The Misconception of the 20-minute Rule

Jul 14, 2021 | Prayer, Voluntary

One of the voluntary prayers that entails a great reward is the forenoon prayer, known as the ḍuḥā’ prayer, the ishrāq prayer, the subḥah prayer, and the awwābīn prayer in Arabic.

Abu Dharr (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated that the Prophet ﷺ said, “Every morning an act of charity is obligatory upon all of the bones and joints of every one of you. Every utterance of glorification (SubhanAllah) is an act of charity, every utterance of praise (Alhamdulillah) is an act of charity, every utterance of belief (La ilaha illAllah) is an act of charity, every utterance aggrandisement (Allahu akbar) is an act of charity, ordering good is an act of charity, forbidding evil is a is an act of charity. Two units of the forenoon prayer compensates for all of it.”[1]

The prophetic practice was to pray anywhere between two and eight units for this prayer. The time of the prayer is performed a short while after sunrise up until midday[2]. A note should be made that it is prohibited to pray any prayer when the sun is rising until it has fully risen to at least the height of a spear.

Abdur Rahman bin Awf (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated that the Prophet ﷺ was asked, “Which part of the night is heard more?” He said, “The middle of the second half of the night, then the prayer is accepted until the break of dawn, then there is no prayer until the sun is at the stage of a spear or two spears…”[3]

Abu Umamah (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated that Amr bin Abasah (may Allah be pleased with him) said, “Oh Messenger of Allah, is there a time that is closer[4] than the other? (or) is there a time that is sought out for remembrance in? He said: “Yes, the closest that the Lord is to the human being is in the middle of the second half of the night, so if you can be among those who remember Allah at that time, then do so because the prayer is attended and witnessed (by the angels) until the sun rises, then it rises between the two horns of Satan; that is the time when the disbelievers pray, so leave the prayer until the sun has risen to the stage[5] of a spear and its rays have disappeared. Then the prayer is attended and witnessed (by the angels) until the sun straightens out like the straightness of a spear at midday, that is the time when the gates of Hell are opened and it is stoked up, so do not pray until the shadow appears. Then the prayer is attended and witnessed (by the angels) until the sun sets, and it sets between the horns of Satan, that is the prayer of the disbelievers.”[6]
A spear (rumḥ) is 12 handspans and as a measure in astronomy according to astronomers and manuscripts, 4.5° altitude, although slight variations (notably 5°) have also been mentioned.

Another way of measuring the time that has been mentioned in some texts is by looking directly at the sun and seeing if it hurts one’s eyes, if not, then the time has not entered. We will stick to the first method, as it is more scientific and easily calculated.

A misconception that is widespread is that the time of the forenoon prayer starts fifteen to twenty minutes after sunrise. Whilst this method may be true at the equator, it can not be applied globally nor has it been mentioned by any of the jurists in their works. Let’s examine the times for the forenoon prayer at different locations and different times of the year. I will use the calculator from the website for this purpose.

Times for 1/1/2018:

Location Sunrise Height of one spear (4.5°) Height of two spears (9°) Minutes after sunrise for one spear (4.5°) Minutes after sunrise for two spears (9°)
Mecca 06:58 07:23 07:45 25 47
Mombasa 06:14 06:36 06:56 22 42
London 08:06 08:50 09:37 44 91
Manchester 08:24 09:13 10:07 49 103

Times for 6/6/2018:

Location Sunrise Height of one spear (4.5°) Height of two spears (9°) Minutes after sunrise for one spear (4.5°) Minutes after sunrise for two spears (9°)
Mecca 05:37 06:01 06:23 24 46
Mombasa 06:23 06:45 07:05 22 42
London 04:45 05:26 06:00 41 75
Manchester 04:43 05:26 06:02 43 79

Times for 4/4/2018:

Location Sunrise Height of one spear (4.5°) Height of two spears (9°) Minutes after sunrise for one spear (4.5°) Minutes after sunrise for two spears (9°)
Mecca 06:11 06:33 06:53 22 42
Mombasa 06:22 06:43 07:01 21 39
London 06:29 07:02 07:32 33 63
Manchester 06:35 07:10 07:41 35 66

As can be seen, the times for countries nearer to the equator are closer to the twenty-minute mark and fluctuate with a variance of a few minutes. However, for Manchester and London in the UK, the fluctuation is vast with the forenoon prayer closer to the thirty-five-minute mark in April and forty-nine in the winter.

Conclusion: The forenoon prayer needs to be calculated according to the sun’s altitude at different times of the year and different places. If one is unable to then for e.g. Manchester, at least fifty minutes should be left all-year-round and a recommendation of approximately one hundred minutes or more for the two spears-length time. If one is still unsure, then the prayer will be prohibited until they are unable to look directly at the sun.

– Shaykh Bilal Brown

[1] (Muslim, 720).
[2] There is some difference of opinion regarding the end time, but I will not delve into it here.
[3] (Al-Tabarani Mu’jam al-Kabir, 279).
[4] To Allah ﷻ for worship.
[5] i.e. The height of the sun from the horizon.
[6] (Al-Nasa’i, 572) (Ibn Khuzaymah, 260) (Sahih).


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