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In the name of Allah, Most Beneficent, Most Merciful

Islam follows a lunar calendar. Obviously, the month changes at the site of first crescent of the new moon and this happens only at sunset. It therefore implies that a date too should change at sunset. This methodology is followed universally in Islam.

I could find this hadith that indirectly backs up this methodology:

Sunan Abi Dawud (Hadith 2341)

Narrated Ikrimah:

Once the people doubted the appearance of the moon of Ramadan, and intended neither to offer the tarawih prayer nor to keep fast. A bedouin came from al-Harrah and testified that he had sighted the moon. He was brought to the Prophet (ﷺ). He asked: Do you testify that there is no god but Allah, and that I am the Messenger of Allah? He said: Yes; and he testified that he had sighted the moon. He commanded Bilal who announced to the people to offer the tarawih prayer and to keep fast.

In another hadith (Sahih), The Holy Prophet (ﷺ) calls the 'Asr prayer 'middle prayer'

Jami' Tirmidhi (Hadith 3250)

Narrated Samurah bin Jundab:

"The Prophet of Allah (ﷺ) said: 'The middle Salat is Salat Al-'Asr.'"

When the day is believed to be commenced with the sunset, the Maghrib prayer should be the first prayer and 'Asr should be the last prayer and the middle prayer should actually be Fajr.

  • Why then is 'Asr prayer called the middle prayer?

  • If it is a different context that the hadith refers to, what is that context and how does it make 'Asr the middle prayer?

UPDATE:

I stumbled upon another hadith:

Sunan Abi Dawud (Hadith 411)

Zaid b. Thabit said:

The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) used to offer the Zuhr prayer in midday heat; and no prayer was harder on the Companions of the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) that this one. Hence the revelation came down: "Be guardians of your prayers, and of the midmost prayer" (2:238). He (the narrator) said: There are two prayers before it and two prayers after it.

In this hadith, the Zuhr prayer is called the mid-most prayer. It is also mentioned that there are two prayers before it and two prayers after it. Now again, two more questions arise.

  • How is this Hadith compatible with the previous hadith that mentions 'Asr as the middle prayer?
  • Two prayers before Zuhr means Isha and Fajr. Does the hadith also mean that the next date actually starts after Maghrib (ie. with 'Isha)?
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The lunar month starts with sighting of the moon shortly after sunset. On the first day of the lunar calendar the moon sets shortly after the sun. And the difference between them is about 15mins. Accordingly there is about a 15-minute window for sighting the moon. And this marks the start of the lunar month and of the day.

Asr is called the middle prayer, because it's in the middle between the other two prayers of the day (Fajr and Zuhr) and the two prayers of the night (Maghreb and Isha).

There are many different opinions according to scholars with regards to Asr prayer name as "الصلاة الوسطي". Which could mean middle prayer or the best prayer. I have mentioned only one opinion which is related to timing. Please check references for details of all of the different opinions.

Response to the update:

This hadith that is referenced is mentioned under the chapter named: " باب وقت صلاة العصر". Which means : Chapter of Asr prayer. This hadith enforces my response as it's talking about 2 topics, the heat at Zohr prayer and the revelation of the verse: "حافظوا علي الصلاوات و الصلاة الوسطي", which is referencing Asr prayer as the middle prayer as it has 2 before and 2 after according to the hadith.

References:

- http://ar.islamway.net/fatwa/31001

  • This answer is wrong. The Islamic day (yawm) begins at sunset. The period of daylight (nahār) begins at sunrise (not at dawn = fajr). – aasheq Jun 7 '15 at 21:17
  • Corrected. You are right. – jikolp Jun 7 '15 at 21:45
  • @aasheq Can you back that claim up? Because Brill's argues extensively, with references, that nahār does begin with the breaking of dawn, not at the actual sunrise (see also my related answer here: islam.stackexchange.com/a/4229/22) – goldPseudo Jun 7 '15 at 21:57
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    @goldPseudo The foremost scientific authority on Muslim Chronology, al-Biruni, in his book الآثار الباقية عن القرون الخالية p. 7, defines nahār thus: وهو من طلوع جرم الشمس الى غروبه. – aasheq Jun 7 '15 at 22:11
  • @goldPseudo: More back up for: islamqa.info/en/129636. If you read that post you will see it's disputed. But the Hadith that is narrated regarding Asr prayer, confirm that. – jikolp Jun 7 '15 at 22:15
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As you have pointed out, the Muslim day (yawm) begins at sunset. On the other hand, in hadith, and elsewhere, there is distinction made between the “prayers of the daytime” (that is: Zuhr and Asr) and the “prayers of the night time” (that is: Maghrib, Isha, Fajr).

In my comment on jikolp’s answer I referred to the great Muslim astronomer al-Biruni and his classic work الآثار الباقية which he wrote in the year 1000 AD. In the chapter that I quoted (Chapter I) he discusses this precise problem, with reference both to theological and astronomical aspects. Here he quotes the prophetic hadith: “The prayer of the daytime is silent” and remarks on

“the fact that people call the noon prayer the first prayer, because it is the first of the two prayers of the daytime; whilst they call the afternoon-prayer the middle prayer, because it is in the middle between the first of the two prayers of the daytime and the first of the prayers of the night time”.

I think this is a good explanation. In Islamic sources it is not unusual to refer to Zuhr as الصلاة الأولى and to Asr as الصلاة الثانية .

  • aasheq, the update in question needs to be addressed. – Tabrez Ahmed Jun 16 '15 at 6:38
  • @TabrezAhmed. The two traditions that you quote (Tirmidhi 3250 and Abu Dawud 411) obviously contradict each other. This is not uncommon with hadith. I can only say from my reading of Arabic literature that the former view (the "middle prayer" is Asr) is much more common that the latter (the "middle prayer" is Zuhr). But this is really only a question of terminology and does not affect doctrine or pratice. – aasheq Jun 16 '15 at 8:39

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