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This has been bugging for like a lot lately. back in the day, I mean 14 centuries ago, there were no clocks, etc, people would simply look at the sky and if they felt it was morning or noon or what ever, would say their prayers. But now a days, for example when fasting or breaking ones fast! we are meticulous about the seconds! and check if the time with extreme measures to see if its time or not!!
IMHO this is too much! and we shouldnt realy care this much about time! Why do we care so much and since when has this been like this ?

Update: Thanks everyone, some indicated some methods to get a better idea of time, but even with everything you say, looking at shadows, etc, you get a relative time period and nothing remotely close to precise timing with a clock down to minutes, and even seconds.
More over, at nights(and dawn etc), there was no means to know what time it was, as it is also noted in Quran in one of verses.
My point is, it obviously was never a big deal or important matter. The relativeness of time was always intended, since, if God wanted precise timing he would command his messenger to create a clock for his followers! so when he didn't, he must have never intended precise timing!

  • 1
    This is more to do with the Muslim culture and behavior than Islam. Besides, the statement that "people would simply look at the sky and if they felt it was morning or noon or what ever, would say their prayers" shows lack of prior research. Prayer times in Islam have quite precise indicators which aren't any less precise due to unavailability of clocks. – Crimson Jul 25 at 22:32
  • @Crimson: Like what? Can you specify any moment with precision down to seconds without a clock? – Rika Jul 26 at 4:36
  • Why do you need a clock to specify a precise moment? Sunset happens when the disc of sun disappears completely, and this event is precise. The sun doesn't keep reappearing and disappearing every second in the same place. And can you cite any sources where prayer times are given in precision of seconds as you claim in your question? – Crimson Jul 26 at 6:45
  • @Breeze If you have an assumption that prayer times in Islam are similar to the 'Mahurat' of Hinduism then you are wrong. The time of a particular prayer is in a given time frame ranging from a few minutes to a few hours. To pray within the time frame inshallah is sufficient. – Ahmed Jul 26 at 8:44
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Allah (ﷻ) specifically pointed out that prayer has specified, fixed times (see verse below). That is where the great focus and emphasis on exact times comes from. Whether you use a clock to keep track of time or the sun, you're still trying to get the exact times and pray on time. Prayer outside of its time frame is rejected.

Qur'an 4:103 فإذا قضيتم الصلاة فاذكروا الله قياما وقعودا وعلى جنوبكم فإذا اطمأننتم فأقيموا الصلاة إن الصلاة كانت على المؤمنين كتابا موقوتا (...Verily, the prayer is enjoined on the believers at fixed hours).

Plus, you have a shallow understanding of how early Muslims determined the time. It's not as simple as "look at the sky and if you feel it's time, pray". You actually had to continuously keep an eye out, which most people today don't have the patience to do.

Ibn Majah 697: "When dawn was approaching, Bilal went to his mount, facing towards the east, watching for the dawn. Then Bilal's eyes grew heavy while he was leaning on his mount..."

Moreover, even the looking at the sun's position for whether it has reached the zenith, etc.. may confuse people. So to make it a little easier for Muslims, the Prophet (ﷺ) gave guidelines such as shadow measurements. So Muslims would actually look at their shadow throughout the day to see if it was the length that the Prophet described. Again, something most people today don't have the patience to do...

Sahih Muslim 612: The time of the noon prayer is when the sun passes the meridian and a man's shadow is the same (length) as his height

With the introduction of clocks and timetables, it has taken out a lot of the effort that people would otherwise have to do. You now have exact timings. And yet nonetheless the Sahabah would've still been more meticulous with their methods and systems than we are today with ours. SubhanAllah.

The fervor behind prayers and offering them on time is part of faith. Alhamdulillah! It's good.

Now the question is, why does it (seemingly) bother you?

  • Thanks, but still I'm not satisfied, even with everything you say, looking at shadows, etc, you get a relative time period nothing remotely close to precise timing with a clock down to minutes, and even seconds. More over, at nights, there was no means to know what time it was, as it is also noted in Quran in one of verses. My point is, its obviously was never a big deal, the relativeness of time was intended, Since, if God wanted precise timing he would command his messenger to create a clock for his followers! so when he didnt, he must have never indended precise timing! – Rika Jul 26 at 4:44
  • By the way, concerning why its been bothering me, is because I think about these usually and I need to find plausible justifications for them. a lot has changed compared to 1400 years ago and things must make sense! The discussion is not about being on time or not! its about the concept of being "on time" and how to that time used to be perceived back then vs now! – Rika Jul 26 at 5:21
  • Sorry but we deal with evidences and you haven’t given any. All you’ve done is dismiss the evidence I gave and insisted on your own assumptions. Show us proof from hadith it was so easy determining the time and vey lax as to when you can pray, as you claim. I showed you how Bilal had to sit of a long time and keep watch to get the timing. – Muslimah يا رب العالمين Jul 26 at 11:57
  • Also - there is no logic in this @ "if God wanted precise timing he would command his messenger to create a clock" - This is like saying if God wanted his followers from around the globe to visit Makkah he would've commanded the Prophet to create airplanes. God gave his followers plenty of time keeping methods (sun, moon) and plenty of modes of transportation. – Muslimah يا رب العالمين Jul 26 at 11:57
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some indicated some methods to get a better idea of time, but even with everything you say, looking at shadows, etc, you get a relative time period and nothing remotely close to precise timing with a clock down to minutes, and even seconds. More over, at nights(and dawn etc), there was no means to know what time it was, as it is also noted in Quran in one of verses. My point is, it obviously was never a big deal or important matter. The relativeness of time was always intended, since, if God wanted precise timing he would command his messenger to create a clock for his followers! so when he didn't, he must have never intended precise timing!

