One of the five main principles upon which Islamic law is based (i.e., the Legal Maxims, or al-Qawāʿid al-Fiqhiyya) is: “Difficulty begets ease” (al-mashaqqa tajlib al-taysīr). This principle is manifested throughout all of the rules of fiqh, and in particular that of travel (safar). A traveler may shorten the prayers (qasr), combine them (jamʿ), and be legally permitted to break the fast of Ramadan (fiṭr).
There are explicit evidences from the Qurʾān, the Sunnah, and unanimous consensus of the scholars of Islam that allow a traveler to shorten his or her prayers.
The Qurʾān says, “And if you travel in the land, there is no sin on you that you shorten your prayers (taqṣurū min al-ṣalāt) if you fear that the unbelievers may harm you.” [Sūra al-Nisāʾ:101].
The verse seems to suggest that 'fear' is a necessary condition, along with travel, in order to shorten the prayer. However, even though the verse mentions 'fear' as a condition, it is no longer a requirement. ʿUmar b. al-Khaṭṭāb was asked how it was still permissible to shorten prayers even though there was no 'fear' remaining. He replied, “I asked the Prophet salla Allahu ʿalayhī wa sallam the exact same question, and he said, 'This is a charity that Allāh has given to you, so accept His charity'” [Reported by Muslim]. In other words, Allāh has graciously lifted the condition mentioned and allowed Muslims to shorten even if there is no fear of impending attack by enemy forces.
It is narrated in numerous traditions that the Prophet salla Allahu ʿalayhī wa sallam would shorten every four-unit prayer to two-units whenever he was traveling – in fact, he never prayed any four-unit prayer while in a state of travel.
Hence, there is unanimous consensus amongst all the scholars of Islam that a traveler who is undertaking a legitimate journey may shorten the four-unit prayers to two. [Note that the issue of combining (jamʿ) is a separate one, and there is a difference of opinion regarding the permissibility of combining prayers while traveling].
The question that arises, however, is: when does one legally become a 'traveler'? And for how long may one continue to shorten the prayer?
To answer this question, we will divide this article into two sections. Firstly, we shall discuss the opinions of scholars regarding the distance that constitutes 'travel'. This will also require us to go into a tangent and convert the distances narrated in the classical and medieval textbooks into modern measurements. Secondly, we shall discuss the opinions of the scholars regarding the time-duration that is required for the status of a traveler to change into a resident once he arrives at some destination.
1. The Distance that Constitutes 'Travel'
The distance that constitutes 'travel' is one of the most highly contested issues amongst the early scholars of Islamic law, so much so that Ibn al-Mundhir (d. 310/922) mentioned close to twenty opinions on this matter. For the purposes of our article, we shall concentrate on the four most famous opinions.
1.1 First Opinion: A three-day journey
What is meant by a 'three-day journey' is the distance that a traveler on a camel of average speed would traverse in three complete days.
This is the position of the Companion Ibn Masʿūd, some of the famous scholars of Kufa such as al-Shaʿbī (d. 105/723) and al-Nakhaʿī (d. 96/714), and the standard position of the Ḥanafī school of law.
They based this figure on the famous hadith in which the Prophet salla Allahu ʿalayhī wa sallam said, “It is not allowed for a woman who believes in Allāh and the Last Day that she travel for a distance of three days without her father, son, husband, brother or any maḥram” [Reported by Muslim]. They reasoned from this hadith that the Prophet called the distance of 'three days' a 'travel', hence this can be taken as a definition for what constitutes traveling.
Another evidence that they used was the hadith pertaining to wiping over the socks, in which the Prophet “…allowed a traveler to wipe over his socks for a period of three days and nights” [Reported by Muslim]. The Ḥanafīs reasoned that since the Prophet salla Allahu ʿalayhī wa sallam set a particular time limit in place, this demonstrates that anyone traveling a distance less than a three-day journey would not be allowed to wipe over his socks, which would then imply that he would not be a traveler.
1.2 Second Opinion: A two-day journey
This is the famous opinion of the Ḥanbalīs, Shāfʿīs and Mālikīs (note that even within these schools there are other opinions as well, as shall be pointed out in the next section). This opinion has also been reported from Ibn ʿAbbās, Ibn ʿUmar, Ibn Shihāb al-Dhuhrī (d. 129/746), and others. From amongst the modern scholars, this is the opinion of Ibn Baz (d. 1999) and the fatwa of the Permanent Committee of Scholars of Saudi Arabia. It is claimed that this is the majority opinion of the classical scholars of Islam.
Their evidence is the fact that the Prophet salla Allahu ʿalayhī wa sallam said, “It is not allowed for a woman who believes in Allāh and the Last Day that she travels for a distance of two days without a maḥram” [Reported by Muslim]. They also used the action of Ibn ʿUmar as an evidence, for it is reported that he would shorten his prayers if he traveled the distance of four barīds (i.e., two days, as we shall discuss later in this article) [Reported by imām Malik in his Muwaṭṭa].
1.3 Third Opinion: A one-day journey
This was the opinion of imām al-Bukharī (d. 256/869) which he explicitly mentions in hisṢaḥīḥ. It has also been attributed as a second opinion within the three schools of the last opinion (viz., the Ḥanbalīs, Shāfʿīs and Mālikīs). [It will be explained later why this second opinion for these three schools is not in essence different from their first one].
