In our previous parts, we discussed the travel distance required to be considered a traveler. In this article, we shall discuss the time duration that one remains a traveler.
2. For How Long Does One Remain a Traveler?
The final issue that we need to discuss is the time duration for which one is allowed to shorten the prayer while one remains a 'traveler'. In other words, once one has arrived at one's initial destination and intends to remain there for a duration before returning home, for how long can s/he shorten and combine? Once again, we face a myriad of opinions on this issue (I have come across at least eighteen different opinions, and there are more); for the purposes of this article, we shall restrict ourselves to the more common ones.
2.1 The State of 'Travel' Ceases after 15 days
The Ḥanafīs considered a 'traveler' to be someone who intends to reside at a place for fifteen days or less (inclusive of the day that he intends to travel). They based this on qiyas, or analogy, with the longest possible days of a woman's period. At first glance, this analogy does seem rather bizarre. However, they reasoned that both a traveler and a woman in her menses must 'return' to a more permanent state of worship (the menstruating woman returns to her prayers after desisting from them, and the traveler returns to the full prayer after ceasing to be a 'traveler'), hence there is a commonality between these two scenarios that would allow us (or so the Ḥanafīs felt) to extrapolate the same ruling to these two scenarios.
They also use as evidence a tradition of Ibn ʿAbbās in which he stated that the Prophetṣalla Allahu ʿalayhī wa sallam stayed in Mecca for fifteen days, praying qaṣr (Reported by Abu Dawud; most scholars of hadith consider this version to be inauthentic for a number of reasons, one of which is that more authentic versions of this hadith mention even higher numbers.)
The Ḥanafis also attributed this position to Ibn ʿAbbās and Ibn ʿUmar, and it is also one opinion of Saʿīd b. al-Musayyib.
2.2 The State of 'Travel' Ceases after 4 days
The Mālikīs, Shāfiʿīs, and Ḥanbalīs claimed that the time that makes a traveler into a resident is four days.
Note that the Ḥanbalīs have qualified this as 'twenty prayers' and not four days; also there is some difference of opinion between the Mālikīs and the Shāfiʿīs over when this time frame should start and end and whether the day that one arrives and leaves counts or not. For the purposes of this article, all of these differences will be ignored. What is important to note is that these three schools have a similar time frame of 'four days'.
Their main evidence is the command of the Prophet ṣalla Allahu ʿalayhī wa sallam that the Emigrants (Muhajirūn) who were performing Hajj with him should not stay in Mecca for more than three days [Reported by Muslim].
In order to understand the reasoning of these three schools with respect to this tradition, an important fact must be understood. The Emigrants who had left Mecca for Madīnah during the hijra were prohibited from returning to Mecca as 'residents', since they had given up that land for the sake of Allāh. The point derived by the majority, therefore, is that the reason the Prophet ṣalla Allahu ʿalayhī wa sallam prohibited them to stay more than three days is that it is the staying of four days or more that converts a traveler into a resident. To buttress this point, these schools also mention that the Prophet ṣalla Allahu ʿalayhī wa sallam himself prayed qaṣr when he remained in Mecca for three days, after performing ʿUmrah.
Another evidence that is used is the travel restrictions that ʿUmar b. al-Khaṭṭāb placed on non-Muslim traders who wished to conduct business in Mecca or Madīnah: he only allowed them permission to remain for three days. Once again, the interpretation given is that it is four days or more that converts a traveler to a resident, hence he forbade them from remaining for more than three days.
And it is also reported from Saʿīd b. al-Musayyib (d. 95), who said, “If you want to stay for four, then pray four!” This is also the opinion of the Permanent Committee of Scholars, the fatwa of Shaykh Ibn Bāz, and the opinion of our Shaykh Muḥammad al-Mukhtār al-Shanqīṭī.
2.3 The Opinion of Ibn Taymiyya
Ibn Taymiyya, extrapolating from many of the same premises as his earlier position on thedistance of travel, felt that there exists no explicit evidence or reasoning that would specify a particular time period that effectively converts a traveler into a resident. Therefore, he felt that a traveler would remain a traveler even if he stayed at a specific location for a longer period of time, as long as his lifestyle was that of a 'traveler'.
