On the following day he prayed the noon prayer (zuhr) with me when his shadow was as long as himself; he prayed the afternoon prayer (asr) with me when his shadow was twice as long as himself; he prayed the sunset prayer (maghrib) at the time when one who is fasting breaks the fast; he prayed the night prayer (isha) with me when about the third of the night had passed; and he prayed the dawn prayer (fajr) with me when there was a fair amount of light.
Then turning to me Gabriel (pbuh) said: O Muhammad! These are the times observed by the prophets (pbut) before you, and the time is anywhere between these two times.
Tirmizi, Salat 1, (149); Abu Davud, Salat 2, (393)
There are three important lessons that we take from this hadith which specifies the times for the prayers:
1. There is no need for any calendar or for any calculation to recognize these times; anybody who takes a look at the sun can easily determine. Specifying the month and time is described for the people who don't know how to calculate. Calculation is only to make this easier, not more difficult.
2. The time for a prayer does not last until the next azan (call for prayer). Otherwise, we delay the afternoon (asr) and sunset (maghrib) prayers too much. The time for the afternoon prayer (asr) ends when the shadows get longer, not when the azan is called for the sunset prayer (maghrib). Similarly, the right time for the sunset prayer (maghrib) expires when the redness in the west disappears; it does not last until the azan for the night prayer (isha).
3. The times for the prayers are not sensitive to the extent of minutes. Howevere, there are three exceptions:
* The late time for the dawn prayer (fajr), sunrise
* The early time for the noon prayer (zuhr), when the sun is at the peak
* The time for the sunset prayer (maghrib), sunset
While these three times are sensitive to the extent of minutes, there is an adjustement of approximately 5 minutes on the calendars, just to be on the safe side.
Now let us have a look at the ayats related to the times of the prayers and recall that one of the first revealed ayats is about the night prayer:
73:1-4 yaa ayyuhal-muzzammil
O you wrapped in garments!
qumil-layla illaa qaleelaa
rise in the night, except a little,
nisfahuu awinqus minhu qaleelaa
half of it, or a little less than that,
aw zid 'alayhi warattilil-quraana tarteelaa
or a little more; and recite the Quran in a slow, (pleasant tone and) style
At a time when the Quran does not exist yet, the order is: "Recite the Quran"! An order intended for the future, and maybe we are the ones who are addressed to.
11:114 waaqimis-salaata tarafayin-nahaari wazulafan minal-layl
and perform As-Salat, at the two ends of the day and in some hours of the night.
With this ayat, salat is becoming obligatory at three times: morning, evening, night. "Two ends of the day" are apparently the twilight time. Salat at these three times continued in this way until the Miraj.
17:78 aqimis-salaata liduluukish-shamsi ilaa ghasaqil-layli
perform as-salat from the declining of the sun till the darkness of the night
waquraanal-fajr, inna quraanal-fajri kaana mashhuudaa
and the Quran in the early dawn. Verily, the recitation of the Quran in the early dawn is witnessed.
While the first half of this ayat in the Surat Al-Isra orders to pray at four different times during a day, the second half - in the expression of "the Quran in the early dawn" - combines the concepts of "to pray" and "to read" in a most blessed time of the day. It is amazing that recitation of the Quran in the dawn prayer is witnessed !!! ...isn't it?