The famous scholar of Syria, al-Awzāʿī (d. 151/768), said, “This is the opinion of the majority of scholars, and we hold it as well.” Amongst the modern scholars, this is the opinion of our teacher Muḥammad b. Muḥammad al-Mukhtār al-Shanqīṭī.
Their evidence for this is the fact that the Prophet salla Allahu ʿalayhī wa sallam said, “It is not allowed for a woman who believes in Allāh and the Last Day that she travels for a distance of one day without a maḥram” [Reported by al-Bukhārī]. Al-Bukhārī commented on this hadith by saying, “So it is clear that the Prophet called [the traveling of] one day and night a 'travel.'”
They also use as evidence the statement of Ibn ʿAbbās, when he was asked by a person residing in Mecca, “Should I shorten when I go to Mina or Arafat?” He said, “No! But if you go to Taif, or Jeddah, or travel an entire day's journey, then do so. But if you travel less than that, then do not shorten.” Therefore, he expressed 'an entire day's journey' as being the minimal limit for shortening the prayers.
1.4 Fourth Opinion: It is not defined by distance but by experience
What is meant by this opinion is that a journey is not defined by how much one has traveled but by what one does and how one prepares for it. According to this opinion, a 'journey' is not a particular distance as much as it is a physical and psychological experience.
This is the opinion of Ibn Ḥazm (d. 456/1064) (although he placed a minimum of 'one mile'), Ibn Qudama (d. 610/1213), Ibn Taymiyya (d. 728/1327), Ibn al-Qayyim (d. 756/1355), al-Ṣanʿānī (d. 1182/1768), al-Shawkanī (d. 1250/1834), and others. It has been interpreted to be the opinion of Ibn Masʿūd, ʿUthmān b. ʿAffān, and Ibn Sirīn. In fact, there is an explicit statement from Ibn Sirīn which shows that this opinion might have been more prevalent in the past, for he states, “They used to say that a travel in which one may shorten the prayer is a journey in which one takes provisions and baggage.” Amongst the modern scholars, it is the opinion of Ibn ʿUthaymīn (d. 2000) and Ibn Jibrīn (d. 2010).
Their evidence is the lack of any Scriptural evidence that defines 'travel', and hence the necessity of resorting to what is culturally understood to be 'travel'.
Ibn Taymiyya was perhaps the most vocal proponent of this opinion. He disagreed with any specific distance that other scholars sought to derive. According to him, there is no explicit evidence from the Qurʾān, Sunnah, language or custom of that generation that would be binding on later Muslims. He views the distances that the legal schools and other scholars adopted as having been resorted to because these scholars did not find anything more explicit to demarcate the distance required to be considered a 'traveler'. In fact, all three of the previous opinions use the same basic hadith that prevents women from traveling without a male companion – yet, as is obvious, each hadith uses a different limit. This in itself shows that the intention of the hadith is not to define the distance of what constitutes 'travel'.
Ibn Taymiyya writes,
So demarcating a specific distance does not have any basis in the Shariah, or in the language, or in the intellect. Most people, in fact, do not know the distance of the earth, so it is not allowed to link something that the average Muslim is in need of (i.e., when to shorten the prayer) with something that he does not know (i.e., how much he has traveled). No one measured the earth during the time of the Prophet, nor did the Prophet himself put limits, neither inmīls nor in farāsikh (units of measurement). And a person might leave his village to go to the desert in order to collect wood, and he leaves for two or three days, and he will be a traveler, even though the distance might be less than a mile! In contrast to this, another person might go [a longer distance] and come back the same day, and he will not be a traveler. This is because the first person will take provision for the journey, and bags [with his necessities], whereas the second person will not. Therefore, even a near distance can be considered a 'travel' if someone stays for a period of time, and a longer distance will not be considered a travel if a person stays for a short period. A 'travel' is therefore defined by the actions that are required in order for that journey to be called 'traveling'… and this is a matter that people recognize by their own customs.
Ibn Taymiyya did, however, place a condition that such a travel be considered a travel according to one's custom, such that a person would prepare for a journey and travel into the wilderness (meaning, an uninhabited area). Hence, if a person visited an outlying district of a city (in Ibn Taymiyya's explicit example, if a person living in Damascus visited a small population outside of Damascus), even if this distance was considered large, this would not constitute travel, as this is not considered 'traveling' for a person in this situation.
Therefore, according to Ibn Taymiyya, a 'travel' is not merely a distance but also a frame of mind. Someone who leaves his house, intending to return the same evening, is not a traveler, even if (as in our times) he travels to another country and then returns. Ibn ʿUthaymīn also holds the same position.
Ibn Taymiyya also pointed out that this interpretation was in accordance with the very wordsafar in Arabic, because this word indicates 'exposure'. Thus, a woman who exposes her face is called sāfira. Therefore, a safar' would be a journey in which a person 'exposes' himself/herself to the wilderness by abandoning the cities and towns and journeying into an uninhabited area.
To be continued…
Part Two deals with converting these measurements into modern units.
 Ibn Taymiyya, Majmūʾ al-Fatāwā, 24/8.
 Ibn Hubayra, al-Ifṣāḥ, 2/55. There is some disagreement regarding someone who travels for an impermissible purpose, such as a businessman who travels to engage in an impermissible transaction; that tangent will not be discussed in our article.
 ʿAbd al-Razzāq, al-Muṣannaf, # 4296.
 Ibn Abī Shaybah, al-Muṣannaf, # 8153. Also see Ibn Taymiyya, Majmūʾ al-Fatāwāʼ,24/86-7.