A few pointers regarding the daily/ritual prayer when one is travelling

Over the past few years, I have received quite a few questions about the correct way of applying the rules regarding the ritual daily prayers while travelling, so I thought I would write a little post to give an overview that covers most scenarios. Hopefully this will make things a lot clearer than what is found in technical legal works…

In general

When someone is “travelling”, jurists tell us that they must reduce the raka’at (cycles) of all 4-cycle prayers (namely, the prayers of midday, afternoon, and night) to a 2-cycle prayer, simply by cutting the prayer short and ending it at the end of the 2nd cycle. In other words, when one is on travel status, all 4-cycle prayers will be performed like the morning prayer. Being on travel status does not affect in any way the 2 other daily prayers (morning and dusk) nor any other obligatory prayers.

It is also recommended to say 30 times after reduced prayers “subhanallahi wal hamdu lillahi wa la ilaha illallahu wallahu akbar”.

(As for supplementary or mustahabb prayers, what is clear is that the supplementary prayers of the midday and afternoon prayers are eliminated. As for the other supplementary prayers, some scholars say there is no valid proof that any of them keep their thawab (worth) while on travel, while other scholars are of the view that the supplementary prayers of the morning and dusk prayers as well as the midnight prayers all keep their validity in all situations…)

The traveller starts reducing their prayers in this manner after having started on their journey. If the journey is starting from one’s home, then the prayers are reduced not directly after leaving one’s city, but after the recognizable traits of the city are no longer visible. In all other cases, if the traveller is not travelling from their home city, then the moment the trip starts, that is, the moment they leave that city of residence, they must start reducing their prayers.  

The distance

Travelling is defined as being aware and intending of one’s physical movement exceeding of 8 farsakh (or 3 ‘miles’ or 3000 ‘yard’ or about 44 km according to most scholars). This is the distance travelled physically, not the distance between the points of departure and the destination. While all of our jurists agree on this distance, there is some disagreement between them about the exact definition of a farsakh…  

The traveller starts calculating this distance from the end of their respective city, and so long as one is not sure that they have actually travelled the distance directly or indirectly, then they cannot consider themselves as travelling. Here is what I mean by directly and indirectly: directly would be if you travelled away from your city for a total of the distance; indirectly would mean that you travelled half of that distance, but you are now 100% sure that in order to go back home, you will need to travel an equivalent or similar distance, which means that, logically, you will eventually have to add the other half of the distance to the half you have already travelled. The point is that if a total of 8 farasikh is travelled, then the person is legally a “traveller”.

This movement does not need to be linear, and will remain a “travel” so long as the traveller does not “interrupt” their travel.

Interruption of the travel

 There are 3 ways in which travel may be interrupted:

  1. If the traveller goes back to their own native city or city of residence in the 10 days following a travel, even if it simply happens to be on the way to another place of travel, then that will invalidate the travel from the beginning. In other words, if a traveller knows at the beginning of their trip that they will be stopping at their native city in the next ten days, then they will not be deemed “travelling” from the beginning of the trip. While some scholars (for instance Al Sistani) say that the traveller must actually stop in their native city for the interruption to occur, others (for instance Al Haeri) say that just passing through, even if one is simply seated inside a plane flying over one’s city, will interrupt the travel [This verdict requires a bit more explanation, which I will not be giving here to keep this entry short. Some scholars believe in the notion of “legal native land” and others do not, and there are different definitions and criteria given. I simply mention it so that you can look up this notion of “watan shar3i” if you wish.]
  2. If the traveller intends to stay at one place of travel for ten days or more.
  3. If the traveller ends up staying 30 days at their place of travel, even if they did not initially know how long they would stay or were not planning on staying for that long.

In these 3 cases, travel is interrupted, and one must go back to performing all daily prayers normally.

Other exclusions

Also, if the (entire or partial) purpose of the travel is forbidden or to enable something forbidden, then the “travel” status does not apply on the way there, and it does on the way back. For instance, if someone travels to kill, or steal, or commit adultery, or help someone oppress others, then all prayers must be performed normally on the way to the destination, but as a traveller on the way back home. Some jurists also consider trips of pure entertainment (as is the case with some hunting trips for example) as distractions and a waste of time, and in such trips, one would have to pray in full on the way there, and as a traveller on the way back. [I find the criteria around this last case lacking clarity, I am simply mentioning it here so the reader can keep it in mind and dig further if they wish… if I get feedback on, I’ll write a post on this specifically.]  

The entire topic of “travel status” does not apply to people whose jobs or daily routines require travelling in the sense we have explained so far (e.g. some driver, pilots, students, someone who needs daily treatments etc.) in their routine travels. Of course, everything still applies for all other travels. It also does not apply to those who are constantly on the move, such as nomads, or the homeless, or long-term tourists or travellers, unless they happen to stay long enough somewhere that others would consider them as residing there, even for the months of the summer for instance.   

