till sunset. So if the noon is at 11.59, and sunset at 16.22, the afternoon has 4 hours 23 minutes. Add half of it, 2.12, to the time of noon (11.59 + 2.12= 14.11). After the precautionary quarter hour, one may pray 'asr on that day at 14.26. Of course in summer the time will be much later.

4. Evening service, from sunset till the disappearance of the twilight, about 1½ hours afterwards.

5. Night service, from the disappearance of the twilight till the appearance of the dawn, i.e., the time of the first service. Yet in regions far away from the equator, these times are too inconvenient to be practical. So instead of the movements of the sun, one calculates and follows the movements of the clock: and, as has been explained, the times obtained at the 45º North or South Latitude are valid in all the regions between 45º N or S and the pole. So, Bordeaux-Bucharest in Europe, Portland-Halifax in North America constitute the limit of the normal zone; all countries North of these places have to follow the time table of these places. Mutatis mutandis the same applies to countries in the extreme south of Argentina and Chile in South America.

582. Below are given the hours for both 45º North Latitude and 45º South Latitude, in local time. A few words of explanation will be useful:

(a) We have given only the times of sunrise and sunset. Hours of services could be calculated according to the formula given above.

(b) There is a vast difference between the local time and civil time, and in fact on the equator every 15 miles or so produce the difference of a minute; the nearer we are to the pole the shorter is the distance for the same quantity of the difference of time. In large countries like the USA, Canada or Russia, the sunrise on their eastern frontier is 5 to 10 hours earlier than on the western frontier. Our timetable is based on the local time, and necessary adjustments with the "civil time" in use in a country may not be difficult for the intelligent inquirer. For instance, clocks in France are in advance of an hour over the real local time in winter, and of two hours in summer: When the clock strikes 12, it is really 11 o'clock in the local time in winter, and 10 o'clock in summer. One has to take into consideration this fact for the daily services of worship as well as for the beginning and breaking of the fast.

(c) On account of the sphericity of the earth, an arbitrary line had to be drawn where the day should begin. The date line now in use passes between Asia and America - and political considerations have deviated it at different points. It has its importance for Muslim passengers proceeding, say, from Japan and Australia-Indonesia to America and vice versa, by ship or by plane. When travelling to America, as soon as they cross this imaginary line, there is a difference produced of 24 hours: Saturday becomes Friday, and another Saturday comes in due course. And when arriving from America to Asia, a whole day has to be added at the same point and a Friday becomes instantaneously a Saturday. If one lands before noon, Friday service has to be observed according to the day of the destination and not the day of the country which the traveller had left.

(d) The faster air travel becomes, there will be newer problems to be decided. It is now possible to start, say, soon after sunrise and after some time, in a westerly direction, arrive in a country where the sun has not yet risen, observing en route the setting of the sun in the east; or when the departure takes place after sunset, the rising of the sun from the west! (who knows if that is not the sense of the prediction of the Holy Prophet of such a phenomenon as a sign of the end of the "old" world?) Inversely a country may be left at six o'clock, and after three hours only the local time would be 12 o'clock instead of 9.

(e) Among many problems that arise by rapid air travel, is the question of the time of breaking the fast. If someone has taken his sahur (meal prior to fasting) at 4 A.M. in the springtime and starts, say, at sunrise (6 A.M.) from Tokyo to Tunis, via Tashkent. After 8 hours' flight at 900 km an hour when the plane lands, the local time will not be 2 P.M. but still 6 A.M. in the morning, and the sun will have just risen! This is so because there is a difference of some 8 hours in the times of the sunrise in both these places, and the plane has flown westwards in the direction of the "march of the sun" with the same speed as the sun itself. Now, if the passenger waits till 6 P.M., i.e., sunset in Tunis, he will have to fast not for 14 hours, but 22 hours. Similarly if he travels from Tunis to Tokyo, the time will run twice as fast as the normal time, and after 6 hours' flight when his wristwatch would show 12 o'clock midday, the sun will be setting somewhere east of Tashkent and after two more hours when he lands in Tokyo at 2 P.M. of Tunis time, it will be 10 o'clock in the night in Japan. Similar phenomena are encountered if one flies from the North to the South or vice versa, when apart from the time difference, there is even a change of season. December is the time for winter in Norway and Canada, while it is summer at the same time in Chile and Cape Town. Common sense demands that on the day of such travel by air, one should abide by the time of the starting place and not by the ever-changing local time of the countries traversed, and this is for the fast as well as for service of worship.

(f) If and when a Muslim lands on the moon, it will obviously not be possible to face the earthly Ka'bah in the service of prayer; nor to follow the sun's rising, passing the meridian and setting on Earth. What I humbly submit to the Muslim jurists is to construct a Ka'bah on the moon, at the point which would be face to face with the earthly Ka'bah, during equinox time, during a full moon night when our satellite is just above Mecca. That is, a bit North of the centre of the face of the moon that we see. I think that would lie in the region named "Ocean of Tranquillity". I am personally so much the more convinced of this solution, since the Ka'bah is not confined to the building of the ten odd yards high, but also what is above in the atmosphere up to the heaven. In a Hadith of al-Bukhari, the Holy Prophet is reported to have said that the Earthly Ka'bah is the antipode of the mosque of the angels underneath the Throne of God, (and so exactly so that if one were to throw a stone from there, it would fall on the top of the Ka'bah on earth). The great savant Ibn Kathir (Bidayah, 1, 163) reports that there is a particular Ka'bah on each of the seven heavens, each for the use of the inhabitants of that heaven. He adds (Tafsir, on surah 52, verse 4) the name of the Ka'bah on the seventh heaven is al-Bait al-Ma'mur, and that the earthly Ka'bah is at exactly the antipode of this heavenly Ka'bah. Our Ka'bah symbolizes as a window opening on the Divine Throne. If that is so, the permanent residents of the moon may even go there for pilgimage, since coming to earth for that purpose would be too much for them. This solution may help later to determine the point of the Qiblah on other stars and planets also, if man alights and settles there. It may by the way be pointed out that the days and nights on the moon are not of about 12 hours each, but of 14 days each. The timing differs on different celestial bodies.

(g) Again, if one were to travel in a space shuttle around the earth, normally it takes about 90 minutes to complete the flight around. The visibility of the sun will vary according to the flight from North to South or from South to North, and also from East to West or from West to East, and also the Latitude of the earth around which the space shuttle gravitates; and time of sunrise and sunset will not be once every 24 hours, but at the most once every one and a half hour, often in a shorter time still. For us, earthly passengers, earthly hours of sun's rising and setting must apply, and not those of the artifical satellites, for prayer and fasting.