Combining prayers

Taken from:

A Response to “Peshawar Nights”. Introduction   Chapter One

After having the Nawab ask him the reason for the Shi‘ah combining prayers, Shirazi introduces this phenomenon into the discussion. The Hafiz is made to offer the explanation that the Nabi sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam combined prayers only in extraordinary situations, like when he was on a journey, or due to rain, and that he always offered his prayers separately when he was at home.

In refutation of this explanation, Shirazi cites a hadith of Ibn ‘Abbas radiyallahu ‘anhuma in which it is reported that Rasulullah sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam combined the Zuhr and ‘Asr, and Maghrib and ‘Isha prayers while in residence. Here Shirazi has used a creative method of citation. The hadith he cites is in reality one single hadith. However, he boldly states that “many ahadith confirm this fact”. Then, in order to show just how many ahadith confirm this fact, he quotes the hadith of Ibn ‘Abbas several times from a number of different sources. By mentioning the various chains of narration up to Ibn ‘Abbas radiyallahu ‘anhuma, even going to the extent that “Imam Muslim quotes a number of ahadith on the issue”, Shirazi deceitfully tries to create the impression that there exists a multitude of ahadith that prove the combining of prayers in residence. The fact of the matter is that there is only one hadith,which is that of Ibn ‘Abbas radiyallahu ‘anhuma, which happens to be narrated from Ibn ‘Abbas by a number of his students. The careful reader will not fail to notice that each “separate” hadith cited by Shirazi ends with Ibn ‘Abbas radiyallahu ‘anhuma, and even the corroboration by Abu Hurayrah radiyallahu ‘anhu is part of Ibn ‘Abbas’ hadith, and not technically an independent hadith.

Be that as it may, the fact that there is only one hadith on this issue is inconsequential as far as its authenticity is concerned. Since it conforms to the criteria of authenticity, it has been accepted as authentic. What now remains to be done is to see how this hadith fits in with the rest of the ahadith on the times of salah. Shirazi has the Nawab express amazement at how this hadith (which is slyly referred to as “these ahadith”) was ignored by the Ahl as-Sunnah, and how “learned men have adopted a different path”. He brushes off the “explanations” of the Sunni scholars as unintelligible, but turns a conspicuous blind eye to (or is perhaps ignorant of) the proper treatment of this hadith by the ‘ulama of the Ahl as-Sunnah.

The hadith literature of both the Ahl as-Sunnah and the Shi‘ah concur upon the fact that that the times of salah were given to Rasulullah sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam by Jibril during the Meccan period. They agree that the time for Zuhr and Maghrib were given as separate and distinct from that of ‘Asr and ‘Isha. This is further corroborated by the model example of the Nabi sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam. The Shi‘i scholar Ayatullah Musa al-Musawi confirms this where he writes that “the habit of Rasulullah by which Muslims should abide, was to perform every prayer within its time. Rasulullah sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam used to lead the Muslims in prayer five times every day.” (al-Muta’amirun ‘ala al-Muslimin ash-Shi‘ah p. 173)

The only case which represents an ostensible departure from this norm is this hadith of Ibn ‘Abbas radiyallahu ‘anhuma. Shirazi would be well aware of the fact that in the entire hadith literature there is only this one solitary hadith which apparently departs from the established norm. He knows fully well that his argument in favour of combining prayers would be crippled by mention of the fact that such combination is supported by a single isolated hadith. He therefore attempts to make it appear as “several ahadith”.

In any event, the hadith of Ibn ‘Abbas radiyallahu ‘anhuma appears to be out of harmony with the Prophetic norm of performing every prayer within its specified time. This norm is established on the basis of a substantially large number of ahadith, even in the Shi‘i hadith literature, and also the continuous practice of the Ummah. The ‘ulama of the Ahl as-Sunnah were thus faced with two possible approaches: either to harmonise this one irregular hadith with the rest by giving it a suitable explanation; or to regard it as a normative hadith in its own right, which sets an independent precedent. The majority of them opted for the former approach.

The reader might at this point get the impression that their opting for this position was based on some sort of subjective bias. But this impression will soon disappear when he learns that what lead them to this option was two aspects of the hadith of Ibn ‘Abbas radiyallahu ‘anhuma which Shirazi, for obvious reasons, preferred to keep unknown to his readers. The first of the two aspects is the fact that not in a single version of the hadith is it stated that either of the two combined prayers was perfomed out of its prescribed time. Hafiz Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani, whose encyclopaedic knowledge of hadith is a matter of consensus, states in Fath al-Bari that “in all of the versions of this hadith there is nothing which indicates the exact time when the combining occurred.” (Fath al-Bari vol. 2 p. 30)

The second aspect to consider here is the fact that one of the students of Ibn ‘Abbas radiyallahu ‘anhuma who narrates this hadith from him, explained the hadith in such a way that it is left fully in accordance with the established norm. This student, Abu ash-Sha‘tha Jabir ibn Zayd, whose version of the hadith is documented by both al-Bukhari and Muslim, and several of the other well-known books of hadith, states that what this “combination” of prayers entailed was for Zuhr to be performed during the last minutes of its prescribed time, with ‘Asr then being performed immediately upon commencement of its time. In this way the two prayers are combined without the established norm being violated. This explanation for the hadith of Ibn ‘Abbas radiyallahu ‘anhuma was given by Ibn ‘Abbas’ own student, and was accepted by a large majority of scholars, including the Hanafi jurist Abu Ja‘far at-Tahawi, the Malikis Ibn al-Majishun and Abul ‘Abbas al-Qurtubi, and the Shafi‘is Imam al-Haramayn, Ibn Sayyid an-Nas al-Ya‘muri and Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani, amongst others.