Damage control: Mistakes

Mistakes happen, right? If someone thinks that they have travelled far enough to be considered travelling, and prays accordingly, only to find out that they had not in fact “travelling” (in this technical sense) they must repeat their prayer whether within the time or afterwards. If they think that they have not travelled far enough, pray accordingly, only to find out that they had in fact fitting the description of a traveller, then they must repeat the prayer only if there is still time to do so.

If someone performs their prayer in full when they are supposed to be performing prayers as a traveller, then there are a couple of scenarios to keep in mind:

  • If they did so while knowing that they are travelling and also knowing these laws, then their prayer is simply invalid and must be performed again;
  • If they did so because they simply do not know the laws around performing prayers while on travel, then there prayers are valid;
  • If they did so because they only know the law vaguely, and have no knowledge of the details that applied to their situation, then they must repeat the specific prayer only if there is still time to do so, not afterwards;
  • And if they did so because although they know the laws in theory, they did not apply them correctly to their specific situation, such as simply forgetting that they are travelling, or not realizing what distance they have travelled, then they must repeat if they realize their mistake within the time, and not afterwards.

Damage control: after-the-fact or Qada’

Qada’: this means performing prayers outside of their prescribed times because they were not performed, or performed incorrectly.

As a general rule to keep in mind, the manner in which a qada’ prayer has to be performed is based on the time it became qada’. For example, let us say that today, the call for the midday prayer started at 1pm and beginning of sunset was around 7pm, so you had about 6 hours to perform your midday prayer. If you failed to pray that specific prayer, when you do its qada’, you have to look at your situation at the moments it became qada’, so in this case, let us say between 6:50pm and 7pm.

Let`s apply this rule to an example: someone was home at 1pm (at the time of the call for prayer), but they did not pray, and they left to travel to a neighbouring city at 3pm. They arrived at their destination around 5:30pm. Still they did not perform their midday prayer until sunset, at which point they would have ran out of time to pray that prayer.     

Changing one’s mind     

If you travel somewhere with no intention of staying ten days (so you are praying as a traveller) but a few days later change your mind and decide to stay ten days, then you can only start counting those ten days of residence from the moment you changed your mind. Accordingly, your prayers will also now be performed in full, not as a traveller.

If you travel somewhere with the intention of staying there for at least ten days (so you are praying full prayers) but a few days later change your mind and decide that you are no going to stay the full ten days after all, then you must keep praying all of your prayers in full if you have performed at least one 4-cycle prayer (midday, afternoon or night prayer) with the intention of residing there for at least ten days (and not because you had forgotten that were travelling, otherwise, it does not matter). In this situation, once one of those 4-cycle prayers is performed in full knowingly, then all subsequent ones must be performed in full as well. If no 4-cycle prayers had been performed (or if it was performed but unknowingly), then your new intention of staying fewer than 10 days makes you a traveller.

If you leave your city with the intention of travelling, and start reducing your prayers, but change your mind and decide to no longer travel before reaching the travelling distance, then you must repeat the prayers you performed with the intention of travelling now that you have changed your intention.

Trip within the trip

Finally, the issue of the trip within the trip can have many scenarios. For this post, let us simply give the scenarios about which I have been asked multiple times specifically, as they seem to be reoccurring: if someone travels to another city (let’s call it city 2) and intends to stay there for 20 days for example, and while there, he has to make a trip to another city (city 3), how do they perform their prayers?

This depends on a few things:

First, if they knew that they were going to travel from city 2 within the ten days, then they are simply on travel status and they cannot intend to reside there, so the prayers are reduced.

Second, if the travel to city 3 is very quick, only a few hours for instance, in the sense that if someone were to ask “where did you travel?” and the answer would only be “to city 2”, then the discussion is moot, and city 2 can remain as the temporary residence, and prayers are done in full if the intention was to stay there for at least ten days from the beginning of the trip from city 1. If they travel to city 3 however implies spending the night there, then it invalidates the temporary resident status of city 2 within the ten days.

Third, if they initially intended to stay in city 2 for at least ten days, and the trip to city 3 was an unplanned surprise, then this simply means that the intention is now changed, and from this point on, the person is on travel status – unless they intend to reside ten days in city 2 after the trip to city 3, in which case that will be considered a new trip, with a new intent to reside. For sure, while they are in city 3, they are on travel status.   

I hope these explanations clarified some of the scenarios in a way that enables you to apply the rules yourself to your situation. Of course, there are countless other scenarios we can explain, but these are the ones that seem to come back the most and are relevant to most people’s travels.

Now you’re ready, so bon voyage!

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