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To Shorten or Complete Prayers While Traveling

Title To Shorten or Complete Prayers While Traveling
Question Dear scholars, As-Salamu `alaykum. I was on a trip and when the Prayer was due I performed it in its shortened form (qasr). Some of my friends did so, while others opted for completing the Prayer, arguing that this is the preferable act. What is the Shari`ah ruling in this regard? And what is the better choice for a traveler: to complete the Prayer or to shorten it? Jazakum Allah khayran.
Date 3/Oct/2004
Mufti A Group of Islamic Researchers

Wa `alaykum As-Salamu wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuh.

In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.

All praise and thanks are due to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger.

Dear brother in Islam thanks for your question, which emanates from a God-fearing heart, since it shows your commitment to Prayer, the cornerstone of Islam.

As a matter of fact, Muslim scholars are not in agreement on this issue. But the most correct opinion is the view held by the majority of scholars that shortening the Prayer is better for a traveler, since the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and the caliphs used to shorten their Prayers while traveling. This opinion, in addition, spares us the controversy whether shortening the Prayer is obligatory or not. However, a traveler is permitted either to shorten his Prayer or complete it, according to a group of scholars. Other scholars deem completing the Prayer while traveling as reprehensible since the traveler who completes the Prayer does not follow the Sunnah.

This debate is applicable if the traveler prays alone or is led by another traveler. If a traveler is led by a resident, then the preponderant opinion is that he should complete the Prayer.
To elaborate on the subject, we cite the scholars’ arguments in this regard:

In his book Al-Majmu`, Imam An-Nawawi says:

If the travel continues for three days, then the shortening is better. `Umran ibn Husain (may Allah be pleased with him) said, “I performed Hajj with Allah’s Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him), and he used to pray two rak`ahs. And I traveled with Abu Bakr and he used to pray two rak`ahs until he died. Also, I traveled with `Umar and he used to pray two rak`ahs until he died. I traveled also with `Uthman. He used to perform two rak`ahs for six years, then he performed the whole Prayer in Mina.” Thus, to follow the footsteps of the Prophet is the better choice.
However, the traveler is permitted to complete the Prayer, as `A’ishah reported that she traveled with Allah’s Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) in Ramadan to perform `Umrah. He did not fast but she did. He shortened the Prayer and she performed the whole Prayer. Then `A’ishah said, “O Messenger of Allah, you did not fast but I did, and you shortened your Prayer and I completed it.” He (peace and blessings be upon him) replied, “You did well, `A’ishah.”

In fact, shortening the Prayer is rukhsah (a legal concession) that can be abandoned, exactly as is the ruling of with wiping over leather socks in ablution.

Imam Ibn Taymiyah says in his Collection of Fatwas:

Some scholars deem completing the Prayer in travel better than shortening it. Others prefer shortening but they see no harm in completing the Prayer. Rather, they consider it the apparent ruling and they say that one should not shorten his Prayer unless he intends to do so. Still others argue that completion is not permissible, and the Sunnah is to shorten the Prayer while traveling. According to them, it is reprehensible for a traveler to complete his Prayer. These scholars hold that shortening the Prayer is a permanent Sunnah for the traveler, while combining the Prayers (jam`) is a temporary legal concession. In fact, this opinion seems to be the closest one to Sunnah.

Shedding more light on the question, the Kuwaiti Encyclopedia of Fiqh states:

The Maliki, Shafi`i, and Hanbali scholars maintain that the original ruling is the completion of the Prayer, and the shortening is a legal concession. They corroborate their argument with the hadith narrated by Imam Muslim to the effect that shortening the Prayer is “an act of charity which Allah has done to you.”

Yet, the prevalent view in the Shafi`i School is that, in case a travel should last three days, shortening the Prayer is better than completion as it conforms to the Sunnah of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), and spares us the controversy introduced by those maintaining the obligation of shortening the Prayer, such as Imam Abu Hanifah. In this context, some cases are exceptional, such as the crew of a ship accompanied by their families in their travels overseas, and one who is in permanent travel with no specific homeland. Such people are recommended to perform the whole Prayer to avoid the controversy introduced by a group of scholars, including Imam Ahmad, who hold that people in such cases should complete their Prayer.

On the other hand, the unpopular view in the Shafi`i School is that completing the Prayer is better in all circumstances, due to the fact that it is the original ruling and the oft-repeated practice. Yet if a travel would not last for three days, then completing the Prayer is deemed better since it is the original ruling.

Hanbalis maintain that shortening is better than completing the Prayer, as the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and the caliphs always shortened the Prayer while traveling. Yet there is no harm in completing the Prayer for those originally allowed to shorten the Prayers.

Hanafis, on their part, have the view that qasr is the original ruling of the Prayer. Prayer was initially composed of only two rak`ahs for both travelers and residents. This is indicated by the hadith that `A’ishah narrated: “The Prayer was prescribed as two rak`ahs, both in journey and at the place of residence. The Prayer while traveling remained as it was (originally prescribed), but an addition was made in the Prayer (observed) at the place of residence.” As a matter of fact, this cannot be known except through tawqif (revelation). Thus, performing only two of the four rak`ahs by the traveler is not originally considered a kind of shortening (qasr). In fact, this is the original and complete ruling as far as the traveler is concerned. Also, completing the Prayer would not be deemed as rukhsah for a traveler, but rather an act of disobedience to the Sunnah.

Moreover, shortening the Prayer is `azimah (an established and confirmed ruling). Had the completion been the `azimah, the Prophet would not have persisted in abandoning it. It is known that `azimah is better than rukhsah, and the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) used to choose the best of deeds. He would abandon the better deeds once or twice only to teach his Ummah the legal concessions. He (peace and blessings be upon him) shortened his Prayer in Makkah and said to the Makkans, “Complete your Prayer.” If the completion of the Prayer had been permissible, he would not have performed only two rak`ahs.


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