Answered by Shaykh Muhammad ibn Adam al-Kawthari
Isha/fajr in extreme latitudes
In the name of Allah, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful,
The time for Eisha prayer comes in when the whiteness in the sky (shafaq al-abyadh) disappears (according to Abu Hanifa, Allah be pleased with him), or when the redness in the sky disappears (according to Abu Yusuf and Muhammad ibn al-Hasan, Allah be pleased with them).
The time of Eisha ends (which also is the beginning time for Fajr) at true dawn (al-fajr al-sadiq), which is when the sky around the horizon begins to grow light. Before this, a dim light sometimes appears overhead for some minutes, followed by darkness, and is termed the deceptive dawn (al-fajr al-kadhib). According to the contemporary scholars and experts, this is when the sun is 18 degrees below the eastern horizon, which is known as the ‘Astronomical Twilight’.
Now, areas that are situated at extreme latitude, at times the time of Eisha does not appear. Before the Eisha time sets in, the time for Fajr appears. In other words, the sun does not descend fully below the western horizon before beginning to rise.
For example, here in England, in the summer months (which could begin around mid May till the end part of July) the whiteness in the sky (shafaq al-abyadh) does not disappear at night, and in certain nights the redness also fails to disappear. In such a case what should the ruling be for the respective times of the Eisha and Fajr prayers?
The Fuqaha have mentioned different methods in calculating the times for Fajr and Eisha prayer at extreme latitude. Those areas that are above 48 latitudes (UK is at 50 to 60 latitudes) in certain days of the summer, Maghrib time directly goes into Fajr time, thus there is no time for the Eisha prayer.
There are four methods in estimating the ending time of Eisha and the beginning time of Fajr:
1) In those certain days where Eisha time fails to appear, the time will be set according to the last day when dawn actually did rise. For example, on the final day where dawn set in was at 1.21, a.m. So throughout the period when there is no apparent beginning time for Fajr, we will set the time at 1.21, a.m. This is known as ‘aqrab al-Ayyam’.
2) The time between sunset and sunrise is divided into two parts. The first half is considered to be night and the second morning, meaning the time for Eisha will end (and the time for Fajr will commence) when the first half comes to an end. This is known as ‘Nisf al-layl’.
3) Aqrab al-bilad. This method is by looking at the nearest place where the time for Eisha does appear and the time is set according to their time. This is known as Aqrab al-Bilad.
4) The last method is where the time between sunset and sunrise is divided into seven parts. The first six parts are considered to be the night (in which you may perform the Eisha prayer) and the final part considered to be the commencement for dawn (Fajr prayer).
The above are the four methods used in ascertaining the ending time for Eisha and the beginning time for Fajr.
These four methods have been mentioned by traditional Fuqaha and one may find the texts of the Fuqaha in this regard in the various traditional books of Fiqh. See for example, Imam Nawawi’s works such as al-Majmu’, Rawdhat al-Talibin and his Commentary of Sahih Muslim. Also, Ibn Abidin discusses this quoting from the Shafi’i Madhhab in his Radd al-Muhtar, 1/322.
Note that the above details are with regards to the ending time and the beginning time for Eisha and Fajr prayers respectively. As far as the commencement of the Eisha time is concerned, contemporary scholars state that one can perform Eisha prayer one hour after sunset. In other words, due to the fact that Eisha time fails to appear, it can be performed at around one hour after Maghrib.
And Allah knows best
Muhammad ibn Adam al-Kawthari, UK