Saying so is simply wrong (even if there's some truth in your words, but as written they are strictly speaking wrong and misleading)!

Allah intended us to pray at five specific times a day

You can't say that Allah never intended a precise timing. First note that if we were asked to pray at a specific time none of us would be able to do it this would be an extreme hardship, so it would go against many verse of the qur'an saying that our religion is ease not hardship!
But Allah indeed intended a well defined timing as the prayers are related to specific and well observable and distinguishable times (or more correctly speaking time periods) of the day. (I guess that all of these times are quoted in the answers of Does the idea of praying 5 times a day come from the Qur'an?).
And as these timings are well defined and known they are precise (enough) for the believer. As he knows he should seek refuge in the prayer at five specific times a day in which he can communicate with his Lord and Creator.
Time is important in our religion you can't perform Hajj all the year, you can only fast Ramadan when the new crescent moon has been sighted and you can only pray a prayer when its time has started. And you should have finished doing so before the time for the next prayer starts. Doing it right on time is rewarded as a good deed doing it wrong might be sinful.

All these times are usually observable

And no Allah never said something like "there was no means to know what time it was", but he indeed gave us a hint how we could make out fajr saying:

… And eat and drink until the white thread of dawn becomes distinct to you from the black thread [of night]. Then complete the fast until the sunset…. (2:187)

In fact many ahadith report that the sahabah did use white and black threads for the given purpose. There certainly may be cases when these prayer times can't be observed, but in case of doubt Islam offers again some ease, if we have done efforts and means to find out the time for the prayers we have fulfilled our obligation (Alhamdulillah).

There's no need for clocks in Islam, but Muslims may need them

Time is a relative term. So clocks are not necessary if you don't need 100% precision and that is the case with the prayer times. Nevertheless we are humans and in our faith we always want to do everything in the best and most accurate manner, even if this knowledge would lead (some of) us to delay prayers or even join a lot of prayers at the end of the day. But we want to have rules and limitations to get the feeling of worshiping Allah in the best manner and that's why we need specific timings: to have something we rely on or we could assign the blame to.
One could assume that the differences in the calculation methods which are spread all around a world expresses the leniency of the time periods, but I'm persuaded that the issue is rather the fact that they are more accurate if used in the right location. As there doesn't seem to be a universal formula. (See also Figuring out right calculation method of prayer time)

So certainly the definition of these timings clearly say there's a time span and the limits are somewhat lenient: the transition from the end time of one prayer to the beginning time of another may take 5-10 minutes or in case of the transition from fajr (fard) or sobh to dhohr some hours. one could say the inaccuracy of the calculated prayer timings and the leniency of the timing limits defined by the known day times create a certain balance.

Why knowing the time is important

Nevertheless it is essential for Muslims to know these limits and it is essential for the (Muslim) ruler to have well-versed people placed in mosques who would call for the prayer at the very beginning of the time. So in some countries some of these people rather use their eyes observing the sky than clocks to call for it, while others rely on time tables. As Allah the almighty says:

… Indeed, prayer has been decreed upon the believers a decree of specified times. (4:103)

One could say that the call for the prayer -the adhan- is crucial as hearing it means one must pray the prayer which was called for and one must have finished the prayer which was before. As we find in the sunnah

He who finds a rak'ah of the prayer, he in fact finds the prayer.
(In Sahih al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim and elsewhere)

So a prayer is only valid or more exactly performed on time if at least the above criteria applies (and this is a time gap of very few minutes). And other rulings can be concluded from that for example if a woman's menses ended in this small time gap described above the actual prayer is a due on her else not (see for example Check if menstruation stop before fajr) also fasting starts and ends with the adhan. So if one goes on eating after the adhan has started a fast is invalid etc.

Summary

In Islam the prayer times are well-known and distinguishable time periods of the day. And each prayer must be performed within its given time Periode. This is the ease Allah gave us, we may have at least around 1 hour to perform our duty which usually wouldn't take more than a few minutes. A 100% precise timing is not needed, but as many of us layman don't know these timings or even many more rely on the adhan it is essential for a Muslim ruler to have people call for the prayers at the very beginning of the time, even if we should know that the precision of such a time lays somewhere between +/-1 minute and +/-5minutes.
We should also have in mind that worshiping Allah is a due and even if Allah gave us some clear rules (time, direction, purity, how to etc.) it is for our own best to perform it and we shouldn't look for excuses to delay them.

  • You missed the point entirely! there are time durations of course, but they are not exact to the minute or second. Let me give you an example, if before morning adhan, I was eating and suddenly Adan started from mosque, and I continue to eat, my fasting would be invein (باطل). While there is not a single ray of light and if I was living 1400 years ago, I could have been just fine for like another 30 minutes to a whole hour before that dawn is visible to me! and thus I can stop eating! The same thing applies to the prayers. If God intended, he could easily create a clock for us! big deal! – Rika Jul 26 at 7:50
  • @Breeze that is only half true, if you hear the adhan and kept eating your fast would be void no matter if it was today or 1400 years ago. And if you didn't hear it and had no reason to think the time of the prayer entered your fast would be valid, unless you came to know you ate after fajr and that case you may consider making up that day. In both cases the ruling applies today in the same manner as 1400 years ago. – Medi1Saif Jul 26 at 7:53

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