The other approach—of regarding this hadith to be normative in its own right—was adopted by a minority of scholars of the Ahl as-Sunnah, including Imam Malik’s teacher Rabi‘ah ibn Abi ‘Abd ar-Rahman, the tabi‘i Muhammad ibn Sirin, the Maliki jurist Ashhab ibn ‘Abd al-‘Aziz and the Shafi‘i jurists Ibn al-Mundhir and al-Qaffal ash-Shashi. These scholars allow the combining of prayers, but with the proviso that it be for a need, and more importantly, that it does not become a habit.

It is this second point that is the point of divergence between them and the Shi‘ah. The Shi‘ah have permitted the combination of prayers even without a need. This has given rise to a situation where they habitually perform Zuhr and ‘Asr together, and Maghrib and ‘Isha together. Although they theoretically assert the superiority of performing each prayer within its prescribed time according to the Prophetic norm, in practice they are very rarely seen to uphold this norm. As such the combination of prayers has become the hallmark of the Shi‘ah.

Shirazi has ventured to pour scorn on some of the explanations given by Sunni commentators in explaining the hadith of Ibn ‘Abbas radiyallahu ‘anhuma. If only he had consulted his own hadith sources before doing so he would have been spared the embarrassment of revealing his ignorance of the hadith of the Shi‘ah. One of the explanations given by the Ahl as-Sunnah for the combining of prayers in the hadith of Ibn ‘Abbas is that it was done due to rain. Shaykh Abu Ja‘far at-Tusi in his book al-Istibsar, which is one of the four major books of hadith for the Shi‘ah, records from Imam Muhammad al-Baqir that on rainy nights the Nabi sallallahi ‘alayhi wasallam used to delay Maghrib and hasten ‘Isha (exactly as explained by Jabir ibn Zayd) and perform the two prayers jointly; and he used to say: “Whoever does not show mercy will not be shown mercy.” (al-Istibsar vol. 1 p. 267, no. 966)

This Shi‘i hadith alone should have been reason enough for Shirazi, and indeed the Shi‘ah in general, to reconsider their habitual joining of prayers for no reason at all. It is therefore very strange to see Shirazi reverently stating that “the Shia ulema, in obedience to the Holy Imam and the progeny of the Holy Prophet, have unconditionally pethe offering of prayers together.” What sort of obedience is this which ignores the words of the Imam when it goes against their own desires? What sort of obedience is this which abandons the established Prophetic habit of performing every prayer within its prescribed time for an isolated incident which is subject to interpretation?

Shirazi makes use of the opportunity to strike a blow at the integrity of Imam al-Bukhari. He has the Hafiz meekly object that the hadith of Ibn ‘Abbas radiyallahu ‘anhuma is not in Sahih al-Bukhari. He has no reason for introducing al-Bukhari into the issue, since it is already accepted that hadith is recorded by Muslim, and its authenticity has thus been established. Even if al-Bukhari did not document it, its authenticity will not be affected. Therefore, this objection from the Hafiz must be read to serve another purpose. That purpose is to malign the character of al-Bukhari. This Shirazi does by asserting that al-Bukhari did in fact document the hadith, but not under the expected chapter heading. He has “deceitfully put them away from their proper place.” Did it ever occur to Shirazi or his reader that al-Bukhari was under no compulsion to include the hadith into his book, and that had he wanted to be deceitful, he would have omitted this hadith from his collection altogether? Did it even occur to them that mentioning the hadith under the heading “Bab Ta’khir az-Zuhr lil-‘Asr” (meaning “Chapter on the delaying of Zuhr till ‘Asr”) is in fact its proper place?

Shirazi once again sacrifices his honesty upon the altar of expediency when he asserts that people like an-Nawawi (misspelt as Nuri), Hafiz Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani, al-Qastalani and az-Zurqani (misspelt as Zarqani) have “admitted that these ahadith are proofs of the acceptability of combining two prayers.” Yes, they have done so, and so have numerous commentators and jurists before them. But they have never allowed the unconditional combining of prayers like the Shi‘ah do. Without exception, they have made the permissibility of combining prayers subject to certain conditions. However, Shirazi could not find within himself the honesty to reflect the conditions stipulated by the men whose names he mentioned.

Lastly, Shirazi has added the name “Zakariyya-e-Razi” to the above list of well known hadith commentators. There has never been a commentator of Sahih al-Bukhari by the name of “Zakariyya-e-Razi”. The only Razi whose name comes close to this is the famous philosopher and physician Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn Zakariyya ar-Razi. The last thing a philosopher would contemplate doing is write a commentary on hadith. Mention of his name in this regard must therefore be seen as evidence of Shirazi’s penchant for inflating his list of “authorities” so as to impress his gullible reader. This tendency occurs throughout the book ad nauseam.