As part of his evidences, Ibn Taymiyya also pointed out that there are authentic narrations that indicate the Prophet ṣalla Allahu ʿalayhī wa sallam would pray qaṣr for more than fifteen days. Of them is the hadith of Jābir that the Prophet ṣalla Allahu ʿalayhī wa sallam camped at Tabuk praying qaṣr for twenty days (Reported by Abu Dawud). Another is the hadith of Ibn ʿAbbās in which he reported that the Prophet ṣalla Allahu ʿalayhī wa sallam stayed in Mecca nineteen days, praying qaṣr (Reported by al-Bukhārī). The four schools all re-interpreted these evidences (by claiming, for example, that the Prophet did not know how long he would camp at Tabuk during that expedition, so he did not intend to stay for more than 'x' number of days; and so forth). However, Ibn Taymiyya clearly takes an unbiased and apparent reading of these evidences to suggest that there is no specific number that the Prophet ṣalla Allahu ʿalayhī wa sallam suggested and that at times he prayed qaṣr for more than four or fifteen days.
Nonetheless, perhaps understanding that this open-ended response also had potential problems, Ibn Taymiyya did feel that the majority opinion of four days was safer to follow.
In one fatwa, Ibn Taymiyya was asked about a traveler who intends to remain for one month in a city: is he permitted to shorten? He replied that it was safer for him not to shorten but to pray in full. In another fatwa that he was asked, he explicitly permitted a person in a similar situation to shorten the prayer for this longer period, even while saying that it is 'safer' to pray the full amount.
In other words, Ibn Taymiyya himself did not unequivocally allow such a person to pray qaṣrfor a limitless number of days. Even though he said that it is permitted and that one should not rebuke those who do this, he also said that it was better to pray full.
However, a modern follower of Ibn Taymiyya, Shaykh Ibn ʿUthaymīn, took this fatwa to a possible logical conclusion. According to Ibn ʿUthaymīn, as long as a person did not intend to remain permanently in a city, such a person would be considered a traveler, even if he remained in that city for years on end. Based on this fatwa, numerous Saudi students (some of whom I personally met) would pray qaṣr for years while students overseas. They reasoned that since they had the full intention of returning to Saudi Arabia after their four or five years of study, they were, in fact, in the state of 'travel', even if they purchased houses and cars, and put their kids in a local school. When Ibn ʿUthaymīn was asked about this scenario, he agreed with this interpretation and reasoned that since there was no actual time limit, even the duration of ten years would constitute 'travel' as long as one wished to return to a place called 'home'.
2.4 The Strongest Opinion
Before mentioning what appears to be the 'strongest' opinion, it should be mentioned that there are many other opinions on this issue as well. For example, some have said that the time duration is twenty days; Isḥāq b. Rāhwayh said this period was nineteen days; others said seventeen; yet others thirteen; al-Awzāʿī said twelve; al-Ḥasan b. Ṣāliḥ said ten; Ḥasan al-Baṣrī said three; and Rabīʿa al-Raʾy said a stay of one day converts one from a traveler to a resident. However, for the purposes of our discussion, we will limit the opinions to these famous and mashhūr ones.
Also note that the issue of one who is not certain about the time that he is remaining in a land is a separate one, and even within these schools, the majority would allow qaṣr for much longer periods in this case. The classic example mentioned in legal books is that of the soldiers of the army guarding the borders; they could be called for duty at any time, and they are most certainly not 'residents' considering the harsh conditions they live in. There are authentic reports that some of the Companions prayed qaṣr for months on end (perhaps even for years). It is reported that Ibn ʿUmar prayed qaṣr for six months while in Azerbaijan. However, this was done in a state of war, and therefore when one is in such a state that one can leave at any time, obviously this would take a separate ruling from the one who intends a particular number of days.
Returning to our discussion, once again, Ibn Taymiyya's points resonate strongly with the open-minded researcher. The 'four-day rule' seems derived, and not intended. There are numerous authentic traditions in which the Prophet ṣalla Allahu ʿalayhī wa sallam stayed at a location for more than four days while shortening the prayers. Therefore, even though the majority of the schools of law did stipulate four days, there really seems no evidence whatsoever to limit such a ruling to a specific time period. In our times, it is extremely common for office workers (in particular, consultants) to travel for five days of the week to an on-site location, and such workers are travelers in every sense of the word, despite the fact that they are remaining in the same location for more than four days.
