Answered by Shaykh Omar Subedar
I was told by a brother that praying ṣalāh according to the timetables (beginning times) set up by the Masjids (Toronto and vicinity) was incorrect. The brother pointed out that in the time of the Prophet (PEACE AND BLESSINGS UPON HIM) they did not have a specific time as to when salāh would start but rather would look at the position of the sun and would draw decisions from there. He continued to say that if we were to pray our salāh before the time on the calendars, our salāh would be valid because it is around the time of the day for the salāh. (i.e. on that day, Zuhr beginning time was shown as 12:04 and the brother was praying at about 11:35 and when i approached him, he justified it with the above).
My argument to the brother was that in the time of the Prophet (PEACE AND BLESSINGS UPON HIM) there was no such technology to be able to tell the exact timing as to when the sun has reached its position to allow them to perform the respective salāh. Therefore, they observed the sun and prayed accordingly, but for us it is firstly difficult to sight the position of the sun, and we have also been given the technology and means to calculate the timings. What is your opinion on the issue? Is it permissible to pray before the time outlined on calendars, keeping in mind the above?
Firstly it is important to understand that each prayer throughout the day has a fixed time as decreed by Allah. Allah mentions, “Indeed, prayer has been decreed upon the believers a decree of specified times.” [4:103]
The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم elucidated this by expressing, “Indeed the prayer has a beginning [time] and an ending [time]…” [Tirmidhë: 151]
These timings were taught to the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم by Jibrël عليه السلام upon his return from his miraculous night journey (Al Isrā wa Al Me`rāj). By analysing the numerous reports on prayer timings we find that the timings revolve around the position of the sun and the light emitted from it. These timings were not merely determined by looking at the sun and guessing its position but rather by utilizing the means people had at their disposal in those days. For example Ibn `Abbās رضى الله عنهما reported, “The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم related, “Jibrël عليه السلام led me twice [for each] prayer by the house [of Allah]. He led Zhuhr the first time when the shadow was equivalent to the size of a shoelace. He then led `Asr when everything was equivalent [to the size of its] shadow. Later he prayed Maghrib when the sun had set and [when] the fasting person [is supposed to] breaks his fast. He observed `Eshā when the twilight had disappeared [in the horizon]. He prayed Fajr when the dawn [began to] shine [in the horizon] and [when] food is prohibited for the fasting person.
On the second time around he prayed Zhuhr when the shadow of each object was equivalent [to size of the object]; the same time as `Asr the previous day. He then observed `Asr when the shadow of each object was two times the size of the object. He prayed Maghrib the same time as the first day and prayed `Eshā when 1/3rd of the night had passed. He then prayed the Morning Prayer when the land became bright.
Jibrël عليه السلام then turned to me and said, “O Muhammad, these were the [prayer] timings of the Prophets before you and the time [for each prayer] is between these two timings.” [Tirmidhë: 149]
This narration clearly shows that in the rarely overcast mountain covered valley of Makka, where no high-rise buildings stood erect the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم relied on certain signs at various stages of the day to determine the position of the sun and the correct time of salāh.
Today in the 21st century, we are living in an age where the position of the sun is accurately recorded by observatories at any given time. This allows us to fix the timing of each prayer precisely and correctly thus eliminating the need to rely on anything else to determine the sun’s position.
Hence the assertion made by your friend that the timetables used by Masjids are incorrect is an invalid one. In addition if your friend is an expert in determining the position of the sun without requiring the assistance of a timetable then that is applaudable for him, however to exhort others to merely look at the sun and determine their prayer timing is a reprehensible act.
In light of this entire discussion the answer to your question is that it is absolutely impermissible to perform any prayer prior to the timings outlined in the timetables in circulation today.
And Allah Knows Best