Muslim Prayer During Travel

by Sayyeda Zehra Razvi

Salah, or prayer, is one of the five pillars of Islam. Muslims are expected to recite five obligatory prayers every day. While travelling, however, the five prayers can be shortened and/or combined for the sake of convenience. Shortening of the prayer during travel is referred to as qasr, literally shortened prayer. While there are scholarly differences of opinion regarding what constitutes traveling, it is generally agreed that Muslims must perform qasr instead of regular prayers while traveling.

When to Perform Qasr

What makes a person a traveler?

You are considered a traveler if you travel a distance of about 50 miles (80km) -- some scholars suggest slightly longer distances and others refer to even shorter distances -- outside of the city of your residence and the duration of the trip is four days or less. Scholars differ on the duration of stay, citing 10, 14, 19 or 20 days as the maximum duration of travel that entails performing qasr. Muslims may cite "local custom," rather than a specific distance or duration of stay as a way of determining who is considered a traveler, so whatever is customarily considered traveling can be taken to mean traveling, and qasr prayer can be started even if the you travel less than 50 miles. There are also opinions stating that, if no duration has been specified and you do not intend to settle down permanently in the new location, you are considered a traveler and can perform shortened prayers.

How to Perform Qasr

Qasr prayers are essentially the same as regular prayers, just shorter.

Offering qasr salah essentially entails shortening the prayers for Zuhr (noon), Asr (mid-afternoon) and Isha (night) from four raka’ahs, or units, to two. The other two prayers, Fajr (dawn) and Maghrib (sunset), must be performed as usual, that is two and three raka’ahs respectively. In addition, even while travelling, the Prophet Muhammad did not skip the two sunnahs, or supererogatory prayers, that he recited beyond the obligatory prayers, so these should be performed as usual. It is generally understood that the other sunnah prayers need not be performed while traveling.

When to Stop Praying Qasr

You should stop praying qasr and start praying regular prayers once you have entered the precincts of your city of residence. For example, on your return journey, after your plane lands at the airport -- and the airport is within the limits of your city of residence -- you should perform regular salah.

Combining Prayers

There are differences of opinion about combining prayers.

The Prophet Muhammad was known to combine prayers in three cases: 1) while traveling; 2) in case of fear; and 3) because of rain. While there are differences of opinion regarding the meaning of "combining" prayers, scholars generally agree that Zuhr can be combined with Asr, and Maghrib can be combined with Isha, and both prayers can be performed in succession at either the time for first prayer or the time for the second prayer. Some scholars also argue that it is better to perform prayers at the appropriate times, and only combined when one is on the road and unable to make a stop. The notable exception here is the Hanafi school which does not permit this form of combining prayers while traveling, except during the Hajj.

Praying in Congregation While Traveling

When praying in congregation, a traveler is expected to follow the imam and perform the full salah, rather than praying qasr.

About the Author

Razvi started writing as a teenager and contributed to a Muslim student-run publication while she was in college. She is currently pursuing a PhD in Comparative Literature at the University of California at Davis where her research focuses on modern Urdu and Arabic Literature.

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