Yet, to allow no limit whatsoever (as our respected Shaykh Ibn ʿUthaymīn did) really does not seem to be either in the spirit or the intent of the Shariah. Yes, it is true that a traveler cannot be defined by a particular time-frame, but surely s/he can be defined as a resident by actions that s/he undertakes. A traveler does not buy a house, or 'settle down', or take care of his children's long-term education. Therefore, a person who comes to a town, knowing that he will stay for a few years, is clearly not a 'traveler' anymore, since he must take care of all of these matters and more. Owning or renting a house is not the same as living in a motel.
No doubt, such a distinction is not a black-and-white one, and there are many shades of grey in between. It is precisely because of such grey areas that most legal scholars are prone to give solid numbers ('48 miles', or '4 days') rather than the more ambiguous yardsticks of Ibn Taymiyya. And therefore, should someone prefer to follow one of these standard opinions mentioned in our classical schools, this is something that should be encouraged and not looked down upon. Nonetheless, if someone were to follow the more academic position of Ibn Taymiyya, this (in my humble opinion) would be closer to the intent of the laws of the Shariah.
And in the end, it is indeed Allāh alone who knows best.
This article did not discuss the following issues in detail; for the sake of completeness, they will be mentioned in passing:
Firstly, the legal status of shortening the prayer (qaṣr). The Ḥanafīs deemed it to be obligatory for the traveler and stated that if the traveler prays the regular prayer, he will in fact be sinful. The majority said that shortening the prayer was preferred, but not obligatory.
Secondly, the legal status of joining between two prayers (jamʿ), specifically of course, Ẓuhr and ʿAṣr, and Maghrib and ʿIshā. [No school of law allowed jamʿ for any other two combinations of prayers].
The Ḥanafīs did not allow any joining of the prayers except for the pilgrims during the days of Hajj. They did not view joining as one of the concessions granted to the traveler and claimed that the joining together during the days of ʿArafat and Mina are related to the rites of Hajj and not to the issue of traveling.
The vast majority of other scholars allowed Ẓuhr and ʿAṣr to be joined, and Maghrib and ʿIshā to be joined, based on explicit, authentic traditions on this matter. Additionally, they said that this should preferably be done only during the actual travel. Once a traveler arrives at his temporary destination, it is preferred (but not obligatory) to pray each prayer at its proper time.
Ibn Taymiyya writes, after mentioning some traditions that describe the Prophet's prayer during travel,
So all of this shows that combining the prayers (jamʿ) is not from the sunnahs of traveling, unlike shortening them (qaṣr) – rather, combining the prayers is only done where there is a need to do so, regardless of whether one is traveling or not, for it is also permissible for the resident to combine. Therefore, if a traveler needs to combine, he may do so, for example: if he will be engaged in the act of travel during the first or second prayer time, or he needs to sleep or rest… However, as for someone who stops for a few days in a village or city, then his ruling is the same as that of the people of that village. So such a person, even though he should pray qaṣr as a traveler, should not combine, just like he should not pray on an animal, or resort to tayammum, or eat a dead animal. All of these matters are only allowed when there is a need to do so, unlike shortening the prayer, for this is a sunnah for all travelers.
Note that this is contrary to what most travelers do: they assume that combining the prayers takes the same ruling as shortening does and regularly combine for the entire duration of the travel.
Thirdly, when precisely is it allowed for a traveler to begin shortening and combining the prayers? A small minority said that he may do so as soon as he commences the travel, even if he still be in his house (i.e., immediately before he leaves). However, the majority said that he may only begin shortening and combining once he has left the city walls (or, in our times, when he has exited the last settlements that are still considered a part of his city).
 Al-Kasānī, Badāʾi al-Ṣanāʿʾ; al-Tahānawī, Iʿlāʾ al-Sunan, 7/312-5.
 Ibn Qudāma, al-Mughnī, 3/148.
 Ibn Abi Shayba, Muṣannaf.
 Ibn Taymiyya, Majmūʾ al-Fatāwā 24/17.
 Ibid., 24/18